At the city of Giza, a necropolis of ancient Memphis, and today part of Greater Cairo, Egypt.
Contrary to the common belief, only the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops), not all three Great Pyramids, is on top of the list of Wonders. The monument was built by the Egyptian pharaoh Khufu of the Fourth Dynasty around the year 2560 BC to serve as a tomb when he dies. The tradition of pyramid building started in Ancient Egypt as a sophistication of the idea of a mastaba or “platform” covering the royal tomb. Later, several stacked mastabas were used. Early pyramids, such as the Step Pyramid of King Zoser (Djoser) at Saqqara by the famous Egyptian architect, Imhotep, illustrate this connection.
The great pyramid is believed to have been built over a 20 year period. The site was first prepared, and blocks of stone were transported and placed. An outer casing (which disappeared over the years) was then used to smooth the surface. Although it is not known how the blocks were put in place, several theories have been proposed. One theory involves the construction of a straight or spiral ramp that was raised as the construction proceeded. This ramp, coated with mud and water, eased the displacement of the blocks which were pushed (or pulled) into place. A second theory suggests that the blocks were placed using long levers with a short angled foot.
Throughout their history, the pyramids of Giza have stimulated human imagination. They were referred to as “The Granaries of Joseph” and “The Mountains of Pharaoh”. When Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798, his pride was expressed through his famous quote: “Soldats! Du haute de ces Pyramides, 40 siècles nous contemplent”. (Soldiers! From the top of these Pyramids, 40 centuries are looking at us)
Today, the Great Pyramid is enclosed, together with the other pyramids and the Sphinx, in the touristic region of the Giza Plateau. Also in the area is the museum housing the mysterious Sun Boat, only discovered in 1954 near the south side of the pyramid. The boat is believed to have been used to carry the body of Khufu in his last journey on earth before being buried inside the pyramid. It may also serve him as a means of transportation in his afterlife journey according to Ancient Egyptian beliefs.
When it was built, the Great pyramid was 145.75 m (481 ft) high. Over the years, it lost 10 m (30 ft) off its top. It ranked as the tallest structure on Earth for more than 43 centuries, only to be surpassed in height in the nineteenth century AD. It was covered with a casing of stones to smooth its surface (some of the casing can still be seen near the top of Khefre’s pyramid). The sloping angle of its sides is 54 degrees 54 minutes. Each side is carefully oriented with one of the cardinal points of the compass, that is, north, south, east, and west. The horizontal cross section of the pyramid is square at any level, with each side measuring 229 m (751 ft) in length. The maximum error between side lengths is astonishingly less than 0.1%.
The structure consists of approximately 2 million blocks of stone, each weighing more than two tons. It has been suggested that there are enough blocks in the three pyramids to build a 3 m (10 ft) high, 0.3 m (1 ft) thick wall around France. The area covered by the Great pyramid can accommodate St Peter’s in Rome, the cathedrals of Florence and Milan, and Westminster and St Paul’s in London combined.
On the north face, is the pyramid’s entrance. A number of corridors, galleries, and escape shafts either lead to the King’s burial chamber, or were intended to serve other functions. The King’s chamber is located at the heart of the pyramid, only accessible through the Great Gallery and an ascending corridor. The King’s sarcophagus is made of red granite, as are the interior walls of the King’s Chamber. Most impressive is the sharp-edged stone over the doorway which is over 3 m (10 ft) long, 2.4 m (8 feet) high and 1.3 m (4 ft) thick. All of the interior stones fit so well, a card won’t fit between them. The sarcophagus is oriented in accordance with the compass directions, and is only about 1 cm smaller in dimensions than the chamber entrance. It might have been introduced as the structure was progressing.
On the east bank of the River Euphrates, about 50 km south of Baghdad, Iraq.
The Babylonian kingdom flourished under the rule of the famous King, Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC). It was not until the reign of Naboplashar (625-605 BC) of the Neo-Babylonian dynasty that the Mesopotamian civilization reached its ultimate glory. His son, Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562 BC) is credited for building the legendary Hanging Gardens. It is said that the Gardens were built by Nebuchadnezzar to please his wife or concubine who had been “brought up in Media and had a passion for mountain surroundings”.
