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Tulum Ruins

Tulum Ruins

Tulum Mayan Ruins Mexico

June 112013

The Tulum Ruins Overview

While Teotihuacan and Chichen Itza gain more visits, travellers to Mexico should not forget to check out the Tulum ruins. As one of the last cities to be inhabited and built by the Mayans, the structures remain surprisingly well preserved. Archaeological buffs will fall in love with the mystery surrounding the buildings and site. A visit to the site lets you transport back in time to learn more about the fascinating Mayan culture and civilisation.

Tulum Ruins, Mexico
Tulum Ruins, Mexicoarcher10 (Dennis) / Travel Photos / CC BY-SA

History and Information

The walled city of wonder gets its name from the Mayan word for ‘wall’. The city did carry another name previously. Zuma, meaning dawn, was its initial name due to it facing the east towards the Riviera Maya. While the city was in its pomp in the 13th century with over 1,000 inhabitants, it’s believed to first date back to 564 A.D. Its grand age is made apparent when contrasted with nearby city Cancun with its luxury resorts and bustling nightlife while closer to home a shopping centre is in close vicinity. Still, it remains one of the best preserved Maya ruins, just another reason why travellers shouldn’t miss out. Perhaps it’s something to do with the seven metre thick walls. This and what appear to be watchtowers led to the belief Tulum acted as a fortress. However, it has been widely agreed the city was also an important seaport used for trading goods and provided a sea route to Central America. As the only Mayan city built on a coast, valuable items such as jade, obsidian and turquoise were exchanged. The city was brought to its knees when Spanish conquestors invaded Mexico. But the assailants also brought Old World diseases, disseminating the native population and thus the city was left deserted.

Mayan Ruins of Tulum
Mayan Ruins of TulumCasaDeQueso / Beach Photos / CC BY-NC-ND

The Tulum Ruins

There are a number of ruins to see; the main structures being the Temple of the Frescoes, the Castillo and the Temple of the Diving God.

While the coloured murals found in the Temple of Frescoes have faded somewhat over time, what’s left is still impressive. Spread over three levels, the first shows the Mayan world of the dead, the second showcases the living while the third represents the creator and rain gods.

The Castillo is the tallest building on the site. With commanding views of the ocean for miles, it’s believed to have been used as a lighthouse, guiding trade ships to the shore. When climbing to the top, it’s best to negotiate the steep steps sideways to make it easier.

Temple of the Diving God gains its name from the fascinating sculpted head which appears to be diving towards earth from the heavens. It’s been suggested the figure presents a deity where he protected the people of Tulum and the ancient city was the centre of his cult.

Patches of red can be seen on several of the structures, which suggest the buildings were painted red during the Maya period.

Tulum Mayan Ruins Mexico
Tulum Mayan Ruins Mexicoarcher10 (Dennis) / Travel Photos / CC BY-SA

Visiting The Tulum Ruins

A tip when visiting any ruins, it’s recommend you book a guided tour or have a good guide book to give you a full explanation of the city. Despite the sites compact nature, visitors can quite easily more than a few hours viewing the structures, taking pictures and visiting the beautiful beach below. For a truly unique experience, it’s possible to arrive at the site via a catamaran, giving you an indication what it would have been like to be faced by this outstanding facade. It’s advisable to arrive late in the day as hoards of tour buses arrive at 9am, particularly as the site could get crowded quickly – the site closes at 5pm.

Location of The Tulum Ruins

Located 82 miles south of Cancun on the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, the surrounding scenery couldn’t be more picturesque. A beach complete with golden soft sand and turquoise waters creates a stunning backdrop to the ruins. That’s not to mention the incredible weathered grey cliff in which the ruins perch upon.

