Ancient Greece, the cradle of Western civilization, was responsible for creating five of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. Along with the Great Pyramid at Giza and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, they rank as the most stupendous achievements ever created in ancient times — and truthfully, they still stand even today as the ultimate monuments to what human beings are capable of.

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World include the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (whose existence is still in question), the Temple of Artemis, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Colossus of Rhodes, and the Lighthouse of Alexandria.

The Seven Wonders of the World, sometimes called the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, is a list of the most remarkable buildings and monuments of classical antiquity as described by various authors in guidebooks or poems that were popular among ancient Hellenic tourists.

Although the list, in its current form, was not agreed upon in its entirety until the Renaissance, the first such lists of Seven Wonders date back to the 2nd to 1st century BC.

The original list inspired innumerable versions through the ages. Of the original Seven Wonders, tragically, only one — the Great Pyramid of Giza, the oldest of all the ancient wonders — remains relatively intact.

Seven Wonders
Map showing Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Dates in bold green and dark red are of their construction and destruction, respectively. Credit: Mediterranean Basin and Near East before 1000 AD topographic map/CC BY-SA 4.0

Tragically, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Temple of Artemis and the Statue of Zeus — all the Wonders created by Greek peoples — have all been destroyed, through wars, floods, earthquakes, or just the ravages of time itself.

Intriguingly, the location and ultimate fate of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon are unknown, and some continue to speculate that this one of the Seven Wonders of the World may not even have existed at all.

Appreciation for Seven Wonders of the Ancient World Spurred by Travelogues

The Greek conquest of much of the western world in the 4th century BC gave Hellenistic-era travelers access to the civilizations of the Egyptians, Persians, and Babylonians. Impressed and captivated by the landmarks and marvels of the various lands, these travelers began to list what they saw to remember them.

Instead of “wonders,” the ancient Greeks spoke of “theamata” (θεάματα), which means “sights”, in other words “things to be seen” (Τὰ ἑπτὰ θεάματα τῆς οἰκουμένης [γῆς] Tà heptà theámata tēs oikoumenēs [gēs]). Later, the word for “wonder” (“thaumata” θαύματα, “wonders”) was used. The list was meant to be the Ancient World’s counterpart to a travel guidebook of essential things that must be seen firsthand, or read about, for any cultured person.

The first reference to a list of seven such monuments was given by Diodorus Siculus, a Greek historian from Sicily, in his monumental work Bibliotheca Historica. The epigrammist Antipater of Sidon, a Greek poet who lived around or before 100 BC, created a list of seven “wonders”, including six of the present list, substituting the walls of Babylon for the Lighthouse of Alexandria.

“The Sun Himself Has Never Looked Upon Its Equal”

In his work Greek Anthology, he states: “I have gazed on the walls of impregnable Babylon along which chariots may race, and on the Zeus by the banks of the Alpheus, I have seen the hanging gardens, and the Colossus of the Helios, the great man-made mountains of the lofty pyramids, and the gigantic tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the sacred house of Artemis that towers to the clouds, the others were placed in the shade, for the sun himself has never looked upon its equal outside Olympus.”

Another 2nd century BC writer, who may or may not be “Philo of Byzantium,” wrote a short account entitled “The Seven Sights of the World.” Unfortunately, the surviving manuscript we have is incomplete, missing its latter pages, but from the text of the preamble we can see that the list of seven sights exactly matches Antipater’s.

Earlier and later lists by the Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484 BC–c. 425 BC) and the poet Callimachus of Cyrene (c. 305–240 BC), housed at the Museum of Alexandria, tragically survive only as references in other works.

The Colossus of Rhodes was the last of the Seven Wonders to be completed, after 280 BC — and the first to be destroyed, by an earthquake in 226/225 BC. Perhaps what is most remarkable of all is that all the seven wonders existed at the same time for a period of less than 60 years — but they live on as part of the historical record until today.

The primary accounts, coming from Hellenistic writers, also heavily influenced the places included in the Wonders list. Five of the seven entries are a celebration of the greatest Greek accomplishments in the arts and architecture.