The “Seven Wonders of the World”, also known as the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World”, describes seven great constructions known in the Hellenistic period (see notes 1). None of them but the Great Pyramid of Giza (Kheops Pyramid) do exist today.
For centuries, people have been fascinated by the Seven Wonders of the World. These incredible feats of engineering, architecture, and artistry have captured the imagination of generations and continue to inspire awe and wonder today. From the ancient pyramids of Giza to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, each wonder tells a unique story of human achievement and ingenuity. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at each of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and explore the history and significance behind them.
List Seven Wonders of the World [the original 7 wonders]
In the Hellenistic period, each traveler had his own version of the Seven Wonders of the World list, but the best known and earliest surviving was from a poem by Greek-speaking epigrammist Antipater of Sidon.
1. Great Pyramid of Giza [Cheops Pyramid]
- Date of Construction: 2584-2561 BC
- Builder: Egyptians
- Date of destruction: Still in existence, majority of facade gone
- Cause of Destruction: –
- Modern location: Giza Necropolis, Egypt
Situated in the Giza Necropolis near El Giza, Egypt, the Great Pyramid of Giza, also known as the Pyramid of Khufu or the Pyramid of Cheops, is the most ancient and massive of the three pyramids in the area. It is recognized as the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and the sole monument in the list that has withstood the test of time in its original form.
Experts in Egyptology have concluded that the pyramid was erected as a tomb around 2560 BC, after a 10 to 20-year construction period, based on a label found in an interior chamber mentioning the work gang and a reference to the fourth dynasty Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu.
For more than 3,800 years, the Great Pyramid reigned as the tallest human-made structure, soaring at a height of 146.5 meters (481 feet) from 2570 BC to 1311 AD. The Lincoln Cathedral in London took over the title at a height of 159.7 meters (524 feet) in 1311.
Due to natural erosion, the Great Pyramid’s current height stands at 138.8 meters (455 feet).
Memphis and its Necropolis, the Pyramid Fields from Giza to Dahshur, including the great pyramid of Giza are included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
Related: Seven Wonders of the Modern World
2. Hanging Gardens of Babylon
- Date of Construction: Circa 600 BC (evident)
- Builder: Babylonians or Assyrians
- Date of destruction: After the 1st century AD
- Cause of Destruction: Earthquakes (possibly)
- Modern location: Hillah, Babylon Province, Iraq or Nineveh, Nineveh Province, Iraq
According to historical records, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were constructed in the ancient city of Babylon, located near present-day Hillah, Babil province in Iraq. The Neo-Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II, who reigned from 605 to 562 BC, is attributed to have built the gardens, as per the writings of the Babylonian priest Berossus in around 290 BC, cited later by Josephus.
However, there are no existing Babylonian texts that mention the gardens, and no conclusive archaeological evidence has been discovered in Babylon to validate their existence.
So, the existence of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon is a subject of debate among historians and archaeologists. Although they are widely known from ancient texts and have been referenced in many historical accounts, there is no definitive archaeological evidence that conclusively proves the existence of the gardens.
The lack of tangible proof has led some experts to speculate that the gardens might have been an artistic invention or a legend rather than a real architectural marvel. Nevertheless, many historians and enthusiasts still believe that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were a real creation and continue to search for evidence to support their existence.
3. Temple of Artemis
- Date of Construction: Circa 550 BC; and again at 323 BC
- Builder: Lydians, Greeks
- Date of Destruction: 356 BC (by Herostratus), AD 262 (by the Goths)
- Cause of Destruction: Arson by Herostratus, plundering
- Modern location: Near Selçuk, İzmir Province, Turkey
Located in Ephesus, near the current town of Selçuk (İzmir) in Turkey, the Temple of Artemis underwent three complete reconstructions before it was ultimately demolished in 401. Today, only the foundations and remnants of sculptures from the most recent temple built at the location have survived.
