Seven Wonders of the World, works of art and architecture regarded by ancient Greek and Roman observers as the most extraordinary structures of antiquity. The listing of ancient wonders probably began in ancient Greece in around the 2nd century BC, but the Seven Wonders that were most commonly referred to were listed some time after that.
All built in the ancient Mediterranean and Middle East area, some time from around 2600 BC up to about AD 476, the Wonders are: (1) The Pyramids of Egypt, at Giza, the oldest of the Seven Wonders and the only ones remaining intact today. (2) The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, near Baghdad, were a mountain-like series of planted terraces. (3) The Statue of Zeus was the central feature of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, Greece. (4) The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus in Greece was a huge, elaborate temple to the goddess Artemis. (5) The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, a monumental marble tomb in Asia Minor, exists only in fragmentary form today. (6) The Colossus of Rhodes was a bronze statue of the Greek sun god Helios erected at Rhodes harbour. (7) The Pharos of Alexandria, on an island off Alexandria, Egypt, was a famous ancient lighthouse.
Pyramids of Egypt, pyramid complex at Giza, on the west bank of the Nile, Egypt, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The Great Pyramid of Khufu is said to be the only pyramid regarded as one of the Seven Wonders, although some historians class all three famous large pyramids (of the ten pyramids at Giza) as the Wonder. Built some time during the 26th century bc, the pyramids are the oldest and only remaining Wonders to have survived almost completely intact today.
Large Egyptian pyramids were built (on a king’s instructions) to protect tombs, each holding the mummified body of a king (see Embalming). It was believed that entombment in a pyramid would ensure a person’s soul would live forever. A chamber at the heart of the pyramid, or underneath it, acted as the tomb and the Egyptians would fill this with gold and other treasures. Smaller pyramids were built alongside the larger structures to house the bodies of Egyptian queens.
The Great Pyramid was originally about 147 m (482 ft) high while the base covers around 5 hectares (12 acres) of land. Each of its sides extends to about 230 m (755 ft) in length. Built from almost 2.5 million blocks of stone, each weighing over 2 tonnes, it was constructed over a period of up to 20 years for King Khufu, an Egyptian pharaoh. The sarcophagus and chamber for the king’s body are made from red granite. The second pyramid, built by King Khafre, son of Khufu, to the south of his father’s pyramid, appears larger than this pyramid as it lies on higher ground. However, it is slightly smaller than the Great Pyramid at 143.5 m (471 ft) high. Khafre’s son and successor, King Menkaure, subsequently built the third and smallest pyramid, which originally stood at about 66 m (215 ft) high.
The exact layout inside the Great Pyramid continues to be a mystery, as does the purpose of the many shafts. Investigations using a miniature robot have helped to map out some of the shafts and led to the discovery of tiny doorways inside, bringing scientists closer to solving some of the mysteries of the Pharaohs.
STATUE OF ZEUS
Statue of Zeus, huge statue built to honour the king of all gods, Zeus, and one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It was located in the Temple of Zeus in Olympia, home of the Olympian Games (which were held every four years to worship Zeus), in Greece. In about 435 bc, Phidias, an Athenian sculptor, was asked to create a statue to make the temple even grander. The ivory and gold statue (supported by an internal wooden frame) depicted Zeus sitting on a decorative wooden throne, and was about 12 m (40 ft) high and 7 m (22 ft) wide, while the base was an additional 6.5 m (20 ft) in height. At these proportions, the statue took up all the available space at the western end of the temple, making it seem even more imposing than its already gigantic size.
The exact description of the statue is not known, but experts have gathered together information found on coins and in historical documents in order to describe its appearance. The throne was said to have been decorated with precious stones, ebony, ivory, and gold, and its legs were carved with sphinxes and other mythical creatures. Zeus held a sceptre with an eagle perched atop in his left hand, while in his right he clutched a statue of the goddess of victory, Nike. His flesh was made of ivory and his hair and clothes of gold, the latter of which were decorated with carvings of animals and flowers.
In ad 393 the Olympian Games were abolished by Theodosius I of Rome for religious reasons. The statue was moved to Constantinople by rich Greeks and remained there until it was destroyed, after almost 900 years of existence, in around ad 462 by a serious fire.
THE TEMPLE OF ARTEMIS
Temple of Artemis, ancient temple, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, located in the city of Ephesus, near modern Selcuk, 50 km (31 mi) south of Yzmir on the west coast of Turkey. It was a temple dedicated to the Ephesian goddess Artemis (different to the Greek goddess Artemis), goddess of fertility. During its time the temple functioned both as a marketplace and as a place of worship. Many pilgrims came from miles around to worship, bearing gifts ranging from statues of the goddess to gold and ivory jewellery. Late 19th-century archaeological digs discovered the foundations of the temple as well as some of the artefacts left by the pilgrims.
Rebuilt several times after destruction through the years, the foundations of the original shrine (before the temple was first built) date from the 7th century bc. The architect of the first temple, in 600 bc, was a Greek called Chersiphron. In 550 bc, King Croesus of Lydia conquered the city and the temple was destroyed during the battle. The king then funded the reconstruction of the temple, thought to have been built by the architect Theodorus. This second temple was 91 m (300 ft) by 46 m (150 ft), four times the size of the former temple. However, in 356 bc it was razed to the ground by an Ephesian man named Herostratus, who set it on fire because he wanted his name to be immortalized (it was).
Over the next few decades, reconstruction began again, this time by Scopas of Paros, a famous sculptor. The new temple was rebuilt bigger still, measuring 130 m (425 ft) by 69 m (225 ft), with 127 carved columns, each 18 m (60 ft) high. It was made of marble, with a decorated facade overlooking a courtyard, and contained four bronze statues (among other decorative pieces), sculpted by famous contemporary artists: Phidias, Polyclitus, Kresilas, and Phradmon.
