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Outstanding Building Achievements

The pyramids at Giza, built 100 years after Imhotep, served the same function as his original structure: to help transform a dead king into a god.

Pluck the pyramids out of the sand, and for most of us, Egypt wouldn't be Egypt. The same is true for France without its cathedrals, or San Francisco without the Golden Gate Bridge. In a time of knowledge workers and software engineers, it's easy to take feats of engineering — creations of low-tech stone, steel, and concrete — for granted. It's also easy to see them as a menace. These days, the words "great project" may call to mind China's Three Gorges Dam, which threatens social and environmental havoc as its 350-mile lake starts to fill. Or our own interstate highways--the largest public-works project ever. Yes, they have given us mobility, but they have also blighted our landscape with suburban sprawl.

The dark side is inevitable: Master builders undertake nothing less than remaking the world, and in that there is risk. Driven by faith or greed, high ideals or private demons, these architects of the future have the confidence — and audacity — to create structures that will touch the lives of millions for generations to come. When they get it right, they enrich not just our physical surroundings but our imagination. And they leave us with stories of struggle and triumph, testimony to humanity's restless quest to leave its indelible mark on the world. - Tim Appenzeller

The Seven Wonders Of the Ancient World

So long is the journey which must be made in order to see the seven wonders of the world, that you find yourself `exhausted by lengthy wanderings over the Earth's surface, and growing tired from the efforts of these journeys, you finally fulfil your heart's desire only when life is ebbing away, leaving you weak through the weight of the years'. So wrote Philon of Byzantium, somewhat lugubriously, as though there were no joy in travelling, in his commentary on the seven wonders of his day. But since those ancient times, the world has shrunk, and time has been telescoped by just one of the many wonders of the modern world - jet travel.

The Great Pyramid
Erected more than 4,000 years ago, it’s the largest of the ancient wonders and the only one standing today.

The Pharos of Alexandria
This lighthouse guided sailors to safe harbor for 1,500 years, using fire at night. A quake in the 14th century KO’d it.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
The region around Baghdad is dirt now, but it’s where all the hotties partied in the sixth century.

The Statue of Zeus at Olympia
This gold and ivory statue of the king of Greek gods was built around 450 B.C. in the town where the Olympics were born.

The Colossus of Rhodes
Ancient lore held that this megastatue of the Greek god Helios straddled the harbor entrance of the island of Rhodes.

The Temple of Artemis
In toga times, fans of the goddess of the hunt hit this marble temple, which stood in what is now western Turkey.

The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
This 135-foot-high tomb for the Persian King Mausolus was erected around 350 B.C. and stood for over 1,000 years.
Retired Greek couples flocked to these tourist traps some 2,000 years ago. Think America’s wonders top ’em?

Only one of the wonders listed by Philon is still in existence, and a flight to Cairo, followed by a short taxi ride (or, should you seek to enter into the spirit of the thing, a rather longer ride on a camel) will take you to the very ancient pyramids which were old even when Philon wrote, and which have indeed been the wonder of the world since man began records of what amazed him. There is none of Philon's despairing weariness in such a tourist trip, and it may well teach the lesson that time is money. For the cost of the jet and the taxi or camel, you will have saved many days, and possibly much blood and tears.

Now that travel is quicker and less dangerous, and, incidentally, far less romantic, the world has been found to contain many more than the seven ancient wonders, nearly all of which compete at least on equal terms with those of the ancient world. Among these are the temple at Pagan, which is the biggest in the world; the temple pyramid at Teotihuacan, which covers an area larger than the Great Pyramid in Egypt; the Pantheon of ancient and modern Rome, which is the most beautifully preserved of all ancient buildings; and the Great Wall of China, which modern photographic techniques have shown to be visible even from the moon. There are indeed so many miracles of engineering and design available to us these days, and still we would not have exhausted the real miracles of man's art, energy and enterprise.

