10 Wonders of the Ancient World

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wonders of the ancient worldThousands of years ago, ancient writers compiled a list of “seven wonders of the ancient world” they believed represented breathtaking works of art and architecture that served as a testament to the brilliance and ingenuity of human beings. The first version of the list is thought to have been composed in around 140 BC, by Antipater of Sidon in the form of a poem. Even though only seven made the formal list, countless amazing structures were constructed during ancient history that deserve just as much immense recognition.

10The Colosseum

the colosseum

The Colosseum is Rome’s most notorious and recognizable structure, even despite being built in 70 AD by the Flavian dynasty. Sitting just east of the Roman Forum, the timeless amphitheater plays host to approximately 4 million annual visitors from all over the world. Undeterred after undergoing renovations over the years to restore two-thirds of the original Colosseum, the landmark stands at 157 feet high and has a perimeter of 1,788 feet, as well as four floors high that flaunt 80 elegant arches each. The stadium’s capacity was about 50,000 spectators, which included seating for nobles and the common man.

Rome is a warrior state and their combative nature influenced the types of events held within the Colosseum. A series of underground tunnels and rooms often times held gladiators and wild animals used for shows. The most popular events included chariot races, gladiator games, and the naumachiae, which were reproductions of famous naval battles. Actors or participants for the various events were either criminals already condemned for death, slaves, or prisoners of war. Millions of people and animals were killed on the main stage throughout the years until the final gladiatorial game was showcased in AD 438, when the games were finally abolished by Emperor Valentinian III.

9Great Pyramids of Giza

great pyramid of giza

Egypt boasts the oldest Wonder of the Ancient World, as the Great Pyramid of Giza was built in around 2560 BC. The fascinating structure was originally constructed as a mortuary monument for Khufu, the second Pharaoh from the Fourth Dynasty. The Great Pyramid was constructed from 2.3 million stone blocks, each weighing around 7 tons, that were transported from Aswan. Before erosion took effect, the pyramid stood at 481 feet tall. Even with thousands of people helping with construction, the spectacle took approximately 20 years to complete due to the travel involved with hauling the stones and the complexity of the structure.

The impressive architecture also features four sides that individually cover 5.5 acres of area. The sides are oriented to the four cardinal directions of the compass and are slightly concave, the only pyramid to be built in this manner. Casing stones made of highly polished limestone were used to cover the exterior of the pyramid. This material reflected the sun’s light and allowed the structure to shine like a polished jewel. Tomb robbers and other vandals through the years have stripped the immaculate limestone from the pyramid.

The Great Pyramid of Giza, also referred to as the Great Pyramid of Khufu, is surrounded by two smaller pyramids: the Pyramid of Menkaure and the Pyramid of Khafre, which was named after the son of Pharaoh Khufu. The pyramid of Khafre stores the Great Sphinx, another historical Egyptian icon in itself. The three structures are precisely aligned with the Constellation of Orion.

8Great Wall of China

great wall of china

Many people incorrectly believe the Great Wall is a single wall, but the framework actually consists of numerous walls and fortifications. Each state (Chu, Qi, Wei, Han, Zhao, Yan, and Qin) had their own wall for protection. The wall was initially established to prevent raids from malicious nomads into the Chinese Empire, but eventually failed in 1211 AD when Genghis Khan invaded and overtook China.

Thousands of convicts and soldiers formed the labor force when Emperor Qin Shi Huang ordered the construction of the Great Wall of China around 221 BC. Some estimates have as many as 400,000 workers perished during construction from exhaustion, disease, and the structure caving in. Contrary to the myths, no human remains have ever been discovered within the foundation of the wall.

After thousands of years, the Great Wall of China sits in rough shape and is slowly deteriorating. The China Great Wall Society and International Friends of the Great Wall are two organizations that are dedicated to preserving the timeless architecture, but they are battling both humans and nature. It is said that nearly 2,000 miles, or 30%, of the wall has been eroded or damaged by human beings.

7Temple of Artemis at Ephesus

temple of artemis

In 800 BC, Cherisiphron, an architect from Crete, and his son, Metagenes, built the temple in Ephesus that allowed Romans and Greeks to worship the Greek Goddess Artemis. The shrine was the first one of its kind to be constructed entirely of marble, but the masterful artwork that adorned it made the structure magnificent. The life-size statue of Artemis was made of gold, silver, ebony, and black stone. The interior was embellished with sculptures, of mostly the Amazons, created by renowned Greek sculptors Polyclitus, Cresilas, Pheidias, and Phradmon.

Although the true number isn’t known, excavations show that the temple was destroyed and reconstructed at least three times. The most notorious effort came on the night Alexander the Great was born, as an arsonist named Herostratus set the sanctuary ablaze on July 21, 356 BC. Before being executed, Herostratus admitted to burning the temple down only to give fame to his name. The temple was rebuilt after the death of Alexander the Great, but was plundered and destroyed for the last time in 262 AD by the the East Germanic Tribe, the Goths. Today, all that remains is a single column made of various fragments discovered around the area where the spectacle once stood.

6Statue of Zeus at Olympia

statue of zeus

Crafted by Athenian sculptor Phidias in around 435 BC, the Statue of Zeus was created to glorify the king of Greek gods. The masterpiece was stored within the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, where the Olympic Games transpired every four years. Athletes who participated in the games would swear an oath regarding the rules of the games, in front of the statue.

Phidias worked diligently in a workshop just west of Zeus’ temple for 12 years before completing his extraordinary monument. The statue towered over its visitors, standing more than 40 feet tall in order to signify how powerful and almighty Zeus was compared to normal people. Zeus was portrayed sitting down, much like Abraham Lincoln’s memorial, while holding a scepter in one hand and Nike, the Goddess of Victory, in the other. More impressively, the throne Zeus was on was constructed out of gold, ivory, ebony, and inlaid with other precious stones.

