You Say You’ve Seen Seven Wonders

We’ve all heard of the Seven Wonders of the World, even though only one of them is still standing today. Why seven, though? I don’t know. Something about the ancient Greeks who chose it considering it a number of wholeness. The first known list of seven wonders was by Herodotus, the Father of History, but the list we usually use comes from Antipater of Sidon. They were basically the tourist traps of the classical era. The seven on Antipater’s list were:

Pyramids of Giza – Sometimes it’s just the Great Pyramid that’s listed, and other times the three main ones located near Cairo. By far the oldest attraction on the list, and surprisingly the only one still in existence, although the finish has been scraped off.

Hanging Gardens of Babylon – I’m not entirely sure why these were hanging gardens, as the descriptions I’ve seen of them make them sound more like layered gardens, built in a sloping fashion to simulate the side of a mountain. The priest Barossus, whose work was quoted by Flavius Josephus, said that they were built by Nebuchadnezzar for his wife from Media, who missed the mountain gardens of her homeland. Others credit different kings with their creation. What’s particularly interesting about these gardens is that there’s no actual evidence they ever existed. This makes me wonder why it would be in the ancient equivalent of a guidebook. Was it some kind of joke aimed at tourists? Apparently there’s a theory these days that the gardens might have actually been in Nineveh.

Temple of Artemis at Ephesus – Located in modern-day Turkey, the goddess worshipped there was probably not initially Artemis, but the Greeks associated her with their hunting deity. The temple was destroyed and rebuilt many times. Legend had it that it was originally built by the Amazons. After a flood in the seventh century BC wrecked the place, Croesus of Lydia helped to pay for the rebuilding. Then an arsonist burned it down in the fourth century BC, around the time when Alexander the Great was born. It was the third incarnation, which stood for centuries, that was likely the one the historians wrote about. What happened to it in the end isn’t clear, although the Goths were known to have at least damaged it in the third century AD.

Statue of Zeus at Olympia – This forty-three-foot tall depiction of the king of the gods was made of wood and covered with gold and ivory. Phidias sculpted it around 435 BC. When Zeus saw it, he was known to remark, “It could be bigger and shinier.” Seriously, though, it sounds like something definitely worth seeing. There’s a legend that the statue was carried off from its temple to Constantinople, but it might have just burned down with the temple in the fifth century AD.

Mausoleum at Halicarnassus – The burial place of Mausolus, a king in Asia Minor, who chose Halicarnassus as his capital because it was easily defensible. When he died, his widow Artemisia (also his sister, by the way) built an elaborate tomb for him, which is the origin of the word mausoleum.

Colossus of Rhodes – This one actually only existed for about sixty years during the third century BC, meaning it was no longer around in Antipater’s time. Do your research, Antipater! Nonetheless, it achieved a lot of fame during its brief existence. Built to commemorate the victory of Rhodes over Cyprus, it was a statue of the sun god Helios that measured over ninety-eight feet high. While the popular conception is that it straddled the harbor and ships passed under it, historians have argued that this would have effectively shut down the entire harbor both during its construction and after its destruction, which occurred during an earthquake in 226 BC. The ruins were still pretty impressive, though, and remained a tourist attraction for many years after that. It’s said that the statue was never rebuilt because the people of Rhodes were afraid they had offended Helios. There’s a legend that the ruins were eventually broken down and sold to a Jewish merchant, but this is likely apocryphal. The posture and dimensions of the Statue of Liberty are based on how people thought the Colossus looked.

Lighthouse of Alexandria – Sometimes called the Pharos of Alexandria due to its location on the island of Pharos, which Alexander the Great had connected to the mainland, it stood about 400 feet high. The light was generated by a furnace constructed of limestone. While not the first lighthouse in the world, it was used as a prototype for most later ones. Contrary to what the They Might Be Giants song “Birdhouse in Your Soul” says, they almost certainly didn’t exist in the time when Jason and the Argonauts supposedly lived. While damaged by earthquakes and repaired several times, the building existed in some form until 1480.

While only one of these wonders still remains, it’s still common for people to refer to something cool as “the eighth wonder of the world.” There have also been more recent lists made of the modern wonders of the world, but I don’t think any of them are all that official.

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2 Responses to You Say You’ve Seen Seven Wonders

  1. There’s some evidence that ancient Babylon may have originally been located further south, and is actually ancient Eridu, and that years later it was reconstructed further north in Akkad. Historian David Rohl makes some compelling arguments in favor of this perspective. If that’s the case, they may be looking for the Hanging Gardens in the wrong location.

    • Nathan says:

      The Wikipedia page on the Hanging Gardens also mentions that there might have been more than one Mesopotamian city called Babylon, which simply means “gate of the gods.”

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