1. GREAT PYRAMID OF GIZA, EGYPT
The Great Pyramids, located at Giza on the west bank of the Nile River north of Cairo, are the only wonder of the ancient world that has survived to the present day. The three pyramids–Khufu (Cheops), Khafra (Chephren) and Menkaura (Mycerimus)–were built between 2700 B.C. and 2500 B.C. as royal tombs. The largest and most impressive is Khufu, which covers 13 acres and is believed to contain more than 2 million stone blocks that weigh from two to 30 tons each. For more than 4,000 years, Khufu reigned as the tallest building in the world. In fact, it took modern man until the 19th century to build a taller structure. Amazingly, the nearly symmetrical pyramids were built without the aid of modern tools or surveying equipment. Scientists believe that the Egyptians used log rollers and sledges to move the stones into place. The sloped walls, which were intended to mimic the rays of Ra, the sun god, were originally built as steps, and then filled in with limestone. The interior of the pyramids included narrow corridors and hidden chambers in an unsuccessful attempt to foil grave robbers. Although modern archeologists have found some great treasures among the ruins, they believe most of what the pyramids once contained was looted within 250 years of their completion.
2. HANGING GARDENS OF BABYLON
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, if they existed as described, were built by Nebuchadnezzar II between 605-562 BCE as a gift to his wife. They are described by the ancient writer Diodorus Siculus as being self-watering planes of exotic flora and fauna reaching a height of over 75 feet (23 metres) through a series of climbing terraces. Diodorus wrote that Nebuchadnezzar’s wife, Amtis of Media, missed the mountains and flowers of her homeland and so the king commanded that a mountain be created for her in Babylon. The contoversy over whether the gardens existed comes from the fact that they are nowhere mentioned in Babylonian history and that Herodotus, ‘the Father of History’, makes no mention of them in his descriptions of Babylon. There are many other ancient facts, figures, and places Herodotus fails to mention, however, or has been shown to be wrong about. Diodorus, Philo, and the historian Strabo all claim the gardens existed. They were destroyed by an earthquake sometime after the 1st century CE.
3. STATUE OF ZEUS AT OLYMPIA
The statue of Zeus is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It is a chryselephantine statue, which means it was made of ivory and gold. History has not left us any vestiges of this statue, it has been destroyed, and there are very few representations dating back to the time it existed, which makes it one of the marvels a little apart, for which doubts remain about the reality of its form, the position of Zeus, its attributes, and so on. Its history, however, is fairly well known. His builder is Phidias, an Athenian sculptor who did a similar work shortly before that of Olympia which serves us as a reference today, but this artist was known for other sculptures. He created the statue of Zeus in 436 BC.
4. TEMPLE OF ARTEMIS AT EPHESUS
The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus was a Greek temple dedicated to Artemis, the goddess of hunt, wild animals and a lot of other things. It took 120 years to built and was finally finished around 550 BC. Built of marble, it was the favorite wonder of Antipater of Sidon. A young man called Herostratus burned the temple down on July 21, 356 BC to achieve lasting fame. The outraged Ephesians sentenced Herostratus to death and forbade anyone from mentioning his name, which apparently didn’t work out very well. That very same night, Alexander the Great was supposedly born. The temple was restored, destroyed by the Goths, and restored again. In 401, the temple was finally destroyed by a mob led by the Archbishop of Constantinople.
5. MAUSOLEUM AT HALICARNASSUS
The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus is a funerary monument that was completed in 350 BC and was demolished definitively during the 15th century, after its stones were reused to build the castle St Peter. Halicarnassus was an important city of the kingdom of Caria, a kingdom become independent under the governor Mausole for which the monument was built. Nowadays the city is called Bodrum, it is a well-known Turkish tourist destination. This monument was ranked among the seven wonders of the world not because of its size or majesty but because of the beauty of its appearance and the way it was decorated with sculptures or ornaments. The mausoleum was the main architectural monument of Halicarnassus, dominating a small hill overlooking the harbor. The various documentary sources, the archaeological excavations and the representations are fairly unanimous, one can therefore estimate that there is a great probability that the mausoleum of Halicarnassus is in conformity with the description below. It should be known that much of the information we have today about the mausoleum and its architecture comes from Pliny the Elder, it is he who is the author of a description about its shape, its dimensions. Other writings of Pausanias, Strabo and Vitruvius also provide us with further information on the Mausoleum.
6. COLOSSUS OF RHODES
The Colossus of Rhodes was an enormous statue depicting the city’s patron god, Helios (the god of the sun), and stood in Mandraki Harbour. Though it stood for little more than 50 years fully intact, its grand size and imposing presence at the coastal entrance of Rhodes made it an undeniable candidate as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It is also the wonder about which the least is entirely known.