When emperor Theodosius I banned the Olympic Games in 391 CE, the Temple of Zeus was forcibly closed. The statue would be transported to a palace in Constantinople, but it would be destroyed by a fire in 462 CE. Nothing remains at the site of the original temple other than debris and fallen columns.

5Mausoleum at Halicarnassus

mausoleum at halicarnassus

In around 350 BC, Queen Artemisia gathered famous architects Satyros and Pytheos from Greece to design an extraordinary tomb for her dead brother and king, Mausolus. The mausoleum was located in Halicarnassus, an ancient capital of a small kingdom along Asia Minor’s Mediterranean coast. Artemisia also implemented the help of great sculptors such as Byraxis, Leocharis, Timotheus, and Scopas of Paros, who were occupied by hundreds of other workers under them. The final product sat on top of a hill that overlooked the city Mausolus once commanded, and was covered in white Proconnesian marble.

Halicarnassus fell to Alexander the Great in 334 BC and was attacked twice by pirates in 62 and 58 BC, but the sanctuary remained generally undamaged. During the 13th century, a series of earthquakes crumbled the mausoleum. Remains of the structure were used by crusaders to construct their own architecture. Some of the best artwork within the sanctuary was taken and exhibited in the Bodrum Castle before the British Ambassador recovered it and displayed the pieces in the British Museum.

4Colossus of Rhodes

colossus of rhodes

Mystery clouds the early history of Colossus of Rhodes, an enormous statue of a male figure located on the Greek island of Rhodes. The structure was designed by Greek sculptor Charles of Lindos and was created to commemorate the sun god Helios and the island’s successful defense against an attack from Macedonia in 305 BC. The material used to create the iconic monument was derived from melting the equipment and weapons left behind by the Macedonian soldiers following the battle.

When it was erected in around 280 BC, the Colossus of Rhodes stood approximately 110 feet tall. The statue was positioned at the entrance of the Mandraki Harbour, demonstrating power and intimidation to potentially malicious encounters. Although the statue’s posture is relatively unknown, Helios most likely would have been standing upright and holding a spear in his left hand and a torch in his right, similar to the Statue of Liberty. Many believe the legs of Helios were spread apart, straddling the entrance of the harbor, but that theory has been debated. If the legs were positioned in that manner, the entire mouth of the harbor would have effectively been barricaded and unusable during construction.

In 224 BC, Rhodes experienced an earthquake that was significant enough to collapse the Colossus at the knees. The ruins remained on the ground in their fallen position for approximately 900 years until the Arabs overtook Rhodes in 654 AD and transported them to Syria. There, they were sold and legend states that nearly 900 camels were used to remove the various pieces.

3Lighthouse of Alexandria

lighthouse of alexandria

The last spectacle to be listed on Antipater of Sidon’s list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was the Lighthouse of Alexandria. Also known as the Pharos of Alexandria, the structure was constructed during the 3rd century BC by Ptolemy Soter, the succeeding ruler of the Egyptian region of Alexander the Great starting in 323 BC.  It sat on the island of Pharos, a tiny island at the front of Alexandria’s harbor.

Designed by Greek architect Sostratus of Cnidus, the lighthouse was composed of stone and bolstered in molten lead in order to defend itself against the ocean’s waves. To work effectively, the peak held a mirror that reflected sunlight during the day and a fire was lit in the top level of the Pharos every night. In addition to being used for navigational purposes, it is also believed that the lighthouse used its mirror to set enemy ships on fire in the harbor.

Earthquakes in 1303 and 1323 eventually destroyed the structure. Remains were used in the composition of Fort Qaitbey in the 15th century and have also been found in the area. Underwater archaeologists discovered hundreds of immense masonry blocks in the waters off Pharos Island. The Egyptian government uses the site to allow divers access to viewing the remains of the lighthouse and other sculptures that reside in the Alexandrian Harbor.

2Egyptian Labyrinth

Egyptian labyrinth

The word “labyrinth” is derived from the Greek word “labyrinthos,” meaning a maze-like structure. Living up to its name, the Egyptian Labyrinth was a temple surrounded by a wall and consisted of 12 courts and 3,000 chambers that were interlocked with corridors and crisscrossing alleyways. Hieroglyphics and paintings coated the walls throughout. Within the maze-like structure laid a burial chamber for King Minos of Crete.

As like some of the other ancient wonders, there are details regarding the labyrinth that are speculative, but Greek historian Herodotus has provided his take on the grand temple during his visit in 5th century BC. Even though he documented his findings around 1,300 years after it was built, Herodotus claimed the sprawling collection of interconnected buildings and passageways appeared even more wondrous than the Egyptian pyramids. His documentation has been compared to other first-hand experiences, including descriptions provided by classic authors such as Manetho Aegyptiaca, Diodorus Siculus, Pliny, and Strabo. Modern day historians have determined similarities amongst their work, but the true elegance of the labyrinth will never be witnessed again.

1Pont du Gard

pont du gard

This giant Roman aqueduct is located in the South of France near Remoulins. Many believe the bridge-like architecture was constructed in around 19 BC by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, son-in-law of Augustus, but recent excavations suggest the Pont du Gard was erected in the first century AD. Roman architects and hydraulic engineers designed the bridge to allow the aqueduct of Nimes to cross the Gard river. Not only did they create a fully functional overpass, but the bridge was left alone when it was no longer needed, due to its exquisite aesthetics.

Unbelievably, no mortar was used in the construction of the Pont du Gard and it remains standing after over two thousand years.  It was built mostly assembled of large solid stones that were fit together meticulously. The masonry was supported by a complex scaffold, and protruding scaffold supports are still visible today.

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