Archaeology

Ancient Cities Archeological Lessons



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THE GREAT PYRAMID OF GIZA

The great pyramid of Giza is not only the oldest of the seven wonders but is also the only one to have survived to the present day.
It stands near the ancient city of Memphis on the Giza plateau, a necropolis or tract of land used for burials now part of modern Cairo.
Although there are three pyramids standing on the Giza plateau it is only the largest of them that is actually one of the seven wonders, the great pyramid of Khufu more commonly referred to as the pyramid of Cheops.
The pyramid was built around 2560 BC by and for the pharaoh Khufu intended to be both his tomb and a great and lasting monument after his death.
The tombs construction is believe to have been achieved over a period of twenty years.
The exterior of the pyramid now have a stepped appearance though when it was completed it has a smooth covering of stone which the desert winds have worn away over nearly four and a half millennia.
When it was built, the Great pyramid stood 481 ft high but 30 ft has been worn off the top over its many years and the base consists of four equal sides 751ft in length.
It wasn't until the latter part of the nineteenth century that the great pyramid was surpassed as the tallest structure on earth a position it had occupied for over four thousand three hundred years.
Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of the Pyramid is the incredible mathematical accuracy involved in its construction.
The great pyramid was built to such great precision using very rudimentary techniques which even with all of out 21st century technology we cannot replicate.

THE LIGHTHOUSE OF ALEXANDRIA

I suppose you could say that The Lighthouse of Alexandria is the only one of the seven wonders that had a truly practical use in addition to its having architectural merit as well as being aesthetically pleasing.
The lighthouse was built on the ancient island of Pharos at the entrance to the great harbor of Alexandria.
Architecturally it was not merely the second tallest building on Earth but possessed great elegance.
Standing at a height of 384 ft it would have been equivalent to a modern forty story building.
A central shaft ran the full height of the structure which was used to lift fuel to the upper level and the whole of the outside was covered with shining white marble and a statue of Poseidon adorned the summit.
Its practicality was most felt by the men of the sea who risked their lives and who benefited as it ensured a safe return to the Great Harbor the great mirror housed in the light house was visible thirty five miles out to sea there is even a Legend which says the mirror was also used to detect and burn enemy ships before they could reach the shore.

The lighthouse was the brainchild of Alexander the Greats commander Ptolemy Soter who assumed power in Egypt after Alexander's death.
The architect for the project which began around 290 BC was Sostratus, but it was not completed until after the death of Ptolemy Soter when Egypt was ruled by his son Ptolemy Philadelphus.
For centuries the great mirror in the Lighthouse of Alexandria was used to reflect firelight at night and the sun's rays during the day.
The lighthouse was even depicted on roman coins of the day such was its import.
When Egypt was conquered by the Arabs, they sacked the much admired Alexandria for its wealth.
Alexandria and The Lighthouse was less important to the Arabs who emphasized this by moving their administrative center to the lesser city of Cairo.

A violent earthquake shook Alexandria In AD 956 but caused very little damage to the Lighthouse but much later in 1303 and again in 1323 two successive stronger earthquakes inflicted greater damage on the structure.
The final indignity was visited upon the lighthouse in 1480 when the Egyptian Mamelouk Sultan, Qaitbay tore down the remains of the lighthouse and built a fort in its place using the stone and marble from its predecessor.

Although the Lighthouse of Alexandria has not survive to the present day, it has left its influence on the modern world the name of Pharos lives on as the name for lighthouse all around the Mediterranean.

THE HANGING GARDENS OF BABYLON

If you asked anyone to name the seven wonders it is highly unlikely that they will be able to do so, but the majority will manage to name the hanging gardens of Babylon.
What makes that fact all the more remarkable is that the hanging gardens are the only wonder we have yet to locate.
It's believed to have been on the east bank of the River Euphrates, approximately 30 miles to the south of Baghdad in modern Iraq but as yet archaeologists have failed to agree on its exact location.
There are some who go as far as to say the hanging gardens never existed but were instead figments of the imagination of Greek poets written on the back of tales from travellers and soldiers who had never set eyes upon such fertile land as Mesopotamia.
Even Babylonian writings from the time make no mention of there existence.

The Babylonian kingdom flourished for over a thousand years but it was during the Neo-Babylonian dynasty that the Mesopotamian civilization reached its zenith.
It was during the rule of Nebuchadnezzar that the gardens are supposed to have been built and Nebuchadnezzar himself is credited with their conception although even this is disputed in some quarters.
The story goes that Nebuchadnezzar had the gardens built in around 600 BC to please his homesick wife who missed the mountain surroundings of her homeland.
The exact description of the gardens varies from account to account but the gist seems to be an enormous multi tiered structure generally square and supported from beneath by vast pillars and vaulted arches.
On the tiers were planted trees and plants of every kind as well as large grassed areas and such was the irrigation system fed by pumped water from the river Euphrates that the grass was always green and the trees always in leaf.

THE STATUE OF ZEUS AT OLYMPIA

The statue of Zeus at Olympia stood in the part of western Greece that gave its name to the Olympic Games and was to build to honor the greatest of the Greek gods.
The magnificent temple of Zeus was built around 450 BC and built in the simple Doric style
It was decided a majestic statue should be created and so The Athenian sculptor Pheidias was assigned the "sacred" task which he began in 440 BC.
The statue was created from metal, ivory and sculpted marble his head was wreathed with olive sprays in his right hand he held a gold and ivory victory figure and in his left an inlaid golden scepter.
He wore golden sandals and his throne was decorated with ebony and ivory gold and other precious metals and every kind of gemstone and when the throne figure was completed it was almost to big to fit in the temple.
Many worshippers visited the temple over the following 450 years and some work was needed to restore the ageing masterpiece and a hundred years earlier the roman emperor Caligula tried to have the statue transported to his palace in Rome, but he failed.
After the temple of Zeus was ordered closed and the Olympic Games banned in 391 AD by emperor Theodosius I, Olympia was struck repeatedly by earthquakes, landslides and floods.
By the time the temple was badly damaged by fire in the fifth century AD the statue had been transported to the city of Constantinople to the palace owned by a wealthy Greek.
Where it survived until 462 AD when a severe fire destroyed it.
Today nothing remains at the site of the old temple except fallen columns and debris and nothing remains at all of the greatest work of art in Greek sculpture.

