If there was such thing as an ancient tourist guidebook, then that would include the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World! It was the Greeks in the 1st and 2nd century who decided to create lists of seven (a sacred number to them), one of which was the list of the seven most fascinating structures of their time.
These seven structures were:
- The Great Pyramid of Giza (Egypt)
- The Hanging Gardens of Babylon (Iraq)
- The Ephesian Temple of Artemis (Turkey)
- The Statue of Zeus (Greece)
- The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (Turkey)
- The Colossus of Rhodes (Greece)
- The Lighthouse of Alexandria (Egypt)
It is a shame that most of these once magnificent structures have now turned to rubble, however the sites of where they once stood can still be visited today. Some ruins and artifacts are also exhibited in various museums, if not still available on-site.
Let’s take a closer look at each monument, its historical significance and modern state:
The Great Pyramid of Giza
The Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt built between 2584 – 2561 BCE is the only ancient wonder still standing today. It is located in the Giza Necropolis on the borders of El Giza, Egypt, and is the oldest of all the seven wonders in spite of being the most intact. Though it was initially believed to be the tomb of Pharaoh King Khufu of the Fourth Dynasty, today the structure’s purpose still remains a mystery. When visiting the Great Pyramid, do explore all three chambers through the ascending and descending passages and observe the magnificence of this massive all-limestone structure.
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Near present-day Hilah in Iraq once thrived the city of ancient Babylon. While the exact location is yet to be discovered, there, within the city, once existed one of the most exquisite structures of the ancient world: the Hanging Gardens. Built in 600 BCE, these gardens amidst the middle of the desert were said to include a gaudy temple overflowing with luscious greenness and stunning waterfalls cascading from top to bottom. Estimated to have been 300 feet tall, the structure was allegedly built by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II as a gift to his wife Queen Amytis. Unfortunately there is no ruin to visit today, but there is a plethora of ancient sites to explore where the great city of Babylon once stood approximately 59 miles southwest of Baghdad.
The Temple of Artemis in Ephesus
The Temple of Artemis or “Artemision” in Ephesus (modern-day Selcuk, Turkey) was built in 550 BCE. However, there are claims that it was built in the 7th century BCE by Amazons as a place where their most prominent deity, Artemis, was worshiped. In any case, the temple was destroyed and rebuilt several times and took approximately 10 years construct. Essentially there is not one, but several temples built and re-built on the same location. Made predominantly of scintillating marble, today there are only a few foundation ruins that mark where the latest version of this majestic temple once stood.
Phidias’ Statue of Zeus in Olympia
In the historical city of Olympia where the Olympic Games were born once stood a giant statue of 42 feet made of ivory and gold which depicted a man sitting on a throne; this was no man, but the God Zeus. Made by the celebrated sculptor Phidias around 435 BCE, the statue was eventually destroyed in the 5th century either deliberately on its own or along with the whole temple in which it was situated which was burned down in 425 BCE. Upon visiting Ancient Olympia today you may not find the grandiose statue of Zeus, but you will definitely discover a lot more ruins and landmarks worth exploring.
The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus
Located in present-day Bodrum, Turkey, the tomb of Persian satrap Mausolus or “Mausoleum” was built between 353 – 350 BCE and designed by the Greek architects Satyrus and Pythius of Priene. This impressive monument which stood 148 feet tall was made primarily of bricks, yet was covered in beautiful white marble and was adorned with intricate sculptural reliefs each made by one of four sculptors: Scopas, Bryaxis, Timotheus, and Leochares. The Mausoleum was however destroyed in 1522 by the Rhodian knights of St John and only a few ruins still remain today. Stones taken from the site can be found in the Castle of Bodrum and select statues are exhibited at the British Museum.
The Colossus of Rhodes
Standing over 98 feet tall, a giant statue known as the Colossus once towered over the Greek island of Rhodes. It allegedly straddled over the harbor, with one foot positioned on each side of the harbor mouth. The statue depicted the Titan sun-god Helius and was symbolic of the island’s victory over Cypriot ruler Antigonus I Monophthalmus, whose son attempted to besiege the island in 305 BCE. The construction of the Colossus began in 292 BCE and was completed twelve years later by native architect Chares of Lindos. One of the tallest statues in the world during its time, the Colossus is nowhere to be found today, as it collapsed during a violent earthquake in 226 BCE, however a visit to the harbor of Rhodes where it once stood is worthwhile for any history enthusiast.
The Lighthouse of Alexandria
Built during the Ptolemaic Dynasty (305 – 27 BCE) in Egypt, the Lighthouse of Alexandria is the most recent of all the seven wonders of the ancient world. For centuries it prided itself on being one of the tallest constructions ever made by man at a height of over 393 feet. Its name derived from the little island outside Alexandria called Pharos, which is Greek for “lighthouse”. The structure itself was made of white marble and limestone and featured a rather unique-at-the-time technology: On its top was a machine made up of mirrors and reflectors used to reflect the sunlight during the day, and a type of furnace that was lit during the night. The Lighthouse of Alexandria was the first lighthouse ever built and therefore served as a prototype for all future lighthouses to be built in accordance to. Its construction lasted 12 years (270 -282 BCE) as executed by Sostratus of Knidos. Unfortunately it collapsed after the sequence of three major earthquakes (796, 1303 and 1323 CE). In 1994 hundreds of its ruins were unearthed in the Alexandrian harbor, which can be visited to this day.