The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were marvels of architecture, human ability, and engineering on a scale that even the greatest artists of contemporary times would have a difficult time replicating today. These human-made structures were all built sometime during the classical era and spread across the current known western-world at that time. In books and writings that reference the historian Herodotus (484 – 425 BCE) and Callimachus of Cyrene (305 – 240 BCE) from the Museum of Alexandria, scholars over the years discovered the lists of the seven wonders of classical antiquity.
The list we currently refer to today was organized in the Middle Ages and only incorporated places that the ancient Greeks had visited or captured. Only one of the seven ancient wonders still stands – and arguably one of the most well-known ones at that, the Great Pyramid of Giza.
From a time traversing approximately between 2650 – 3rd Century BCE, these masterpieces dotted the landscapes for a variety of purposes. Some were great tombs housing the remains of powerful kings, monolithic statues praising great deities and others were frankly just about testing the limits of what was possible in the early technological and civilized prowess of humankind.
While the majority of these structures were destroyed, in 2007, over 100 million people voted to declare a New Seven Wonders of the World. Many of these places are UNESCO Heritage Sites. Still, nonetheless, people felt that these newly championed wonders represented a shared global heritage throughout the entire world.
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The seven ancient wonders of the world
1. The great pyramid at Giza, Egypt
The Great Pyramid of Giza, located on the west bank of the Nile River north of Cairo in Egypt was commissioned and built by the Pharaoh Khufu, which is one of the oldest buildings in existence. It forms a part of a group of three pyramids – Khufu, Khafra and Menkaura built between 2700 B.C. and 2500 B.C.
The Great Pyramid stands as the tallest structure of the ancient world at 456 ft. high and nearly 4500 years old. It is the biggest and oldest of all of the ancient pyramids. It covers an area of 13 acres and contains more than 2 million stone blocks that weigh from two to 30 tons each.
2. Hanging Gardens of Babylon
According to ancient sources, the gardens were built near the Euphrates River in modern-day Iraq by Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II for his wife Amytis in 600 BCE. The gardens were planted as high as 75 feet in the air on an immense square brick terrace that was laid out in steps like a theatre. Herodotus claimed that the walls stretched for 56 miles, 80 feet thick, and reached 320 feet high. Records state that an earthquake in the 1st century BCE destroyed it.
Nebuchadnezzar most likely built the Hanging Gardens as huge rooftop gardens with foundations of multi-level terraces. With a column structure, they would have been filled in with dirt to allow large areas of plants and trees to grow. Modern scientists have concluded that for the gardens to last, they would have had to be rinsed using a system consisting of a pump, waterwheel, and cisterns to carry water from the Euphrates many feet into the air.
3. Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece
The Athenian sculptor Phidias crafted and built the Statue of Zeus -in 435 BCE. At 40 feet tall, its head nearly reached the top of the temple. As per the legend, sculptor Phidias asked Zeus for a sign of his consent after finishing the statue; soon after, the temple was struck by lightning. The Statue of Zeus resided in a temple in the City of Olympia, a place of the ancient Olympics, around the mid-fifth century B.C. Records of the statue are inadequate, but it’s believed that the parts of the body were made of ivory, while Zeus’ beard and clothes were made of gold. The Statue of Zeus graced the temple at Olympia for more than eight centuries before Christian clergymen urged the Roman emperor to seal the temple in the fourth century A.D. The statue was destroyed in a fire in the year 462 A.D. when it was relocated to Constantinople.
4. Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
The Temple of Artemis took 120 years to be built before being completed in 550 BCE. It was held by 127 60 foot columns, with the maximum height of the temple standing 425 feet high and extending up to some 225 feet. It was sanctified to the Greek goddess Artemis. There were many Temples of Artemis in Ephesus, a Greek port city on the west coast of modern-day Turkey. The most marvelous of these constructions were two marble temples built around 550 B.C. and 350 B.C., respectively.
King Croesus of Lydia sponsored the construction of the temple and was devised by the Cretan architect Chersiphron and his son Metagenes and decorated by some of the most renowned artists of the ancient world. In 356 BCE, a man named Herostratus attempted to set fire to the temple to achieve everlasting fame and be known to history. He was sentenced to death, and the government announced it illegal to utter his name. Years later, Alexander the Great would offer to rebuild the temple, but the Ephesians refused.
5. Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
The Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus was a tomb built by Artemisia for her husband Mausolus, the king of Carnia in Asia Minor, after his death in 353 B.C. in what is now southeastern Turkey was built in 351 BCE.
