“Everyone has heard of each of the Seven Wonders of the World, but few have seen all of them for themselves. To do so one has to go abroad to Persia, cross the Euphrates river, travel to Egypt, spend some time among the Elians in Greece, go to Halicarnassus in Caria, sail to Rhodes, and see Ephesus in Ionia. Only if you travel the world and get worn out by the effort of the journey will the desire to see all the Wonders of the World be satisfied, and by the time you have done that you will be old and practically dead.”*
So begins Philo of Byzantium’s guidebook to the Seven Wonders of the Classical World. When Philo wrote his book during the 4th to 5th centuries AD, the buildings that should be included on the list of wonders was up for debate. In fact, the term “wonder” (theamata in the original Greek) is perhaps better translated as “sights,” as in the sights that one should see before they die. Philo and his fellow authors were competing for who could lay claim to the best list, and thus inspire the minds of travelers throughout the Classical world.
To save his readers from becoming “practically dead” in their quest to see all seven wonders, Philo wrote his guidebook to recreate “the beautiful and amazing things in one’s very own home.” Today, we can go one step further and bring these ancient wonders to your digital screen.
The reconstructions found below were made by digital artists Keremcan Kirilmaz and Erdem Batirbek sponsored by Budget Direct in Australia. Working with descriptions and illustrations of the ancient wonders, they worked to reconstruct the dimensions and size of each structure and place them back in their original landscapes. Their creations were then sent to Fractal Motion who turned them into animations that allow us to see the wonders rebuilt before our very own eyes.
Philo’s words still carry great power today. Of all the various wonders of the ancient world, only the Pyramids of Giza still survey, thus we cannot see them for ourselves. We can, however, read his words and witness the power of digital imagery!
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
“The so-called Hanging Garden with its plants above the ground grows in the air. The roots of trees above form a roof over the ground. Stone pillars stand under the garden to support it and the whole area beneath the garden is occupied with engraved bases of the pillars.”
“Individual beams of palm trees are in position, and the space separating them is very narrow. The wood from palm trees is the only kind of wood which does not rot. When they are saturated and under great pressure, they arch upwards and nourish the capillaries of the roots.”
“The masterpiece is luxurious and regal and it breaks the laws of nature to hang the work of cultivation over the heads of spectators.”
The Pyramids of Giza
“Mountains have been built on mountains. The sheer size of the squared masonry is difficult for the mind to grasp, and everyone is mystified at the enormous strength that was required to prize up such a weight of material.”
“A four-cornered base was set down, and hewn stones make up the foundations which are of the same dimensions as the height of each structure above the ground. Gradually the whole work was brought up into a pyramid, tapering to a point
“To one’s astonishment is added pleasure, to one’s admiration respect, and to its lavishness, splendour. … It is through deeds such as these that men go up to the gods, or that gods come down to men.”
The Statue of Zeus at Olympia
“Where as we just wonder at the other six wonders, we kneel in front of this one in reverence, because the execution of the skill is as incredible as the image of Zeus is holy. The work brings praise, and the immortality brings honour.”
“Those were the good old days for Greece! When her wealth in the world of the of the gods surpassed any other people’s wealth at any subsequent time; when she had an artist who was a creator of immortality unmatched by any that later ages produced.”
The Colossus at Rhodes
“Perhaps Zeus poured down marvelous wealth on the Rhodians precisely so that they could honour Helios in spending it on the erection of the statue of the god, layer upon layer, from the ground up to the heavens.”
“A base of white marble was laid down, and on this he first set the feet of the Colossus up to the ankle-bones. He had already conceived in his mind the proportions in which the one-hundred-and-twenty-foot god was going to be built.
“Little by little he reached the goal of his dream and, at the expense of five hundred bronze talents and three hundred silver talents, he made his god equal to the god. He produced a work outstanding in its boldness, for on the world he had set a second Helios facing the first.”
The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
“The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus is the only house of the gods. Who ever looks will be convinced that a change of place has occurred: that the heavenly world of immortality has been placed on the earth. For the Giants or the sons of Aloeus who attempted an ascent to heaven made a heap out of mountains and built not a temple but Olympus.”
“The quantity of masonry expended on the structures below the round amounted to whole quarries of mountains.”
The Lighthouse of Alexandria
The next site on today’s canonical list of ancient wonders is the Lighthouse of Alexandria. Philo, however, did not include the marvelous building on his own list. Instead we have descriptions of the lighthouse from numerous Islamic sources before the building’s destruction. The traveler and scholar Ibn Jubair visited the lighthouse in 1183 on a pilgrimage to Mecca. He was notably struck by the structure’s presence!
“One of the greatest wonders that we saw in this city was the lighthouse which Great and Glorious God had erected by the hands of those who were forced to such labour as ‘a sign to those who take warning from examining the fate of others’ [Quran: 15:75] and as a guide to voyagers, for without it they could not find the true course to Alexandria. It can be seen for more than seventy miles, and is of great antiquity. It is most strongly built in all directions and competes with the skies in height. Description of it falls short, the eyes fail to comprehend it, and words are inadequate, so vast is the spectacle.”
The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
Likewise the famed Mausoleum at Halicarnassus was not visited by Philo, but the Roman historian Pliny the Elder wrote a description of the temple in the 1st century AD, and presents us with details on the artists themselves who crafted the building.
“Scopas had as his rivals and contemporaries Bryaxis, Timotheus and Leochares, whom we must discuss together, because they jointly carved the sculptures of the Mausoleum. … These artists in particular were responsible for making the building one of the seven wonders of the world.”
“The sculptures on the east side were carved by Scopas, those on the north by Bryaxis, those on the south by Timotheus, and those on the west by Leochares; and before they finished the queen died. But they did not stop the work until it was completed, considering it to be a monument to their own glory and artistic skill; and to this day their hands compete with one another.”
*All quotations from Philo of Byzantium’s “On the Seven Wonders” come from the book The Seven Wonders of the World: A History of the Modern Imagination by John Romer and Elizabeth Romer and were translated by Hugh Johnstone.