In classical antiquity, various ancient wonders of early architecture drew the attention of scholars. Most of these ancient wonders, listed in early guidebooks, stemmed from the era around the 1st and 2nd Centuries B.C. These marvels of ancient architecture and design were identified by the Greeks as they extended their civilization into various areas of the ancient world.
In the 4th Century B.C., the ancient Greeks managed to conquer most of the civilized world as it existed at that time. They were able to travel in Egypt, Persia, Turkey, Iraq and Babylonia and to create lists of what they considered the seven ancient wonders of the world, architectural marvels that they considered worthy of tourism. These included The Temple of Artemis, The Colossus in Rhodes, The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, The Lighthouse of Alexandria, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Great Pyramid of Giza, and the Statue of Zeus at Olympia.
Do the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World Still Exist?
What are the seven natural wonders of the world as they were described by ancient texts? Do they still exist? The only one still in existence is the Great Pyramid of Giza. At one time, it was thought that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon might not have existed at all because no record of their whereabouts could be discovered. However, recent research seems to prove that not only do they still exist, but that a mistake in translation disguised their location.
The history of the seven wonders of the ancient world is filled with tales of armies battling, judgments changing and beliefs dissolving. Sometimes the architecture was literally dissolved to support fortifications against enemies. They were reduced to pieces and used to protect homes. In most cases, only pieces of these ancient marvels have survived. But the very fact that we know of them today shows the enduring power of their construction.
The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World
- The Temple of Artemis was built in c. 550 B.C., in the ancient city of Ephesus as a shrine to Artemis, the goddess of the hunt. According to ancient records, the Temple had 127 columns and was built in what is now Turkey. The columns were carved with relief figures and the inside of the temple contained various statues. The temple was originally built on swampy ground to avoid earthquakes, but it had to be rebuilt many times as the area was captured by enemies. As the ancient religions declined with the rise of Christianity, the temple was destroyed for the last time.
- The Colossus in Rhodes was a statue of the sun God, Helios. The statue stood at the intersection of two sea routes and was estimated to have stood over 110 feet tall. The statue was destroyed by an earthquake in 226 B.C. It was reported that the statue literally broke at the knees, and later, ruins from the fallen statue were dismantled by Arab conquerors.
- The mysterious Hanging Gardens of Babylon were rumored to have been built by King Nebuchadnezzar for his wife, but they could never be located by any scholar – until recently. Oxford University Researcher Stephanie Dalley discovered that the gardens were actually built near the modern-day city of Mosul in Northern Iraq. The gardens, complete with exquisite water features, were actually built on terraces above ground. Dr. Dalley believes a confusion in translation of ancient documents led to the wrong site being listed. But due to political crises in the area of Mosul, the truth about the existence of the Hanging Gardens may still be difficult to prove.
- The Pharos Lighthouse of Alexandria was envisioned as a tribute to the conqueror known as Alexander the Great at the time of his death in 323 BC. Designed by the Greek architect Sostratus of Cnidus, the lighthouse was built on the tiny island of Pharos, and reinforced by molten lead . It was used both for navigation and for defensive purposes. The lighthouse was destroyed by two earthquakes in the 1300s.
- The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus was a tomb built to honor the Persian governor, Mausolus, from 300 to 350 BC in present-day Turkey. The wife of Maussollos, Artemisia II, was also his sister. She spared no expense to create a fitting tribute to her husband. Each side of the four-sided building was decorated by four different Greek sculptors and was the source of inspiration for Grant’s Tomb in New York City, as well as several other memorial buildings. The word “mausoleum” actually comes from the name Maussollos, for whom this tribute was built. The building was destroyed by earthquakes. In the fifteenth century, Crusaders used sections of the mausoleum to reinforce their castle to protect themselves from Turkish invaders.
- The Great Pyramid of Giza was, until recently, the tallest building in the world. Built on the edge of Cairo, it is the only wonder of the ancient world that is still standing. The tomb was commissioned by the Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu and built between 2584 and 2561. The pyramid was a marvel of construction for its time, and still is. Massive stones were transported from as far away as 500 miles in an era when there were no engines, no mechanical methods of assistance. Scientists have speculated that the stones were placed upon handmade ramps and lifted to the appropriate height. The tomb was built primarily from limestone and granite. It is possible that many of the white limestone was later stolen from the pyramid and used for constructing buildings in Cairo. But the pyramid still stands, a testament to the strength of human perseverance.
- The Temple of Zeus at Olympia was created by Pheidias, who also designed the sculptures at the Parthenon. The statue was 40 feet in height. Zeus was seated on a wood throne. At one time, the maniacal Roman emperor Caligula wanted his own head put on the statue of Zeus, but he was assassinated before this could happen. With the rise of Christianity, it is believed that the temple was looted and possibly destroyed by fire.
The Seven Wonders of the Modern World
What are the seven wonders of the world today? This is a controversial topic, and perhaps because of the vast wealth of knowledge currently available, the issue has taken on epic proportions. Everyone, from engineers to popes, have weighed in on the question. Here are a few interesting takes on the modern version of the seven wonders of the world.
According to the Internet Public Library , a public service organization which answers questions from users, the seven wonders of the modern world may vary, depending upon which organization created the list. For instance, the Information Please Almanac, another online service to provide general information, the following items are considered the new seven wonders:
- The Grand Canyon
- Mount Everest
- The Harbor of Rio de Janeiro
- The Northern Lights (aka Aurora Borealis)
- The Great Barrier Reef
- Victoria Falls
- Parícutin Volcano
Notice that all these items are natural formations, not built by people.
There is a different take on the seven wonders when those created by humans are identified. A list of wonders identified by civil engineers in the Herff College of Engineering at the University of Memphis identify the following architectural marvels:
- Channel Tunnel (England & France)
- CN Tower (Toronto)
- Empire State Building (New York)
- Golden Gate Bridge (San Francisco)
- Itaipu Dam (Brazil/Paraguay)
- Netherlands North Sea Protection Works (Netherlands)
- Panama Canal (Panama)
In other words, when it comes to modern marvels, it is possible that many wonders can be identified, perhaps depending upon where the list comes from and what the focus of the list is. It might be interesting, in the near future, to try to narrow down a new list of seven wonders. Perhaps this would be a good project for school children involved in various international associations. But then again, does the number of wonders need to stay at seven? Maybe it’s time to expand the number of available slots!