Dedicated to a regional goddess whom the Greeks identified with Artemis, the goddess of childbirth, wilderness, and hunting, the Temple was constructed using marble and was commissioned by King Croesus of Lydia to replace an older shrine that was destroyed by a flood. The temple was 130 meters (425 feet) in length and was held by columns measuring 18 meters (60 feet) high.
On July 21, 356 BC, a man named Herostratus, seeking notoriety, burned down the Temple of Artemis.
Rather than shying away from his act of arson, Herostratus boldly and proudly took credit for it, hoping to eternally enshrine his name. In an effort to discourage similar behavior, the Ephesian authorities executed him and sought to erase his legacy by forbidding the use of his name under the threat of death. Nonetheless, Herostratus managed to achieve his objective because the ancient historian Theopompus chronicled the event and the perpetrator in his Hellenic.
Classical literature immortalized Herostratus, and his name has become a byword in modern languages for those who perpetrate criminal acts for the sake of gaining attention. The term “Herostratic fame” in English, for instance, is associated with Herostratus and signifies “fame at any cost.”
The Temple of Artemis was the most liked monument by Antipater of Sidon in the Seven Wonders of the World list: “…but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliance, and I said, ‘Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand.'”
4. Statue of Zeus at Olympia
- Date of Construction: 466-456 BC (Temple), 435 BC (Statue)
- Builder: Greeks
- Date of destruction: 5th-6th centuries AD
- Cause of Destruction: Disassembled and reassembled at Constantinople; later destroyed by fire
- Modern location: Olympia, Greece
Crafted by the renowned Greek sculptor Phidias in 435 BC (see notes 4), the Statue of Zeus at Olympia was a colossal seated figure standing at a towering height of approximately 13 meters (43 feet). Nestled within the sanctuary of Olympia in Greece, the statue was erected in the Temple of Zeus and fashioned from a wooden framework draped in ivory plates and gold panels. Adorned with ebony, ivory, gold, and precious stones, the ornate cedarwood throne upon which the statue rested added to the sculpture’s grandeur, depicting the mighty god Zeus in all his glory.
According to the Roman historian who wrote during the early Imperial era of the Roman Empire, Suetonius, the Roman Emperor Caligula (see notes 5) “gave orders that such statues of the gods as were especially famous for their sanctity or for their artistic merit, including that of Zeus at Olympia, should be brought from Greece, in order to remove their heads and put his own in their place.”
Before this could happen, the emperor was assassinated (AD 41); his “approaching murder was foretold by many prodigies. The statue of Jupiter at Olympia, which he had ordered to be taken to pieces and moved to Rome, suddenly uttered such a peal of laughter that the scaffolding collapsed and the workmen took to their heels.”
The exact cause of the Statue of Zeus at Olympia’s demise remains shrouded in mystery. According to the 11th-century Byzantine historian Georgios Kedrenos, the statue was purportedly transported to Constantinople before being destroyed in the catastrophic fire of the Lauseion in AD 475. Alternatively, it may have met its fate alongside the Temple of Zeus, which burned down in AD 425.
Regardless of the circumstances, the loss of this magnificent wonder of the ancient world continues to be mourned to this day. Earlier loss or damage is implied by Lucian of Samosata in the later 2nd century; “they have laid hands on your person at Olympia, my lord High-Thunderer, and you had not the energy to wake the dogs or call in the neighbors; surely they might have come to the rescue and caught the fellows before they had finished packing up the loot.”
5. Mausoleum at Halicarnassus [Mausoleum of Mausolus]
- Date of Construction: 351 BC
- Builder: Carians, Greeks
- Date of Destruction: 12th-15th century AD
- Cause of Destruction: Earthquakes
- Modern location: Bodrum, Turkey
The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, also known as the Tomb of Mausolus or Mausoleum of Mausolus, was constructed between 353 and 350 BC in the city of Halicarnassus, now known as Bodrum in Turkey. Commissioned for Mausolus, a Persian Empire satrap, and his wife-sister Artemisia II of Caria, the structure served as a grand tomb. Its design was the brainchild of the Greek architects Satyros and Pythius of Priene, who created a masterpiece of architectural innovation and aesthetic grandeur.