While the most descriptive accounts of the Gardens come from Greek historians such as Berossus and Diodorus Siculus, Babylonian records stay silent on the matter. Tablets from the time of Nebuchadnezzar do not have a single reference to the Hanging Gardens, although descriptions of his palace, the city of Babylon, and the walls are found. Even the historians who give detailed descriptions of the Hanging Gardens never saw them. Modern historians argue that when Alexander’s soldiers reached the fertile land of Mesopotamia and saw Babylon, they were impressed. When they later returned to their rugged homeland, they had stories to tell about the amazing gardens and palm trees at Mesopotamia.. About the palace of Nebuchadnezzar.. About the Tower of Babel and the ziggurats. And it was the imagination of poets and ancient historians that blended all these elements together to produce one of the World Wonders.
It wasn’t until the twentieth century that some of the mysteries surrounding the Hanging Gardens were revealed. Archaeologists are still struggling to gather enough evidence before reaching the final conclusions about the location of the Gardens, their irrigation system, and their true appearance.
Detailed descriptions of the Gardens come from ancient Greek sources, including the writings of Strabo and Philo of Byzantium. Here are some excerpts from their accounts:
“The Garden is quadrangular, and each side is four plethra long. It consists of arched vaults which are located on checkered cube-like foundations.. The ascent of the uppermost terrace-roofs is made by a stairway…”
“The Hanging Garden has plants cultivated above ground level, and the roots of the trees are embedded in an upper terrace rather than in the earth. The whole mass is supported on stone columns… Streams of water emerging from elevated sources flow down sloping channels… These waters irrigate the whole garden saturating the roots of plants and keeping the whole area moist. Hence the grass is permanently green and the leaves of trees grow firmly attached to supple branches… This is a work of art of royal luxury and its most striking feature is that the labor of cultivation is suspended above the heads of the spectators”.
More recent archaeological excavations at the ancient city of Babylon in Iraq uncovered the foundation of the palace. Other findings include the Vaulted Building with thick walls and an irrigation well near the southern palace. A group of archaeologists surveyed the area of the southern palace and reconstructed the Vaulted Building as the Hanging Gardens. However, the Greek historian Strabo had stated that the gardens were situated by the River Euphrates. So others argue that the site is too far from the Euphrates to support the theory since the Vaulted Building is several hundreds of meters away. They reconstructed the site of the palace and located the Gardens in the area stretching from the River to the Palace. On the river banks, recently discovered massive walls 25 m thick may have been stepped to form terraces… the ones described in Greek references.
Is it simply a temple? How could it take its place among other unique structures such as the Pyramid, the Hanging Gardens, and the Colossus of Rhodes? For the people who actually visited it, the answer was simple. It was not just a temple… It was the most beautiful structure on earth… It was built in honor of the Greek goddess of hunting and wild nature. That was the Temple of Artemis (Diana) at Ephesus.
The ancient city of Ephesus near the modern town of Selcuk, about 50 km south of Izmir (Smyrna) in Turkey.
Although the foundation of the temple dates back to the seventh century BC, the structure that earned a spot in the list of Wonders was built around 550 BC. Referred to as the great marble temple, or temple D, it was sponsored by the Lydian king Croesus and was designed by the Greek architect Chersiphron. It was decorated with bronze statues sculpted by the most skilled artists of their time: Pheidias, Polycleitus, Kresilas, and Phradmon.
The temple served as both a marketplace and a religious institution. For years, the sanctuary was visited by merchants, tourists, artisans, and kings who paid homage to the goddess by sharing their profits with her. Recent archeological excavations at the site revealed gifts from pilgrims including statuettes of Artemis made of gold and ivory… earrings, bracelets, and necklaces… artifacts from as far as Persia and India.
On the night of 21 July 356 BC, a man named Herostratus burned the temple to ground in an attempt to immortalize his name. He did indeed. Strangely enough, Alexander the Great was born the same night. The Roman historian Plutarch later wrote that the goddess was “too busy taking care of the birth of Alexander to send help to her threatened temple”. Over the next two decades, the temple was restored and is labeled “temple E” by archeologists. And when Alexander the Great conquered Asia Minor, he helped rebuild the destroyed temple.
When St Paul visited Ephesus to preach Christianity in the first century AD, he was confronted by the Artemis’ cult who had no plans to abandon their goddess. And when the temple was again destroyed by the Goths in AD 262, the Ephesians vowed to rebuild. By the fourth century AD, most Ephesians had converted to Christianity and the temple lost its religious glamor. The final chapter came when in AD 401 the Temple of Artemis was torn down by St John Chrysostom. Ephesus was later deserted, and only in the late nineteenth century has the site been excavated. The digging revealed the temple’s foundation and the road to the now swampy site. Attempts were recently made to rebuilt the temple, but only a few columns have been re-erected.