THE TEMPLE OF ARTEMIS AT EPHESUS

The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus was dedicated to the honour of the Greek goddess of hunting, wild nature, and fertility.
Ephesus was an ancient city in what is now modern Turkey near to the town of Selcuk.
The reason that a temple dedicated to lesser god, and compared to Zeus, Hera and Athena Artemis was a lesser god, was elevated to be one of the seven wonders is that it was the most beautiful structure on earth.
The construction of the temple began in around 550 BC and was designed by the Greek architect Chersiphron and was sponsored by Croesus the Lydian king neither architect or sponsor saw the project completed as it took about 120 years.
The magnificent Temple was decorated with bronze statues reputedly sculpted by some of the most skilful artists of their time such as Phradmon, Polycleitus, Kresilas, and Pheidias who also crafted the statue of Zeus at Olympia.
The temple was both a marketplace and a religious sanctuary a place visited by people from every corner of the ancient world and beyond and from every walk of life from kings and princes to paupers and vagabonds.
It was on the night of Alexander the Greats birth the 21st July 356 BC, a man named Herostratus burned down the temple to ground in an attempt to immortalize himself which in a way he succeeded in doing.
When Alexander later conquered Asia Minor and he reached Ephesus he visited the site of the damaged temple and at once offered to have it rebuilt but it wasn't until after Alexander's death in 323 BC that work began on its restoration.
St Paul visited Ephesus to preach Christianity in the first century AD but the Ephesians were resolute in their devotion to Artemis.
It was in 262 AD when the next significant visitors to Ephesus arrived and they were the Goths who destroyed the temple.
By the time the crusaders came in the fourth century AD the old religions of ancient Greece had fallen from favour and most Ephesians' had converted to Christianity.
The final nail in the temple's coffin came when in 401 AD the once beautiful Temple of Artemis was torn down by the knights of St John.
Ephesus was then deserted and the temple lost it was only in the latter part of the nineteenth century the temple's foundations were discovered in the Turkish swamps what an ignominious end for what was once the most beautiful structure on earth.

THE MAUSOLEUM OF HALICARNASSUS

The mausoleum of Halicarnassus like the great pyramid of Giza was the burial place of an ancient king and qualified as one of the seven wonders because like the Temple of Artemis it had great beauty.
The building stood on a stepped podium whose sides were decorated with statues and in the burial chamber was surrounded by Ionic columns and the sarcophagus was of white alabaster decorated with gold.
The colonnade supported a pyramid roof which was in turn decorated with fine statues and the very top of the tomb was adorned by a statue of a chariot pulled by four horses.
The mausoleum was built in the city of Halicarnassus now called Bodrum in south western Turkey on the coast of the Aegean Sea.
King Maussollos of Caria reigned over all of western turkey as a governor or satrap for the Persian Empire from 377 to 353 BC.
Maussollos was a rather unremarkable ruler and but for the beautiful tomb conceived by his wife and sister he would probably have been completely forgotten.
It was three years after Maussollos death around 350 BC that The Mausoleum was completed and For 16 centuries, it remained in good condition until the roof and colonnade was damaged by an earthquake.
When the Knights of St John invaded the region in the early fifteenth century they built a huge crusader castle and when it was fortified in 1494 it was stones from the Mausoleum that they.
Over the next 30 years almost every block of stone and marble had been used by the crusaders for construction.
The great crusader castle still stands in Bodrum and the mausoleum's polished stone and marble blocks are easy to see in the walls of the structure.
At the site of the Mausoleum only the foundations remain while some of the sculptures and parts of frieze are on display at the British Museum in London.
So the name of the unremarkable King Maussollos lives on all around the world where in every city families continue to place loved ones in tombs or more accurately mausoleums.

THE COLOSSUS OF RHODES

The Colossus of Rhodes was the youngest of the seven ancient wonders with the 12 year construction being completed in 282 BC.
The 110 ft colossus was cast in bronze and stood on a huge white marble plinth on the eastern promontory of the Mandraki harbor by the entrance of the port on the beautiful Mediterranean island of Rhodes and contrary to popular belief the Colossus did not straddle the mouth of the harbor.
The huge bronze statue of the sun god Helios was cast by the Rhodian sculptor Chares of Lindos to celebrate the lifting of the siege of Rhodes by the Antigonids of Macedonia.
Not only was the colossus the youngest wonder it was also the most short lived only surviving for 56 years before it was felled by a severe earthquake in 226 BC that badly damaged the city.
The statue lay broken in ruins on the ground where it fell for almost a thousand years until the Arabs invaded Rhodes in 654 AD who sold the bonze remains to a Syrian Jew who had them transported home reportedly on 900 camels.
Although it physically survived for little more than half a century such was the statues magnificence it survived in people's hearts and minds sufficiently to elevate it to become one of the seven wonders.
Even though we have no way of knowing the exact appearance of the Colossus it has none the less influenced other great artists over the centuries such as the great French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi best known for the Statue of Liberty.

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