Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Blog talk #3 – The Seven Wonders of the World

Hanging Gardens of Babylon
The last evening in Mallorca before going back to Brussels I was looking for a book to just go through quickly. I ended up with The Seven Wonders of the World by John & Elisabeth Romer. The Seven Wonders of the World has always fascinated me, as well as, I am sure, a lot of other people. Today we speak of modern wonders and they sure exist. The Great Wall for example, the Terracotta army in Xian in China, Taj Mahal in India and a lot of other fantastic constructions. But the Seven Wonders  of the antiquity keep holding a special place in peoples’ heart. 

Temple of Artemis
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 Euprates 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. 

Philo of Byzantium, On the Seven Wonders, written c. 225 BC, in Alexandria, Egypt

Pyramides at Gizeh
Today it would be much easier since we can travel much faster. On the other hand, six of the seven wonders are gone and cannot been seen anymore. As the writers say: The Seven Wonders of the World, therefore, hold two stories within them: firstly, that of the ancient reality; secondly their later history as symbols of magnificence and competition.

Of the ancient wonders only the Great Pyramids in Cairo remains standing. They are really a wonder and even today it is difficult to imagine how they could have been built with the technology of the time. Maybe we just think that we are more superior today, and when looking at the wonders, although we are not able to see them today, but the mere description makes us wonder how this could have been achieved. The wonders defer slightly depending on whom you read, but more or less the following seven are established as the classical wonders:
The Pharos of Alexandria

The Statue of Zeus (in Olympia, Greece)
The Colossus of Rhodes (in Rhodes, Greece)
The Pharos of Alexandria, (in Alexandria, Egypt)
 The Mausoleum (in Halicarnassus, (in Tukey)
The Hanging Gardens (in Babylon, Iraq)
The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (in Turkey)
The Pyramids at Gizeh (in Cairo, Egypt)

Having been living in Egypt I have been visiting the pyramids many times and they are really fantastic. It is not only the pyramids at Gizeh but also others, for example close to Gizeh, the step pyramids of Sakkara. Somewhere I read that 70% of the worlds ancients monuments you will find in Egypt. Being there you can well believe it. There is a ruin and stones wherever you turn!

Mausoleum of Halicarnassus
Philo ‘s essay ‘On the Seven Wonders’ has been preserved in a Byzantine codex kept in the University of Heidelberg. It has been doubted whether it was written by Philo or not, for various reasons, but it seems that scholars have agreed that it is genuine enough.  At the time ‘it was persuasive enough to have been taken north from the ancient Library of Alexandria to Byzantium, there to be copied and carried off to Western Europe to be installed successively in the libraries of a Swiss monastery, a Renaissance printer, the courts of Heidelberg and the Vatican, and thence to be carried off again from Rome to Napoleonic Paris and finally, following the Congress of Vienna, to be returned once more to Heidelberg’. Pffhh! It certainly must be valid then. We are also lucky that the codex has survived this adventurous journey.  

The Colossus of Rhodos
However, Philo does not mention the lighthouse (the Pharos) of Alexandria as a wonder, although this is his city. Most classical lists also include the Walls of Babylon as a wonder. Maybe because Babylon at the time was a dream that could not be achieved, it was a journey of a lifetime. Most of his wonders are set within his own world.

Statue of Zeus
This was the world of Alexander the Great. He visited them all on his journeys and they were all within his empire. He founded Alexandria (The Pharos), he stormed Halicarnassos (the Mausoleum), the Colossus of Rhodos was a portrait of him, and he died in Babylon, the city of the Hanging Gardens. The Seven Wonders represents technological achievements and dreams that took the world forward. 

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