Tulum Beach, Mayan Ruins, Mexico
Tulum Beach, Mayan Ruins, Mexicoslack12 / Beach Photos / CC BY-NC-ND

Summary

Only a short journey to popular holiday destination Cancun, visitors would be missing out on this well preserved world wonder if they didn’t make the trip. The Tulum ruins present a perfect opportunity to learn more about the history and culture of the Mayans. Visitors can marvel at both the magnificent and mysterious structures. And if the ruins don’t leave a lasting impression on you, the trip to the beach will.

Author: Dan Perdomo – travel blogger who plans of travelling the world – when he wins the lottery. He enjoys treating himself to luxury holidays with Sovereign Luxury Travel.

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The Inca Trail
May 312013

Despite its remote location some 2,430 metres up on a mountain ridge, the ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu is still one of the most visited historical sites in the world. Situated in Cusco in the Peruvian Highlands, the iconic ruins receive around one million visitors every year. The majority of tourists reach the famous monument through a combination of bus and train, however, it is far more rewarding to arrive at Machu Picchu having completed the Inca Trail, as outlined in the reasons below.

Inca Trail, Machu Picchu
Inca Trailszeke / People Photos / CC BY-NC-SA

Getting Fit

The challenge of the Inca Trail shouldn’t be underestimated. The 27 mile hike includes walking at high altitude for up to seven hours a day. In order to complete the entire trek it takes determination and a reasonable level of fitness. Unfortunately, some people who don’t come prepared fail to finish the Inca Trail. However, if ever there was a reason to encourage yourself to get fit, then hiking up to Machu Picchu is it.

Inca Trail local community
Support the Inca Trail local community@abrunvoll / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Support the Local Community

Walking the Inca Trail is not cheap, however, a lot of the money you spend will go towards maintaining the trail and Machu Picchu, which are two of the biggest components of the local economy in Cusco. As well as the upkeep of these two famous attractions, your money will help to support the local people who work on them, such as the guides and porters.

Walking the Inca Trail
Walking the Inca Trail@abrunvoll / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Ruins and Sights along the Trail

But for the incredible draw of Machu Picchu, many of the ruins along the Inca Trail would be tourist attractions in their own right. Ruins encountered on the path include Phuyupatamarca, a former town in the midst of a cloud forest, and Huillca Raccay, a one-time Inca fort. The trail also leads walkers along a genuine Inca constructed road and goes through a variety of different environments, including sub tropical rainforest, mountain passes and alpine tundra.

The Best View

Being down in amongst the ruins of Machu Picchu is a captivating experience, however, the true beauty of the ancient city really becomes apparent from afar. The best viewing point from which to take in the entire site is from Sun Gate, a pass at the end of the Inca Trail that overlooks the whole of Machu Picchu.

Sacred Valley - Inca Trail, Peru
Inca Trail best view, Perutom_allan / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Beat the Crowds

As one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world, it’s not surprising that Machu Picchu gets busy. The crowds at the site really start to build up from around 9am; however, if you walk the Inca Trail, you’ll reach the Lost City before sunrise, well before the majority of other tourists arrive. You’ll have the ancient settlement to yourself, with the peace and time needed to fully explore Machu Picchu.

Appreciate the Incas

The task of building an entire city without machinery or computer programs seems an impossible one by modern standards. Yet somehow the Incas managed to overcome the difficulties of working on a mountain ridge to construct Machu Picchu entirely by hand. Once you’ve completed the Inca Trail and are taking in the city at close quarters, you’ll appreciate this astonishing accomplishment more than most.

Andreas is a freelance journalist from England. He writes about a variety of subjects including travel, wildlife and sport. This article was written on behalf of Peru for Less, one of the leading Inca Trail providers.
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Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt, 2650BC

Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt, 2650BC

Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt

November 82009

Overview:

Although it’s not an official title, of all Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt is the undisputed king. This could be because it was built so many centuries before the rest, in c.2650BC, or perhaps because it remained the tallest man made structure in the world for over 3000 years until the 1800s. On the other hand, it could be the undisputed king because it is the only one of all seven that still stands today, despite its age. Whatever reason you would like to choose, this structure is a man made marvel.

Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt

Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt

Due to its age, it’s difficult to know the exact details of the construction of the Pyramid, let alone how the slaves working on it managed to lift each 2.5 ton stone to rest on top of the previous. It’s widely believed, though, that the Great Pyramid was a tomb built for King Cheops (also known as Khufu), who died in C.2566BC. There are three chambers within the Pyramid, one known as the ‘Queen’s Chamber’ which lies high up, the Grand Gallery and the King’s chamber, where the sarcophagus was laid.

The greatest mystery surrounding the Great Pyramid of Giza is where the incredible amount of treasure King Khufu almost certainly would have been buried with, his body and the lid of his sarcophagus went, and how. As far as archaeologists have found, there were no exits made by robbers (many pyramids were robbed at this time) as the slaves who built the structure left granite plugs to block off the chamber entrances.

People:

It was Abdullah Al Manum, an Arab leader of the Muslim state, and his team that first explored the Great Pyramid of Giza in just c.820AD. They discovered the Queen’s Chamber, the King’s Chamber and the Grand Gallery but after finding the King’s chamber empty, they stripped it of its limestone casing for their own buildings in Cairo; an act that was thought to have been carried out in revenge.

The ancient Greek historian Herodotus also documented many details about the pyramid, although modern day historians maintain that much of what Herodotus wrote was sensationalist and exaggerated. Nineteenth century astronomer Richard Proctor held an opposing view of the pyramid to Herodotus and many archaeologists after him. Proctor analyzed the pyramid and explained the chambers and positioning of the structure would have allowed great views of the paths of many stars; he believed it was used as an observatory.

Where it is Today:

The Great Pyramid of Giza is – astoundingly, considering it was built thousands of years ago – the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World that still stands today. It remains a very popular tourist attraction in Egypt and it’s easy for anyone to visit, if they fly to Cairo airport.

Tourists can take a day trip to the pyramid, or antiquity tours of temples and ruins near the pyramid, along the River Nile that last anywhere from 4 days to a fortnight. If you do decide to visit the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt then it’s a good idea to investigate tours that allow time to go inside, as there is a limit to 150 people at any one time and this is an experience not to be missed. Tourists must also buy their tickets to go inside the pyramid themselves, and considering the office opens at 8.30am they should always arrive early.

Our Knowledge:

We can find out a great deal about this pyramid and the smaller ones that surround it simply by visiting and taking one of the many guided tours that are available to visitors. However, if you don’t want to spend such a large amount of money on a holiday in Egypt then there are various museums around the world with displays dedicated to the Great Pyramid of Giza and its rich history. One such example is in Room 64: Early Egypt, of the British Museum in London, England, where one of its original Fourth Dynasty limestone blocks is kept.

Much of our knowledge of the Great Pyramid of Giza comes from ancient documentation made by historians such as Herodotus. However, because his documentations are thought to have been greatly exaggerated, much of what we know is an approximation made by modern day archaeologists, scientists and historians.

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Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Babylon (Iraq), 600BC

Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Babylon (Iraq), 600BC

Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Babylon (Iraq)

November 82009

Overview:

In ancient Babylon (known as Iraq today, not far from the city of Baghdad) the King Nebuchadnezzar had a dilemma on his hands. He had married Amyitis, who was the daughter of the King of Medes, in order to bring both of their nations together. Yet Amyitis was homesick for the fertile soils of her homeland and Babylon was very hot, dry and desert-like. To cheer her up, Nebuchadnezzar commissioned the construction of an array of ‘hanging’ gardens, on terraces within the city’s walls.

Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Babylon (Iraq)

Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Babylon (Iraq)

Although they are called the ‘hanging gardens’ the plants and trees imported from Medes were much more likely to have overhung the terraces and grown up from them instead. Because these terraces reached up on the sides of mountains, walking alongside them may have given the illusion that they were hanging above the citizen’s heads. Great measures were taken to insure the trees and plants remained well-watered and a team of employees were there at all times to transport water from the river Euphrates on to the top terrace of the gardens, so that the water then trickled down to the lower levels.

