Seven Wonders of the Ancient World
Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: Greek list of seven amazing works of architecture. The selection was several times adapted to cultural changes.
The ancient Greeks loved to make lists. For example, they had lists of admirable epic poets (starting with Homer and Hesiod) and tragic playwrights (Aeschylus,Sophocles, Euripides). These lists became popular when, after the conquests ofAlexander the Great, many Greeks settled overseas. Their position as an elite in countries like Egypt, Babylonia, and Bactria depended on their being-Greek, and canons of exemplary texts were important: unlike the native population, a real Greek had read these authors and knew how and when to quote them.
The list of Seven Wonders of the World belongs to this category of texts: splendid buildings, worthy of emulation. The original list, now lost, contained seven Greek buildings, but in the early third century, non-Greek monuments were included as well. It expressed the novel idea that the barbarians could also produce fine works of art, an idea that can be found in the books by several scholars and philosophers of the first generations after Alexander the Great.
One of the first known lists was made by Antipater of Sidon, who lived in the first half of the second century. It survives in the collection of poetry known as the Anthologia Palatina (9.58):
- The walls of Babylon
- Phidias' statue of Zeus in Olympia
- The hanging gardens of Babylon
- The colossus of Rhodes
- The pyramids of Egypt
- The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus
- The temple of Artemis in Ephesus
Later, the first item was replaced by the Lighthouse of Alexandria, and this has become the canonical list.
1. The Lighthouse of Alexandria
Commissioned in 299 BCE by king Ptolemy I Soter of Egypt, the Lighthouse of Alexandria was built by an architect named Sostratus; it was finished in 279, when Ptolemy II Philadelphus was on the throne. The monument is often called Pharos, after the island on which it was erected. It consisted of three main elements:
- A square base 56 meters high;
- An octagonal middle 28 meters high;
- A circular top of perhaps another 28 meters; the total was more than 100 meters.
Although it was originally just a high tower that made the port of Alexandria visible from far away, at some time in the first century BCE, it was converted into a real lighthouse, so that sailors could benefit from it by night as well. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 1326. The sequence (square, octagonal, circular) has inspired more recent towers.
2. Phidias' Statue of Zeus in Olympia
The Athenian sculptor Phidias already had a great reputation when in 437 BCE he and his colleagues Colotes and Panaenus settled in Olympia to make the statue of the supreme god of the Greeks, Zeus, in whose honor the Olympic Games were held. The statue is now lost, but is shown on coins and gems, and described by the Greek author Pausanias; from this evidence, we known that the god was shown as a seated figure of about twelve meters high. In one hand, he carried a statue of Nike, in the other a scepter. All kinds of other figures, like lions and sphinxes, warriors fighting against Amazons, more Nikes, and mythical beasts surrounded the main body. The statue was made of gold and ivory, and was carefully repaired when necessary. In the fourth century CE, when the statue was almost eight centuries old, the Roman emperor Constantine the Greatordered it to be dismantled, and had it transported to Constantinople, the new capital of the Roman empire. The subsequent history of Phidias' Zeus is not recorded.
3. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are mentioned by Alexander Polyhistor quoting Berossus, who tells us that king Nebuchadnezzar built this park for his wife, a princess from Media. By creating this artificial Zagros mountain range, he hoped that she would forget her homeland. Although Berossus knew the city very well, no scholar has been able to find traces of the hanging gardens, and it has convincingly been shown that Berossus' statement is not by Berossus at all. In fact, Berossus has quoted the cuneiform text known as the East India House Inscription -and this part is accurate- and Alexander Polyhistor has added the Gardens.
4. The Colossus of Rhodes
The Colossus was erected to commemorate the outcome of the blockade of the city of Rhodes by king Demetrius Poliorcetes. In 305-304, he had attempted to conquer this important port, but the siege had been unsuccessful (text), and the Rhodians ordered Chares of Lindos to build a statue of Helios, the sun god. The monument, which was nearly thirty meters high and stood on a pedestal that added another ten meters, guarded the entrance of the harbor. It collapsed after an earthquake in 227/226 BCE, but the remains were still shown to tourists in the Roman age. During the reigns of the Roman emperors Claudius and Nero, an artist named Zenodorus made a copy in Gaul (a statue of Mercury), and he was later invited to build a similar statue in Rome, which became known as the "colossus Neronis". It was finished during the reign of Vespasian. The most famous monument inspired by the Rhodian Colossus is the Statue of Liberty in New York.
5. The Pyramids of Egypt
Between c.2630 and c.1640, the Egyptian pharaohs erected tombs for themselves that were shaped like artificial mountains. The oldest pyramids were built by the rulers of the third dynasty; king Djoser was the first to pile several square tombs (mastabas) of decreasing size on top of each other, and created the first step pyramid. The true pyramid, which is a real triangle, was developed during the reign of Snofru, a king of the fourth dynasty. The famous pyramids of Cheops, Chefren, and Mycerinus at Gizeh were erected by Snofru's successors. Later generations built smaller monuments, but the large monuments of the fourth dynasty continued to impress the people. The pyramids are the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World that survives more or less intact.
6. The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus
The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus was the tomb of Maussolus, satrap of Caria, who had come to power in 377 and had died in 353. His wife and successor Artemisia ordered the construction of a monument that was to surpass all others: it was erected out of bricks but covered with white Proconnessian marble, and was at least 41 meters high. The greatest sculptors of Greece, including Scopas, were involved in the project, and made the hundreds of statues that graced the four sides. The proud tower was ultimately destroyed by the Rhodian knights in 1522, who used the stones to build a castle (which is now the Archaeological Museum of Bodrum). Today, the remains of this once grandiose monument offer a sad sight.
7. The Temple of Artemis of Ephesus
The temple of Artemis in Ephesus was a very ancient sanctuary for a mother goddess who protected pregnant women; it may have antedated the arrival of the Greeks in Asia Minor. According to Pliny the Elder, Natural history, 36.95, it was built in a marshy area to protect it against earthquakes. Lydian kings like Croesus contributed to the building of this temple, and later, the Persians patronized the cult; the high priest was called the Megabyxus, a Persian name that means "the one set free for the cult of the divinity". The sanctuary burned down in the summer of 356 BCE, an event that was remembered because it coincided with the birth of Alexander the Great. Many architectural pieces can now be seen in the British Museum; in Ephesus itself, of the 127 columns that once supported the roof of this wonderful building, only one remains.