Before modern technology existed, civilizations built incredible structures and sculptures that would live on in infamy. These structures marked crowning achievements of their time and where known across the world at a time where communication was scarce. While all but one have now fallen into past mystery, let’s examine these engineering marvels as they once were.
Colossus of Rhodes
Image Source: Wikimedia
Date Built: 280 B.C
State: Destroyed in 226 B.C.
The massive statue of the greek god Helios was erected in Rhodes in 280 B.C. It stood as a symbol of Rhode’s victory over Cyprus, placed right at the entrance to Rhode’s harbor. Much like the Statue of liberty that stands as a prolific symbol of American freedom, so too did the Colossus of Rhodes over 2000 years ago. Built with a bright facade of bronze and standing at 110 feet tall, it would have been one of the tallest vertical structures in ancient times.
In terms of the design of the structure, an architect named Chares of Lindos developed the plan to construct this 110-foot sculpture. He would have developed many small sculptures of the structure to which the full-scale bronze panels were scaled off of. It is speculated that this brilliant architect never lived to see the project completed.
According to various accounts, the internal support of the structure was much like one would have expected given the construction techniques of the time. Several stone pillars were used as supports and iron beams were connected from the stone base and pillars to the external bronze plates. The statue was built right on the edge of the harbor, which would have meant that construction access was likely only available from one side. It is speculated that a large earthen ramp was used to slowly place much of the framework for the Colossus. Based on the height of the large figure, however, a ramp that stretched to the top of the structure would have simply been impossible. This leads more credence to the belief that wooden scaffolding was used to give workers areas to construct.
Great Pyramid of Giza
Date Built: 2560 B.C.
Of all of the 7 ancient wonders of the world, the Great Pyramid of Giza is both the oldest and the only one still surviving mostly intact today. Throughout the course of history, through the construction of every other wonder, none have come close to the engineering prowess demonstrated by the Egyptians who built the pyramids
The general consensus among modern scholars is that all of the rocks were quarried and dragged into place. Part of what makes the materials used even more staggering is the fact that their source lies hundreds of miles away from the Pyramid. This means that the Egyptian engineers and labor force would have transported materials weighing up to 16 tons by sheer man and horsepower. These large limestone blocks were used to create the core of the structure, which is what can be seen of the pyramid today. The original pyramid would have been faced in casing stones to create a smooth and glossy exterior finish.
Many modern studies have been conducted on the Great Pyramid, including one from a team of engineers and Egyptologists. Using a critical path analysis model, and assuming that no levers, pulleys, wheels or iron tools were used in its construction, they estimated that it took 10 years to complete, start to finish. This is on the lower end of early estimates, but throughout all estimates, the timeline moves at a staggering pace.
Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Image Source: Wikimedia
Date Built: 605 B.C.
State: Destroyed around the 1st century A.D
As their name would suggest, they were likely built in the ancient city of Babylon, which is now part of Iraq. When tracing the engineering feat of these gardens back to their time of existence, it becomes hard to find any concrete evidence of any aspect of their creation. The only aspect of these gardens that has survived over the years is that of myth, which has lead many to think that they never existed. There are rumors that these expansive gardens were built by Nebuchadnezzar II for his wife Amytis, which stand at the core of the myth of the gardens.
For such a seemingly expansive structure of gardens, there has been no physical evidence found of the gardens. Assuming that these gardens did exist, they were likely destroyed before the 1st century A.D. Other theories around the seemingly non-existent gardens also trace back to the Gardens of Ninevah, which may be where the myth of the Gardens of Babylon began. Regardless of their existence, how exactly would these terraced gardens have been built?
The gardens would have consisted of a series of terraces that held an abundance of greenery. They were likely not “hanging” gardens per say, rather the plants likely overhung each terrace. Baked bricks and asphalt were believed to have been used for the base structure, which would have stretched nearly 100 feet in the air.
Lighthouse of Alexandria
Image Source: Wikimedia
Date Built: between 280 and 247 B.C
State: Destroyed in 1480 A.D.
The tallest lighthouse currently standing in America is only half of the size of the lighthouse built in Alexandria. It was a structure that was ultimately a first for the world, one that protected ships for up to 30 miles of the Egyptian coast. Built between 280 and 247 B.C., it is believed that the final structure was built from stone in three stacked sections. Once the Pharos Lighthouse was completed, rumors in regards to the magnitude of the lighthouse spread so quickly that artists who had never seen the structure began painting it. The completed lighthouse stood somewhere in the range of 394 and 449 feet tall for over a millennium.