The monument was renowned for its breathtaking beauty, not only in the structure itself but also in the ornate decorations and statues that adorned its exterior at various levels on the podium and the roof. These sculptures depicted an array of subjects, ranging from humans to animals such as lions and horses, in varying scales. The four gifted Greek sculptors, Bryaxis, Leochares, Scopas, and Timotheus, each contributed to one side of the structure.
Notably, the Mausoleum stands out in history as it was not dedicated to the gods of Ancient Greece, but instead, the statues depicted people and animals, further adding to its uniqueness and allure.
According to Pliny (see notes 6), the mausoleum was 19 meters (63 feet) north and south, shorter on other fronts, 125 meters (411 feet) in circumference, and 25 cubits (11.43 meters – 37 feet and 6 inches) in height. It was surrounded by 36 columns. They called this part the pteron. Above the pteron, there was a pyramid on top with 24 steps equal in height to the lower part. The height of the whole work was 42.5 meters (140 feet).
The only other author that gives the dimensions of the Mausoleum is Hyginus a grammarian in the time of Augustus. He describes the monument as built with shining stones, 24.3 meters (80 feet) high, and 408 meters (1,340 feet) in circumference.
Today, the massive castle of the Knights of Malta still stands in Bodrum, and the polished stone and marble blocks of the Mausoleum can be spotted built into the walls of the structure. At the site of the Mausoleum, only the foundation remains, and there is a small museum.
Among the remnants of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, several surviving sculptures are housed in the British Museum. These include fragments of statues and numerous slabs of the frieze depicting the epic battle between the Greeks and the Amazons. Amidst these exhibits, the images of Mausolus and his queen endure, silently watching over the limited and fragmented remains of the grand tomb that she had constructed for her beloved husband. Despite the decay of time, these artifacts remain a testament to the artistic and cultural achievements of ancient civilizations.
6. Colossus of Rhodes
- Date of Construction: 292-280 BC
- Builder: Greeks
- Date of Destruction: 226 BC
- Cause of Destruction: 226 BC Rhodes earthquake
- Modern location: Rhodes, Greece
The Greek sculptor born on the island of Rhodes, Chares of Lindos (before 305 BC-c. 280 BC) erected the Colossus of Rhodes in 280 BC, a magnificent bronze statue of the Greek god Helios, in the city of Rhodes on the eponymous Greek island. The statue commemorated Rhodes’ triumph over Antigonus I Monophthalmus, the ruler of Cyprus, whose son unsuccessfully laid siege to Rhodes in 305 BC.
At over 30 meters (98 feet) tall, the Colossus of Rhodes was among the most towering ancient statues, but it fell to ruin in the earthquake of 226 BC.
Its exact location is uncertain, but it was believed to have stood at the entrance of the harbor, near the Mandraki area of the city.
7. Lighthouse of Alexandria
- Date of Construction: Circa 280 BC
- Builder: Ptolemaic Egyptians, Greeks
- Date of Destruction: AD 1303-1480
- Cause of Destruction: 1303 Crete earthquake
- Modern location: Alexandria, Egypt
The Lighthouse of Alexandria, also known as the Pharos of Alexandria, was an impressive tower erected by the Ptolemaic Kingdom in the period between 280 and 247 BC. Rising to a height of 393 to 450 feet (120 to 137 meters), it stood as one of the most towering human-built constructions on the planet for many centuries.
The structure suffered severe harm from three earthquakes that occurred between 956 and 1323, ultimately rendering it a deserted, ruined edifice. Despite this, it maintained the distinction of being the third tallest standing wonder of the ancient world (following the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus and the enduring Great Pyramid of Giza). Its remnants remained intact until 1480 when they were employed to construct the Citadel of Qaitbay in the same location.
In 1994, French archaeologists discovered some remains of the lighthouse on the floor of Alexandria’s Eastern Harbor.
