Hanging Gardens of Babylon
A woman’s longing for the trees of her homeland may be the reason that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon made it to the Greeks’ list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Near the present-day Iraqi city of Al Hillah, these gardens and the walls of Babylon were built around 600 BCE by Nebuchadnezzar II, reportedly for his wife, Amytis of Media, who left her Iranian home when she married the king of Babylon. Whether Amytis planted the seed or whether King Nebuchadnezzar simply followed his father’s lead, he created more —1151 Seven Wonders of the Ancient Worldthan gardens as he rebuilt Babylon, devastated by years of conquests and rebellions. In addition to constructing the terraces that held the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the king restored temples, completed the royal palace, built a bridge over the Euphrates to connect citizens of Babylon, and built the Mede wall to protect citizens from any invasion of their northern borders.
Because the Hanging Gardens did not appear in documents that chronicle the history of Babylon, some have questioned whether the gardens were mythical. The earliest mention was in 4th-century BCE; subsequently, Greek historians Strabo and Diodorus documented their existence. They wrote that the terraced gardens were irrigated by water drawn from the Euphrates, and they mentioned stones, towers, and stairways, tiers of fully grown trees, lush plants that thrived in a theater-like set-ting. An earthquake is cited as the reason for the garden’s destruction around 1 BCE. Recent archae-ological excavations along the banks of the Euphrates show promise of revealing thick garden walls that may ultimately put to rest the question of whether the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were historical myth or fact.
The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
Turkey is the site of this wonder of the world: the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, a city of ancient Lydia. In Greek mythology, Artemis was a female twin of the male god Apollo; both were children of Zeus and Leto. As Apollo was associated with the sun, so was Artemis associated with the moon. Her counterpart in Roman mythology was Diana, the huntress, and Artemis, too, was often repre-sented graphically with bow and arrows.
Begun by Croesus of Lydia, the Temple of Artemis was built over a 120-year period, completed in 550 BCE. Its architect was the Greek Chersiphron. Many Greek sculptors contributed works of art for the temple, including Pheidias, creator of the Statue of Zeus at Olympia. Made of marble, the temple over-looked a courtyard filled with activity—musicians, artisans, merchants, magicians—and was so stunning that, in the eyes of the poet Antipater of Sidon, it dwarfed all of the other wonders he named.
Its very beauty may have led to the beginning of the temple’s demise: A disturbed young man named Herostratus chose to set fire to it in 356 BCE in an attempt to forever seal his fame. The Greeks put him to death and rebuilt the temple. Some histori-ans claim that the temple was destroyed and rebuilt as many as seven times. Around 400 CE, the temple was eventually demolished.
The Statue of Zeus at Olympia
The Greek statesman Pericles, a general who led the city during the Peloponnesian War, commissioned this wonder of the ancient world from the Greek sculptor Pheidias circa 440 BCE: the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece.
Olympia was one of four Greek sanctuaries, centers of culture and Greek life. Along with the sanctuary Delphi, Olympia hosted games and contests every 4 years in which the best Greek athletes would compete. As they did with Delphi, the games elevated Olympia’s political prestige, and it became one of the most important sanctuaries in all of Greece and considered sacred to Zeus.
Although the only artistic representation of the Statue of Zeus that remains is on ancient coins, from them and from historians of the times it is known that Pheidias created the god Zeus in ivory on an ornate throne accented in gold. The statue was huge—40 feet tall—and crowded the temple that was built to house it. The construction was chryselephantine: built up on a wooden frame using ivory and gold leaf to form the image. In Zeus’s hands, Pheidias placed an eagle atop a scep-ter and a likeness of Nike, the winged goddess of victory.
Zeus was not alone in his temple but was accompanied by his mythical son Herakles, a hero to local residents and considered the founder of the games. The 12 tasks of Herakles were depicted on friezes above the columns of the temple.
From early accounts, words failed to describe the statue’s power when seen in person. It is not known for certain how it met its destruction. Some pre-sume it was destroyed by an earthquake in 400–500 CE; others claim that armies carried it to Constantinople, where it was consumed by fire in 462 CE. Today, only fallen columns embedded in Greek soil mark the place where Zeus’s statue watched over the Olympians’ success at their Greek games.
