The "Seven Wonders of the Ancient World" mark some of the most impressive structural achievements of their time in the area surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. While just one of the seven structures remains standing today, these fascinating feats of engineering provide a glimpse into the complex cultures of some of these ancient communities.
With an average age of 1,158 years, all seven of these structures were said to have existed just a short distance from one another throughout Southern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. In fact, you’d be able to visit all seven structures in just a 5,500-kilometer (3,500-mile) trip, which is equivalent to traveling from London to New York.
The Great Pyramid of Giza
Both the oldest and the largest of all seven structures is the Great Pyramid of Giza, located in Egypt. Standing at an initial height of 147 meters (482 feet) and dating back around 4,500 years, the pyramid is the only ancient wonder still left standing, although it’s now 8 meters (26 feet) shorter.
Built as a tomb for Pharaoh Khufu, the pyramid is believed to have taken over 20 years to build, and its 2.3 million stone bricks weigh a total of 5.75 million tonnes.
While the ancient Egyptian’s ability to build such gigantic structures is shrouded in conspiracy, we actually know a great deal about how the pyramids were built – spoiler, it doesn’t involve aliens.
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Described as being filled with waterfalls and exotic fruit, with flowers and tropical plants hanging from its walls, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon is the second oldest structure on the list, but many believe it never actually existed.
Believed to have been built around 2,600 years ago by the ruler of Babylonia, King Nebuchadnezzar II, for his wife Amytis, the gardens have been described by many but the site where it once stood has never been found.
Thought to have been located in modern-day Iraq, some speculate the gardens were destroyed by an earthquake some 700 years after its construction, but there’s no archaeological evidence of the structure existing in the region.
The Temple of Artemis
Located in modern-day Turkey, the Temple of Artemis once stood in an ancient city called Ephesus around 2,500 years ago. The temple was the first all-marble temple ever built in Greece, and its 115-meter-long (377 feet) floorplan was said to feature 127 columns and a number of sculptures and paintings.
It was constructed as a place of worship for the Greek goddess of the hunt, Artemis, and the temple’s beauty prompted Greek engineer and physicist Philo of Byzantium to claim it put all the other wonders “in the shade”.
While the temple went through phases of destruction and rebuilding, its final fate came some 200 years after final construction by a man named Herostratus, who set the structure alight in an effort to find fame by destroying this well-loved wonder. What was left of the temple was further destroyed 100 years later by an earthquake, but the remains have recently been dug up by archaeologists.
The Statue of Zeus
Around 2,400 years ago the Statue of Zeus was erected by Greek sculptor Phidias in Olympia, Western Greece. The 12-meter (40-foot) tall statue, made largely of ivory, showed the Greek god Zeus on a gold-encrusted throne covered in gemstones. In one hand the statue held an eagle topped scepter, and in the other, a statue of Nike, the goddess of victory.
While the exact destruction of the statue is unknown, it’s believed to have been destroyed sometime in the fifth century BCE. Some believe a fire or an earthquake caused the enormous statue to collapse, and others think it was destroyed by hand and pieces of it sent to different cities.
The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus
Halicarnassus, the capital of Caria, was once a thriving ancient city that now sits in modern-day Turkey. The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus was erected over 2,300 years ago as an above-ground tomb for Mausolus, the King of Caria.
The term “mausoleum” – to mean a large above-ground tomb – was coined as a result of King Mausolus’s grand 45-meter (147-foot) tall resting place. The structure was described as being a pyramid shape with 63 columns at the top, with the interior covered in intricate carvings, art, and sculptures.
The mausoleum was ultimately believed to be destroyed by a number of earthquakes in the 12th and 15th centuries, but some remains of the structure do still stand today.
The Colossus of Rhodes
Built over 2,300 years ago on the island of Rhodes in the eastern Aegean Sea, the Colossus of Rhodes was a statue by the sculptor Chares of Lindos of the Greek Sun god Helios. A victory monument, the statue was erected in honor of the island’s defeat of the invading army of Demetrius.
While nothing remains of the statue today, it was thought to have stood on a 15-meter (50-foot) tall three-tiered column, with the statue itself measuring 34 meters (110 feet) in height.
The statue collapsed after an earthquake some 100 years after construction, but its remains stuck around for another 800 years after being toppled.
The Lighthouse of Alexandria
The marginally youngest of all the seven wonders is the Lighthouse of Alexandria, which was constructed some 2,300 years ago. Serving as a functioning lighthouse for the small island of Pharos in Egypt, this design was a little different from other lighthouses.
Standing at an estimated 122 meters (400 feet) tall, the structure was made from sandstone and limestone, and it was one of the world's tallest human-made structures for centuries. At the top, there was a mirror that reflected the Sun during the day and a fire that was lit at night.
The lighthouse later collapsed in the mid-14th century as a result of coastal erosion and earthquakes. Despite efforts to salvage the structure, what remains now lies underwater.
Where to find them
While the jury’s still out on the existence of some of these structures, the remains of many still stand today. They can be visited in their modern-day locations of Greece, Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt.