When I was a kid, I was obsessed with the details and histories of the ancient world. I was interested in not only the prospects of the societies that melted into the sands of history, but the artifices they built that no longer exist today. What wonders of today might no longer exist 3000 years from now. What monstrous edifices to ourselves will fade away in time to be dug up and discovered by our descendents in three millennia? But since, I’m such a nerd still want to take a look back at those original seven wonders of ancient times and what they meant for their societies in the time they were built.
The original list of seven was crafted out of a very small, specific area born of the guide books for Helenic tourists. Thus they only include the works of the classic civilizations of the Mediterranean rim. Works like the Great Wall and Aztec Pyramids aren’t included; such is one of the many casualties of a centric society. Still, I’m a product of classical curiosities though and find the wonders of that Helenic Ancient world intriguing for its concision as well as its antiquity.
1. Great Pyramid of Giza – 2560 BC – The largest of the many pyramids of Egypt, The Great Pyramid was built in what was probably 20 years as a tomb for Khufu (of course that’s always up for debate). Ironically, as the first of the ancient wonders (by nearly 2000 years) it’s also the only one still standing. The theories of how it was built are numerous, not excluding the use of massive amounts of slaves housed in a town outside Giza, solely for the workers. The bricks were likely carted up ramps and the pyramid built in layers. The technology used to lift the 7-ton blocks is still under debate, as well as the exact completion date, and the entombed king for which it was created. But, the fact that it still stands is a testament all by itself.
2. Hanging Gardens of Babylon – 600 BC – The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were one of the “supposeds” of the list. Supposedly built in 600 BC by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon, there’s absolutely no proof that they actually existed. Though, there are some Greek scholars whose work floats around saying otherwise. Theories abound about how the aqueducts worked, how the gardens were built, where they even were. It’s the red herring of classical archaeology, but one of the more beautiful (in paintings at least). And since the city of Babylon itself was quietly and thoroughly destroyed overnight, assumedly (by scientists that is) by a massive earthquake, the gardens went with it.
3. Temple of Artemis at Ephesus – 550 BC – Another one of the wonders that no one can guess at the actual vision of, due to its complete and utter destruction only 200 years after being built. Like many of its ancient brethren, the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus (50 miles south of Izmir in Turkey) was a long project, supposedly 120 years in the making, that drew the attention of many historians, comparing it to most of the other wonders o this list. Unfortunately it found its death in the fourth century BC after a massive fire.
4. Statue of Zeus at Olympia – 435 BC – Carved by Phidias in an actual exact date, the Statue of Zeus is not actually questioned in its existence. The workshop in which it was created was found in the 1950s and the actual techniques were recreated. About 40 feet high and carved of ivory, plated in gold, the statue was believed to have been destroyed with the temple in the 5th century AD or in a massive fire after being carried away to Constantinople. At least they agree that it existed.
5. Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus – 351 BC – Hey, this one’s actually devoted to someone that everyone was sure lived and have proof of. That’s a step forward. Much like the great pyramids of Giza, the mausoleum was an edifice to the leader of a people, Maussollos of the Persians in Turkey at the time, along with his wife and sisters. The structure stood 135 feet high and was adorned on each side by one of four prominent Greek sculptures, Bryaxis, Leochares, Scopas, and Timotheus. The structure lasted surprisingly long, through invasions, pillaging, and plundering alike. However, in the long run age destroyed it, piece by piece dismantled for Knights’ fortifications, centerpieces in the halls of royalty and simple thieves. There still exist bits and pieces of the original statues as well as the design which inspired many tombs, including Grant’s Tomb in Washington. The word Mausoleum comes from the enshrined’s name.
6. Colossus of Rhodes – 280 BC – Built on the island of Rhodes in the early 3rd century BC, the Statue of Rhodes was a recreation of the Sun God Helios and stood about the same height and size as our Statue of Liberty, a bit of a feat considering the time in which it was built and the technology used. The statue only stood for 56 years though, when an earthquake snapped it off at the knees. And the times being as they were, some were able to convince many that the sun god himself was offended and it was never rebuilt. Some things never really change.
7. Lighthouse of Alexandria – 3rd C. BC – Built on the island of Pharos, the lighthouse of Alexandria, Egypt was guessed to be anywhere up to 450 feet high, the highest structure in the world for many years. Supposedly built in three sections, on its highest point was mounted a mirror and lanterns for its functionality as a lighthouse. It stood for millennia finally destroyed in the 14th century (maybe a little later) by an earthquake. Built in its place now is a fortification built on the original masonry from the lighthouse.
The ancient world notwithstanding, what of the modern world. Well, just this last year a group of historians compiled a list of 200 modern wonders and held a vote to decide what the 7 wonders of today’s world would be. In a slightly less scientific and much more commercially viable method, Good Morning America and USA Today, today’s pop journalism (with pretty pictures) extraordinaires offered their own list compiled by a small panel of historians.
1.Potala Palace – Lhasa, Tibet
2. Old City of Jeruselam – Israel
3. Polar Ice Caps – Polar Regions
4. Northwestern Hawaiian Islands National Monument – Hawaii
5. The Internet
6. Mayan Ruins – Yucatan Peninsula, Mesoamerica
7. Great Migration of Serengeti and Masaid Mara – Kenya and Tanzania
8. The Grand Canyon – Arizona
The list fails in offering seven man made wonders as the original did, but does capture the essence of things everyone should see as the original list did. Though, I would argue that the internet is too integrated into society to include. That would be like considering the printing press a wonder of the world in the 1700s after its full integration into society.
It will be very interesting to see which modern wonders match up with the as of yet unknown criteria for Wonderment. If it was to be a list of all things still standing on earth as created by man, surely the Great Wall would be included, the Maya Ruins retained, the Pyramid of Giza retained, places like Stone Henge, modern marvels of engineering, the space station, the Empire State Building. I would be hardpressed to narrow any list to only a few places, but surely the natural wonders of the world shouldn’t be included, as they deserve their own list, before they no longer exist (like the polar ice caps).