The fact is that there are hundreds of miracles on the earth, and perhaps a reasonably travelled person could now name at least fifty wonders comparable to the original seven, even without escaping from the confines accepted as belonging to the ancient world. There must have been just as many in ancient times, contemporaneous with the reign of Alexander the Great, when such lists were first compiled. And, therefore, the question is why were there only seven wonders listed in the first place?

The answer is comparatively simple, if somewhat foreign to our understanding. It lies in the fact that the number seven was itself a holy number. We have inherited the seven wonders for the same reason that we have inherited a seven-day week - because, according to the ancients, there are seven planets, and because these were governed by seven angelic beings, seven gods, and seven evil demons. There were seven deadly sins, and seven great virtues, and for the same reason there were seven sleepers in Ephesus. When the late medieval magicians wrote their tracts on numbers, they always gave precedence to the number seven, to the `holy number', for within its compass were said to lie the secrets of the universe, to a point where it was believed that any man who could piece together the mysteries of seven and three would attain all human knowledge!

This is why there were seven wonders listed in the ancient world - not because there were only seven great marvels! And so, what are the wonders listed by Philon? In brief they consist of the Pyramids of Egypt, the Hanging Gardens in Babylon, the Statue of Zeus in Olympia, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Colossus of Rhodes, and, finally, the Lighthouse at Alexandria.

The pyramids were an obvious choice for any ancient list, for they are still a wonder in this modern world, which is a little jaded with wonders both ancient and modern. We must presume that of the seventy known pyramids in Egypt, it was the group at Giza, near Cairo, which Philon had in mind. It is probable that he was referring to this group, which includes the Great Pyramid, the oldest according to the guesswork of archaeologists, for Philon talks of the pyramids `at Memphis' which is near enough to Giza, but also not very far from Saqqarah. He describes them as buildings `beyond the strength of men, as is their description beyond belief', and pictures them as mountains placed on mountains, wondering then, as we wonder now, how such masses could have been raised above the earth and sands.

We must remember that if Philon saw the pyramids at all, then he saw the Cairo group in their pristine covering before the outer layer of white stone was removed to build the mosques in Cairo. This facing would have glowed in the sun, especially in the rising and setting of that Egyptian Ra, when they would have appeared to burn red in the reflected rays - reminding us that one (though dubious) etymology of the word `pyramid' has been traced to the Greek word for `fire'.

With the second wonder, the Hanging 'Gardens of Babylon, we enter a region of the world known to the bitter Greek and Hebrew nations alike. The Greek historian Aerodotus describes in some detail the walls of this extraordinary city of Babylon, but makes no mention of the hanging gardens. From other sources we must take it that these were a series of verdant and colourful terraces, fed by water ducted from the Euphrates. Until this present century few writers could explain why these gardens should have been ascribed to the `legendary' Queen Semiramis, when it was well known that the building of Babylon had been undertaken by Nebuchadnezzar. Until 1909, when a fallen column was found describing Semiramis as `ruler of the world of Assyria, and the Four Quarters of the world', it was believed that Philon and the other major authority, Diodorus of Sicily, had been inventing this queen. Now it is generally accepted that she was indeed at one time queen of Babylon, and wife of Ninus, even though she was later transformed into a mythical figure and goddess. Perhaps, on this evidence, it might be reasonable to suppose that the ancients were right in ascribing the gardens to her in the first place.

Certainly Philon writes of this queen as though she were an historical figure. He also reports that the garden ran around the entire walls of Babylon, which would make it literally miles in length. It is possible, however, that Philon is trying to weld together the two wonders of which travellers to Babylon speak, for we are told of walls which are 50 cubits high, and 360 stadia wide, so that four chariots might drive along them at the same time, a description which is to be found in several ancient sources.

Almost all the so-called reconstructions of the gardens are based on the description given by Diodorus of Sicily, a commentator otherwise well known for his inventions. He describes the gardens as though they were a huge theatre some 100 feet square, built in high tiers, the upper vault of which was 75 feet from the ground. However, one might consider these rather disappointing credentials for an ancient wonder and Diodorus may have his facts wrong, as he so often does.