The vast mausoleum was entirely made of white marble and is thought to have been about 135 feet high. The building’s intricate design, consisting of three rectangular layers, may have been an endeavor to accommodate Lycian, Greek, and Egyptian architectural styles. The first layer was a 60-foot base of steps, followed by a middle layer of 36 Ionic columns and a stepped, pyramid-shaped roof. At the top of the roof lay the tomb, enriched by the work of four sculptors, and a 20-foot marble rendition of a four-horse chariot.
Its status as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world doesn’t derive from its size or strength, but because of the intricacies of the sculpture reliefs, it had to adorn its four walls.
An earthquake in the 13th century destroyed the mausoleum and its remains were later used in fortification of a castle. In 1846, pieces of one of the mausoleum’s friezes were extracted from the castle and now remain, along with other artifacts from the Halicarnassus site, in London’s British Museum.
6. Colossus of Rhodes
The Colossus of Rhodes was an enormous bronze sculpture of the sun god Helios built by the Rhodians over 12 years between 292 and 280 BCE. At 110 feet tall it overlooked the harbor of Rhodes and stood on a base similar to the Statue of Liberty. Sculptor Chares, designed the statue at 100 feet, making it the tallest of the ancient world. The statue remained for 56 years before being struck by an earthquake. Hundreds of years later, Arabs attacked Rhodes and auctioned the remains of the statue as scrap metal to a Jewish merchant in 654.
Archaeologists do not know much about the precise location of the statue or what it resembled. Most believe that it represented the sun god standing naked while lifting a torch with one hand and holding a spear in the other. It was once thought that the statue stood with one leg on each side of a harbor, but most scholars now admit that the statue’s legs were most likely built close together to support its immense weight.
7. Lighthouse of Alexandria
The Lighthouse of Alexandria was one of the tallest buildings in the world for many centuries. After the pyramids, it was the third tallest building. It was located on a small island called Pharos near the city of Alexandria. Greek architect Sostratos designed the structure and completed around 270 B.C. Under the reign of Ptolemy II, the lighthouse helped navigate Nile River ships in and out of the city’s busy harbor. A mirror mounted inside the lighthouse allowed it to be seen as far our as 35 miles into the sea.
Archaeologists after inspecting the depictions of the lighthouse ancient coins concluded that the structure had three layers: a square level at the bottom, an octagonal level in the middle, and a cylindrical top. Above that stood a 16-foot statue, most likely of Ptolemy II or Alexander the Great, for whom the city was named.
Although estimations of the lighthouse’s height range from 200 to 600 feet, modern scholars concluded it to be 380 feet tall. Earthquakes from 956 to 1323 are known to be the cause of the destruction of the lighthouse. Some of its remains have been found at the bottom of the Nile.
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New 7 Wonders of the World
In 2000 a Swiss foundation launched a campaign to determine the “New 7 Wonders of the World.” More than 100 million people cast their votes on the Internet and by text messaging. In 2007, the results were announced. These UNESCO World Heritage Sites that made a list span four continents and draw thousands of visitors each year. They are:
1. The Great Wall of China (Built 220 BC to 1644 AD)
One of the world’s most comprehensive building projects, the Great Wall of China is broadly believed to be about 5,500 miles (8,850 km) long; a contradictory Chinese study, however, claims the length to be 13,170 miles (21,200 km). The foundations for the wall were laid in the 7th century BCE and lasted for two millennia. The Great Wall consists of numerous walls — many of them parallel to each other. Although it was constructed to stop Mongol invasions and raids, the wall mostly failed to render actual security. Instead, scholars have noted that it served more as “political propaganda.”
2. Chichén Itzá, Mexico (Built 5-13 century A.D.)
Chichén Itzá is a ruined ancient Maya city spanning an area of 4 square miles (10 square km) in south-central Yucatán state, Mexico. It flourished in the 9th and 10th centuries C.E. under the Mayan tribe Itzá—who were strongly influenced by the Toltecs. Several prominent monuments and temples were erected. Among the most renowned is the stepped pyramid El Castillo which rises 79 feet (24 meters) above the Main Plaza.
A piece of evidence to the Mayans’ astronomical expertise, the structure features a total of 365 steps, the number of days in the solar year. Through the spring and autumnal equinoxes, the setting sun casts shadows on the pyramid giving the appearance of a serpent slithering down the north stairway.
3. Petra, Jordan (Built 4 Century BC-2 Century A.D.)
Petra is an ancient city that lies in present-day Jordan located about 150 miles south of both Jerusalem and Amman and dates back to the fourth century B.C. It has been a site of significance for historians and archaeologists because of its magnificent rock-cut architecture and innovative water management system. Petra is referred to as the “Rose City” due to the colour of the stones used in its buildings.
