In this lesson, we will explore the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World in the context of the empire of Alexander the Great. We will look at the major characteristics of each of the wonders in turn.
A Great Empire
Are you ready to take a trip through time? Yes? Then hold on because we're about to make a whirlwind tour of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. These great monuments of civilization date from various times and could be found from one end of the ancient world to the other, but they all have one thing in common. They were all once part of the empire of Alexander the Great.
Alexander the Great was a conqueror, bent on ruling the world. He very nearly did. Alexander started out as King of Macedonia, but in the 13 years of his rule, from 336 BCE to 323 BCE, he created an empire that spanned 3,000 miles and stretched from Greece and Egypt all the way to India. Even though Alexander never got to visit all of the Seven Wonders, he must have been proud to think that they belonged to his domain.
The Great Pyramid
Our first stop, then, is the Great Pyramid at Giza in Egypt. This was built during the reign of the Pharaoh Khufu from 2551-2528 BCE. Thousands of men, most of whom were farmers and other peasants, worked hard for over 20 years to build this enormous pyramid. Its base covers about 13 acres, and its peak once rose to 481 feet. The pyramid, which became the tomb of the Pharaoh, contains 2.3 million stone blocks that average 2.5 tons a piece. It is truly a wonder of design and engineering, and it is the only one of the seven wonders that still exists.
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
You could probably look at the Great Pyramid for hours, right? But we must hurry on. Our next destination is the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which once adorned the city of Babylon near the Euphrates River in what is now today Iraq. King Nebuchadnezzar II had the gardens planted about 600 BCE for his wife Amytis of Media, who was homesick for the beauty of her native land. The gardens' exotic plants grew on a series of terraces that reached to heights of 75 feet, and the gardens were irrigated by a system of complex machines that pumped water up to the thirsty plants. Supposedly, the gardens were devastated by an earthquake some time in the first century BCE or the first century CE.
The Statue of Zeus at Olympia
Hold on tight because we're about to jump from Iraq all the way over to Greece. Our next stop is the temple of the Greek god Zeus in Olympia, which contained a massive Statue of Zeus seated on a throne supported by fanciful sphinxes. Carved by the sculptor Phidias in the middle of the 5th century BCE, the statue towered to a height of 40 feet and was decorated in ivory and gold.
Contemporaries said that the seated Zeus looked as though he might just stand up and take the roof right off the temple. No one quite knows what happened to this marvelous creation. It was moved to Constantinople where it was destroyed by either fire or an earthquake some time in the 5th or 6th century CE.
The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
The next wonder on our list is another temple, namely, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. Artemis was the Greek goddess of the wilderness and wild animals, and her temple was a remarkable building. It was 425 feet high, 225 feet wide, and supported by 127 columns that were 60 feet high. Completed in 550 BCE, the temple stood proudly until the summer of 356 BCE when a rather disturbed man named Herostratus set it on fire because he wanted to be famous for destroying such a landmark. The temple was rebuilt but never recaptured its previous glory. It was finally completely razed in 401 CE by Christians led by St. John Chrysostom.
The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
Let's get ready to make another leap, this time to Southeastern Turkey, where we will visit the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. When King Mausolus died in 353 BCE, his wife Artemisia decided to honor her husband's memory by building a magnificent resting place for his earthly remains. The result was a massive white marble building, 135 feet high with 3 layers, 36 columns, walls covered with sculptural scenes, a pyramid-shaped roof, and, at its very pinnacle, a marble sculpture of a 4-horse chariot that reached 20 feet into the air. Two years after Mausolus died, Artemisia also passed on, and her remains joined those of her husband in the Mausoleum, which was eventually nearly demolished by earthquakes in the 13th century CE and completely dismantled by Crusaders in 1494 CE.
The Colossus of Rhodes
It's time to move on again, and this time we're traveling to the island of Rhodes where we will catch a glimpse of the Colossus of Rhodes, a 110-foot high bronze statue of Helios, the Greek sun god. The statue was built between 292 BCE and 280 BCE and overlooked the harbor. Unlike popular depictions, it probably did not stand with one foot on each side of the harbor, for its weight would have been too great for such a stance. After only 56 years, it fell over during an earthquake and lay in ruins until it was sold for scrap metal several hundred years later.
The Lighthouse of Alexandria
Get ready because we're about to land at our last stop. Here we are at the city of Alexandria in Egypt. Let's direct our attention to the little island of Pharos, and we'll catch a glimpse of the great Lighthouse of Alexandria. Constructed about 280-270 BCE, the lighthouse had the practical task of guiding ships in and out of Alexandria's harbor. Scholars estimate that the lighthouse reached between 380 and 440 feet into the air. It featured a square base, octagonal mid-section, and circular top, and it contained a mirror that reflected light from the Sun in the day and fire at night.
Supposedly, that light could be glimpsed from as great a distance as 35 miles. The lighthouse was damaged by several earthquakes in the 10th and 14th centuries CE before it finally toppled over, and today rests in ruins at the bottom of the Nile.
Let's take a moment to review. We've visited all Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. They were great monuments of civilization that date from various times and could be found from one end of the ancient world to the other, but were all once part of the empire of Alexander the Great. This empire spanned 3,000 miles and stretched from Greece and Egypt to India under Alexander's rule from 336 BCE to 323 BCE.
Once again, here are the Seven Wonders: the Great Pyramid at Giza in Egypt (built as a tomb for the Pharaoh Khufu); the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (terraced gardens planted by King Nebuchadnezzar II for his wife Amytis of Media); the Statue of Zeus at Olympia (the 40-foot statue of the Greek god Zeus was decorated with ivory and gold and dominated the temple); the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (dedicated to a Greek goddess, it was destroyed more than once); the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (the fantastic final resting place of King Mausolus); the Colossus of Rhodes (a massive bronze statue of the Greek sun god Helios); and the Lighthouse of Alexandria (its light may have been visible for 35 miles).
Thank you for coming along on this little tour through time of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World!
After you have finished this lesson, you should be able to:
- Recall who Alexander the Great was
- Identify and describe the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World
- Name the only one of the seven wonders that still exists today