The ancients rarely attempt to explain how the gardens were watered. A few speak of `screws' and `mechanical devices', but this was a time when manpower was cheap, being provided by slaves, and it would not be unusual for the slave owner to expect his property to carry water all day and night if necessary. This could be done using flights of stairs, carefully hidden to avoid spoiling the view of the gardens. However, when the archaeologist Robert Koldewey excavated the site of Babylon towards the end of the last century, he discovered a deep well quite unlike any other in the ancient world, and from the construction of this he deduced that water had been drawn by means of a chain pump. His own reconstruction of the gardens is based on the assumption that such a pump had been used, and incorporated a stone vault which he found nearby. Curiously enough, his reconstruction looks something like a theatre!

The third wonder is the statue of Zeus, which was made by Phidias for the temple at Olympia. This was the same Phidias who gave us the statue of Athena and the friezes of the Acropolis in Athens, and this naturally leads us to ask why the Acropolis itself, or indeed the much-praised Athena within the Parthenon there, was not included in the original list of wonders.

This Zeus was certainly very different from the sixteenth-century image drawn by Heemskerck, which not only lacks dignity, but also has some of the recorded symbolism wrong. Incidentally, the figures twisting so suggestively in the foreground of this print are not indulging in pagan sexual licence, as one might think, but are wrestling, which serves as a reminder that Olympia was the site of the ancient Olympic Games.

The great temple in the sacred grove of Olympia which housed Phidias's massive statue was filled almost to its 60-foot roof by this figure. Its flesh parts were made from ivory over a stone or wooden core, and the drapery and accoutrements were made from gold set with precious stones. In his right hand Zeus was said to hold an ivory and gold statue of Victory, and in his left the eagle-mounted sceptre.

Phidias has been much praised by whole generations of art historians who have never seen a trace of his original works. Only a few poor copies of his art have survived, though quite unhelpful mould-forms have been found of his famous Zeus. The frieze on the Parthenon, which now graces the British Museum in London, was carved within the studio he controlled, but there is little agreement among historians as to whether his `divine hand' was in the work. Philon had presumably seen at least the Olympian Zeus, if not the Athena at the Parthenon, for he speaks of `the hands of Phidias, which alone of humans have satisfied the gods'. And he attempts a remarkable literary conceit when he imagines that nature created the African elephant in order to provide Phidias with ivory to work his wonders of carving! Sadly, we learn little about the statue itself from this source, however, presumably because it is so well known to his readers that no detailed description was felt to be needed.

Phidias's Zeus led to his being accounted divine, but his Athena served as an excuse for his being thrown into prison. When his great supporter and client Pericles fell into disfavour with the Athenians, Phidias was accused of keeping some of the gold intended for Athena for his own purposes. He soon cleared himself of this charge, but was in spite of this still thrown into prison on the grounds of impiety, for he had introduced human portraits on the shield of his goddess!

The statue of Zeus was accounted more than a `wonder', it became almost an educational necessity, and the philosopher Epictetus maintained at the beginning of the second century, when the statue still stood in Olympia, that it was a tragedy for someone to die without having seen it. Many of those who saw the figure insisted that it was more than merely a work of art, but was actually the body into which Zeus himself would incarnate!

For once, this wonder was not destroyed by man. It was removed from Olympia by the Christian Emperor Theodosius I to Constantinople, `the second Rome', and it was destroyed there in an enormous conflagration in AD 475. We have no real conception of what the figure looked like; without exception, all the reconstructions I know are quite hideous.

The Colossus of Rhodes was said to have been made by Chares of Lindus. It was a statue on a scale approaching that of the modern Statue of Liberty in New York, and was indeed one of the main inspirations for this modern work, erected in 1896 to commemorate the French and American revolutions. The ancient colossus took twelve years to build, from 292 to 280 BC, and it stood for only a few years before it was felled by an earthquake in 224 BC.

