Long before viral websites promised to “blow your mind”, humans were capable of creating things that would genuinely blow your mind.
For thousands of years, the Seven Wonders wowed travellers from across the Ancient World. One by one, however, these remarkable structures crumbled, burned or fell to invading armies. In the last 2,000 years, mankind has advanced remarkably, and yet, for all our innovation and industry, we’ve failed to create a single building that compares to the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
First we shape our buildings. Then they shape us. Then they fall apart and we forget how we ever shaped them in the first place.
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are reputed to have been built by Nebuchadnezzar II as a gift for his wife. After being wrenched away from her homeland, Queen Amytis began to pine for Persia’s lush green hills and valleys. While most blokes would have fobbed her off with a bunch of flowers and a vague promise to invite the in-laws, the Neo-Babylonian king decided to pull out all the stops.
Chad commissioned an elaborate maze of elevated walkways, stone pillars and mature trees that afforded delicious shade from the relentless heat. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were a triumph of nature and design – unless they were just a legend, in which case they’re the coolest gardens that never were.
Temple of Artemis
Being a goddess must rock. Aside from the whole immortality thing, you get exquisite temples built for you and the finest offerings to appease your wrath. (Hey, just because your every whim is cared for doesn’t mean you can’t act the diva sometimes and sink a few ships.)
Artemis was the Hellenic goddess of wild animals, childbirth and virginity among other things, proving that the Ancient Greeks certainly had a sense of humour. Antipater of Sidon, a poet who first listed the Seven Wonders, described the Temple of Artemis as the pick of of the bunch.
Divine blessing couldn’t save the temple from flooding in the 7th century, however, when its floor was submerged beneath half a metre of sand. It was later rebuilt, before Herostratus threw a hissy fit in 356 BC and burned it to the ground. 500 years later, the temple – now in its third incarnation – was razed by the Goths. When we’re not creating the most wondrous buildings of all time, us humans are a destructive bunch.
Statue of Zeus at Olympia
How do you show your devotion to the Father of the Gods, the one who controls the sky and thunder itself? Simple: you build a huge statue and cover it in shiny things. At 13 metres tall, the Statue of Zeus, consecrated at Olympia in 435BC, dominated the temple it was housed in.
The edifice veritably sparkled thanks to a liberal application of precious gems, along with enough gold and ivory to make a deity blush. Nothing perfect lasts forever, and within a millennium the statue was gone, perhaps destroyed in a fire after allegedly being carted off to Constantinople. The statue had also previously been looted, its desecrators calculating that a record haul of bling was worth the eternal damnation.
Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
Death is never to be welcomed, unless your passing prefaces interment in the sumptuous Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. Like the Temple of Artemis, this Seventh Wonder lies in present day Turkey, where it currently resembles a pile of gravel.
In its prime however, the 45 metre-high structure was adorned with intricate bas-reliefs created by four of Greece’s greatest sculptors. The mausoleum was built at great expense to the people of Halicarnassus, but at least its inhabitants were economical with space: in marrying his sister Artemisia II, Mausolus neatly provided a final resting place for both his in-laws and his flesh and blood.
The mausoleum survived the machinations of time and man before succumbing to a series of earthquakes that toppled it between the 12th and 15th centuries. By the time the Knights of St John of Jerusalem showed up in 1402, there was barely a stone standing.
Colossus of Rhodes
The Colossus of Rhodes was the Statue of Liberty of its day, but with added nudity. The Rhodians erected the 30 metre-high structure after thwarting the Cypriots, who’d laid siege to the city before eventually giving up and sloping back home.
The townspeople scooped up the retreating army’s abandoned gear and pawned it for 300 talents, which seems a pretty good price for a bunch of siege equipment that clearly didn’t work. Then, just to further troll the Cypriots, they used the lucre to construct the Colossus, which towered over the harbour of Rhodes, inviting would-be invaders to ‘Come at me bro’.
One can only imagine the sense of wonder inspired in the sailors as they passed under the Colossus and gazed up at the giant scrotum overhead. The Colossus stood imperiously for just 56 years until an earthquake snapped both its knees. Ptolemy III offered to have the statue reconstructed, but the Rhodians, fearing that they had offended Helios, wimped out.
Lighthouse of Alexandria
History is a series of men building giant phallic symbols and then squabbling over whose is biggest. Long before oil-rich sheiks clamoured to touch the clouds, the Egyptians were at it. Completed in 247BC, the Lighthouse of Alexandria extended to an impressive 137 metres, making it the tallest man-made structure in the world. At its apex, a huge furnace alerted passing ships to its propinquity; presumably slaves were lumped with the Sisyphean task of hauling the firewood up the stairs.
Earthquakes – the scourge of the Seven Wonders – cut the lighthouse down to size, with the last one arriving in 1323. Any hopes of a rebuild were dashed when the Sultan of Egypt plundered the stone to build a boring medieval fort instead.
Great Pyramid of Giza
Finally, an Ancient Wonder that’s still standing! War, fire and earthquakes have proven no match for the oldest and largest of the three pyramids that form the Giza Necropolis. It may have been constructed almost 5,000 years ago, but the Great Pyramid barely looks a day over 2,000.
Theories abound as to the pyramid’s precise dimensions and latitudinal and longitudinal placement. Does it signify alien visitation? Fertility? The Illuminati? And how on earth did they manage to move those 70-ton blocks? No one can say for sure, but it probably involved big whips.