The 7 Wonders Of The Ancient World
The Colossus of Rhodes
When the city of Rhodes found themselves with extra funds they decided the best way to spend it was to build a giant bronze statue – certainly an excellent choice. The Colossus was an image of the sun god Helios that stood by the harbor entrance in the city of Rhodes. It was 107ft tall, took twelve years to build, and was completed in 282 B.C only to be destroyed by an earthquake fifty-six years later. In those fifty-six years it made an impression strong enough to last two and a half thousand years in history and myth.
Alexander the Great died in 323 B.C with no successor, and his empire was quickly divided by war. Rhodes found itself under siege until 304 B.C when reinforcements arrived to drive away the invading forces. In their hurry to leave, the invaders left behind siege towers, weapons, and other tools of war that the city of Rhodes gathered, sold, and reused – this was the extra money and metal that built the Colossus.
The Colossus was built on a 50ft pedestal of marble. Its interior was made of iron rods and reinforced with stone; the skin was molded bronze riveted together. The old wooden siege engines were used as scaffolding, often resting on massive piles of dirt to reach the upper portions of the statue. It isn’t too far-fetched to imagine something like the Statue of Liberty when thinking of the Colossus – it was the Colossus of Rhodes that inspired the designers of the Statue of Liberty.
The statue did not stand astride the harbor entrance, as many popular depictions show, but stood with legs together near the harbor entrance. It is now considered to be impossible for the statue to have been built across the harbor – the methods available would have blocked the harbor entrance for twelve years, and the bronze and iron could not have supported the weight of the statue.
In 226 B.C an earthquake broke the Colossus at the knee and it fell to the ground in pieces: big pieces. Even when it was in chunks on the ground, people still traveled to see the ruins. Ptolemy III offered to fund the reconstruction of the Colossus, but the Pythia, the respected and feared oracle of Apollo in the nearby temple of Delphi, proclaimed that the statue fell because Helios was angry with the people of Rhodes – and so the statue was left in ruins.
Popular legend tells that the Colossus remained on the ground for 800 years, until invading Arabs sold the metal to a Jewish merchant in Edessa. However, all accounts of this story can be traced back to only once source, Theophanes the Confessor, and it has been plausibly argued that the scapegoating of Arabs and Jews was contrived to fit with popular Christian mythology. The far less dramatic option is the more likely; the ruins of the Colossus were slowly stripped of valuables until nothing remained.
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
The Hanging Gardens were built by King Nebuchadnezzar to please his wife, Amytis, who was longing for the gardens of her Persian homeland.
The Gardens were built of a series of tiers, each smaller than the last, with the top tier some 75ft high. The majority of the structure was made of stone slabs and bricks, but the bottom of each tier was also sealed with a layer of lead to prevent moisture from seeping into the stone that supported the soil and plant-life.
How exactly the Gardens lifted water is not entirely clear, but the most likely method was the use of an Archimedes’ screw. This large metal screw would have been tightly sealed in a pipe that connected to the Euphrates River. Workers would then rotate the screw, forcing water up through the pipe. All accounts of the Gardens describe some system of raising water that is concealed from view, so the pipes, and workers, would have operated from the interior of the structure.
The real controversy about the Hanging Gardens is that is may never have existed at all; it isn’t mentioned in the chronicles of Babylonian history, and the Greek accounts seem to be derivative from only one or two original sources. There were other famous gardens in the Neo-Babylonian Empire, and it has been speculated that the Gardens in Nineveh, on the banks of the Tigris, may have been mistakenly attributed to Babylon. Some archeologists claimed to have found the foundations of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, but the discoveries remain vague enough to be widely contested.
If the Hanging Gardens of Babylon did exist they were short lived; an earthquake sometime after the 2nd century B.C destroyed this Wonder of the World, if it ever existed at all.
The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
The Temple of Artemis was so beautiful and so loved by the Ephesians that only after it was destroyed for the fourth time was it finally left in ruins. It was a sacred site of worship and pilgrimage for the Goddess Artemis, patron of the hunt, the wild, and childbirth; Artemis would later become the goddess Diana in the Roman tradition.
The Temple’s first, less famous form was built sometime in the 8th century B.C, but a flood largely destroyed the temple and scattered much of its wealth and sculpture. In 550 B.C construction started on the famous version of the Temple that would have been seen by the Greek writers who catalogued the Seven Wonders. Though only 377ft long, 180ft across, and a little over 80ft high, the Ephesians spend 120 years building the temple. It was made entirely of marble, and accented with gold and jewels. The exterior was made of two rows of columns, the base of each lavishly decorated with relief sculpture – it was widely known as one of the greatest temples for travelers to visit in the ancient world.
