Five of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World Are in the Middle East
By: Annika Wolfe/ Arab America Contributing Writer
Everyone knows of the Seven Wonders of the World: the Great Wall of China, Christ the Redeemer Statue, Machu Picchu, Chichen Itza, Petra, the Roman Colosseum, and the Taj Mahal; but did you know that before 2007, over 100 million people voted for the new wonders of the world? These magnificent creations held the esteemed title. Five out of the seven ancient wonders are located in the Middle East: The Great Pyramid of Giza, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, and the Lighthouse of Alexandria. Get ready to learn more about the five ancient wonders of the Middle East.
1. The Great Pyramid of Giza
The Great Pyramid of Giza is also known as the Pyramid of Khufu or the Pyramid of Cheops, was built over a 20-year period around 2560 BCE. It stood at 146.5 meters or 481 feet and was the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3,800 years! The Great Pyramid is the oldest of the ancient wonders of the world and is the only structure to survive through the ages.
It is still a mystery as to how the Egyptians were able to construct these massive stone pyramids and buildings without modern technology. The Great Pyramid alone consists of around 2.3 million blocks of limestone, with the largest of them weighing between 25 and 80 tons! It is estimated that 5.5 million tons of limestone, 8,000 tons of granite, and 500,000 tons of mortar were used in the construction of the Great Pyramid.
The Pyramid of Khufu does not stand alone, in fact, it is surrounded by an entire complex of smaller pyramids, monuments, and structures. Many of the structures have not survived or are in an advanced state of ruin. The two smaller pyramids, the Pyramid of Khafre and the Pyramid of Menkaure, are known as the Queen’s Pyramids.
2. The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, also known as the Temple of Diana, was dedicated to the Greek Goddess Artemis. It was located in Ephesus, near the modern town of Selçuk in present-day Turkey and was completely rebuilt three times, with the fourth and final version becoming one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. It was destroyed for the final time in 401 BCE and only foundations and fragments of the last temple remain at the site.
The oldest version of the temple was destroyed by a flood in the seventh century BCE, with reconstruction beginning around 550 BCE. The project was funded by Croesus of Lydia and took ten years to complete, it was then destroyed in 356 BCE by Herostratus in an act of arson. The final version was funded by the Ephesians and when compared to the other ancient wonders by Antipater of Sidon, he said “when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliance, and I said, “Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand.”
The temple was lost to world history until it was rediscovered by an expedition led by John Turtle Wood and sponsored by the British Museum in 1869 after six years of searching. Some recovered sculptured fragments of the 4th-century rebuilding and a few from the earlier temple were assembled and displayed in the “Ephesus Room” of the British Museum. Today, the location of the temple is marked by a single column constructed of dissociated fragments discovered on the site.
3. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were said to have been built in the ancient city of Babylon, near present-day Hillah, Babil province, in Iraq. The structure has been described as a remarkable feat of engineering with an ascending series of tiered gardens containing a wide variety of trees, shrubs, and vines, resembling a large green mountain constructed of mud bricks.
However, it is the only ancient wonder whose existence has not been confirmed. According to one legend, the Neo-Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II, who ruled between 605 and 562 CE, built the Hanging Gardens, alongside a grand palace that came to be known as The Marvel of Mankind, for his wife, Queen Amytis, because she missed the green hills and valleys of her homeland. There are no Babylonian texts or archaeological evidence clearly proving the existence of the gardens.
There are three theories as to why there is so little evidence of the existence of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The first argues that the gardens were just a myth, with descriptions written by Greek and Roman authors representing a romantic ideal of an eastern garden. The second believes that they did exist but were destroyed sometime around the first century BCE. The third legend references a well-documented garden that the Assyrian King Sennacherib (704–681 CE) built in his capital city of Nineveh on the River Tigris, near the modern city of Mosul.
4. The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, or Tomb of Mausolus, was built between 353 and 350 BCE at Halicarnassus, present Bodrum, Turkey, as a tomb for Mausolus, a satrap in the Persian Empire, and his sister-wife Artemisia II of Caria. The tomb stood at 45 meters or 148 ft in height, and the four sides were adorned with sculptural reliefs, each created by one of four Greek sculptors, Leochares, Bryaxis, Scopas of Paros, and Timotheus. It was the last surviving of the six destroyed ancient wonders at the time of its destruction by earthquakes between the 12th and 15th centuries.
It is assumed that Mausolus planned the construction before his death so that the project could continue with his vision after he passed. Artemisia, who continued the project, spared no expense in building the tomb. She sent messengers to Greece to find the most talented artists of the time. The mausoleum was incredibly ornate, with four massive horses pulling a chariot in which rode images of Mausolus and Artemisia on the top.
The tomb was built overlooking the city, and the entire structure sat inside an enclosed courtyard. At the center of the courtyard, a platform with the tomb that sat by a stairway flanked by stone lions led to the top of the platform, which bore along its outer walls many statues of gods and goddesses. At each corner, stone warriors mounted on horseback guarded the tomb.
5. The Lighthouse of Alexandria
The Lighthouse of Alexandria, also known as the Pharos of Alexandria, was built by the Ptolemaic Kingdom, during the reign Ptolemy II Philadelphus, 280–247 BCE, and has been estimated to have been 100 meters or 330 ft in overall height. It was the third longest surviving ancient wonder after being damaged by earthquakes between 956 and 1323 CE. A part of the lighthouse remained until 1480 when the last of its remnant stones were used to build the Citadel of Qaitbay on the site.
Legend says that the lighthouse was built because the people of Pharos, opposite from Alexandria, were wreckers, and the lighthouse was used to help guide ships into port at night. The structure took twelve years to complete, cost around 800 talents, and served as a prototype for all later lighthouses in the world. The light was produced by a furnace at the top, and the tower was said to have been built mostly with solid blocks of limestone.
The Lighthouse was rediscovered in 1968 prompting UNESCO to sponsor an expedition to send a team of marine archaeologists, led by Honor Frost, to the site. Greek archaeologists led by Jean-Yves Empereur rediscovered the physical remains of the lighthouse in late 1994 on the floor of Alexandria’s Eastern Harbor. Some of these remains were brought up and placed at the harbor on public view at the end of 1995.