The Mausoleum of Mausollos at Halicarnassus
As with the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, history credits a woman for this wonder. The Mausoleum of Mausollos was commissioned by Artemisia II of Caria, the wife and sister of King Mausollos, and built around 350 BCE in the ancient city of Halicarnassus, what is now the Turkish port of Bodrum. Artemisia’s grief at her husband’s death was so great that the tomb could be no less than splendid. Designed by Satyrus and Pythius, well-known Greek architects of the times, each of the four sides of the 135-foot-high-tomb showcased graphic relief works—primarily animals and armies in battle—created by prominent Greek sculptors and hundreds of lesser artists and work-ers. The monument to Artemisia’s husband sat on a hill that overlooked Halicarnassus and became so famous among travelers and sightseers that the king’s name is now an eponym for a grand and splendid final resting place: mausoleum.
The tomb was toppled by an earthquake in the 1490s. Crusaders used the remaining stones in 1522 to fortify their castles from Turkish attack. Today, visitors of the Knights of Malta’s castles in Bodrum can see stones from the tomb in the castle walls. Visitors of Bodrum can view the tomb’s remaining ruins as well.
The Colossus of Rhodes
Towering 110 feet over the Greek island, the Colossus of Rhodes was a statue of Helios, the Greek god representing the sun. It was built in 292 BCE by the citizens of the island of Rhodes, following their successful defense of the island when an army led by Demetrios Poliorketes invaded.
Chares of Lindos, a native of Rhodes who had studied under the sculptor Lysippos, was in charge of the statue’s construction. Made of white marble and bronze, the statue Helios stood 100 feet tall. Its exact location has never been documented, although romantic notions place the Colossus astride the entrance to one of the many harbors of Rhodes. It existed only half a century before it was felled by an earthquake at the knee. Although offers came from abroad to pay for the restoration of the statue, the people consulted an oracle or prophet who forbade the reconstruction, and the Colossus remained where it fell for almost 800 years. In 654 CE, an Arabian army that had cap-tured Rhodes disassembled what was left of the Colossus and sold off the pieces. In her 1959 poem “The Colossus,” poet Sylvia Plath gave a voice to what is left of the ruin:
No longer do I listen for the scrape of a keel
On the blank stones of the landing.
The Lighthouse of Alexandria
Off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt, on the island of Pharos, the Lighthouse of Alexandria rounds out the Greek list of Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Estimated to be as tall as 450 feet, the lighthouse was originally built around 250 BCE as a tower or pharos, a navigational landmark.
It was designed by Sostratus of Cnidus at the behest of Ptolemy I of Egypt, one of Alexander the Great’s generals, although it was Ptolemy’s son who actually saw to its completion. Legend has it that the son, Ptolemy Philadelphos, forbade Sostratus to inscribe his name on the tower when it was finished. Dutifully, Sostratus instead inscribed Ptolemy’s name on the tower. Centuries later, ero-sion removed the inscription to reveal a second name and that of the true builder of the Pharos of Alexandria: Sostratus.
At the top of the tower, a mirror reflected the sun during the day and a fire lit at night. It is esti-mated that the light could be seen offshore as far as 35 miles. Early images of the lighthouse from Roman coins show a statue of the Greek god of the sea, Poseidon, at the top of the Pharos and a triton at each of the tower’s corners. Built of stone, the tower could withstand the sea’s waves crashing against it and survived until 1303, when an earthquake damaged it. In 1323, another earthquake brought it down. Egyptian sultan Al-Ashraf Sayf used the remaining rubble to build a fort in 1480, and these stones can still be seen in the walls of Fort Qaitbey.
Likewise, stones from the collapsed lighthouse have been discovered in the sea just off the coast of Alexandria by archaeologist Jean Yves Empereur, director of the French Center for Alexandrian Studies.
The New Seven Wonders of the World
In 2007, a nonprofit organization dubbed New7Wonders conducted an extensive poll via the Internet and cell phone text messaging to update the Seven Wonders of the World list.
Whereas the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World represented a consensus of Greek travel-ers who toured the rim of the Mediterranean Sea, today’s newly named wonders represent locations around the globe. The New Seven Wonders are
- Great Wall, China
- Petra, Jordan
- Chichén Itzá (Mayan pyramid), Mexico
- Colosseum, Italy
- Machu Picchu, Peru
- Taj Mahal, India
- Statue of Christ Redeemer, Brazil
The people of Egypt protested the idea that the Great Pyramid of Giza needed to compete with modern wonders. The sponsors of the new list agreed, and the Great Pyramid retained its status as a wonder, remaining the oldest and only surviving member of the original Greek list.
Important Note: This work is owed to the ‘Encyclopedia of Time, Science, Philosophy, Theology, Culture’ in an entry attributed to ‘C. A. Hoffman’. Please do not forget to acknowledge this if you are to use this work for any of your writings.