Everyone is familiar with the term “Seven Wonders of the [Ancient] World” however; you may or may not be familiar with what exactly they are or how this list came to be. Over the years, there have been more modern lists created to coincide with a certain time frame or significant event but for the purpose of this article, we will focus on the original list.
The original list was created by the Hellenic people who wanted to catalogue some of the world’s greatest man-made spectacles of their time. The original list is made up of sights that existed in or around an area surrounding the Mediterranean Sea known as the Mediterranean rim. The seven sites chosen to represent this list were as follows:
- The Great Pyramid of Giza
- Hanging Gardens of Babylon
- Statue of Zeus at Olympia
- Temple of Artemis Ephesus
- Mausoleum of Massollos at Halicarnassus
- Colossus of Rhodes
- Lighthouse of Alexandria
There is evidence that there were lists prior to this account however, they have not survived throughout the years. The earliest of these lists also noted the Ishtar Gate in place of the Lighthouse of Alexandria. The ancient list as we know it today was created in the Middle Ages and by the time it was completed, many of the sites no longer existed and to this day, the only member of this elite group that still exists in large is the Great Pyramid of Giza.
The Great Pyramid of Giza belongs to a triad of pyramids known as the Giza Necropolis. It is the largest and oldest of this group and is believed to have been built for the Pharaoh Khufu. At the time of its completion, sometime around 2560 BC, the pyramid was the tallest man-made structure in the world, a title it held for nearly 4,000 years.
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were built in extinct city of Babylon located in what is now Iraq. According to common knowledge, it is believed that the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II built them around the year 600 BC in an effort to please his wife, Amytis, who was homesick and wished for a garden of her own filled with plants and trees from her homeland of the Median Empire. The gardens remained in place until the 2nd century BC when the area was ravaged and destroyed by a plague of earthquakes.
The Statue of Zeus at Olympia was a creation by Phidias, a Greek sculpture of the 4th century BC. The statue stood approximately 43 feet tall and featured Zeus in a seated position. The statue, made of ivory and gold plated bronze, was adorned with golden olive branches and the throne made of cedar wood infused with ivory, gold, ebony, and other precious stones. Zeus held in his right hand, a small statue of Nike and in his left, a long sceptre on which an eagle was perched. After an inquiry of where his inspiration for the sculpture arose, Phidias responded to his fans that this embodiment of Zeus was based on a passage from Homer’s Iliad. The final destruction of the statue is unknown though there are several theories as to what became of it. Some believe that Caligula ordered the statue removed and brought to Rome where he removed the head and replaced it with a likeness of his own; others believe that the statue simply perished in 425 AD when the temple housing it burned to the ground.
The Temple of Artemis was dedicated to the goddess known to represent the hunt, wild animals, wilderness, childbirth, and virginity. The temple was located in Ephesus which is now known as Seljuk, Turkey and was rebuilt three times before meeting its final demise in 401 AD. No one has been able to confirm when the original temple was built however; it is believed that the original structure was a product of what is known as the Bronze Age, 3300-1200 BC. In the 7th century, the original temple was ravaged by a flood and destroyed. After this occurred, a new temple was built only to be later destroyed by an act of arson. The third and final rebuilding constructed the largest of all three designs and stood for nearly 600 years until it was finally destroyed for a final time by an East Germanic tribe known as the Goths.
The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, located in what is now Bodrum, Turkey, was a tomb constructed in 350 BC for a leader of the Persian Empire, Mausolus and his family. The tomb was so grand in its construction and aesthetic appeal that based on its appearance alone; it was added to the list of Seven Wonders. Efforts to build the tomb were not found in vain and there was no budget on its construction. The most talented Greek artists were called upon and the most prestigious overlook was chosen as a resting place for Mausolus. The tomb was surrounded by a courtyard guarded by stone lions, mounted warrior statues, and stone gods and goddesses. Perched atop was a chariot drawn by a team of four horses, carrying the images of Mausolus and his wife Artemisia. It is unknown as to how the mausoleum was finally destroyed however; many believe that an earthquake was to blame.
The Colossus of Rhodes was a statue built in the city of Rhodes located on a Greek Island of the same name. Erected between 292 and 280 BC by Chares of Lindos, the statue depicted the Greek Titan Helios. The statue was designed as a symbol of victory over Cyprus after an unsuccessful takeover in 305 BC. The statue stood for 56 years, until an earthquake rocked the city in 226 BC destroying large parts of the city and adjacent harbor. After cracking at the knees, the statue lay where it fell for some 800 years until Arab forces captured Rhodes in 654 AD and sold the remains to a Jewish merchant.
The Lighthouse of Alexandria, built between 280 and 247 BC in Alexandria, Egypt, served the same purpose that today’s modern lighthouses serve, to guide ships into the harbor at night and keep sailors from crashing into the shore. In 956 AD an earthquake damaged the building tremendously however, the building remained in use until two more earthquakes in 1303 and 1323 finally destroyed the lighthouse beyond repair.
D’Epiro, Peter, and Mary Desmond Pinkowish, “What Are the Seven Wonders of the World? and 100 Other Great Cultural Lists“. Anchor. December 1, 1998.