The foundation of the temple was rectangular in form, similar to most temples at the time. Unlike other sanctuaries, however, the building was made of marble, with a decorated façade overlooking a spacious courtyard. Marble steps surrounding the building platform led to the high terrace which was approximately 80 m (260 ft) by 130 m (430 ft) in plan. The columns were 20 m (60 ft) high with Ionic capitals and carved circular sides. There were 127 columns in total, aligned orthogonally over the whole platform area, except for the central cella or house of the goddess.
The temple housed many works of art, including four ancient bronze statues of Amazons sculpted by the finest artists at the time. When St Paul visited the city, the temple was adorned with golden pillars and silver statuettes, and was decorated with paintings. There is no evidence that a statue of the goddess herself was placed at the center of the sanctuary, but there is no reason not to believe so.
The early detailed descriptions of the temple helped archeologists reconstruct the building. Many reconstructions such as that by H.F. von Erlach depicted the façade with a four-column porch which never existed. More accurate reconstructions may give us an idea about the general layout of the temple. However, its true beauty lies in the architectural and artistic details which will forever remain unknown.
This is the statue of the god in whose honor the Ancient Olympic games were held. It was located on the land that gave its very name to the Olympics. At the time of the games, wars stopped, and athletes came from Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt, and Sicily to celebrate the Olympics and to worship their king of gods: Zeus.
At the ancient town of Olympia, on the west coast of modern Greece, about 150 km west of Athens.
The ancient Greek calendar starts in 776 BC, for the Olympic games are believed to have started that year. The magnificent temple of Zeus was designed by the architect Libon and was built around 450 BC. Under the growing power of ancient Greece, the simple Doric-style temple seemed too mundane, and modifications were needed. The solution: A majestic statue. The Athenian sculptor Pheidias was assigned for the “sacred” task, reminiscent of Michelangelo’s paintings at the Sistine Chapel.
For the years that followed, the temple attracted visitors and worshippers from all over the world. In the second century BC repairs were skillfully made to the aging statue. In the first century AD, the Roman emperor Caligula attempted to transport the statue to Rome. However, his attempt failed when the scaffolding built by Caligula’s workmen collapsed. After the Olympic games were banned in AD 391 by the emperor Theodosius I as Pagan practices, the temple of Zeus was ordered closed.
Olympia was further struck by earthquakes, landslides and floods, and the temple was damaged by fire in the fifth century AD. Earlier, the statue had been transported by wealthy Greeks to a palace in Constantinople. There, it survived until it was destroyed by a severe fire in AD 462. Today nothing remains at the site of the old temple except rocks and debris, the foundation of the buildings, and fallen columns.
Pheidias began working on the statue around 440 BC. Years earlier, he had developed a technique to build enormous gold and ivory statues. This was done by erecting a wooden frame on which sheets of metal and ivory were placed to provide the outer covering. Pheidias’ workshop in Olympia still exists, and is coincidentally — or may be not — identical in size and orientation to the temple of Zeus. There, he sculpted and carved the different pieces of the statue before they were assembled in the temple.
When the statue was completed, it barely fitted in the temple. Strabo wrote:
“.. although the temple itself is very large, the sculptor is criticized for not having appreciated the correct proportions. He has shown Zeus seated, but with the head almost touching the ceiling, so that we have the impression that if Zeus moved to stand up he would unroof the temple.”
Strabo was right, except that the sculptor is to be commended, not criticized. It is this size impression that made the statue so wonderful. It is the idea that the king of gods is capable of unroofing the temple if he stood up that fascinated poets and historians alike. The base of the statue was about 6.5 m (20 ft) wide and 1.0 meter (3 ft) high. The height of the statue itself was 13 m (40 ft), equivalent to a modern 4-story building.
The statue was so high that visitors described the throne more than Zeus body and features. The legs of the throne were decorated with sphinxes and winged figures of Victory. Greek gods and mythical figures also adorned the scene: Apollo, Artemis, and Niobe’s children. The Greek Pausanias wrote:
On his head is a sculpted wreath of olive sprays. In his right hand he holds a figure of Victory made from ivory and gold… In his left hand, he holds a sceptre inlaid with every kind of metal, with an eagle perched on the sceptre. His sandals are made of gold, as is his robe. His garments are carved with animals and with lilies. The throne is decorated with gold, precious stones, ebony, and ivory.
