Architectural marvels have long been a fascinating subject for historians, architects, and people interested in the unknown. How often have we heard people ask the question: how were the pyramids built? Or: how did they construct the Great Wall of China? These questions are absorbing, and we continue to look with wonder when we hear about or see examples of ancient architecture and sculptures.
This wonder has been a part of human civilization for a very long time. As a matter of fact, in the days of Antipater of Sidon, a 2nd-century BC Greek poet, world wonders had been considered a significant enough topic to take down a list of the most magnificent of them and describe them. Antipater’s list of seven marvels, alongside other identical Greek lists, soon became known as the “Seven Wonders of the World.”
The Seven Wonders of the World were listed by the ancient Greeks as follows:
- The Great Pyramid of Giza,
- The Hanging Gardens of Babylon,
- The Statue of Zeus at Olympia,
- The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus,
- The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus,
- The Colossus of Rhodes,
- and The Lighthouse of Alexandria.
This ancient list of wonders possesses historical significance as this list celebrates the greatest achievements in architecture and sculpture in the ancient world. From massive temples to impressive statues, these world wonders were among the largest and most intricate works of the era.
Today, however, the Seven Wonders of the World is an ancient, historical study rather than a list of wonders that can be seen today. If you were to use a world wonder map to visit these ancient sites, you would find nothing except perhaps rubble and ruins at six of them. Since this list was formed, in the 2nd century BC, only one of the Seven Wonders remains. All of the others have either been destroyed by earthquakes, fire, or war.
While you may not be able to see six of the Seven Wonders, studying them is still important. Historians need to understand how ancient civilizations lived, and examining some of the most incredible structures of their eras can reveal some surprising things.
1 - The Great Pyramid of Giza: An Ancient Mystery of Egypt
The first of the Seven Wonders of the World is the only one that remains today–the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.
Originally reaching a height of around 482 feet and with a base length of about 756 feet on each side, this is the largest of the three pyramids of ancient Egypt. Historians believe the pyramid was constructed during the 4th dynasty for pharaoh Khufu, meaning the structure is over 4,000 years old and was built around 2456 BC. The Great Pyramid was designed to be the pharaoh’s tomb.
It is built from an estimated 2.3 million blocks of stone, forming a pyramid whose sides are perfectly oriented to the four cardinal points on a compass. Additionally, the whole thing has finer joints than any other masonry structure built in ancient Egypt.
The construction techniques used to build the Great Pyramid are still under debate. Given that each of the 2.3 million stone blocks weighs approximately 2.5 tons or 5,000 pounds, no one knows exactly how people with hand tools, wooden carts, or levers could have moved these enormous stones. Several theories have been developed, including that they used an encircling earth embankment and hauled the stones up using sleds.
The Great Pyramid’s cultural significance lies in the fact that for over 3,800 years, it was the tallest man-made structure in the world. It also was, and still is, an engineering and architectural marvel. Finally, it is the oldest of the Seven Wonders and the only one that still stands today.
2 - The Hanging Gardens of Babylon: A Captivating Sanctuary
Next on the list are the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. This engineering marvel was a series of terraces, possibly shaped like a ziggurat, with plants and trees of all kinds growing in it. Not only was this garden structure enormous, around 400ft wide and 400ft tall, but it was said to be self-watering.
Today, nothing at all remains of the Hanging Gardens, but some speculate that this is because we are not looking in the right place. Ancient sources place the construction of the Hanging Gardens in ancient Babylon around 620 BC under the direction of King Nebuchadnezzar. Legend has it that he had the gardens built for his wife, Amtis, who was homesick for her lush green mountains.
However, neither Babylonian nor prominent Greek contemporaries or historians mention the Hanging Gardens, and archeologists today have found no evidence of the structure in historical Babylon.
Recently, an Oxford Assyriologist, Stephanie Dalley, posited that the Gardens might have been built in Ninevah, which was called New Babylon after the Assyrians invaded Babylon. She theorizes that King Sennacherib of Assyria constructed the Gardens years earlier. Evidence for this theory includes the fact that Sennacherib built impressive aqueducts and a well-known garden; two ancient historians attribute the building of the Gardens to a “Syrian King,” and Sennacherib’s grandson had a picture of gardens on the wall of his palace.