It was fame that brought the Temple to its next destruction; it was burnt down in 356 B.C by a man named Herostratus who wanted his name to go down in history. The authorities had him tortured and executed, and speaking his name was forbidden – their hope to eliminate him from history failed, however, and here, some 2400 years later, he has made it to the internet.
This arson of the temple coincided with the birth of Alexander the Great, and the Greek historian Plutarch wrote that Artemis was too occupied with the birth of Alexander to save her temple from the fire. When Alexander grew to rule the lands that held the temple he offered to rebuild it, but the Ephesians refused. Without his help, the Temple was finally restored in 323 B.C.
It remained standing until 262 A.D, when raiding Goths sailed to Ephesus to plunder and burn the Temple. It was restored again and lasted until 401 A.D when it was destroyed, for the last time, by an angry mob. The leader of that mob was St. John Chrysostom, an early figurehead of Christianity. By 400 A.D few people worshipped Artemis and the temple was left in ruin.
All that remains at the ruins of the Temple of Artemis is a single column made from broken fragments that have been found on the site, but some of the relief sculpture was preserved and can be found in the British National Museum.
The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
This wonder was created as an act of sisterly affection by Queen Artemisia for the deceased King Mausolus – her brother and husband.
It was built in 351 B.C in what is now Bodrum, Turkey. At 135ft tall its height wasn’t particularly impressive, but the sculptures that adorned the structure made it a wonder. The courtyard surrounding the Mausoleum was decorated with carved animals and a mounted stone soldier at each of its four corners; each side of the Mausoleum was adorned with relief carvings depicting battles and generals; the exterior was decorated with thirty-six columns and stone soldiers stood watch between each; at the top of the Mausoleum was a quadriga – a chariot pulled by four horses – led by statues of King Mausolus and his sibling Queen Artemisia.
It wasn’t until the 11th century A.D that earthquakes started to collapse the pillars and roof, but during its time intact it was so well known that the name Mausolus became the root for the word mausoleum, today meaning any ornate tomb. By the 15th century, earthquakes had caused the structure to completely collapse, and when in 1522 the crusading knights of St. John needed stone to fortify Castle Bodrum, they took the marble blocks from the ruins of the Mausoleum.
The Knights also found several intact statues. Those they liked were displayed in the castle, but those that didn’t meet the crusaders’ standards were ground up and used for lime to make plaster. Perhaps if you look at the walls in Castle Bodrum you’ll see bits of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
The Statue of Zeus at Olympia
The 40ft statue of Zeus was made by the Greek artist Phidias in 432 B.C. The statue was built in the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, the original site of the Olympic Games. It was, while it lasted, a wonder that drew travelers, worshipers, and covetous eyes from many directions.
The statue has Zeus seated on a throne lined with ebony, gold, and jewels. His skin is made of ivory and his cloak of gold. In his right hand he holds Nike, the goddess of victory, and in his left is a scepter topped with an eagle. The statue wasn’t made entirely of these valuable materials, and beneath the exterior of ivory and gold Zeus was made of carved wood.
The first blow to this wonder came at the hand of Emperor Caligula in the first century A.D; Caligula had decided that all famous and beautiful statues of Greek gods should be brought to Rome, have their heads removed, and be refitted with a head bearing his own likeness. His plan did not go well. His workmen rigged scaffolding and supports to try to move the statue, but their scaffolding quickly collapsed. Records don’t say much about the people carrying the statue, but the crushing of a few laborers likely wouldn’t make the history books. The effort to move Zeus was abandoned, and Caligula was shortly thereafter assassinated.
The rest gets murky – there are two debated theories as to how the statue of Zeus was destroyed. One version has the statue being moved to Constantinople where it remained in the Palace of Lausus until it was destroyed by fire in 475 A.D. Alternately, some historians argue that it remained in the Temple at Olympia until that was destroyed by fire in 425 A.D.
One way or another, Zeus burnt, but he left quite a legacy.
The Pharos Lighthouse at Alexandria
The Lighthouse at Alexandria was so legendary that it was thought to set enemy ships on fire before they ever reached the city’s harbor. It was so famous that its name, Pharos, became the root word for lighthouse in many of the Romance languages.
Built around 280 B.C, the Pharos Lighthouse was anywhere from 350 to 450ft tall. To keep out the pounding waters the interlocked stone blocks were sealed together with lead. It took its name from the island it was built on – Pharos, just off the coast of Alexandria. A giant fire was lit every night at the peak of the lighthouse and reflected upwards of 47 kilometers out over the ocean by polished mirrors.
