The Ancient Wonders of the World

The pyramids? The Great Wall? The Grand Canyon?  We've all heard of the seven wonders of the world, but it's easy to get stuck counting after just one or two guesses.  The original list of the seven wonders of the world is one made by the ancient Greeks.  Think of it as the earliest edition travel guide the world has known.

This list covers the seven man-made wonders of ancient times, all built before 200 BC. This means the seven natural wonders, the seven modern wonders, and anything including an eighth wonder won't make the pick. So what were the original seven wonders of the world?

The Pyramid of Giza

GizaCredit: Girolame - flickrThe Great Pyramid of Giza is  one of the seven ancient wonders, and incidentally is the only wonder still standing today. All the rest have been destroyed over the past few thousand years.  It was the tallest man-made structure in the world for thousands of years, standing at 480 feet.  Built as a tomb for pharaoh Khufu, it was an architectural masterpiece- the measurements of each side measure within millimeters of each other, and it's level at the base with a tilt of only two centimeters.  The entire pyramid is made of limestone.

The Colossus

The Colossus of Rhodes was a Greek statue made of iron and brass. It towered over 100 feet tall, made in tribute to the sun god Helios for a victory over the Cyprian army.  Unfortunately it only lasted for about fifty years before an earthquake toppled it, but the ruins were so impressive that they were left in place for a number of centuries afterward.  Nowadays, any huge structure built by mankind is called 'colossal,' in tribute to this first giant of the ancient world.

The Alexandria Lighthouse

Lighthouse(50178)Credit: bazylek100 - flickrKnown for its famous library of ancients texts, Alexandria's wonder was in fact its lighthouse for guiding sea traffic.  It was about 400 feet high, almost as tall as the Great Pyramid of Giza, and made of masonry.  It lasted for well over a thousand years before earthquakes toppled it in the 1300's .  Now the ruins lie under the harbor.

Because the lighthouse was located on the small island outside of Alexandria called Pharos, the Greeks of the day took to calling it 'the pharos.'  Pharos then became the Greek word for any lighthouse, a root which passed on into other Romance languages that share this word.

Hanging Gardens of Babylon

The hanging gardens of Babylon were famous for an elaborate water system that irrigated plants as high as 75 feet above the ground.  These gardens supposedly had an elaborate terrace system that raised them to the same level as the city wall, with large trees growing on the roof.  There is little historical or archaeological evidence about this wonder, but it must have been an amazing sight in the dry plains of Iraq to create lush gardens towering in the sky.  If they did exist, they were destroyed after a number of centuries by an earthquake.

The Statue of Zeus

ZeusCredit: JustinMN - flickrThe four wonders above are perhaps the most famous ones, which means it's easy to forget the next three.  In Olympia, Greece, there was a large temple to Zeus, and inside it was a throned Zeus statue that rose 40 feet high.  It was made of gold and ivory plated bronze.  This one is sure to have existed, as the nearby workshop where it was made was excavated in the mid 20th century.  

Zeus looked like he would tear the roof off the temple if he stood up.  The marvelous statue sat motionless for close to 1000 years before it inexplicably was destroyed.

Temple of Artemis at Ephesus

Another wonder of the world was the great temple of Artemis (Diana) near Ephesus.  Now just an empty site with a bit of rubble, it was a central destination for veneration in the ancient world.  It went through three building phases as it sustained arson and destruction throughout the centuries, but in its grandest form had over 120 columns and stood 60 feet high.  The seven wonders traveler Antipater claimed that of all the seven ancient wonders, this one was by far the most wondrous of all.

Mausoleum of Halicarnassus

HalicarnassusCredit: bazylek100 - flickrThis grand house for the departed Mausolus, in Halicarnassus (now in Turkey), gave rise to the word mausoleum.   Mausolus was a regional king who admired the Greek ways.  After he died, his wife decided to erect for him the grandest tomb imaginable.  It stood 140 feet high, taller than the Colossus, and was embellished with reliefs and sculptures along every side.   It lasted for well over one thousand years before finally being destroyed.  Parts of the sculptures can still be seen today in the British Museum.


Pyramids(50247)Credit: s w ellis - flickrNow you should be able to remember the seven wonders of the world, the original list.  It's two tombs, two temples, a lighthouse, a statue, and (supposedly) some gardens.  Try to go see what's left of them the next time you're cruising the Mediterranean!