The Seven Wonders of the World: a list made by the ancient Greeks.
Because Greeks did sight-seeing too. What, you thought they just stayed at home and wrote long philosophical tracts wearing floaty white dresses? Travelling isn’t all about conquering the known world, you know.
It’s about seeing wonders.
They chose seven because seven is the perfect expression of enough. Plenty. Completeness.
So: if you were some Greek young blood going on his first grand tour, you’d make sure you included the pyramid at Giza, Khufu’s ancient tomb built in around 2560BC, at 481 feet the largest man-made structure for more than 3,800 years.
Compulsory were Nebuchadnezzar II’s sensuous hanging gardens of Babylon, providing of course they actually existed. But hundreds of thousands of Ancient Greek tourists can’t be wrong, surely?
The statue of Zeus at Olympia was a must, taking up half the width of the temple’s aisle and standing 39 feet high, a wooden frame clad in ivory and dressed in gold leaf. “It seems that if Zeus were to stand up,”wrote Strabo, an early geographer “he would unroof the temple.”
On to the Temple of Ephesus, a sixty-foot high gorgeous structure with 127 columns, rebuilt by Alexander, filled with splendid works of Greek art and sculpture; and the towering tomb of Persian governor Mausolus and his sister/wife/successor, Artemesia, which would have sat near Bodrum in Turkey these days.
There’s the overt power-statement of the colossus of Rhodes, of course. I have to wonder how Ancient Greek women tourists felt about the 107-foot iron figure forged from metal garnered from the weapons of soldiers. Representations often show the statue standing astride the harbour entrance, the ultimate representation of male dominion. .
And finally a rather wonderful lighthouse, which knocked Giza’s pyramid off its perch as Highest Man Made Thing around 247BC. What a very Greek solution to the lawless wreckers on the island Pharos, who would vanquish any ship which was wrecked off its coastline. A perfect power statement warding ships away.
Seven structures to take your breath away. Seven places at which to marvel; to record in your travel journals.
So many lists of wonders have been made since. But I like the Greeks’ one. I mourn that most of these places lie in rubble under the ground or at the bottom of harbours, some even having to fight for their own existence using just a few old dusty Greek texts as weaponry.
And this weekend,fellow blogger and superlative challenger Side View asked the question: what would your seven wonders be?
What, indeed. Great architectural wonders of today – they don’t always have the impact of the old Greek dependables, do they? I look up at The Shard, London’s jagged shiv which rents its skyline and there is somehow a lack of rounded completeness, a neediness born of the horrors brought by the 20th and 21st century. Yet in its way it makes a similar statement to that old Colossus astride the harbour.
I would not write my own list: no, I would plead with someone to write it for me.
Yes: I would beg, borrow, steal or bribe the opinion of an architect whose opinion I value. His nickname is MTM: his wife an author, and chance chronicler of his passion. This post is typical both of their relationship and his passion for monumental man-made structural statements.
His visit to Brazil had him scoping some of the strangest -and strangely beautiful – structures. Oh yes: if I was off to see the seven great structures of the world, I’d ask him to write the list.
And yours would be?