Contributor: Phoebe Yin
Today, the pandemic has made physical traveling a very difficult task. From lockdowns to border closures, much of the world we took for granted has become inaccessible. But this shouldn’t stop us from exploring what the world has to offer…virtually, as we’ve all become accustomed to by now. For example, we’ve all heard of the 7 Wonders of the World, but what exactly makes them so wonderful? What history and legends are associated with these wonders, but not other landmarks? Who has the privilege (or burden) of deciding which monuments are more deserving of the title than others?
The Initial Wonders
In 225 BC, a Greek engineer named Philo of Byzantium created the original list of the 7 Wonders, now known as the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. Whether their fame is due to their backstory, their architectural magnificence, or their size, these statues and monuments are undeniably one-of-a-kind.
Time, combined with both human and natural causes, destroyed six of these wonders. As if that wasn’t tragic enough, one of these wonders might not have even existed in the first place. Luckily, in 2007, seven new landmarks triumphed over many other candidates in a competition and took over as the 7 Wonders of the World.
The Seven Wonders of The Ancient World
The Great Pyramid (row 1, image #3 from left)
Located in Giza, Egypt, the Great Pyramid is the only remaining ancient wonder today. Standing beside two other pyramids, known as Khafra and Menkaura, Khufu (the Great Pyramid) is the largest. It took over two million stone blocks to build, and covers an impressive 13 acres of land.
Once upon a time, Khufu was the tallest building in the world and maintained this reputation until the 19th century. The shape of the pyramids, with their slanted walls, was designed to portray the slope of the sun rays, as an acknowledgment to the Egyptian sun god Ra. The inside of the pyramids is narrow, with chambers full of treasures. Unfortunately, this was a well-known fact, and the contents of the pyramids were stolen by the time the pyramids could celebrate their 250th anniversary.
Hanging Gardens of Babylon (row 1, image #2)
In an attempt to honour the natural beauty of his lover’s hometown and alleviate her homesickness, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon on tall stone columns. The gardens reached a height as tall as 75 feet in the air, starting from a wide brick base that decreases in width in a stair-like manner. The garden was apparently home to greenery, flowers, fruit, and even waterfalls.
If this sounds too good to be true, it may be because it is. There are no Babylonian texts that explicitly mention this garden, nor is there any archeological evidence supporting its existence. The story is nonetheless inspiring, however.
Statue of Zeus (row 2, image #2)
Zeus, being the king of the gods in Greek mythology, was also known as the god of the sky and thunder. Located in Olympia, which was the ancient site of the Olympics, he sat atop a wooden throne in his temple. This statue was 40 feet tall, and every aspect was decorated with intricate detail, from his throne to his staff. Legend has it that the sculptor asked Zeus for a sign of approval once completing the statue, and lightning struck the temple soon after. This statue stood for over eight centuries before the Roman emperor closed the temple, and the statue burned down in a fire at its new location.
Temple of Artemis (row 1, image #1)
In Ephesus, Greece, the Temple of Artemis was designed and decorated by the most skilled artists at the time. It was rightfully admired by all, until it was burned down by a Greek citizen with the intention of having his name known. His name was Herostratus, so although his method was questionable, his strategy worked. Sort of. He was eventually executed, and the government decided it should be illegal to even utter his name. A new temple was constructed on the same site six years later, looking just as grand, and now with an even more interesting backstory.
Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (row 2, image #4)
Built in modern-day Turkey, this tomb was built for the king of Carnia by his wife following his death. They were not only husband and wife, but also brother and sister. Legends claim that her grief was severe enough for her to mix his ashes with water and drink it… and order the construction of this mausoleum. We can probably all agree that the second part was a better way of coping.
The entire mausoleum was made from white marble and stood at 135 feet tall. Continuing on with the destruction theme, most of this building was wrecked by an earthquake in the 13th century, and what remained was reused to fortify a castle later on.
Colossus of Rhodes (row 2, image #3)
After selling tools and equipment from a Macedonian siege, Rhodians used the money to pay for a 100-foot-tall sculpture of the Greek sun god, Helios. Archeologists believe Helios held a torch in one hand and a spear in the other, leading to the speculation that the Statue of Liberty was inspired by the Colossus of Rhodes. As expected, given the trend we’re seeing, this sculpture was destroyed by an earthquake after standing for 60 years.
The Lighthouse of Alexandria (row 2, image #1)
A Greek architect named Sostratos designed this lighthouse in 270 B.C. to help guide ships in and out of the Nile River near Alexandria, Egypt. The lighthouse had three tiers, and a 16-foot-tall statue of either Ptolemy II or Alexander the Great supposedly stood on the very top. Once again, this wonder of the ancient world didn’t manage to withstand a series of earthquakes. Some of its remains have been found at the bottom of the Nile since then.
The 7 New Wonders of the World
The current wonders of the world were selected as part of a contest to find 7 new wonders, held by the New 7 Wonders Foundation (a very unambiguous name, in case there’s any confusion about what their goal is). The UNESCO organization has a list of World Heritage Sites, and in 2007, millions of people voted for the sites that they deemed most deserving of being named a wonder.
According to the votes, the 7 Wonders of the World became:
The Great Wall of China (a series of walls in China)
The Taj Mahal (a mausoleum in India)
Petra (an archeological site in Jordan)
The Colosseum (an amphitheater in Italy)
Christ the Redeemer statue (a cultural icon in Brazil)
Chichén Itzá (a ruined ancient Mayan city in Mexico)
Machu Picchu (an Incan citadel located on a mountain in Peru)
We may still be stuck at home, but there’s no harm in admiring the world’s best landmarks from afar. The dedication, creativity, and effort behind the 7 wonders, both new and old, are as admirable as the statues and monuments that resulted.
History.com Editors. “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 27 Oct. 2009, https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/seven-wonders-of-the-ancient-world.
Shastri, Veda, et al. “The 'New Seven Wonders of the World'.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 1 Dec. 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/01/travel/the-new-seven-wonders-of-the-world.html.
National Geographic Society. “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.” National Geographic Society, 13 Aug. 2020, https://www.nationalgeographic.org/article/seven-wonders-ancient-world/.
The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – Digitally Reconstructed, Brewminate, 9 Dec. 2019, https://brewminate.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/111719-29-History-Ancient-Architecture-1024x609.jpg.