The Seven Wonders Of The Ancient World

Published July 5, 2011
Updated November 30, 2018

From the Great Pyramid of Giza to the Lighthouse of Alexandria, take a breathtaking journey through the seven wonders of the ancient world.

The list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was compiled by the Greek writer Antipater of Sidon in a poem in 140 BCE. He, along with Philo of Byzantium, Strabo, Herodotus, and Diodoros of Sicily, is responsible for providing the descriptions of these sites.

Though only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World remains intact, these gardens, statues, and tombs were the crème de la crème of ancient times.

The Seven Wonders Of The Ancient World: Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt

Photograph of Great Pyramid of Giza

The Great Pyramid of Giza was built as a tomb for the Egyptian pharaoh Khufu in 2560 BCE. The 481-foot monument was built over a 20-year period with two million blocks of stone — each weighing an average of more than two tons.

For nearly four millennia, it remained the tallest building in the world. It lost that title only in the Middle Ages, when the English Lincoln Cathedral surpassed it in 1300.

Great Pyramids of Ancient Egypt

The interior has three chambers – the King’s Chamber, the Queen’s Chamber, and the unfinished lowest chamber – and ascending and descending passages.

What we see today isn’t quite the wonder the ancients would have beheld. On the day it was finished, the pyramid’s surface would have been smooth and pale — but time has worn away the limestone casing, fragments of which can still be seen toward the great structure’s base.

The original Great Pyramid was also 20 feet taller than it is today; we’re missing its pyramidion, the sacred capstone that would have crowned the tomb.

Great Pyramid

The Great Pyramid of Giza is also a wonder in the literal sense — the mystery of how it was built has puzzled historians and archeologists for millennia.

Its stones come from distant quarries, some as far as 500 miles away, and the pyramid itself was built with astonishing precision; the structure’s measurements are as accurate as a 21st-century architect with modern tools could achieve.

And yet the ancient Egyptians didn’t have wheels, pulleys, or even iron tools. So how did they manage to transport, lift, and shape the stones?

Like thousands before them, today’s archeologists continue to hope they will unearth the answer.

Expert Jean-Pierre Houdin goes inside the Great Pyramid to explain how he thinks it was built.

For now, the world will have to be content to marvel at the Great Pyramid, which is both the oldest of the ancient wonders and, curiously, the only one still standing.

One archeologist explains the astonishing precision of the Great Pyramid — and offers his theory about how it was built.

The Seven Wonders Of The Ancient World: Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Iraq

Hanging Gardens Engraving

Wikimedia CommonsA 19th-century engraving imagining what the Hanging Gardens of Babylon might have looked like.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are the stuff of legends — and, sadly, have to stay there, because nobody has ever found them.

Babylon was an ancient city-state located south of modern-day Baghdad. Archeologists have scoured the area, but no search has ever turned up the remains of the massive tiered planting beds.

What’s more, no one has ever actually found the gardens mentioned in any existing Babylonian text — the only descriptions of them come from the Greeks who catalogued the seven wonders of the ancient world.

Hanging Gardens Knab

Wikimedia CommonsPainter Ferdinand Knab’s 1886 depiction of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Some take this as confirmation that the gardens never existed at all; they were always just a beautiful myth. Others think that the Greek writers were confused — they were thinking of an Assyrian garden near current-day Mosul and got the locations mixed up.

But many believe the Hanging Gardens were real and have simply been lost to time, destroyed by earthquakes or perhaps buried under the waters of the Euphrates River, which changed its course over the centuries to engulf an area that has long been a candidate for the gardens’ location.

Were the Hanging Gardens of Babylon real?

The story goes that the Hanging Gardens were commissioned in 600 BCE by King Nebuchadnezzar II as a gift to his wife, Amytis of Media, who missed the rolling green hills of her homeland.

The Babylonian architects of legend outdid themselves. They created a series of rising terraces, one on top of the other, covered in an astonishing variety of trees, shrubs, and flowering plants.

Tiered Gardens

Wellcome Library/Wikimedia CommonsRobert von Spalart’s 1804 depiction of the gardens’ rising tiers.

It was an oasis in the desert, irrigated by a complex mechanism that drew water from the nearby Euphrates. Diodorus of Sicily describes brick walls 22 feet thick and planting beds deep enough for the largest mountain trees to take root.

Quintus Curtius Rufus, a Roman writer, adds that it was constructed high above the surrounding land, on top of a beautiful citadel — making it not only the site of astonishing views but also a remarkable feat of engineering.

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