The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and the History Behind It
The phrase ‘Wonders of the World’ is an exaggeration considering what the Greeks meant to say was ‘things to see or tourist attractions’. The Greeks conquered sizeable part of the western world in the 4th Century BC and made a list of prospective tourist destinations. The first formal list of 7 destinations was given by Diodorus Siculus (90th BC to 30th BC), the Greek Historian. The list covered only the Mediterranean and the Middle East regions, that being the only world the Greeks knew of at that point in time.
The list was debatable and at least one of the listed place (Hanging Gardens of Babylon) was deemed imaginary and non-existent. The envy of man and fury of nature decimated all these ancient wonders except one – the Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt.
In 20th century A.D., Swiss entrepreneurs Bernard proposed updating the ‘Seven Wonders’. With a hundred million votes gathered from the world over, the ‘Wonders’, announced on 7th July 2007 superseded the list of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Ancient World’ with the new official ‘Seven Wonders of the World’. Described below are the places/monuments included under these 2 headings respectively.
SEVEN WONDERS OF THE ANCIENT WORLD
The Great Pyramid of Giza
The only existing monument from the ancient wonders, it was built between 2700 BC and 2500 BC. Actually, there are 3 pyramids located in Giza. These are: Khufu (Cheops), Khafra (Chephren) and Menkaura (Mycerimus). Khufu is the most colossal and magnificent of the three. It is made of 2 million stone blocks, each weighing 2 to 30 tons. Khufu was also deemed to be the tallest building of the world until the 19th century. The symmetry of the monument is astonishing considering archaic tools of those times. Log rollers and sledges were used to move massive stones.
Pyramids were tombs built for the royalty. Pharos and their queens used to be buried here along with provisions. It was believed that they would need those provisions in the after-life. Great hidden treasures have been unearthed by archaeologists from these pyramids. Most of this concealed wealth was also stolen and looted in course of time.
Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Ancient Greek poets described it as terrace plantation done by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II in 600 BC so that his lover Amytis doesn’t miss her home in Media (present day Iran). There being no first-hand account of it in Greek and Roman literature, the story missing in the written script of that time and no cogent explanation on how these gardens could be irrigated at such height put a question mark existence of hanging gardens. Most scholars believe that the Hanging Gardens were figments of poetic imagination and didn’t exist in the real world.
Statue of Zeus at Olympia
Built by Athenian sculpture Phidis, this statue was installed in the temple of Zeus at Olympia (the ancient Olympic site) in 5th century BC. Richly embellished with gold and ivory, it shows god of thunder seated on a wooden throne. On his sides are sphinxes, the mythical creatures with head and chest of a woman, body of lion and wings of a bird. At forty feet tall, the statue nearly touched the temple roof. It remained in shape for more than eight centuries. In 4th century AD, Christian priests got it shifted to a temple in Constantinople, where it was destroyed in a fire in the 5th century A.D.
Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
Artemis was worshipped as the goddess of the hunt, wilderness, wild animals and chastity in ancient Greece. A chain of alters and temples were built and rebuilt on her name at Ephesus (present-day Turkey). Two marble temples, first built in 550 B.C. and second in 350 B.C. were the best of the lot. The first temple caught fire on July 21, 356 B.C. It is believed the fire was coincident with the birth of Alexander the Great. The ravaged temple was replaced with new, only to be destroyed yet again by Ostrogoths in 262 A.D.
Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
It was built by Artemisia, the Greek queen, for her husband Mausolus – who died in 353 B.C. Mausolus was also her brother. The grief-stricken queen is said to have drunk his ashes mixed with water and ordered the construction of the Mausoleum (grave). Made in pure white marble, it was a mixture of Lycian, Greek and Egyptian architecture. The grave, believed to be 135 feet high, was destroyed in a 13th-Century earthquake. The 1846 collection of the mausoleum ruins is kept on display in London’s British Museum.
