The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World are seven ancient structures that were particularly impressive or had special historical value. They were listed in some of the earliest guidebooks for travellers, a century or two BCE. These guides were written in Greek and covered only the region around the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea.
The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World is a list of remarkable constructions of classical antiquity given by various authors in guidebooks or poems popular among ancient Hellenic tourists. Although the list, in its current form, did not stabilise until the Renaissance, the first such lists of seven wonders date from the 1st-2nd century BC. The original list inspired innumerable versions through the ages, often listing seven entries. Of the original Seven Wonders, only one—the Great Pyramid of Giza (also called the Pyramid of Khufu, after the pharaoh who built it), the oldest of the ancient wonders—remains relatively intact. The Colossus of Rhodes, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Temple of Artemis and the Statue of Zeus were all destroyed. The location and ultimate fate of the Hanging Gardens are unknown, and there is speculation that they may not have existed at all.
The Greek conquest of much of the known western world in the 4th century BC gave Hellenistic travellers access to the civilizations of the Egyptians, Persians, and Babylonians. Impressed and captivated by the landmarks and marvels of the various lands, these travellers began to list what they saw to remember them.
Instead of “wonders”, the ancient Greeks spoke of “theamata” (θεάματα), which means “sights”, in other words “things to be seen” (Τὰ ἑπτὰ θεάματα τῆς οἰκουμένης Tà heptà theámata tēs oikoumenēs ). Later, the word for “wonder” (“thaumata” θαύματα, “wonders”) was used. Hence, the list was meant to be the Ancient World’s counterpart of a travel guidebook.
The first reference to a list of seven such monuments was given by Diodorus Siculus. The epigrammist Antipater of Sidon who lived around or before 100 BC, gave a list of seven such monuments, including six of the present list (substituting the walls of Babylon for the lighthouse):
I have gazed on the walls of impregnable Babylon along which chariots may race, and on the Zeus by the banks of the Alpheus, I have seen the hanging gardens, and the Colossus of the Helios, the great man-made mountains of the lofty pyramids, and the gigantic tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the sacred house of Artemis that towers to the clouds, the others were placed in the shade, for the sun himself has never looked upon its equal outside Olympus. – Greek Anthology IX.58
Another 2nd century BC observer, who claimed to be the mathematician Philo of Byzantium, wrote a short account entitled The Seven Sights of the World. However, the incomplete surviving manuscript only covered six of the supposedly seven places, which agreed with Antipater’s list.
Earlier and later lists by the historian Herodotus (484 BC–ca. 425 BC) and the architect Callimachus of Cyrene (ca. 305–240 BC), housed at the Museum of Alexandria, survived only as references.
The Colossus of Rhodes was the last of the seven to be completed, after 280 BC, and the first to be destroyed, by an earthquake in 226/225 BC. Hence, all seven existed at the same time for a period of less than 60 years.
The list covered only the sculptural and architectural monuments of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions, which then comprised the known world for the Greeks. Hence, extant sites beyond this realm were not considered as part of contemporary accounts.
The primary accounts, coming from Hellenistic writers, also heavily influenced the places included in the wonders list. Five of the seven entries are a celebration of Greek accomplishments in the arts and architecture (the exceptions being the Pyramids of Giza and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon).
The list varied from book to book, but the best-known version of the seven wonders list included the following sights:
|Name||Photo||Date of construction||Builders||Date of destruction||Cause of destruction||Modern location|
|Great Pyramid of Giza||2584–2561 BC||Egyptians||Still in existence, majority of façade gone||Giza Necropolis, Egypt
|Hanging Gardens of Babylon
|c. 600 BC (evident)||Babylonians or Assyrians||After 1st century AD||Unknown||Hillah or Nineveh, Iraq
|Temple of Artemis at Ephesus||c. 550 BC; and again at 323 BC||Greeks, Lydians||356 BC (by Herostratus)
AD 262 (by the Goths)
|Arson by Herostratus, plundering||Near Selçuk, Turkey
|Statue of Zeus at Olympia||466–456 BC (temple)
435 BC (statue)
|Greeks||5th–6th centuries AD||Disassembled and reassembled at Constantinople; later destroyed by fire||Olympia, Greece
|Mausoleum at Halicarnassus||351 BC||Greeks, Persians, Carians||12th–15th century AD||Earthquakes||Bodrum, Turkey
|Colossus of Rhodes||292–280 BC||Greeks||226 BC||226 BC Rhodes earthquake||Rhodes, Greece
|Lighthouse of Alexandria||c. 280 BC||Greeks, Ptolemaic Egyptians||AD 1303–1480||1303 Crete earthquake||Alexandria, Egypt
The Great Pyramid at Giza in Egypt is the oldest of the wonders and only one that survives today.
