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Seven Wonders of the ancient world 27 mars 2007

Posted by Acturca in Art-Culture, History / Histoire, Middle East / Moyen Orient, South East Europe / Europe du Sud-Est, Turkey / Turquie.
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Northern Territory News (Australia)

March 27, 2007 Tuesday, Pg. 18

In ancient times, people compiled lists of what they thought were the greatest structures built by humans. Ever since then, people have attempted to compile a definitive list of the world’s seven greatest manmade objects, as well as the world’s greatest natural wonders. People are now being asked to vote on the New Seven Wonders and among the candidates is the Sydney Opera House.

Philo’s list

The concept of Seven Wonders was around long before it was first recorded in written form.

The first recorded accounts of the Seven Wonders were by Antipater of Sidon, and mathematician and engineer, Philo of Byzantium, who wrote about them in the 3rd century BC. The Philo text says, « Everyone has heard of each of the Seven Wonders, but few have seen them all for themselves ». He then goes on to describe them all, in order to save people wearing themselves out or dying in the process in travelling to see them. Philo’s list includes the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Walls of Babylon, the Pyramids at Giza in Egypt, the statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Colossus of Rhodes and the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. Antipater’s list is the better known of the two, and includes the Artemis Temple, the Pyramids, the Colossus, the Hanging Gardens and the statue of Zeus, but adds the Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus and the Pharos lighthouse of Alexandria. Both writers identified structures within a comparatively narrow area around the Mediterranean, all in areas with either Greek connections or large populations of Greeks. They were possibly the earliest travel guide ever produced.

Why seven ?

The fact that there are seven wonders and not five, six, or 10 is hardly ever questioned. Seven was considered a special number within many ancient cultures, possibly because of the number of times it appears in nature. For instance the moon moves through seven phases in a cycle lasting about 28 days – a multiple of seven. When people looked for some way to group days they grouped them in weeks of seven days, four of which would make a lunar month. There are also seven colours in a rainbow. Many religions adopted the number as having special significance. Naturally enough, when people went looking for the best manmade structures they grouped them into seven.

1. Pharos lighthouse

Where: Pharos island, off Alexandria in Egypt

When: completed about 280BC

Standing about 110m tall, the Pharos lighthouse was built to aid ships navigating the difficult Egyptian coast. It was built by Sostratus of Cnidus under orders from Ptolemy I Soter, one of Alexander the Great’s generals, who ruled Alexandria. It was completed in the reign of his son Ptolemy II. It had a square base, on top of which was an octagonal section, followed by a cylindrical section around which a spiral ramp gave access to the top. Some sources say it had a statue of either the sun god Helios or Alexander the Great on top. It eventually fell into ruin and the Qa’it Bay fortress was constructed from the ruins on the same site during the 15th century AD.

2. Statue of Zeus at Olympia

Where: Olympia, Greece

When: built about 430BC

The shrine of Olympia is best known as the site of the original Olympic games, but the games were dedicated to Zeus, chief god of the Greek pantheon. In the temple of Zeus at Olympia was a 12m-high statue of the god (pictured left) made mostly of ivory and gold over a wooden interior scaffold. The combination of ivory and gold, known as chryselephantine, was popular for images of gods and the master of the artform was Phidias (or Pheidias) of Athens.

By the 5th century AD the statue had been stripped of its gold and the ivory was either looted or destroyed in a fire in 475. Nothing remains of the statue but its image influenced Christian depictions of God and Jesus (and even American memorials of presidents Lincoln and Washington). In 1958 Phidias’s workshop was excavated, giving insights into the age and methods of workmanship used.

3. The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus

Where: Halicarnassus (modern day Bodrum in Turkey)

When: built between 353BC and 351BC

This was the monumental tomb of king Mausolus of Caria in Anatolia. It was built by his widow Artemisia and designed by the architects Pythias and Satyrus and adorned with sculptures by the four greatest Greek artists of the time. Basically square, with each side measuring about 30m, it consisted of a base surmounted by a middle section with 36 columns, topped by a pyramidshaped roof, upon which was a four-horse marble chariot. It could be seen from a great distance, even from out at sea. Most of it was destroyed in an earthquake some time after the 11th century AD, but the marble and stone was taken by local people to be used for other buildings. Mausolus’s tomb became a model for many tombs thereafter and the Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance (pictured below) was based on it.

Did you know?