Colossus of Rhodes
Built in the 3rd century B.C, it was a towering bronze statue of the Sun god Helios built by the inhabitants of Rhodes – a Greek Island. It took more than 12 years in the making and was erected in 280 B.C. For 60 years it stood as the tallest 100 feet effigy before an earthquake razed it to ground. A century later Arabs invaded Rhodes and sold off the remains of the ravaged statue.
Lighthouse of Alexandria
About 380 feet high, this lighthouse guided ships in the Nile River. Built in 270 B.C., it was situated at Pharos Island close to the city of Alexandria in Egypt. The building, as reflected in pictures of it on ancient coins, had 3 tiers. It was square at bottom, octagonal in middle and cylindrical at the top. The top of building carried a 16-foot statue of Ptolemy II or perhaps Alexander the Great. Some remains of this lighthouse have been discovered at the bottom of the river Nile.
NEW OFFICIAL SEVEN WONDERS OF THE WORLD
The Pyramid at Chichén Itzá Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
It is a remnant of the Maya Civilization (1800 B.C. to 900 B.C.). The name Chichen Itza implies a large sinkhole or sacred cavern into which offerings ranging from precious stones and metals to human lives were dropped as an appeasement to God. Also called Temple of Kukulcan (warriors), it also served as an astronomical observatory, the temple of the serpent God, playing field (in which the loser was beheaded) and much more. Built between 9th and 12th century over base measuring 181 ft. across, the monument is 99 ft. high. As sunlight shifts during the day, the shadows depict a snake in motion. Imageries on monument reveal expertise of Mayans in agriculture, pottery, hieroglyph writing, calendar-making and mathematics. Numeral zero was being used and their calendar had 365 days in a year. The number of steps had a total count of 91 in each staircase on 4 sides of the structure. Thus the total number of steps added to 364. To this, if we add the step to the topmost podium, it becomes 365, the total number of days in a calendar year.
Christ the Redeemer (1931) Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Located in the National Forest of Tijuca Park on top of Corcovado Mountain, the statue is the largest art deco (architectural style of applied decoration) in the world. It took French Sculptor Paul Landowski 5 years to make this 38 metres statue of Jesus Christ overlooking the city of Rio de Janeiro. Inaugurated on 12th October 1931, it symbolises compassion of the Brazilians. Open arms of Jesus are a welcome gesture for all the visitors coming to Brazil.
The Roman Colosseum, Rome, Italy
Emperor Nero is said to have played the fiddle while Rome burnt. But after the great fire of Rome died down, he decided to build a huge villa in the area destroyed by fire. The same area, 8 years later came alive with an engineering and architectural marvel, the Roman Colosseum. It was an elliptical Amphitheatre built by Flavius (the family name of the emperor and his sons who built this monument). 88 meters long and 156 metres wide, the Amphitheatre could accommodate 55,000 spectators. The seating arrangement was based on the social standing of spectators and some cadres and classes were not permitted to enter the Colosseum.
Starting with 1st century A.D., Colosseum hosted gladiator and wild animal fights, executions, dramas and exhibitions. It remained a nodal centre of mass entertainment for as long as 523 A.D. In the early 16th century it served as castle, cemetery and workshop before being taken over by the Catholic Church. Today the monument is principal tourist attraction of Rome.
The Taj Mahal (1630 A.D.) Agra, India
A mausoleum, Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in the memory of Mumtaz Mahal, his beloved wife who died in A.D.1630. The construction of the monument began in 1632 and completed in 1648. A new settlement, named Mumtazabad (present-day Taj Ganj) was created for the huge workforce of 20 thousand labours working on site. Designed by the Persian architect, Ustad Isa, domed by Ismail Khan Afridi of Turkey, calligraphed by Amanat Khan Shirzi, versed by Poet Ghiyasuddin, and imbued with the immense love of a king for his queen, Taj Mahal was destined to be a symbol of eternal love all over the world.
Mumtaz, in 19 years of her wedded life, bore 14 children to Shah Jahan. The birth of her last baby, a daughter, claimed her life. Honouring the last wish of dying Mumtaz, for creating a monument to immortalize their love, Shah Jahan went all out to redeem it. Ravindra Nath Tagore has rightly described Taj as a teardrop on the cheek of time.
