Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World refers to a list of seven great structures of antiquity located around the rim of the eastern Mediterranean. You might be surprised to know that the list—one of a number compiled during the first and second centuries B.C.E.—was literally a tourist guidebook. By the fourth century B.C.E., the great civilization of ancient Greece had conquered most of the known world, and soon it became popular to visit the sights to be found not only in Greece but also in the conquered territories. In fact, the lists didn’t use the word “wonders” at all, but rather the Greek word for sights: theamata. Most all lists agreed on six of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World, with the seventh place usually alternating between the Walls of the City of Babylon in present-day Iraq, the Palace of Cyrus in present-day Iran, and the Lighthouse of Alexandria in Egypt. The list we know today was most probably compiled by the poet Antipater of Sidon in about 140 B.C.E. Not all of these structures existed at the same time; some were destroyed before the list was compiled. Only one remains relatively intact today.

The Great Pyramid of Giza

The Great Pyramid of Giza
The Great Pyramid of Giza

The Giza Plateau outside the city of Cairo contains three massive pyramids and the enigmatic Sphinx. The largest of the pyramids is the Pyramid of Khufu, also called the Pyramid of Cheops by the Greeks. This is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and the only one that remains relatively intact. It was built around 2,600 B.C.E. and most likely served as the tomb for the Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu. Originally more than 480 feet high, it was the world’s tallest structure until the Lincoln Cathedral in England was built in 1300 A.D.

Temple of Artemis at Ephesus

Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
Temple of Artemis at Ephesus

This magnificent temple dedicated to Artemis (Greek goddess of the hunt) was built in the sixth century B.C.E. Along with the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, this is the one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World that can still be seen—albeit only in scattered ruins within the larger ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus near Selcuk in Izmir Province. The scattered ruins are overlooked by a single marble column, but beautiful sculptures unearthed in the late nineteenth century can be viewed in the British Museum.

Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, Turkey

Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, Turkey
Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, Turkey

Built about 350 B.C.E. near the city of Bodrum, this tomb was built for the Persian ruler Mausolus and his family. From his name, we have the term mausoleum, which means an above-ground burial place. Today, the site is one of scattered ruins. As with the Temple of Artemis, nineteenth-century British archeologists carried away the most intact and valuable of the statues, which are now displayed in the British Museum.

Statue of Zeus, Greece

Statue of Zeus, Greece
Statue of Zeus, Greece

Housed in its own temple in the ancient city of Olympia, this entry on the list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was a statue of the king of Greek gods more than 40 feet high. It was made of ivory and gold-plated bronze, and seated nobly on a cedar throne inlaid with ivory, gold, ebony, and precious gemstones. In the 1950s, the workshop of the sculptor Phidias was discovered at the exact spot where references placed it. Tools were discovered with the sculptor’s name, enabling archeologists to recreate the statue’s construction.

The Colossus of Rhodes, Greece

The Colossus of Rhodes, Greece
The Colossus of Rhodes, Greece

Built on the beautiful Greek island of Rhodes, this is the shortest-lived of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World and among the last to be constructed. It was a massive statue, more than 107 feet tall, of the sun god Helios standing on a marble pedestal overlooking the harbor; it is a romantic myth that the statue straddled the harbor and that ships sailed between its legs. It was built in 280 B.C.E. to celebrate the victory of Rhodes against Cyprus. It was destroyed only 57 years later by a massive earthquake. After its destruction, visitors still came to view the monumental ruins, which remained in place until the seventh century A.D., when they were broken down and carted away.

The Lighthouse of Alexandria, Egypt

Also known as the Pharos of Alexandria, this member of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was built about the same time as the Colossus of Rhodes and was perhaps the world’s first lighthouse. Its height was somewhere between 393 and 450 feet, and massive mirrors were used to reflect the light of a fire that burned within. The Pharos was damaged in an earthquake in 956 A.D. and even more badly damaged in two fourteenth-century earthquakes. It is said the latter earthquakes caused such damage that it was no longer possible to enter the structure. In the fifteenth century, stones from the ruin were used to build a fort, and the lighthouse effectively disappeared. In 1994, underwater ruins were discovered at the site. Some were brought up and placed on display in the harbor. Today, it is possible to go scuba diving in Alexandria to see more ruins.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Iraq

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Iraq
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Iraq

Supposedly built by King Nebuchadnezzar II around 600 B.C.E., these are the only of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World whose very existence is open to debate. There are Babylonian and Greek references to the lush gardens blooming in the desert of what is now Iraq, but many experts believe these were poetic inventions. According to the story, Nebuchadnezzar built the gardens on an artificial mountain to please his wife Amytis of Media, who was homesick for the forested mountains of her native land, a forested area in what is now the northwestern region of Iran.

Modern Seven Wonders of the World

Many people will be familiar with the Modern Seven Wonders of the World, consisting of magnificent ancient sights that were unknown when the Greek list was compiled. The sights on this list are: Machu Picchu, the magnificent Inca ruins in Peru; the great Colosseum in Rome, Italy; the sublime Taj Mahal in Agra, India; the mysterious Red City of Petra, carved from rock in the Jordanian desert; the staggering 4,163 miles of the Great Wall of China; and the wonderfully preserved pyramid of Chichen Itza on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Also on this list is a much more modern structure, the towering Christ the Redeemer Statue overlooking Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which was built between 1922 and 1931.

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