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon is perhaps the least well documented of all the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, perhaps because it is one of the oldest, although the Great Pyramid of Giza came well before. One thing we can be sure of, is that the Hanging Gardens only survived for around 100 years until they were destroyed by war.

People:

Robert Koldewey, a nineteenth century German archaeologist was the man who found the outer walls of the city of Babylon and even excavated where the cellar of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon may have been. He also found a room with holes large enough to contain the chain pumps that would have irrigated the plants and trees in the gardens, although many other archaeologists argue that this room is too far away from the river Euphrates to have been able to function adequately.

Although we cannot be sure of who the actual inventor was, where they were from or what their name was, we should give credit to the person or team of inventors who discovered the chain pump. Without this design, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon would have most likely dried out and died, leaving Queen Amyitis living in a city still very far removed from the climate she was so desperately pining for at home.

Where it is Today:

The walls of the city of Babylon were destroyed just one century after the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were constructed, and with the gardens being the most delicate structure of all, the plants, trees and grasses died. The foundations for the gardens survived until the 2nd century BC, when they were rendered dysfunctional by a series of severe earthquakes.

As a result this means that the site where the gardens once hung can be visited, in the current city of Al Hillah, Iraq. However, there are very few remains of where the gardens actually were and there is a lot of controversy between archaeologists as to where the gardens actually lay. Unlike many of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, unfortunately we cannot visit excavated remains kept in museums either.

Our Knowledge:

It was fifth century BC historian Herodotus who documented much of what he saw of the gardens at Babylon, although it’s widely believed that he exaggerated some parts. The basic structure for the hanging gardens were, however, still around in the first century BC when historian Strabo was alive to comment on them and as a result gave modern day archaeologists and historians a way to reconstruct what they may have looked like and how they may have worked. Diodorus Siculus also documented details of the hanging gardens, stating that they were made with stone slabs with tile, asphalt and reed covering them.

Nobody can be one hundred percent sure of where the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were originally constructed, but it is possible to visit the approximate site and the cellar of the gardens today.

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Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, Turkey, 550BC

Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, Turkey, 550BC

Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, Turkey

November 82009

Overview:

In ancient Greece the Goddess of fertility Artemis (also known as Diana) was, quite simply, a big deal. The citizens of Ephesus – a city in Anatolia – worshiped her deeply and at around c.800BC the very first Temple of Artemis was built. Over the next three centuries the Temple of Artemis was destroyed up to seven times and rebuilt again. The first Temple to be hailed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was one of the later ones, built in 550BC and paid for by King Croesus of Lydia who had invaded and conquered Ephesus.

Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, Turkey

Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, Turkey

Fourth century BC architect, Philon, said: “I have seen the walls and Hanging Gardens of ancient Babylon, the statue of Olympian Zeus, the Colossus of Rhodes, the mighty work of the high Pyramids and the tomb of Mausolus. But when I saw the temple at Ephesus rising to the clouds, all these other wonders were put in the shade”. The Temple consisted of over 100 columns which were needed to support the immense roof and a rectangular foundation that measured 150 feet in width and 300 feet in length. It was used primarily as a place to worship the Goddess Artemis, but also as a marketplace.

While at one point Ephesus was a busy shipping port and trade center, it began to struggle financially and its citizens moved away from its swampy marshland to the more fertile and pleasant mountains. When explorers came to Ephesus in 1100 expecting to find a bustling, busy city, they were surprised to find a deserted land where the Temple of Artemis once stood.

People:

Despite King Croesus having so cruelly invaded Ephesus, destroyed the existing temple and taken over the city, he was the man who consequently funded the construction of the next magnificent building, one which was four times larger than its predecessors. The man who Croesus employed to design and construct the temple is thought to have been called Theodorus, although little documentation of this exists today.