Situated on banks of river Yamuna, Taj Mahal is sheer poetry in marble. It looks all the more enticing when seen in full moonlight. To the left and right of Taj are 2 mosques for offering prayers. The exterior of Taj has 4 minarets, 41.6 meters high and slanting outwards lest they fall on the tomb in the event of an earthquake. The main gate, 30 meters high, leads to a 300×300 meters garden (Chargbagh) on both sides of the pathway.
Interior of Taj carries tombstone of the Royal couple. One signage pays homage to Shah Jahan, and another to Mumtaz Mahal. Graves are studded with precious stones and surrounded by latticework in marble. A vintage lamp burns non-stop above the tombs, a verisimilitude of the undying love that the couple shared.
The Great Wall of China (220 B.C and 1368-1644 A.D)
The period, 476 to 221 BCE in Chinese history is described as the ‘Warring States Period’. During this period different regions of China fought with each other to impose their overall supremacy. The state of Quin (pronounced as ‘Chin’ and hence the name ‘China’) won this battle. The victorious General Quin Shi Huangdi demolished border wall of all vanquished states and commandeered construction of a great single wall along the northern border to guard against nomadic Xiongnu of Mongolia. Significant additions were made to the wall in Ming Dynasty (1368-1664).
The Great Wall of China is actually a merger of numerous walls built over a period of 2000 year across Northern China and southern Mongolia. Many walls run parallel to each other. The best part of it runs for some 8,850 kms. About one-fourth of the wall is in the form of natural barriers like river and mountain ridges. Rest of the wall, nearly 70% of entire length, is the actually constructed wall. Ditches and moats too constitute some stretch of the wall.
It was not until 1980 A.D. that Chinese govt. made a dedicated attempt to project the great wall as a tourist attraction. In 1987, the wall was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Over 4 million people visiting the Great Wall every year testifies to the curiosity this 21,196 km long wall commands world over.
Machu Picchu (1460-1470), Peru
A city of Inca Empire (pre-Columbian America), Machu Pichchu (meaning Old Mountain) is a historical Latin American site located 8000 feet above sea level. Built on a mountain top in the 15th century, it remained unknown to the outside world till 1911. It is also called the `lost city’ as it wasn’t seen even by the Spanish who conquered Inca in the 16th century. The city had thrived hardly for 100 years when an outbreak of smallpox forced people to flee it.
Machu Picchu was first discovered by an American Professor, Hiram Bingham. It is spread in an area of 32,500 hectares with cliffs on 3 sides, a high mountain on fourth and a river flowing 1400 feet down below. Buildings are made of stones without any cementing material between them. Yet the walls are impenetrable and earthquake resistant. The little flexibility that un-cemented stones permit enables the wall to withstand tremors and remain in shape.
The site is notable for 3 structures. One, the temple of the 3 windows with great architecture. Second, the temple of the sun and third, a hilltop stone which was probably used as a calendar or an astronomical clock.
Petra (9 B.C. – 40 A.D), Jordan
Discovered by a Swiss explorer, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812, Petra was the capital city of Nabataeans (Arab people who inhabited Northern Arabia and south-east of Palestine). Surrounded by mountains, and sandstone hills, the approach to Petra isn’t easy. This is why it was chosen as the capital of Nabateans. It is also called rose city because of rose coloured sandstone hills. Multi-coloured stones create an awesome colour spectacle at sunrise and sunset which are the best times for tourists to visit this place.
Word Petra means ‘rock’. Caves and monument are carved out of rocks. The main entrance of Petra is 200 meters high. A total of 800 structures including buildings, toms, baths, funeral corridors, temples, theatres, pharaoh’s treasure mausoleum, gateways and leeways through sandstone bear testimony to technical and artistic acumen of the Nabataeans. To reach Petra, one must cross a 1 km long deep gorge.
The ground at the site is extremely uneven hence, automobiles are not permitted. Draught animals are the only means of transport at Petra is extremely scenic and geographically protected. No wonder Smithson Magazine selected it as one of the 28 places one must see before it’s time to die.
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