In ad 57, St Paul visited Ephesus on a mission to spread Christianity. He was not very successful at the time, but, in ad 262, the temple was destroyed during an invasion by the Goths and was never rebuilt: Christianity had begun to take hold and the temple was no longer deemed important.
MAUSOLEUM OF HALICARNASSUS
Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, ancient tomb, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, located in the city of Halicarnassus (now Bodrum), south-west Turkey. It was a large tomb constructed on top of a hill overlooking the city, built after the death of King Mausolus of Caria in 353 bc by the architect Pythius on the instructions of Artemisia, the king’s wife (and sisterat that time it was customary for kings to marry their sisters). Artemisia, who died two years after her husband, did not live to see the completion of the mausoleum (the word derived from the king’s name) but was also buried inside it once it was complete, about a year later.
The sarcophagi were enclosed in a base decorated with battle scene relief friezes. The base led up to the main quadrangular structure, 40 m (131 ft) by 30 m (98 ft) in size and made from white marble with columns and statues lining the sides. A stepped pyramid structure sat on top for a roof, and astride this stood a chariot, with wheels 2 m (7 ft) in diameter, carrying the figures of Mausolus and Artemisia, and drawn by four horses. The mausoleum stood 45 m (148 ft) high (including the chariot atop). Many great artworks decorated the mausoleum, including some by Scopas and Bryaxis. The tomb was so magnificently decorated and so much larger than others of its kind that the term mausoleum has since been applied to other grand structures of its type.
The tomb survived for 17 centuries until an earthquake caused the chariot to fall off the roof. Bit by bit the whole structure fell into ruin and the stone was used to fortify other buildings, until only the base was left by 1404. Sometime in the 16th century the tomb was broken into and many of the artefacts, including the two bodies, were stolen. Any remaining valuable sculptures were put in Bodrum castle by some of the Knights of St John of Malta before the rest of the marble from the structure was broken down and used for building work. Some of these statues, including those of Mausolus and Artemisia from the chariot (since recovered from an archaeological dig), can be seen today in the British Museum.
COLOSSUS OF RHODES
Colossus of Rhodes, enormous bronze statue at the Mandraki harbour entrance on Rhodes island, Greece, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Built to mark the Rhodians’ victory in a siege by Demetrius I, the statue was a representation of the Greek sun god Helios, designed by Chares of Lindos, a Rhodian sculptor, and took 12 years to finish. It was completed in 282 bc, and stood up to 37 m (120 ft) in height. The base was made of white marble and measured an additional 15 m (50 ft) high. The statue was crafted from bronze recovered from machinery and tools left by Demetrius I, with an iron and stone framework.
It was thought to have stood astride the harbour entrance, and many old drawings of the Wonder reflect this. However, this would seem to be logistically impossible, due to the statue’s height and the harbour entrance’s width, so it is now believed to have been built on the eastern projection of land at the front of the harbour, or further inland.
In 226 bc an earthquake struck Rhodes and the knee of Colossus (the sculpture’s weakest point) was broken. An offer from Ptolemy III Euergetes of Egypt to fund the rebuilding was rejected, as an oracle prohibited its reconstruction: the earthquake was seen as the wrath of the god Helios who was displeased with the statue. It remained in its ruined state for almost 900 years, until, in ad 654, the broken-up remains were sold to a Syrian Jew as scrap metal by Arab invaders.
The Statue of Liberty in New Yorks harbour is said to have been inspired by the Colossus of Rhodes, and is hence sometimes referred to as the New Colossus. The statue itself is built to roughly the same proportions as the Colossus, while the base is much higher.
LIGHTHOUSE OF ALEXANDRIA
Pharos of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, an ancient lighthouse on Pharos, a small island off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt. The lighthouse came to be known by the name of the island and became so renowned that the word pharos evolved to mean “lighthouse” in French, Italian, and Spanish. It was the tallest known building in the world in its time, with the exception of the Great Pyramid, and the longest surviving of the six Wonders that have subsequently disappeared.
Ptolemy I, who succeeded Alexander the Great as king of Egypt, made Alexandria his capital and began construction of the lighthouse to give the city a landmark. It was also needed to guide trade ships into the busy harbour, which had a very flat and quite dangerous coastline. When Ptolemy I died, his son and successor Ptolemy II oversaw the completion of the lighthouse, which is estimated to have taken 20 years to build. The Pharos was designed by the architect Sostratus of Cnidus, with the help of the Library of Alexandria for some of the more complex calculations. An inscription on it dedicated the building to the Saviour Gods (Ptolemy I and his wife, Berenice).
Although its exact design is not known, details about it have been collected from Roman coins and historical writings. The lighthouse was constructed from marble blocks and made up of different parts: the bottom section was square and had a spiral ramp inside it that was large enough for horse-drawn carts to pull up building materials; the middle section was octagonal and a cylindrical tower sat atop this. A cupola was built at the top of the building, and on the very summit was a statue of Poseidon, god of the sea. Inside the cupola, which could be reached by internal steps, was a fire and a curved mirror. The fire was used at night, the mirror by day to reflect sunlight and warn passing ships. An internal shaft housed a pulley system to lift fuel to the top for the fire. Historical estimates place the height of the Pharos between 61 m (200 ft) and 183 m (600 ft), but most modern estimates tend to agree that it was over 120 m (394 ft) high.
The lighthouse functioned for centuries and lasted for 1,500 years, before it fell into ruin after a series of earthquakes, the fatal one occurring in around 1323. In 1480, Qaitbey, a Mameluke Sultan, used the ruined stone to build a medieval fort in the same place. The remains of the lighthouse can still be seen today in the Qaitbey Fort.