On principle Herostratus should be left out of this story, but unfortunately his name is central. Herostratus was a young rebel, desperate to have his name remembered for hundreds and thousands of years to come. He burnt the Temple of Artemis that Croesus had commissioned to the ground, in an attempt to become famous. Luckily, it was rebuilt by the architect Scopas of Paros soon after and, according to Pliny the Elder, the new temple was “one that merits our genuine admiration”.

Where it is Today:

Much of the Temples of Artemis remained undiscovered until 1869 when a team of British Museum archaeologists, led by British engineer, architect and archaeologist John Turtle Wood, finally found the remains and the many foundations that were constructed there. They had been searching for many years, each time almost begging for further funding from the British Museum for the project. When it was finally found it took a further five years to excavate, during which time many remains and artifacts were taken back to the museum for display.

In its original place today stands one single column which marks the site where the temple lay. This column is not intact, however. It was made by the remnants found on site and put together to appear as one of the original columns.

Our Knowledge:

As with many of the other Seven Wonders of the Ancient World such as the Mausoleum of Maussollos in Harlicanassus, Turkey and the Colossus of Rhodes in Greece, we must thank the famous first century AD historian Pliny the Elder for what we know of the Temple of Artemis. Pliny not only documented its exact proportions, how long the temples took to build and the materials that were used but also the feelings evoked in those who looked upon each one.

Those who are interested in seeing the remains of the last Temple of Artemis can either travel to the city of Ephesus in Greece to see the singular column, or visit the ‘Ephesus Room’ which was opened in the British Museum, London when John Turtle Wood and his team had the remains shipped back to England.

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Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece, 435BC

Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece, 435BC

Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece

November 82009

Overview:

Perhaps one of the oldest traditions still alive today is the Olympic Games. Just as they do now, the games were practiced once every four years in ancient Greece, but there were was one fundamental difference; the temple of the Gods that had to be present at each event.

Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece

Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece

At around c. 470BC the number of people from around the Mediterranean who were attending the games reached a crescendo and it was decided a larger, more impressive and worthy temple was needed. The Temple of Zeus was designed and built soon after, but it was deemed too ‘empty’ and a statue of the God himself was needed. Architect Phidias was paid for the job and by 435BC the impressive Statue of Zeus sat on his golden throne within the temple. Critics often commented that the Temple of Zeus was supposed to be his home, and that it was strange his head almost touched the roof even though he was sitting. Others dismissed this view, saying his size depicts his great power and he shouldn’t be any other way.

The statue’s skin was plated with ivory, with golden hair and beard. He sat atop a golden, ebony and ivory throne which also sat in a pool of water and oil. That pool was used by Phidias and his descendants to coat and protect the statue of Zeus, as the ever-changing temperatures of Olympia meant that it may crack.

For an incredible 827 years the Statue of Zeus remained at Olympia, studied, looked at and worshiped by many. It was removed in c.392AD when a Christian came to the throne and taken to Constantinople instead.

People:

The main hero in this story is, of course, Phidias who was the architect who created the statue. He was very well revered by the Greek community for years. Unfortunately, Phidias was very close to the ruler of Athens; Pericles, who had deeply upset and angered his enemies. Unable to attack or get revenge on Pericles directly, the enemies spread rumors about Phidias, saying he had carved his and Pericles’ names into his works throughout Greece. This was something deemed unacceptable by the Greeks and Phidias was incarcerated where he died before even being convicted.

Libon if Elis is another person who should be noted within this story as he was the architect who designed and constructed the Temple that Zeus’ statue was to reside within. Although Phidias gains most of the acclaim for the Statue of Zeus, it was actually Libon who was responsible for the design.

