Selected by Hellenic travelers, the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were fabled in art and poetry, leaving the imprint of ancient civilizations on history through human imagination and technical skill. Of the original Seven Wonders, just one remains: The Great Pyramid at Giza. This article looks at seven architectural masterpieces still in existence today, exploring some of the world’s most iconic landmarks and buildings.
1. Great Wall of China, Huairou District, China
The Great Wall of China is indisputably one of the world’s most impressive feats of construction, although a great deal of mythology and misinformation surrounds it. Rather than consisting of a single wall, it actually comprises several walls that were joined together over the centuries, each of which was originally built to protect different regions from attack.
According to local legend, construction of parts of the Great Wall started in the 7th Century BC, although experts say it is unlikely that these early walls survived. Claims that it is visible from the moon are also untrue. Nevertheless, at 5,500 miles long, the Great Wall of China is undoubtedly one of the most impressive structures on Earth.
2. Colosseum, Rome, Italy
The ultimate symbol of the mighty Roman Empire, this gargantuan amphitheater hosted bloody, gladiatorial battles for more than four centuries. In its heyday, more than 50,000 spectators would gather here to watch gladiators wage war with ferocious creatures, and each other, at this spectacular venue.
Beneath the arena’s floor runs an elaborate network of tunnels, where gladiators and beasts paced, waiting for combat. Off limits for more than 2,000 years, these tunnels were opened to visitors in 2021, enabling ordinary members of the public to walk in the footsteps of giants, imagine the roar of the crowd, and envision the brutality and ingenuity of one of the greatest empires in human history.
3. Taj Mahal, Agra, India
Built by a Mughal Emperor to commemorate his beloved wife, the Taj Mahal is the jewel in the crown of Indian architecture. With an emphasis on symmetry and balance, this astounding building took 20,000 workers and 16 years to construct.
According to legend, Emperor Shah had intended to build a second Taj Mahal across the river, constructing the second building from black marble rather than white, but conflict with his sons interrupted his plans. Attracting more than a million tourists each year, the Taj Mahal would cost somewhere in the order of $94 million, and take at least two years to construct today.
4. Sigiriya Rock Fortress, Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
Nicknamed Lion’s Rock, this ancient palace was hewed into a vast mound of rock in the 5th Century AD. Constructed at the behest of King Kashyapa, the 660-foot-tall fortress still features colossal stone lion paws at the base, between which start the 1,200 steps to the top.
Originally featuring a vast lion’s head, the palace is open to the public today. Visitors brave enough to tackle the dizzying staircase to the summit of this crowning citadel are treated to glimpses of frescoed caves and breathtaking views from the top.
5. Machu Picchu, Peru
Built at an altitude of 2,350 meters, Machu Picchu’s construction still confounds experts today. It is known that no wheels were used to transport rock to the site. Ancient masons created buildings using a technique called “ashlar,” cutting stones to fit flush next to one another. They are aligned so closely it is impossible to fit even a pin between the stones, which could be the reason why the ancient city has endured for so long.
In ancient times, Machu Picchu was home to a thriving Incan civilization, comprising around 200 buildings in total. At the top of the city was the temple, the rest divided into social housing following a strict caste system, with a royalty area, and a “popular class” district to house the “lower class.”
6. Parthenon, Athens, Greece
One of the world’s most famous buildings, construction of the Parthenon started in 447 BC. The main purpose of the structure was to house a huge statue of Athena Parthenos crafted from gold, silver, and ivory.
The Romans later looted the site, taking the statue to Constantinople, where it was sadly destroyed. In its lifetime, the Parthenon has served as a temple, church, mosque, fortress, and even as a powder magazine. Perched atop a hill looking down on the Greek capital, this iconic landmark attracts visitors from all over the world.
7. Moai, Easter Island
Crafted by Polynesian colonizers between 1250 AD and 1500 AD, these ancient monolithic statues are located on one of the world’s most isolated islands.
Still standing when Europeans arrived in the region, though later cast down during conflicts between clans, the moai represent deceased ancestors, and are regarded as the embodiment of powerful chiefs. Paro, the largest of all moai, stood 10 meters tall, weighing a staggering 75 tons.