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The Seven Wonders of the World (or the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) refers to remarkable constructions of classical antiquity listed by various authors in guidebooks popular among the ancient Hellenic tourists, particularly in the 1st and 2nd centuries BC. The most prominent of these, the versions by Antipater of Sidon and an observer identified as Philo of Byzantium, comprise seven works located around the eastern Mediterranean rim. The original list inspired innumerable versions through the ages, often listing seven entries. Of the original Seven Wonders, only one—the Great Pyramid of Giza, the oldest of the ancient wonders—remains relatively intact.
The Greek conquest of much of the known world in the 4th century BC gave Hellenistic travellers access to the civilizations of the Egyptians, Persians, and Babylonians. Impressed and captivated by the landmarks and marvels of the various lands, these travellers began to list what they saw to remember them.
Instead of "wonders", the ancient Greeks spoke of "theamata" (θεάματα), which means "sights", in other words "things to be seen". (Τὰ ἑπτὰ θεάματα τῆς οἰκουμένης [γῆς] Tà heptà theámata tēs oikoumenēs [gēs]) Later, the word for "wonder" ("thaumata" θαύματα) was used, and this is also the case in modern Greek (Επτά θαύματα του αρχαίου κόσμου). Hence, the list was meant to be the Ancient World's counterpart of a travel guidebook.
Each person had his own version of the list, but the best known and earliest surviving was from a poem by Greek-speaking epigrammist Antipater of Sidon from around 140 BC. He named six of the seven sites on his list—leaving out the lighthouse—, but was primarily in praise of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus:
I have gazed on the walls of impregnable Babylon along which chariots may race, and on the Zeus by the banks of the Alpheus, I have seen the hanging gardens, and the Colossus of the Helios, the great man-made mountains of the lofty pyramids, and the gigantic tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the sacred house of Artemis that towers to the clouds, the others were placed in the shade, for the sun himself has never looked upon its equal outside Olympus.
— Greek Anthology IX.58
Another 2nd century BC observer, who claimed to be the mathematician Philo of Byzantium, wrote a short account entitled The Seven Sights of the World. However, the incomplete surviving manuscript only covered six of the supposedly seven places, which agreed with Antipater's list.
The Colossus of Rhodes was the last of the seven to be completed, after 280 BC, and the first to be destroyed, by an earthquake in 226/225 BC. Hence, all seven existed at the same time for a period of less than 60 years. Antipater had an earlier version which replaced Lighthouse of Alexandria with the Walls of Babylon. Lists which preceded the construction of Colossus of Rhodes completed their seven entries with the inclusion of the Ishtar Gate.
It is thought that the limitation of the lists to seven entries was attributed to the special magical meaning of the number. Geographically, the list covered only the sculptural and architectural monuments of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions, which then comprised the known world for the Greeks. Hence, extant sites beyond this realm were not considered as part of contemporary accounts.
The primary accounts, coming from Hellenistic writers, also heavily influenced the places included in the wonders list. Five of the seven entries are a celebration of Greek accomplishments in the arts and architecture (the exceptions being the Pyramids of Giza and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon).
|Name||Date of construction||Builder||Date of destruction||Cause of destruction||Modern location|
|Great Pyramid of Giza||2584–2561 BC||Egyptians||Still in existence||Giza Necropolis, Egypt|
|Hanging Gardens of Babylon||c. 600 BC (evident)||Babylonians||After 1st century BC||Earthquakes||Hillah, Babylon Province, Iraq or|
Nineveh, Nineveh Province, Iraq
|Temple of Artemis at Ephesus||c. 550 BC; and again at 323 BC||Lydians, Greeks||356 BC (by Herostratus)|
AD 262 (by the Goths)
|Arson by Herostratus, plundering||near Selçuk, Izmir Province, Turkey|
|Statue of Zeus at Olympia||466–456 BC (Temple)|
435 BC (Statue)
|Greeks||5th–6th centuries AD||Disassembled; later destroyed by fire||Olympia, Greece|
|Mausoleum at Halicarnassus||351 BC||Carians, Greeks||by AD 1494||Earthquakes||Bodrum, Turkey|
|Colossus of Rhodes||292–280 BC||Greeks||226 BC||226 BC Rhodes earthquake||Rhodes, Greece|
|Lighthouse of Alexandria||c. 280 BC||Ptolemaic Egypt, Greeks||AD 1303–1480||1303 Crete earthquake||Alexandria, Egypt|
The seven wonders on Antipater's list won praises for their notable features, ranging from superlatives of the highest or largest of their types, to the artistry with which they were executed. Their architectural and artistic features were imitated throughout the Hellenistic world and beyond.
The Greek influence in Roman culture, and the revival of Greco-Roman artistic styles during the Renaissance caught the imagination of European artists and travellers. Paintings and sculptures alluding to Antipater's list were made, while adventurers flocked to the actual sites to personally witness the wonders. Legends circulated to further complement the superlatives of the wonders.
Of Antipater's wonders, the only one that has survived to the present day is the Great Pyramid of Giza. Its brilliant white stone facing had survived intact until around 1300 AD, when local communities removed most of the stonework for building materials. The existence of the Hanging Gardens has not been proven, although theories abound. Records and archaeology confirm the existence of the other five wonders. The Temple of Artemis and the Statue of Zeus were destroyed by fire, while the Lighthouse of Alexandria, Colossus, and tomb of Mausolus were destroyed by earthquakes. Among the artifacts to have survived are sculptures from the tomb of Mausolus and the Temple of Artemis in the British Museum in London.
Still, the listing of seven of the most marvellous architectural and artistic human achievements continued beyond the Ancient Greek times to the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and to the modern age. The Roman poet Martial and the Christian bishop Gregory of Tours had their versions. Reflecting the rise of Christianity and the factor of time, nature and the hand of man overcoming Antipater's seven wonders, Roman and Christian sites began to figure on the list, including the Colosseum, Noah's Ark and Solomon's Temple. In the 6th century, a list of seven wonders was compiled by St. Gregory of Tours: the list included the Temple of Solomon, the Pharos of Alexandria and Noah's Ark.
Modern historians, working on the premise that the original Seven Ancient Wonders List was limited in its geographic scope, also had their versions to encompass sites beyond the Hellenistic realm—from the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World to the Seven Wonders of the World. Indeed, the "seven wonders" label has spawned innumerable versions among international organizations, publications and individuals based on different themes—works of nature, engineering masterpieces, constructions of the Middle Ages, etc. Its purpose has also changed from just a simple travel guidebook or a compendium of curious places, to lists of sites to defend or to preserve.
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