It was said to be upwards of 105 feet tall, a Helios Sun-god, `a likeness of the sun' as Philon calls it. He tells how it was made from stones joined together on the inside with iron bolts (a fairly common technique in ancient building), the entire statue being coated in plates of bronze. It was then placed upon a pure white marble block, almost as high as the statue itself. The difficulty of raising this huge form on to a high block is described by Philon, who insists that some miraculous force `like that used in the building of the temples of the gods' was used, so that it was as though the figgure lifted of its own accord based on the known Grecian style and methods of the period. This shows the statue with a rayed nimbus around his head, shielding his eyes as though looking over to the rising (or setting) sun. In his left hand he trails a cloak, but is otherwise naked. This cloak of bronze would have been a structural device to aid the stability of the colossus, for it would have given the figure a secure tripod rest to the pedestal, rather than the less secure balance of only two feet.

Records show that, like many ancient statues in Egypt, the fallen Helios remained prone where it had fallen in the earthquake until AD 672, when it was sold by a Muslim general for scrap. Virtually every trace of the seven wonders (the pyramids being excepted, as usual) has disappeared. The bronze of the Helios colossus was melted down, the Phidias Zeus was destroyed in a fire, and so on. With the fifth great ancient wonder, however, which was also considered to be `lost' to the world, we have recently witnessed a kind of miracle of resurrection. As a result of archaeological research and discoveries, not only has it been possible to reconstruct almost every detail of the original form of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, but some of the original archaic remains are even to be seen in the British Museum in London.

The original temple was said to have been designed by Cherisphron in the sixth century, but it was burned down two centuries later. The rebuilt temple, constructed on the same ground plan, stood for nearly five centuries until the Goths sacked Ephesus in AD 262. For many centuries that was believed to be the whole patchy history of this temple.

After exhaustive and exhausting digging last century, the archaeologist J. T. Wood, from the British Museum, succeeded in his mission to find the temple remains. Later surveys revealed signs of the ancient foundations of the archaic temple, along with thousands of small golden votive offerings. As a result of these discoveries, we may speculate more usefully, and with some degree of certainty, about the form of the first temple. An excellent reconstruction has been published in Banister Fletcher's A History of Architecture, and is worth examination.

The wife of King Mausolus, Queen Artemisia - who is not to be confused with Artemisia I, the woman who was present with Xerxes at the battle of Salamis - built the sixth wonder of the world as a token of her love for her husband. This was later called the Mausoleum, a specific name which was eventually applied to all such monuments on a large scale intended to house the dead. This Mausoleum was said to have been designed by Pythius, with sculptural decorations by almost legendary artists such as Scopas and Praxiteles, whose work, like that of Phidias, is known only by reputation (though it is claimed with some reason that one of the sculpted heads now kept in Boston in the USA, is actually from the school of the latter Greek).

The Mausoleum was built at Halicarnassus, the modern Bodrum, a city of Asia Minor on the south-west coast of Caria, opposite the island of Kos. As with so many of the wonders, our knowledge of it, as indeed of Halicarnassus itself, is derived mainly from Philon, but also from the Roman Vitruvius, who had considerable influence on the Italian Renaissance when some of his writings were rediscovered. Vitruvius writes also of other wonders at this place - for example, of a concealed harbour there, known only to the king - but he does mention that the Mausoleum is one of the seven wonders of the world.

Since the Mausoleum was set halfway up the hill, in the middle of a broad street or processional, it would have been a familiar landmark to travellers and voyagers by sea. There are many descriptions of it, from which a variety of reconstructions have been made.

Pliny gives a fairly detailed account of the building, and we have every reason for supposing that this Roman had actually visited Halicarnassus. He tells us that the length of the facade and sides was 440 feet, and that it was enclosed by thirty-six columns. The east side was said to have been carved by Scopas, the north by Bryaxis, the south by Timotheos, the west by Leochares. At the summit was a quadriga (a four-horse chariot) made by Pythius, which Pliny said brought the height of the entire building to 140 feet. It is recorded that even though Queen Artemisia died before the work was completed in 352 BC, the sculptors continued their tasks in the full knowledge that their work would remain a symbol of their own artistic glory.

