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The Seven Wonders of the World (or the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) refers to remarkable constructions of classical antiquity listed by various authors in guidebooks popular among the ancient Hellenic tourists, particularly in the 1st and 2nd centuries BC. The most prominent of these, the versions by Antipater of Sidon and an observer identified as Philo of Byzantium, comprise seven works located around the eastern Mediterranean rim. The original list inspired innumerable versions through the ages, often listing seven entries. Of the original Seven Wonders, only one—the Great Pyramid of Giza, the oldest of the ancient wonders—remains relatively intact.
In this painting by Maerten van Heemskerck, the seven wonders of the ancient world are depicted as a background for the abduction of Helen by Paris. The Walters Art Museum.
The Greek conquest of much of the known world in the 4th century BC gave Hellenistic travellers access to the civilizations of the Egyptians, Persians, and Babylonians. Impressed and captivated by the landmarks and marvels of the various lands, these travellers began to list what they saw to remember them.
Instead of "wonders", the ancient Greeks spoke of "theamata" (θεάματα), which means "sights", in other words "things to be seen". (Τὰ ἑπτὰ θεάματα τῆς οἰκουμένης [γῆς] Tà heptà theámata tēs oikoumenēs [gēs]) Later, the word for "wonder" ("thaumata" θαύματα) was used, and this is also the case in modern Greek (Επτά θαύματα του αρχαίου κόσμου). Hence, the list was meant to be the Ancient World's counterpart of a travel guidebook.
Each person had his own version of the list, but the best known and earliest surviving was from a poem by Greek-speaking epigrammist Antipater of Sidon from around 140 BC. He named six of the seven sites on his list—leaving out the lighthouse—, but was primarily in praise of the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
Another 2nd century BC observer, who claimed to be the mathematician Philo of Byzantium, wrote a short account entitled The Seven Sights of the World. However, the incomplete surviving manuscript only covered six of the supposedly seven places, which agreed with Antipater's list.
Earlier and later lists by the historian Herodotus (484 BC--ca. 425 BC) and the architect Callimachus of Cyrene (ca. 305--240 BC), housed at the Museum of Alexandria, survived only as references.
The Colossus of Rhodes was the last of the seven to be completed, after 280 BC, and the first to be destroyed, by an earthquake in 226/225 BC. Hence, all seven existed at the same time for a period of less than 60 years. Antipater had an earlier version which replaced Lighthouse of Alexandria with the Walls of Babylon. Lists which preceded the construction of Colossus of Rhodes completed their seven entries with the inclusion of the Ishtar Gate.
It is thought that the limitation of the lists to seven entries was attributed to the special magical meaning of the number. Geographically, the list covered only the sculptural and architectural monuments of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions, which then comprised the known world for the Greeks. Hence, extant sites beyond this realm were not considered as part of contemporary accounts.
The primary accounts, coming from Hellenistic writers, also heavily influenced the places included in the wonders list. Five of the seven entries are a celebration of Greek accomplishments in the arts and architecture (the exceptions being the Pyramids of Giza and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon).