Stonehenge

Seven Wonders of the Ancient World


Most of the Ancient Wonders of the world, such as the Colossus of Rhodes that stood some 150 feet high over the harbour entrance of Rhodes port itself, have long disappeared. That immense bronze statue was lost in a devastating earthquake that hit close to the Island of Rhodes in 226 B.C, yet other ancient wonders have persevered, and still stand proudly today. Here is a guide to the seven wonders of the Ancient World that you can, thankfully, go visit today.

Pyramids of Giza, Egypt

Pyramids of Giza, Egypt

(Pyramids of Giza image by wilhelmja on Flickr)

Perhaps the most impressive of all the ancient wonders, the Pyramids at Giza lie just a short distance outside the bustling Egyptian capital city Cairo. The three stone structures were built as part of a vast necropolis, intended to honour dead Egyptian Pharoahs Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure. The largest of these tombs is the Great Pyramid of Giza, which was erected over a 20 year period and finally finished in 2560 B.C. This humbling, mammoth sight stands at over 455 feet tall and was the tallest building in the world for over 3800 years. The pyramid was originally encased in polished white limestone, which would have been an amazing spectacle, shining in the hot Egyptian sun. Nowadays, the pyramid has a rougher, more rugged look, but is no less breath-taking when seen up close. If you visit the Pyramids at Giza, make sure to also check out the Sphinx, the largest monolith statue in the world and built at around the same time as the pyramids. This is conveniently located adjacent to the three imposing pyramids, and together they make for a stunning testament to the power, and faded glory, of ancient empires.

Chichen Itza, Mexico

Chichen Itza (Chichen Itza image by Celso Flores on Flickr)

Giza is not the only place on the globe to host ancient and awe-inspiring Pyramids. Travel some 7000 miles to Mexico and, half hidden in the Yucatan rainforest stands the stone Pyramids of Chichen Itza. This ancient ruined city offers startling remnants of the lost Mayan civilization including the central edifice El Castillo, a pyramid standing over 78 feet high. This structure was built sometime between the 9th and 12th centuries, though archaeologists are yet to pinpoint the exact date. What is known, however, is that the pyramid was built as a temple to the Mayan god Kukulkan, a deity that, it is said, looked like a cross between a bird and a snake. Chichen Itza can be accessed relatively easily if you are visiting from the tourist resort of Cancun, however, many of the structures, such as El Castillo, are now closed off to visitors due to safety restrictions.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu (Machu Picchu image by OsvaldoROVE on Flickr)

Also in the Americas is perhaps the most dramatic of all ancient wonders, the lost Ican city of Machu Picchu. Built across mountain tops high above the clouds in the depths of the Andes, this city was unknown to the Western World before Yale historian Hiram Bingham chanced upon the area while on an archaeological hunt through the dense jungle in 1911. It is thought that the Inca’s first built this settlement in the early 15th century, before abandoning it at the onset of the Spanish Conquest. The city sits at an altitude of 7970 feet, with some sections of the town being poised right on the cliff’s vertiginous edge. Travel to Machu Picchu can be especially perilous, with mud-slides and floods frequently rendering roads impassable. The best way to sample this stunning mountain-top relic from a bygone age is to walk the scenic Inca Trail. The journey, up hill all the way, takes approximately four days.

Colosseum, Italy

Colosseum(Colosseum image by roblisameeha on Flickr)

Rome is awash with ancient monuments from the era of the Roman Emperors. Sights such as the Circus Maximus, the Pantheon and the Forum evoke grand names like Julius Caesar, Nero and Caligula. Yet the most impressive Roman wonder of them all is the Colosseum, the biggest and boldest monument to the power of the Roman Empire, designed to hold over 50,000 spectators. The Colosseum, built in 72 AD, hosted the biggest entertainments of its day; battles between gladiators from around the world; animal fights using lions, elephants and crocodiles; and re-enacted battles, complete with real human deaths. Today this ancient ruin is, thankfully, a far more peaceful place to visit, with much of the building open to tourists. It is even used as a setting for mass on Good Friday each year, a ceremony presided over by the Pope. A far cry from the days of savage sports and brutal deaths.

The Great Wall of China

Great Wall Of China(Great Wall of China image by matt512 on Flickr)

A UNESCO World Heritage sight since 1988 and said to be the only man-made structure visible from space, the Great Wall of China snakes across mountainous and inhospitable terrain for over 5500 miles. It was built as a series of fortifications, constructed either from stone or earth, between the 5th century BC and the 16th century AD. Much of the wall has been lost to the ravages of time, but some of the best preserved stretches were built during the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century, originally to help repel the Mongolian tribes who were at that point conquering much of the known world. Travellers venturing to Beijing can easily secure excursions to visit the Badaling section of the Wall, where the landscape and architecture are at their most picturesque. Travel from the Chinese capital to this incomparable monument to antiquity takes around an hour.

Stonehenge, UK

Stonehenge(Stonehenge image by nyaa_birdies_perch on Flickr)

The oldest wonder on this list, predating the Pyramids of Giza, some archaeologists argue, by as much as 500 years, Stonehenge can seem modest in comparison to other ancient sights. Yet historians have speculated for hundreds of years about what the original use of this site was – religious or stately, a site of coronations, or even human sacrifices? No one knows for sure, yet this prehistoric monument remains the most famous stone circle in the world. When first erected it comprised of 30 neolithic trilithons, hewn sarsen stones with large lintels balanced on top of them. Today, only 16 of the trilithons still stand upright, the rest having collapsed. Yet, Stonehenge continues to evoke an air of ancient mystery, and is frequently visited today by tourists and new-age druids alike.

The Acropolis, Greece

Acropolis of Athens(Parthenon Acropolis of Athens image by thebaldwin)

Also lying in a state of ruin, The Acropolis has towered over Athens for centuries, since the time of Socrates and Plato, and was once considered the symbolic centre of ancient Athenian culture. The complex is a veritable warren of old, crumbling temples to various Greek gods, the most prominent of which is the Parthenon. Built from gleaming white marble and stone, the largely Doric Parthenon was built to honour the Goddess Athena, patron saint of Athens. The building has inspired thousands of copies and imitations down the centuries, but the original remains the best and most visited of all. Down the years the Acropolis has been used as a mosque, an arsenal, a theatre, and even an Ottoman harem. Today the complex is one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions, and visitors can sample the best of ancient Greek culture by visiting the recently opened museum on-site. Just don’t ask to see the Elgin Marbles.

We can count ourselves lucky that so many of these Ancient Wonders have been preserved in posterity for our generation to see. Wherever you travel in the world, you are bound to be near a protected ancient monument of some sort, whether it be to Pyramids or just a humble ruin. Hopefully we can secure the future of these structures for the next generation, as well.

Date posted: 21st August, 2011

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