Tag Archives: Statue of Zeus at Olympia

The Seven Wonders of the World

All that's left of the Temple of Zeus

The other day I saw some attraction characterized as the Eighth Wonder of the World.  It was a Las Vegas casino or a minature golf course or something, I can’t remember.  It occurred to me that either some people are easily impressed, or standards for the seven wonders that rank above it must have been lowered.

Long ago — two millennia ago — the original Seven Wonders were a sort of bucket list for travelers in the area of the Mediterranean.  They were man-made marvels extolled by poets and historians; the list was sort of the official version of your present-day acquaintance who says, “Oh, you’re going to England?  You MUST see Stonehenge.”

Unfortunately, it’s hard to know how wonderful the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were, because all but one of them are gone.  The Great Pyramid of Cheops at Giza (Egypt) is still standing, and held the record of tallest structure for over 4,000 years.  The Hanging Gardens of Babylon (Iraq) no longer exist, if they ever did.  Many modern scholars think they were just a legend, the invention of poets.

The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (Turkey) was a massive tomb built for a ruler named Mausolus, who died in 353 B.C.  It was a tribute from his wife and sister, who happened to be the same person.  Bits of it are now on display in London’s British Museum.  (When you’re in England, you MUST go there.)

Earthquakes destroyed The Lighthouse of Alexandria (Egypt), also known as the Pharos.  Standing near the mouth of the Nile, the lighthouse was about 380 feet tall, and its light was said to be visible from 30 or 40 miles away.

I have been to the sites of the other three ancient wonders, and can report that they aren’t much to look at anymore.  The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (Turkey), once considered the most spectacular of all seven, is now some scatttered stones covered with weeds.  There is also a nearby museum that has artifacts found at the site.  One that I recall was a statue of Artemis that depicted her as having several dozen breasts.  (It would have been impossible for her to find a bra that fit comfortably.)

The Greek island of Rhodes is a fascinating destination because of all the layers of history there; for a brief time it was famous for The Colossus of Rhodes.  A statue representing the sun god Helios, the Colossus is sometimes pictured as straddling the entrance to the harbor — but it didn’t.  It was a, uh, colossal statue by ancient standards, standing a little over 100 feet high.  (To give you an idea, the Statue of Liberty in New York is about 150 feet, not counting the pedestal.)  Currently the entrance to Rhodes features two columns that are maybe 30 feet high.  Each has a statue of a deer on it, and let me anticipate your question:  I have no idea why.

Finally, The Statue of Zeus at Olympia (Greece) sat in a temple for 800 years or so, serving as a gathering place during the Olympic games.  The statue, made of ivory and gold-plated bronze, was destroyed by fire in A.D. 462.  What’s left of the temple looks a lot like the Temple of Artemis:  rubble and weeds.  The area is very scenic, though, with a couple of small rivers nearby and mountains in the distance.

So… if you were to compile a list of current wonders of the world, what would you include?  You don’t have to name seven, necessarily; I’m just wondering what you think are the wonders of our time.