It was Ptolemy that commissioned the lighthouse when he took power after the death of Alexander the Great, but the building was designed and built by the architect Sostratus. Ptolemy wanted all the glory of the lighthouse for himself, and he forbade Sostratus from engraving his name anywhere on the work. The architect found a way around this limitation; trusting that the King would know little about the mundane details of construction, Sostratus hid an inscription of his name in stone under plaster. This would have been sneaky enough on its own, but Sostratus then carved an inscription honoring Ptolemy into the surface of the plaster. After years of weathering the plaster would crumble and reveal the stone inscription of the Architect, Sostratus. Presumably, by then the King and Architect would be safely dead.
The only problem with the story is that there aren’t any remains to know if it actually happened – the Pharos Lighthouse was destroyed in the 14th century by earthquake, and then the ruins were reused for other structures. Scholars and Historians have derived all of what they know about the Pharos Lighthouse from travelers’ journals, diaries, and histories. A few of the original, blank stones can be found on the ocean floor, their watery grave an ironic tribute to the lighthouse they once supported.
The Great Pyramid of Cheops at Giza
The oldest and only wonder still standing, the Great Pyramid of Cheops at Giza is a 481ft tall, 5.9 million ton, 2.3 million block marvel. Built around 2560 B.C, the Great Pyramid predates the other six wonders by some 1700 years. Furthermore, it remained the world’s tallest structure for 3800 years; it was only surpassed in 1311 A.D by the Lincoln Cathedral in England.
The structure that is visible today is the inner structure of the pyramid; originally it was covered in smooth, polished capstones that glistened in the desert sun. The sides of the pyramid’s base are 755ft and 8 inches, and identical to within a few millimeters; the slope of each side is exactly 51 degrees and 51 minutes; the stones fit together so well that a knife blade won’t fit between them; the precision with which the pyramid was built, in a time period without iron, wheels, or pulleys, remains one of its most contested mysteries.
Why build such a huge and indestructible pile of limestone? For the Pharaoh it was a gateway into the afterlife. The Pharaoh Cheops (which is the Greek version of his name; he is also known as Khufu) had the Pyramid built as tomb. Cheops’ Great Pyramid, the largest and oldest of the three pyramids at Giza, took an enormous amount of manpower and resources to build, though astoundingly the Great Pyramid was likely built in only 20 years.
But how was such a massive structure built? There are several competing theories, and a few others that exist in a field of their own. The huge limestone blocks, each weighing around 2 tons, were quarried using copper chisels and wooden wedges. Once the wedges were in a crack carved by the chisels they were soaked in water – the water caused the wood to expand and crack the limestone. Once they were quarried, the blocks were dragged by workers, floated on barges across the Nile, and then dragged, or perhaps levered and rolled, to the site of the Pyramid.
That much about the construction is generally agreed on.
How exactly the stones were carried up to the Pyramid is another matter entirely. Some theories postulate the use of various ramps made of earth, but the scale of such ramps makes them larger than the Pyramid itself and a near impossibility in terms of construction time. Other theories suggest that the stones were levered and dragged up the sides of the Pyramid, but for the granite stones used in the central chamber, each weighing nearly 80 tons, this method seems impossible. Another theory argues that each block could be tipped and wedged, and then the process repeated for alternating sides of the block – this would slowly raise the block on stilts so it could be moved up the Pyramid.
More recent theories argue that a series of internal ramps could have been used to haul the stones, or that the blocks were made in-place with a type of limestone concrete, but these have yet to garner much serious support.
There are, of course, several more abstract theories. Some people are convinced that the Pyramid was built by a now lost, highly advanced civilization around 10,000 B.C, but no evidence other than the disbelief that ancient Egyptians could build such a massive and precise structure supports the theory. Oh, or it could have been aliens.
Even though it is the only wonder still standing, the Great Pyramid has not been without its trials. The capstones that once covered the surface are largely gone. A massive earthquake in the 13th century shook most of them loose, and then they were gathered and shipped to Cairo to be used in new constructions. In the later dynasties of Egypt the Great Pyramid was likely opened and emptied for resources to help build new tombs for pharaohs in the Valley of the Kings. This, no doubt, would be a source of significant disappointment for Abdullah Al-Mamun and his men when they tunneled into the pyramid in 820 A.D. The tunnel they dug is still in use, however, and if ever you go to tour the Great Pyramid of Cheops at Giza you will enter the 4500 year old tomb through a tunnel carved by grave robbers in the 8th century A.D.