3 - The Statue of Zeus at Olympia: An Imposing Grecian Idol
The third wonder was not a piece of architecture but a sculptural masterpiece–this was the Statue of Zeus at Olympia in Greece. It was a 41-foot-tall statue of a seated figure meant to represent Zeus, the Grecian king of the gods. It was constructed by Phidias, a Greek sculptor, around 435 BC. This chryselephantine sculpture, meaning it was made of ivory plates and gold panels on a wooden frame, was situated in the Temple of Zeus in ancient Greece.
As with many ancient wonders, the religious significance of the statue is one reason why it was so massive, detailed, and made from rare and expensive materials. It was also this that led to its fate. By 391 AD, the Christian Roman Emperor Theodosius I closed the pagan temples, causing the Temple of Zeus to fall into disrepair. Some say the statue of Zeus was burned along with the Temple in 425 AD; others say it was carried to Constantinople and was burned in the fire at the Palace of Lausus in 475 AD. The exact fate of the statue remains unknown.
4 - The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus: Precision and Magnificence
Returning to architecture, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus in ancient Greece received effusive praise from Antipater, the describer of the Seven Wonders. Technically, the Temple went through three phases: a flood destroyed the first version in the 7th century BC and the second version was destroyed in 356 BC by an arsonist. It was the third, final version that made it on the list of Seven Wonders. This one was constructed around 323 BC.
The Temple’s architectural splendor could be seen in every inch of its 450ft by 225ft walls of columns and 60ft height. It was covered in detailed artwork, from paintings to columns gilded in gold and silver and sculptures and carvings by skilled Greek sculptors. The religious importance of the Temple can be seen in the fact that the Ephesians had a temple to their goddess Artemis for at least 1,000 years between the 8th century BC and its destruction in 262 AD by invading Goths.
5 - The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus: More Than a Tomb
Like the Great Pyramid, the fifth wonder was the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, which was built to be a tomb. In ancient Caria, a region in southwestern Anatolia, around 350 BC, a Persian satrap named Mausolus and his wife planned and built a tomb for themselves. This tomb’s architectural grandeur and cultural significance were such that all elaborate tombs since have been called mausoleums after the name of Mausolus.
The structure stood 148ft tall, was made from stone and marble, and featured reliefs of battles and gods. It was one of the longest-lasting of the Seven Wonders, only being destroyed by earthquakes between the 12th and 15th centuries AD.
6 - The Colossus of Rhodes: A Transient Sun
Another Greek wonder, the Colossus of Rhodes, was an enormous statue of the Greek god of the sun, Helios. Constructed in ancient Rhodes in Greece, the figure was built in 280 BC and stood 108 feet high. It was the tallest statue in the ancient world.
The construction techniques included carving stone and marble for the base and framing, then adding bronze or iron bars and plates. It was made to be a symbolic representation of the Rhodians’ patron god and their victory against an enemy besieger a few years earlier.
The Colossus only stood for around 54 years, as it was destroyed by an earthquake in 226 BC, and in 653 AD, an Arab force conquered Rhodes and sold the statue’s remains.
7 - The Lighthouse of Alexandria: A Furnace in the Sky
The final Wonder of the World was the Lighthouse of Alexandria in ancient Egypt. It stood on the island of Pharos near the city of Alexandria. The architectural brilliance of the Lighthouse caused it to gain a place on the list of wonders, for this structure was one of the tallest structures of the ancient world, with a height of around 330 feet. It was built in the 3rd century BC of limestone and granite and had a furnace at the top, which produced light for ships coming into Alexandria.
The technological advancements of the structure meant that it would be one of the longer-lasting wonders. Five earthquakes over the course of hundreds of years damaged it until it was utterly destroyed in 1480 when its ruins were used to build the Citadel of Quaitbay. The site where the Lighthouse stood has been weathered away by the sea, meaning its ruins are now underwater, but Egypt has made plans to turn the area into an underwater museum.
Learning History with Maps
The Seven Wonders of the World were incredible achievements of ancient civilizations. When we study their history and locations on a map, we can learn quite a lot about the people who built them. This is one of many ways maps can be an excellent tool for learning history.
In truth, maps and history are like peanut butter and jelly–they just go together. If you love to study history, explore some of the other historical maps on Proxi.
For historians and teachers of history, you can help others learn about a topic by creating your own history map with Proxi’s easy-to-use map-making tool. Try it for yourself!