The amazing works of art and architecture known as the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World serve as a testament to the ingenuity, imagination and sheer hard work of which human beings are capable. They are also, however, reminders of the human capacity for disagreement, destruction and, possibly, embellishment. As soon as ancient writers compiled a list of "seven wonders," it became fodder for debate over which achievements deserved inclusion. Ultimately, human hands joined with natural forces to destroy all but one of the wonders. Furthermore, it is possible that at least one of the wonders might not have existed at all. Still, all seven continue to inspire and be celebrated as the remarkable products of the creativity and skill of Earth’s early civilizations.
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Built on a massive scale, the pyramids of ancient Egypt are some of the most magnificent manmade structures in history.
Over its tumultuous 1,200-year history, Ancient Rome grew from a small town into one of the most successful imperial powers in history.
The ancient Egyptian civilization endured for more than 5,000 years, and at its peak was one of the richest and most powerful in the world.
Between 800 and 500 B.C., Greek city-states spread from the Mediterranean to Asia Minor and from North Africa to the Black Sea.
Did You Know?
The Colossus of Rhodes was an inspiration for the Statue of Liberty.
- Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt
- Hanging Gardens of Babylon
- Statue of Zeus at Olympia
- Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt
The Great Pyramids, located at Giza on the west bank of the Nile River north of Cairo, are the only wonder of the ancient world that has survived to the present day. The three pyramids--Khufu (Cheops), Khafra (Chephren) and Menkaura (Mycerimus)--were built between 2700 B.C. and 2500 B.C. as royal tombs. The largest and most impressive is Khufu, which covers 13 acres and is believed to contain more than 2 million stone blocks that weigh from two to 30 tons each. For more than 4,000 years, Khufu reigned as the tallest building in the world. In fact, it took modern man until the 19th century to build a taller structure. Amazingly, the nearly symmetrical pyramids were built without the aid of modern tools or surveying equipment. Scientists believe that the Egyptians used log rollers and sledges to move the stones into place. The sloped walls, which were intended to mimic the rays of Ra, the sun god, were originally built as steps, and then filled in with limestone. The interior of the pyramids included narrow corridors and hidden chambers in an unsuccessful attempt to foil grave robbers. Although modern archeologists have found some great treasures among the ruins, they believe most of what the pyramids once contained was looted within 250 years of their completion.
Hanging Gardens of Babylon
According to ancient Greek poets, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were built near the Euphrates River in modern-day Iraq by the Babylonian king Nebuchadrezzar II around 600 B.C. The gardens were said to have been planted as high as 75 feet in the air on a huge square brick terrace that was laid out in steps like a theater. The king allegedly built the towering gardens to ease his lover Amytis’ homesickness for the natural beauty of her home in Media (the northwestern part of modern-day Iran). Later writers described how people could walk underneath the beautiful gardens, which rested on tall stone columns. Modern scientists have deduced that for the gardens to survive they would have had to be irrigated using a system consisting of a pump, waterwheel and cisterns to carry water from the Euphrates many feet into the air. Though there are multiple accounts of the gardens in both Greek and Roman literature, none of them are firsthand, and no mention of the gardens has been found in Babylonian cuneiform inscriptions. As a result, most modern scholars believe that the existence of the gardens was part of an inspired and widely believed but still fictional tale.
Statue of Zeus at Olympia
The famed statue of Zeus was crafted by the Athenian sculptor Phidias and completed and placed in the temple of Zeus at Olympia, site of the ancient Olympics, around the mid-fifth century B.C. The statue depicted the god of thunder seated bare-chested at a wooden throne. Holding up the thrones’ armrests were two carved sphinxes, mythical creatures with the head and chest of a woman, the body of lion and the wings of a bird. The statue of Zeus was richly decorated with gold and ivory. At 40 feet, it was so tall that its head nearly touched the top of the temple. According to legend, the sculptor Phidias asked Zeus for a sign of his approval after finishing the statue; soon after, the temple was struck by lightning. The Zeus statue graced the temple at Olympia for more than eight centuries before Christian priests persuaded the Roman emperor to close the temple in the fourth century A.D. At that time, the statue was moved to a temple in Constantinople, where it is believed to have been destroyed in a fire in the year 462.
Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
There was actually more than one Temple of Artemis: A series of several altars and temples was destroyed and then restored on the same site in Ephesus, a Greek port city on the west coast of modern-day Turkey. The most fabulous of these structures were two marble temples built around 550 B.C. and 350 B.C., respectively. The former was designed by the Cretan architect Chersiphron and his son Metagenes and decorated by some of the most celebrated artists of the ancient world. The building burned on July 21, 356 B.C., according to legend the same night that Alexander the Great was born. About six years later, the building of a new temple to replace it was begun. The new building was surrounded by marble steps that led to a more than 400-foot-long terrace. Inside stood 127 60-foot marble columns and a statue of Artemis. Archeologists disagree as to whether the building had an open-air ceiling or was topped with wood tiles. The temple was largely destroyed by Ostrogoths in A.D. 262, and it was not until the 1860s that archeologists dug up the first of the ruins of the temple’s columns at the bottom of the Cayster River.
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