At its peak, Petra reportedly had a population of 30,000. The Nabateans, an Arab tribe indigenous to the region made Petra their capital, and during this time it flourished, becoming an important trade centre in what is now southwestern Jordan. Nabateans carved several of the city’s buildings out of the surrounding stone surfaces using an ancient form of the technique known as rock-cut architecture. However, an earthquake in 363 CE caused more hassle, and after another tremor hit in 551, Petra was gradually abandoned.
4. Machu Picchu, Peru (Build mid-15 century A.D.)
Hiram Bingham discovered this Incan site near Cuzco, Peru, in 1911 by, he believed it was Vilcabamba, a secret Incan fortress used during the 16th-century rebellion against Spanish rule. Historians claim Machu Picchu was constructed at the height of the Inca Empire, in the 15th and 16th centuries. However, modern-day archaeologists now believe that Machu Picchu served as a royal estate for Inca emperors and nobles. Others have hypothesised it as a religious site, pointing to its vicinity to mountains and other geographical features that the Incas held sacred.
The site’s finely crafted stonework, terraced fields, and sophisticated irrigation system bear witness to the Inca civilisation’s architectural, agricultural, and engineering prowess. Its central buildings are excellent examples of a masonry technique mastered by the Incas in which stones were cut to fit together without mortar. Machu Picchu’s most distinct and famous structures include the Temple of the Sun and the Intihuatana stone, a sculpted granite rock that is thought to have functioned as a solar calendar.
5. Christ the Redeemer statue, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Built 1926-1931)
Christ the Redeemer statue is a colossal statue of Jesus approximately 40 meters tall and stands upon the peak of the 700 meter Corcovado Mountain in the Tijuca Forest National Park in Rio de Janeiro. Its beginnings date back to just after World War I when some Brazilians fretted a “tide of godlessness.” They proposed a statue, which was eventually designed by Heitor da Silva Costa, Carlos Oswald, and Paul Landowski.
Finally, the church gained enough contributions after a petition in 1921 to begin construction and was completed five years later. Since then, the statue has stood as a symbol of faith, trust, and protection. It was named one of the new Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.
6. The Colosseum in Rome, Italy (Built AD 72-82)
The Colosseum in Rome was commissioned around A.D. 70-72 by Emperor Vespasian of the Flavian dynasty as a gift to the Roman people. A feat of engineering, the amphitheater measures 620 by 513 feet (189 by 156 meters) and features a complex system of vaults. It was capable of holding 50,000 spectators, who watched a variety of events. The most notable were gladiator fights, though men battling animals were also common.
After four centuries of active use, the majestic arena fell into negligence, and up until the 18th century it served as a source of building materials. Although two-thirds of the original Colosseum has been destroyed over time, the amphitheater remains a famous tourist destination, as well as an iconic symbol of Rome and its long, turbulent history.
7. The Taj Mahal, India (Built 1632-1648 AD)
The Taj Mahal is an immense mausoleum complex situated located on the southern bank of the Yamuna River near Agra, India. In 1631 AD, Shah Jahan, the Emperor of the Mughal Dynasty, was grief-stricken when Mumtaz, who was his third wife, died giving birth to their fourteenth child. Taj Mahal was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his beloved wife.
An estimated 20,000 workers were employed and housed nearby in a town built especially for them called Mumtazabad. The marble used was quarried in Makrana, 200 miles away. Reportedly, it took 1,000 elephants and an untold number of oxen to drag the extremely heavy marble to the building site. It took 22 years to build and finally reached completion in 1653.
While earlier Mughal buildings promoted using red sandstone, it was Shah Jahan who developed the use of white marble for building the monument. Buildings under his guardianship reached new levels of refinement.
- Shah Jahan’s, passion for architecture made him work on the plans directly with the inputs from the best architects of his time.
- He chose to decorate white marble with semi-precious stones such as jade, crystal, lapis lazuli, amethyst and turquoise using a technique known as pietra dura.
- The mausoleum is of white marble that reflects hues according to the intensity of sunlight or moonlight.
- The Monument lies resting in the middle of a wide plinth at the height of 23 feet.
- Its central dome stretches at the height of 240 feet and has four smaller domes surrounding it; four minarets, stand at the four corners.
- It has four almost identical facades, each with a full central arch rising to 108 feet at its apex and slanted corners incorporating smaller arches.
Five principal elements embrace the structural beauty of the complex:
the main gateway, garden, mosque, jawāb (literally “answer”; a building mirroring the mosque), and mausoleum (including its four minarets).
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