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were in what is now Iraq. There is debate, though, about whether these gardens existed and what they looked like if they did exist.
The Colossus, a great statue that straddled the harbour entrance at Rhodes in the Greek Islands. In modern times, a proposal was made to build a new Colossus of Rhodes. The original Colossus was the inspiration for the fictional Titan of Bravos in the Game of Thrones books and TV series.
Temple of Artemis in Ephesus in what is now Turkey
Mausoleum at Halikarnassus in what is now Turkey
Lighthouse at Alexandria, Egypt
Statue of Zeus at Olympia
The last five on the list were Greek cities at the time. The Hellenic (Greek) culture once extended far beyond the current boundaries of Greece, even including ports on the Black Sea such as Sudak and Trabzon. None of these but the Great Pyramid — which ironically was the oldest of the seven wonders at the time the list was made — has survived to the present day.
In subsequent eras, there have been various proposals for lists of “seven wonders” in various regions or worldwide; occasionally, a landmark is proposed as an “eighth wonder” of the world. With no universally-defined criteria for which venues to include, the selection of seven destinations for these lists tends to be arbitrary and variable.
Arts and architecture
The seven wonders on Antipater’s list won praises for their notable features, ranging from superlatives of the highest or largest of their types, to the artistry with which they were executed. Their architectural and artistic features were imitated throughout the Hellenistic world and beyond.
The Greek influence in Roman culture, and the revival of Greco-Roman artistic styles during the Renaissance caught the imagination of European artists and travellers. Paintings and sculptures alluding to Antipater’s list were made, while adventurers flocked to the actual sites to personally witness the wonders. Legends circulated to further complement the superlatives of the wonders.
Of Antipater’s wonders, the only one that has survived to the present day is the Great Pyramid of Giza. Its brilliant white stone facing had survived intact until around 1300 AD, when local communities removed most of the stonework for building materials. The existence of the Hanging Gardens has not been proven, although theories abound. Records and archaeology confirm the existence of the other five wonders. The Temple of Artemis and the Statue of Zeus were destroyed by fire, while the Lighthouse of Alexandria, Colossus, and tomb of Mausolus were destroyed by earthquakes. Among the artifacts to have survived are sculptures from the tomb of Mausolus and the Temple of Artemis in the British Museum in London.
Still, the listing of seven of the most marvellous architectural and artistic human achievements continued beyond the Ancient Greek times to the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and to the modern age. The Roman poet Martial and the Christian bishop Gregory of Tours had their versions. Reflecting the rise of Christianity and the factor of time, nature and the hand of man overcoming Antipater’s seven wonders, Roman and Christian sites began to figure on the list, including the Colosseum, Noah’s Ark and Solomon’s Temple. In the 6th century, a list of seven wonders was compiled by St. Gregory of Tours: the list included the Temple of Solomon, the Pharos of Alexandria and Noah’s Ark.
Modern historians, working on the premise that the original Seven Ancient Wonders List was limited in its geographic scope, also had their versions to encompass sites beyond the Hellenistic realm—from the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World to the Seven Wonders of the World. Indeed, the “seven wonders” label has spawned innumerable versions among international organizations, publications and individuals based on different themes—works of nature, engineering masterpieces, constructions of the Middle Ages, etc. Its purpose has also changed from just a simple travel guidebook or a compendium of curious places, to lists of sites to defend or to preserve.