The statue was occasionally decorated with gifts from kings and rulers. the most notable of these gifts was a woollen curtain “adorned with Assyrian woven patterns and Pheonician dye” which was dedicated by the Syrian king Antiochus IV.
In the city of Bodrum (f.k.a. Halicarnassus) on the Aegean Sea, in south-west Turkey.
When the Persians expanded their ancient kingdom to include Mesopotamia, Northern India, Syria, Egypt, and Asia Minor, the king could not control his vast empire without the help of local governors or rulers — the Satraps. Like many other provinces, the kingdom of Caria in the western part of Asia Minor (Turkey) was so far from the Persian capital that it was practically autonomous. From 377 to 353 BC, king Mausollos of Caria reigned and moved his capital to Halicarnassus. Nothing is exciting about Maussollos life except the construction of his tomb. The project was conceived by his wife and sister Artemisia, and the construction might have started during the king’s lifetime. The Mausoleum was completed around 350 BC, three years after Maussollos death, and one year after Artemisia’s.
For 16 centuries, the Mausoleum remained in good condition until an earthquake caused some damage to the roof and colonnade. In the early fifteenth century, the Knights of St John of Malta invaded the region and built a massive crusader castle. When they decided to fortify it in 1494, they used the stones of the Mausoleum. By 1522, almost every block of the Mausoleum had been disassembled and used for construction.
Today, the massive castle still stands in Bodrum, and the polished stone and marble blocks of the Mausoleum can be spotted within the walls of the structure. Some of the sculptures survived and are today on display at the British Museum in London. These include fragment of statues and many slabs of the frieze showing the battle between the Greeks and the Amazons. At the site of the Mausoleum itself, only the foundation remains of the once magnificent Wonder.
The structure was rectangular in plan, with base dimensions of about 40 m (120 ft) by 30 m (100 ft). Overlying the foundation was a stepped podium which sides were decorated with statues. The burial chamber and the sarcophagus of white alabaster decorated with gold were located on the podium and surrounded by Ionic columns. The colonnade supported a pyramid roof which was in turn decorated with statues. A statue of a chariot pulled by four horses adorned the top of the tomb.
The total height of the Mausoleum was 45 m (140 ft). This is broken down into 20 m (60 ft) for the stepped podium, 12 m (38 ft) for the colonnade, 7 m (22 ft) for the pyramid, and 6 m (20 ft) for the chariot statue at the top.
The beauty of the Mausoleum is not only in the structure itself, but in the decorations and statues that adorned the outside at different levels on the podium and the roof. These were tens of life-size as well as under and over life-size free-standing statues of people, lions, horses, and other animals. The statues were carved by four Greek sculptors: Bryaxis, Leochares, Scopas, and Timotheus, each responsible for one side. Because the statues were of people and animals, the Mausoleum holds a special place in histroy as it was not dedicated to the gods of Ancient Greece.
At the entrance of the harbor of the Mediterranean island of Rhodes in Greece.
Throughout most of its history, ancient Greece was comprised of city-states which had limited power beyond their boundary. On the small island of Rhodes were three of these: Ialysos, Kamiros, and Lindos. In 408 BC, the cities united to form one territory, with a unified capital, Rhodes. The city thrived commercially and had strong economic ties with their main ally, Ptolemy I Soter of Egypt. In 305 BC, the Antigonids of Macedonia who were also rivals of the Ptolemies, besieged Rhodes in an attempt to break the Rhodo-Egyptian alliance. They could never penetrate the city. When a peace agreement was reached in 304 BC, the Antagonids lifted the siege, leaving a wealth of military equipment behind. To celebrate their unity, the Rhodians sold the equipment and used the money to erect an enormous statue of their sun god, Helios.
The construction of the Colossus took 12 years and was finished in 282 BC. For years, the statue stood at the harbor entrance, until a strong earthquake hit Rhodes about 226 BC. The city was badly damaged, and the Colossus was broken at its weakest point — the knee. The Rhodians received an immediate offer from Ptolemy III Eurgetes of Egypt to cover all restoration costs for the toppled monument. However, an oracle was consulted and forbade the re-erection. Ptolemy’s offer was declined.