In 1856, Sir Charles Newton managed to locate the site of the destroyed Mausoleum, and was able to put on record the precise dimensions. These correspond fairly closely to the figures given by Pliny. From this certain knowledge, and from what we know of the mathematical ratios used by Greek architects of that period, it has been possible to reconstruct something of the likely appearance of the building. Such reconstructions give a podium, colonnade and roof-pyramid in the ratio of 3:3:3, surmounted by a quadriga one-ninth of the total height.

The Mausoleum was ruined first in an earthquake, round about AD 1400, but it survived in this form until 1522. The Knights of St John (the Hospitaller), who had captured the area in 1402, then obtained special dispensation from Pope Gregory XII to use the ancient stones of the Greeks in order to build a much-needed fortress. As a result, by 1522 the Mausoleum had been completely dismantled, even though it was in that year that the Knights themselves, after a seven-month siege on the island of Rhodes, were overwhelmed by the invading Ottomans.

It is frequently claimed, even in academic works which should know better, that the two statues in the British Museum, of `Mausolus' and `Artemisia' originally stood in the quadriga which surmounted the Mausoleum. This is entirely a matter of speculation, and there is no proof that the statues even represent the pair at all. On the other hand, a few of the friezes within the Museum, weathered and partly destroyed as they are, certainly did belong to the original building, for they were sent to London by Lord Canning, who found them inset in the walls of the castle built by the Knights of St John.

In the first century before Christ, the Greek geographer Strabo left a description of the seventh wonder of the ancient world, the Pharos, or lighthouse, at Alexandria, in which he says that it is `admirably constructed of white marble, with many storeys . . . built by Sostratos of Cnidos for the safety of sailors'. With this seventh wonder, located at the entrance to an Egyptian harbour (though built by a Greek) we have completed a full circle, and as Ashley says, `Egypt lays claim to both the alpha and the omega of the Wonders'.

As the name indicates, and was indeed intended to proclaim, the city which this lighthouse served was founded by Alexander the Great. Within a few decades (from 332 BC), he built the most important city in the entire Mediterranean on the ruins of a tiny fishing village. As travellers are still allowed to dream, I like to think that Alexander himself arranged for the construction of this lighthouse as a sort of external symbol of Greek culture. The fire and smoke from its tall tower would guide men in the external material world, while the enormous library in this same city (the finest library known to the world) would light their way in the inner spiritual world. The knowledge of the books would be seen for ever, and would spread across the globe, such is the power of the invisible realm of ideas. Unfortunately, the library declined and was accidentally destroyed in the late third century A.D.

However, based on historical fact, there is unfortunately no evidence that Alexander ordered the lighthouse, and we are told that it was built by the architect Sostratos around 271 BC, in the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus. Apparently, the lighthouse could be seen 35 miles out to sea, its long column of smoke by day, and its flames by night.

The exact height of the Pharos is not known, though it was probably about 460 feet high. Excluding the Great Pyramid, the Pharos was the tallest single building of antiquity. It was placed upon a 20-foot high masonry platform, some 360 feet square, with a base of 100 feet, the inner structure containing as many rooms as those commentators who wrote about it guessed was possible - estimates vary from 50 to 300. There was said to be a spiral internal ramp (placed by Heemskerck on the outside) that facilitated the lifting of fuel to a certain level, from where it was then lifted by tackle to the domed shelter, which was said to contain a large statue of the sea-god Poseidon. There was supposed to be within the upper dome a convex mirror, or mirrors, of polished bronze to reflect the sun's rays on to enemy ships - but one feels instinctively that this belief is merely romantic speculation.

This lighthouse almost enters recorded modern history. It appears to have functioned for nearly a thousand years, in more or less its original state. However, when the lantern collapsed in AD 700, Arabs, who had by then overrun the area, put in its place a huge fire-brazier, and this continued in use for about four centuries. The earthquake of 1375, which is supposed to have brought down the lighthouse, was in fact merely putting a finishing touch to the work done by man. By 1477 the Sultan Quit Bei decided to build a castle on the site of the lighthouse, and much of the original masonry was used in this scheme.

Charles Walker. Wonders of the Ancient World. Crescent Books, New York. 1980.

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