Rhodes was a Greek island that was situated at an intersection of two ancient sea-trade routes, southwest of Asia Minor and near Egypt. When Alexander the Great died unexpectedly in 323 BCE, the administration of his empire and its future were uncertain. Eventually, three of his generals took control and, as a result of several wars, divided the empire into three regions. Rhodes sided with one general, Ptolemy, who eventually controlled Egypt. Together, they forged a fruitful relationship, as well as control of trade in the eastern Mediterranean. One of the other generals, Antigonus, became riled at this, and tried to convince Rhodes to side with him. Rhodes, of course, balked at this. Antigonus then called on his son Demetrius to invade Rhodes in 305 BCE. Despite an army of 40,000 men and 200 warships, Demetrius was unable to break through Rhodes’ impressive defenses and the relief troops that Ptolemy had sent in.
As a result of this decisive victory, it was determined that a commemorative statue be erected to honor Helios, the patron god of Rhodes. This would prove rather uncomplicated for Rhodes, as Demetrius had left behind all of the equipment he and his army had used in his invasion attempts, and thus the Rhodians were able to finance the construction of the statue with the sale of the goods.
The people of Rhodes called on Greek sculptor Chares of Lindos in 294 BCE to cast a giant bronze sculptural depiction of Helios. Over the course of 12 years, Chares and his men worked to complete the monument. It is generally agreed that it was forged around towers of stone blocks, standing 110 feet high. Helios stood on a 50-foot tall marble base, positioned at the entrance to Rhodes’ harbour. Using materials that had been melted down from the weapons left by Demetrius, the stone towers were reinforced with iron beams and the bronze was attached to the shell. The finished statue would have likely depicted Helios standing with his legs together (though this theory differs from others), holding a torch in his right hand, and a spear in his left hand (very evocative of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbour). The Colossus of Rhodes was completed in 280 BCE.
When Rhodes suffered an earthquake in 224 BCE, the Colossus broke at the knees, the top portion toppling to the ground. Though Ptolemy III offered to reconstruct it, an oracle advised the Rhodians against it. Therefore, for the next 900 years the ruins of the Colossus of Rhodes lay on the ground, attracting visitors from all over the world to witness its massive scale. When the Arabs conquered Rhodes in 654 CE, the remains were broken down and transported to Syria, and likely sold piece by piece. And thus ends the story of the short-lived wonder of the ancient world, the Colossus of Rhodes. It was arguably one of the most formidable statues of ancient history, and one of the least appreciated.
7. LIGHTHOUSE OF ALEXANDRIA
The lighthouse of Alexandria is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the most recent. It is a tall lighthouse made of stone, with characteristic architecture and whose remains are currently in the port of Alexandria. The importance of this edifice placed it on the list of the seven wonders even though it did not appear in it intially: The document which serves us as a reference, the Palatinus 398, written by Philo de Bysance, not mentioned simply because it was earlier, but the lighthouse came to replace the ramparts of Babylon from this list at a time we do not know.
The presence of the Alexandrian pahre among the seven wonders of the world is thus a way of marking the power of the Egyptian kingdom during Antiquity, Alexandria being the commercial, social and intellectual center of this kingdom at that time. Constructed during the 3rd century BC, it was demolished definitively during the 14th century, when the region underwent major earthquakes.
There are two reasons for the construction of the Alexandria lighthouse. First of all a utilitarian reason. The city had, at a short distance, an island called “Pharos”. Gradually brought closer to the land by the deposit of silt brought by the Nile, it became a peninsula, forming two curves tightening towards the earth, delimiting two natural harbors that were quickly used.
Still, the Egyptian coast is dangerous. Flanked by reefs flush with the surface and even under water, it has sent a large number of Greek and Roman ships to the bottom, causing human dramas and material losses. To secure the port it was necessary to build a lighthouse, which was done.
The other reason is symbolic. A lighthouse was a rare building in the world, it was difficult to build because the proximity to the sea made complex work and the maintenance of the building was much more difficult to achieve than for buildings on land. Moreover, such works were always more useful for other buildings than for a lighthouse, which had always been used by sailors. It was therefore not only useful to build a lighthouse at the entrance to the port. It also marked the power of Egypt, and more particularly of Alexandria. The lighthouse was therefore a symbol of power, it served to propagate the name of Alexandria in the World.
Note that its reputation was so great that the name of this island became a common name: The island of Pharos, originally the word “Pharus” in Latin, which became “Phare” in French. All the Latin languages have the same word to designate this edifice.