After Alexander the Great died, his successor, Ptolemy, took charge to develop the city that the legendary king desired. We know that the lighthouse cost the kingdom around 800 talents, which through rough conversion we can say is equivalent to $1 billion in 2016 U.S. dollars. Light on the top of the tower was produced through the burning of gas and other tinders while it was then reflected through a series of mirrors to direct ships. Built completely out of limestone, it would have been a stunning structure, marking Alexandria on the map.
Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
Image Source: Wikimedia
Date Built: Between 353 and 350 B.C.
State: Destroyed between the 12th and 15th century B.C.
You know you made it in life when your tomb becomes one of the 7 wonders of the world. The mausoleum at Halicarnassus was built between 353 and 350 B.C. to house the body of a prince of the Persian empire and wife. At a height of 148 feet, it was also one of the tallest structures in existence at the time. This wonder is actually where the term Mausoleum comes from, as the prince that it was built for was named Mausolus, and thus was buried in this above ground tomb.
The structure was commissioned by Mausolus’ sister, who also happened to be his wife; this was actually common practice for Persian rulers in that day. No expense was to be spared on the building of the structure, so messengers were sent out to source the best artisans from across the known world. Nearly all of the world’s most famous sculptors were brought in for the project, and each was supplied with teams of craftsmen to help them at their task. Since there were so many sculptors involved in the project, there was also subsequently very different design styles. The final structure was finished in the styles of Egyptian, Greek and Lycian cultures.
The structure itself was made mostly out of marble. This heavy stone was used to create a tapering substructure to the mausoleum that eventually was built up to a 140-foot height. On the lower half of the structure, there was a relief created through collaboration of sculptors depicting Greek mythology. Moving on from the Greek base, there were 36 intricately carved columns surrounding the building. These columns were quite necessary to hold the large and traditional marble roof. This roof was made to be pyramidal with 24 different levels. The final structure gives semblance to 3 separate structures stacked on top of one another.
Statue of Zeus at Olympia
Image Source: Wikimedia
Date Built: 466 BC
State: Destroyed in 475 B.C.
A statue of the greek god Zeus built from ivory plates and gold panels stretching 43 feet tall isn’t your typical construction project. While the sculpture is that of legend, very little is actually known about the artistic work beyond written texts. It was destroyed in the 5th century A.D. with no known replicas.
The statue features a sculpture of Zeus sitting on a cedar throne, and the materials of the entire sculpture ranged anywhere from ebony to precious stone. Perhaps the marvel of the statue of Zeus is not the structural magnitude, but rather the sheer amount of ornamentation embellished on the statue. It’s no surprise that the statue was so elaborate due to the fact that it was proposed as the centerpiece to the stadium and temple at Olympia.
A sculptor named Phidias was selected to complete the over 40-foot tall statue, which would take him 12 years. The statue was built inside the temple at Olympia where it spanned from floor to ceiling. Phidias made sure to make its dimensions close to the internal dimensions of the building so that the statue appeared larger than it actually was. To give some parallel to modern times, the lincoln memorial is likely similar to how the statue of Zeus would have looked, but Zeus would have been twice as big.
The structure would have essentially have been hollow. Phidias used a wooden structure to place attachment points for ivory panels. He likely would have designed the structure in some form of grid pattern to allow for easier sculpting of the individual panels. Tools recovered from the site suggest that Phidias’ hand sculpted the entire statue.
Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
Image Source: Wikimedia
Date Built: 800 B.C.
State: Destroyed in 401 A.D.
Built to honor the greek goddess, Artemis, the Temple at Ephesus was described as the most decadent and ornate of all of the 7 ancient wonders. Built on a hilltop in present-day Turkey, its construction took place not only once, but three times over the course of its existence. Destroyed each time by war or flooding, it was finally lost in 401 A.D. In its day, the temple would have been the pinnacle of society, and its engineering would have been unmatched.
Construction on the original temple began in about 800 B.C., where it was then destroyed around 200 years later. Used to worship greek gods and goddesses, the architecture was influenced by both Greek and Near-eastern styles. Supporting the building was 127 marble columns, each 60 feet high. Many speculate that these columns were rolled up to the location by teams of workers and animals, then a cantilevered crane, or more likely earthen ramps, was used to lift them into place.
The temple was shaped in rectangular fashion, measuring 377 feet by 180 feet. The rectangular shape was the only aspect of the structure that wasn’t extravagant. Each marble column featured beautifully engraved caps and inside the temple, there were many highly detailed sculptures of Amazon warriors. Gold and silver adorned the details of the structure. It was a place built for extravagance and beauty over functionality. Most famously, Antipater of Sidon, the man who compiled the list of the 7 ancient wonders, spoke of the Temple as more marvelous than any of the other wonders.
Even though only the Great Pyramid survives on into modern times, the existence of these prolific engineering projects live on in myth and legend today.