* The word mausoleum once referred specifically to the tomb of King Mausolus but is now used to refer to any burial chamber.

* The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus was topped by a pyramid, making reference to the burial practices of the ancient Egyptians.

4. Colossus of Rhodes

Where: Rhodes, an island in the Aegean Sea

When: built between 294BC and 282BC

The Colossus was a huge bronze statue of the sun god Helios, built at the harbour of Rhodes. It was built to honour the Rhodians’ chief god to thank him for raising the Macedonian siege of Rhodes (from 305BC-304BC). Helios was believed to be the god who revealed Rhodes, bringing it up from the bottom of the sea. The Rhodians used the iron and bronze left behind by the Macedonian armies to build some of the statue to a height of over 30m. It was destroyed by an earthquake in about 225BC. The statue was left where it fell until the Arabs invaded in AD654, when the bronze and iron was scavenged and sold for scrap.

Did you know?

* The Statue of Liberty was inspired by the Colossus of Rhodes. A plaque at the base of the statue features a poem by Emma Lazarus called The New Colossus.

5. Pyramids of Giza

Where: Egypt

When: built between 2575BC and 2465BC

These are the oldest of the seven ancient wonders, consisting of three stone structures built during the 4th dynasty of ancient Egypt. They are the only ancient wonder from the list of seven to survive mostly intact today, however in Philo’s time they were covered with an outer layer of fine white limestone. Since then tomb robbers have taken most of the outer limestone, as well as the decorative capstones, and looted the interior of the pyramids. They were built as tombs for the pharaohs Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure. The largest, known as the Great Pyramid, was built for the pharaoh Khufu and is made up of about 2.3 million limestone blocks, along with some granite slabs, and is still the largest single stone building on earth. It was first believed that slaves or forced labour were used to build the pyramids, but Egyptologists now believe that agricultural workers willingly became builders as a way of showing devotion to the pharaoh who was considered a god.

6. Temple of Artemis at Ephesus

Where: Ephesus (in modern day Turkey)

When: built about 550BC

Artemis was the Greek goddess of – among other things – the hunt, wild animals, crops, chastity and (paradoxically) childbirth. Also known as Diana in Roman mythology, she was a minor goddess in the Graeco-Roman world but in Asia Minor she was a principal deity, worshipped as a fertility goddess. In the 6th century, King Croesus of Lydia built a temple at Ephesus to honour Artemis. Designed and built by the Cretan architect Chersiphron and his son Metagenes, it was burned down in 356BC by a disturbed young man named Herostratus, who hoped the act would make him famous. The temple was noted for its imposing scale as well as its rich art and decorations.

7. Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Where: Babylon (modern day Iraq)

When: built between the 9th and 6th centuries BC

The Hanging Gardens did not actually hang, they were a series of tiered, landscaped terraces that formed part of a palace, as if it were partmountain, part-castle. Most descriptions are vague but some describe the way bitumen was used to prevent water used to irrigate the plants from seeping into the living spaces. There is some disagreement about when they were built and who built them, but it was either Queen Sammu-ramat (Semiramis) or King Nebuchadrezzar II, who is said to have built them for his queen, to remind her of the hills of her Persian homeland. The gardens are something of a mystery because there are no contemporary references to them. The first hint of the gardens is in a Persian work from about 400BC. Archaeologist Robert Koldewey excavated the site of ancient Babylon in an 18-year dig beginning in 1899. He claimed to have discovered the site of the gardens, which were most likely to have been destroyed by an earthquake.

Quest for a new list

In 1995 an opera called The Eighth Wonder about the building of the Sydney Opera House premiered in Sydney. Now the Opera House is on a list of contenders for the New Seven Wonders. It is up against a formidable list, including the Taj Mahal, the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China, and the Pyramids of Giza. You can vote for your choice online at new7wonders.com

Sources and further study: The Seven Wonders Of The World by John & Elizabeth Romer (Michael O’Mara) Seven Wonders Of The Industrial World by Deborah Cadbury (HarperCollins, also available on DVD). Seven Wonders Of The Ancient, Natural, Modern World (Chrysalis Books). Enyclopaedia Britannica. Pyramid Beyond Imagination (DVD).

Babylon and Zeus art courtesy of The Courier-Mail.


1. kyle - 11 avril 2007

Ummmm i think it needs more info like why the things were built and where.. Other than that it was a good thing i liked doing a report on it. =)

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