The origin of the 7 wonders of the world dates back over 2000 years. They were the most notable man-made structures known to the Ancient Greeks, and were listed in early poems and guidebooks. Today, only one of the original 7 wonders still exists, but the concept lives on.
The Colossus of Rhodes by 16th-century Dutch artist Maarten van Heemskerck.
Origins of the 7 Wonders
“What, there were guidebooks and tourists in antiquity?” I hear you ask.
Yes millennial traveller, you're not a beautiful and unique snowflake. There were indeed tourists travelling through the Ancient Hellenic World over 2000 years ago. Although they didn't carry copies of the Lonely Planet, they might have read Antipater of Sidon. He had a way with words, that fellow, and one of my favourite passages is –
“I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the Colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, ‘Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand.”— Antipater, Greek Anthology IX.58
A Brief History Lesson
After Alexander the Great had gone storming through Europe and the Middle East beating up everyone in his path, a new empire emerged. We know it today as either the Macedonian Empire, or the Empire of Alexander the Great. Not that he lived long enough to enjoy it, as he died at 32 years of age.
By Yair Haklai (Own work), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7860791
After his death, Hellenic culture and political control over the conquered areas was maintained for a number of years before the Romans rocked up and it all went horribly wrong. During this time though, lots of curious and adventurous people decided to take a look around the new Hellenic world. As people do, they came up with lists of what they thought were the best bits. Here is what they considered to be the 7 wonders.
A collage of the 7 wonders of the Ancient World as depicted by 16th-century Dutch artist Maarten van Heemskerck.
7 Wonders Of The Ancient World
- Great Pyramid of Giza – This still exists, although it looks a bit tatty compared to when it was first built by the Ancient Egyptians. Or aliens. Whatever.
- Hanging Gardens of Babylon – Thought to have been in modern day Iraq, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were perhaps one of the first experiments in urban gardening.
- Statue of Zeus at Olympia – A giant, seated statue of Zeus constructed from timber, ivory, and gold. The Statue of Zeus was thought to have been destroyed between the 2nd and 4th century AD. The Ancient Site of Olympia is still there of course, and is a wonderful place to visit.
- Temple of Artemis at Ephesus – Located in modern day Turkey, it was destroyed and rebuilt several times. After the Goths hit it in AD268, the locals obviously thought it was a waste of time rebuilding, and left it destroyed. Some materials are thought to have been used in Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
- Mausoleum at Halicarnassus – Built in 350BC, the Mausoleum was also located in modern day Turkey. This one did quite well surviving through the ages, but was eventually destroyed by earthquakes. In the 1400s only the foundations remained.
- Colossus of Rhodes – Standing the same height as the Statue of Liberty, The Colossus of Rhodes was a bronze statue completed in 280 BC. Unfortunately, if you build tall things in an area that gets hit by earthquakes, they don't last very long. It came tumbling down in 226 BC, and was later melted for scrap metal.
- Lighthouse of Alexandria – Located in modern day Egypt, the Lighthouse of Alexandria was one of the tallest structures in the Ancient Hellenic World. Guess what happened to it though? Yes, that's right, an earthquake. Today, you can go diving to see the remains of the lighthouse.
More Lists Than Wonders?
As you might have noticed, 6 out of the 7 ancient wonders of the world are no longer there. Since that time, countless other 7 wonders lists have been made, including modern wonders, and natural wonders. Having been fortunate enough to have visited a few different places around the world over the years, I thought I would come up with my own list. Here then, are my personal 7 wonders of the world, based on places I have visited myself.
My Personal 7 Wonders Of The World
- Machu Picchu – There is something undeniably special about Machu Picchu. The combination of mountains, clouds, and harmonious stone construction was very peaceful. I visited this archaeological site as part of a backpacking trip around South America.
- The Pyramids – I had wanted to visit the pyramids ever since I can remember. When I did, the most impressive pyramid for me was not one of the ‘Great Pyramids', but Zoser's (Djoser's) Pyramid. I visited the pyramids in Egypt when cycling from England to Cape Town.
- Angkor Wat Temples – This is a huge temple and archaeological complex in Cambodia. Originally the heart of the Khmer empire, the true extent to its size is still not known. I visited Angkor Wat as part of a backpacking trip around Asia.
- Easter Island – Famous for its mysterious stone statues, Easter Island is a hard place to reach! I managed to visit there when I was travelling through South America by flying out from Chile. Who is that other statue standing in front of them?
- Stonehenge – Whilst we are on the subject of huge stone things, what is Stonehenge all about? Answers on a postcard please (or the comments box). Sorry, no photos of this one.
- Teotihuacan – Mexico has an almost embarrassing wealth of fantastic archaeological sites. For me though, one that always sticks in my mind is Teotihuacan.
- Meteora – The final one on my list of 7 wonders is Meteora in Greece. As I now live in Greece, I would get in trouble for not mentioning at least one wonder from there! In some ways it is similar to Machu Picchu in that there is a harmonious balance between man-made constructions and beautiful natural surroundings. If you plan to visit, you might be interested in the best places to stay near Meteora in Greece.
Your 7 Wonders Of The World
This is your turn! Please leave a list of your own personal 7 wonders of the world as seen with your own eyes in the comments box below. I would love to hear where you have been, so that I can start planning my next trip!