Related: 10 recently-lost natural wonders
How the Seven Wonders of the World list started
After Alexander the Great‘s conquest of much of the known world in the 4th century BC, Greek cultural influence and power were at their peak in Europe, Africa, and Asia. After his death, several Hellenistic kingdoms were established throughout southwest Asia (Seleucid Empire, Kingdom of Pergamon) and northeast Africa (Ptolemaic Kingdom).
This resulted in the export of Greek culture and language to these new realms, and moreover Greek colonists themselves. Equally, however, these new kingdoms were influenced by indigenous cultures, adopting local practices when they are beneficial, necessary, or convenient.
This gave Greek travelers access to the civilizations of the Egyptians, Persians, and Babylonians. Impressed and captivated by the landmarks and marvels of the various lands, these travelers began to list what they saw to remember them.
Each traveler had his own version of the list, but the best known and earliest surviving was from a poem by Greek-speaking epigrammist Antipater of Sidon (see notes 2), which he described in a poem composed about 140 BC:
“I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the Colossus of the Sun, and the huge labor of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliance, and I said, ‘Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand.'”Antipater of Sidon
Another 2nd century BC observer, who claimed to be the great Greek engineer Philo of Byzantium (see notes 3), wrote a short account entitled The Seven Sights of the World. However, the incomplete surviving manuscript only covered six of the supposedly seven places, which agreed with Antipater’s list.
Antipater had an earlier version that replaced the Lighthouse of Alexandria of the Seven Wonders of the World with the Walls of Babylon.
Related: Alternative seven wonders of the world: If Antipater of Sidon was living in the more recent times, say the 19th century, he probably would prepare a very different list. Here’s the list of Alternative Seven Wonders of the World
Locations of the Seven Wonders of the World
Geographically, the Seven Wonders of the World list covered only the sculptural and architectural monuments of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions, which then comprised the known world for the Greeks in the Hellenistic period.
Timeline of the Seven Wonders of the World
All “seven wonders of the ancient world” existed at the same time for a period of fewer than 60 years.
- The Hellenistic period is the period of ancient Greek and Mediterranean history between the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and the emergence of the Roman Empire as signified by the Battle of Actium in 31 BC and the subsequent conquest of Ptolemaic Egypt in 30 BC. At this time, Greek cultural influence and power were at its peak in Europe, Africa, and Asia, experiencing prosperity and progress in the arts, exploration, literature, theatre, architecture, music, mathematics, philosophy, and science. It is often considered a period of transition, sometimes even of decadence or degeneration, compared to the brilliance of the Greek Classical era.
- Antipater of Sidon, Antipatros or Antipatros
Sidoniosin the Anthologies, was an ancient Greek poet in the second half of the 2nd century BC. His poems preserved in the Greek Anthology include evocations of art and literature and some epitaphs. But there appears to be confusion in the Anthology between Antipater of Sidon and Antipater of Thessalonica, who lived in the next century. He, along with Philo of Byzantium, Strabo, Herodotus, and Diodorosof Sicily, is attributed to the list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
- Philo of Byzantium (ca. 280 BC – ca. 220 BC), also known as Philo Mechanicus, was a Greek engineer and writer of mechanics, who lived during the latter half of the 3rd century BC. Although he was from Byzantium he lived most of his life in Alexandria, Egypt.
- Phidias or Pheidias (c. 480 – 430 BC) was a Greek sculptor, painter, and architect, who lived in the 5th century BC and is commonly regarded as one of the greatest of all sculptors of Classical Greece.
- “Caligula” (Latin: Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus) was the popular nickname of Gaius (31 August 12 AD – 22 January 41 AD), a Roman Emperor from 37 AD to 41 AD.
- Gaius Plinius Secundus (AD 23 – August 25, AD 79), better known as Pliny the Elder or Pliny, was a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and personal friend of Emperor Vespasian. Spending most of his spare time studying, writing, or investigating natural and geographic phenomena in the field, he wrote an encyclopedic work, Naturalis Historia, which became a model for all other encyclopedias.
- Seven Wonders of the Ancient World on Wikipedia
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