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Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

As the pinnacle of antiquity’s ability in engineering, architecture and artistic beauty, they still cast their shadow over human endeavour today. Jonny Wilkes explores

ROCK ON

Though the pyramid has been the victim of weathering, it is estimated that only 0.01% of its total volume is lost annually, and it will remain standing for another 100,000 years.

PYRAMID SCHEME Despite claims of slave labour, it is thought that the Great Pyramid was built by skilled workers at the times when the Nile flooded their farms
ALAMY X1, GETTY X3

They consist of a pyramid, a mausoleum, a temple, two statues, a lighthouse and a near-mythical garden. Individually, the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World can be regarded as astounding architectural achievements or marvels of human imagination and engineering – but together, they form an ancient travel guide, there to challenge the limitations of the time and, literally, reach for the skies.

Despite only being a short-lived collection – the last to be completed, the Colossus of Rhodes, stood for less than 60 years – and one of them, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, possibly not existing at all, the Wonders continue to capture imaginations and drive archaeologists and treasure hunters. They laid the foundations for what humans could achieve. Yet for all their fame, there are many questions surrounding these classical creations. Who decided what constituted a ‘Wonder’ in the first place?

As Greek travellers explored the conquests of other civilisations, such as the Egyptians, Persians and Babylonians – which is why the Seven Wonders are all around the Mediterranean Rim – they compiled early guidebooks of the most remarkable things to see, meant as recommendations for future tourists. They called the landmarks that bewildered and inspired them theamata (or ‘sights’), but this soon evolved to the grander name of thaumata – ‘wonders’.

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About BBC History Revealed Magazine

The November 2016 issue of History Revealed.