For almost a millennium, the statue laid broken in ruins. In AD 654, the Arabs invaded Rhodes. They disassembled the remains of the broken Colossus and sold them to a Jew from Syria. It is said that the fragments had to be transported to Syria on the backs of 900 camels.
Let us first clear a misconception about the appearance of the Colossus. It has long been believed that the Colossus stood in front of the Mandraki harbor, one of many in the city of Rhodes, straddling its entrance. Given the height of the statue and the width of the harbor mouth, this picture is rather impossible than improbable. Moreover, the fallen Colossus would have blocked the harbor entrance. Recent studies suggest that it was erected either on the eastern promontory of the Mandraki harbor, or even further inland. Anyway, it did never straddle the harbor entrance.
The project was commissioned by the Rhodian sculptor Chares of Lindos. To build the statue, his workers cast the outer bronze skin parts. The base was made of white marble, and the feet and ankle of the statue were first fixed. The structure was gradually erected as the bronze form was fortified with an iron and stone framework. To reach the higher parts, an earth ramp was built around the statue and was later removed. When the colossus was finished, it stood about 33 m (110 ft) high. And when it fell, “few people can make their arms meet round the thumb”, wrote Pliny.
On the ancient island of Pharos, now a promontory within the city of Alexandria in Egypt.
Shortly after the death of Alexander the Great, his commander Ptolemy Soter assumed power in Egypt. He had witnessed the founding of Alexandria, and established his capital there. Off of the city’s coast lies a small island: Pharos. Its name, legend says, is a variation of Pharaoh’s Island. The island was connected to the mainland by means of a dike – the Heptastadion – which gave the city a double harbor. And because of dangerous sailing conditions and flat coastline in the region, the construction of a lighthouse was necessary.
The project was conceived and initiated by Ptolemy Soter around 290 BC, but was completed after his death, during the reign of his son Ptolemy Philadelphus. Sostratus, a contemporary of Euclid, was the architect, but detailed calculations for the structure and its accessories were carried out at the Alexandria Library/Mouseion. The monument was dedicated to the Savior Gods: Ptolemy Soter (lit. savior) and his wife Berenice. For centuries, the Lighthouse of Alexandria (occasionally referred to as the Pharos Lighthouse) was used to mark the harbor, using fire at night and reflecting sun rays during the day. It was even shown on Roman coins, just as famous monuments are depicted on currency today.
When the Arabs conquered Egypt, they admired Alexandria and its wealth. The Lighthouse continues to be mentioned in their writings and travelers accounts. But the new rulers moved their capital to Cairo since they had no ties to the Mediterranean. When the mirror was brought down mistakenly, they did not restore it back into place. In AD 956, an earthquake shook Alexandria, and caused little damage to the Lighthouse. It was later in 1303 and in 1323 that two stronger earthquakes left a significant impression on the structure. When the famous Arab traveler Ibn Battuta visited Alexandria in 1349, he could not enter the ruinous monument or even climb to its doorway.
The final chapter in the history of the Lighthouse came in AD 1480 when the Egyptian Mamelouk Sultan, Qaitbay, decided to fortify Alexandria’s defense. He built a medieval fort on the same spot where the Lighthouse once stood, using the fallen stone and marble.
Of the six vanished Wonders, the Lighthouse of Alexandria was the last to disappear. Therefore we have adequately accurate knowledge of its location and appearance. Ancient accounts such as those by Strabo and Pliny the Elder give us a brief description of the “tower” and the magnificent white marble cover. They tell us how the mysterious mirror could reflect the light tens of kilometers away. Legend says the mirror was also used to detect and burn enemy ships before they could reach the shore.
In 1166, an Arab traveler, Abou-Haggag Al-Andaloussi visited the Lighthouse. He documented a wealth of information and an gave accurate description of the structure which helped modern archeologists reconstruct the monument. It was composed of three stages: The lowest square, 55.9 m (183.4 ft) high with a cylindrical core; the middle octagonal with a side length of 18.30 m (60.0 ft) and a height of 27.45 m (90.1 ft); and the third circular 7.30 m (24.0 ft) high. The total height of the building including the foundation base was about 117 m (384 ft), equivalent to a 40-story modern building. The internal core was used as a shaft to lift the fuel needed for the fire. At the top stage, the mirror reflected sunlight during the day while fire was used during the night. In ancient times, a statue of Poseidon adorned the summit of the building.