Where it is Today:

The statue was removed from the Temple of Zeus in c.392AD when it was taken by Greeks to Constantinople in order to save it. Unfortunately some sixty years on, a fire gutted Constantinople and took the Statue of Zeus with it, leaving no remains. The Temple of Zeus itself, however, remained standing even throughout the Christian Emperor Theodosius I of Rome’s reign. Today all that remains at the site of the Temple and Statue of Zeus in Olympia is a few of the temple’s thirteen magnificent pillars, but nothing of the original statue which was deemed to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Visitors to modern day Olympia can still visit the site of the stadium where the original Olympic Games took place. This stadium has been restructured and preserved until this very day, even though it is around 2500 years old.

Our Knowledge:

Much of what we know of the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece is all thanks to the traveler Pausanius, who wrote travel guides in the mid second century. He, of course, saw the statue of Zeus in Constantinople and was able to document his appearance in quite some detail. We have also gained knowledge from ancient Greek coins, which have the image of Zeus’ statue printed on them.

Members of the public today can visit the Louvre National Museum of France to see remnants of the Temple that the statue resided in for all those 800+ years. Phidias’ workshop was also discovered by German archaeologists in 1954 and can still be visited today where it still stands just to the West of where the Temple of Zeus once stood. Although they are not still there now, the tools and materials used to construct the Statue of Zeus were excavated there.

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Overview:

In c. 377BC a man named Mausolus became ruler of Anatolia, a region in Western Asia, as he had inherited the land from his father, King Hecatomnus of Milas. Mausolus married his sister Artemisia (as was the tradition then; to keep power and wealth strictly within the family) and deemed Halicarnassus the capitol of this region, and his home.

Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus, Turkey

Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus, Turkey

During their reign as King and Queen, Mausolus and Artemisia adorned Halicarnassus with beautiful objects, sculptures, art and architecture, and they had always planned to have a beautiful tomb resurrected for them to be placed in when they died. Unfortunately Mausolus died earlier than was expected, leaving his wife distraught and determined to build the shrine they had talked about together. She asked the most prestigious and revered artists and architects of Greece to work on the tomb, considering Mausolus had been such a lover of Greek culture. The Antipater of Sidon (a historian of the era) thought the Mausoleum was so beautiful it should become one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Before Mausolus died he had conquered the Greek island of Rhodes and during the tomb’s construction the Rhodians heard of his death and set a fleet of ships to conquer Halicarnassus back in rebellion. Despite her grief, Artemisia formulated a flawless battle plan by hiding her own fleet of ships and ambushing the Rhodians once they had arrived. Her army then sailed back to Rhodes in the Rhodian ships to make the citizens think their army was returning in victory, only to find their island to be conquered once again.

People:

As with many of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, Pliny the Elder (a first century historian) is to thank for much of the fine details that we know of the Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus today. Pliny documented that even after Artemisia died the workers carried on construction of the Mausoleum, as it was a testament to their own hard work and skill as well as to the lives of their rulers.

The Briton Charles Thomas Newton was another very prominent figure within the story of the Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus, as he was the man who rediscovered the ruins of the sculptures and statues held within the Mausoleum when it fell. He made sure these remnants were rescued as well as they could have been and displayed for the world to see until this day onwards.

Where it is Today:

At present, all that stands in the place of the original Mausoleum is the foundations that it once lay upon. The tomb itself was destroyed in the 15th century by a spate of severe earthquakes and once it had fallen the individual tombs of Mausolus and Artemisia were raided by either Moslem people or a team of crusaders. Much of the high quality marble that the structure was made from was taken to reinforce the walls of Bodrum Castle, south western Turkey, when it fell.

These sections of marble can still be seen today, whereas some of the sculptures and the statues of Artemisia and Mausolus were discovered by 19th century archaeologist Charles Thomas Newton when he dug a series of tunnels and found the site of the tomb in 1857. These are now displayed in the Mausoleum exhibit room of the British Museum for all to see, some 2360 years after they were first built.

Our Knowledge:

First we should owe our thanks for the knowledge we have of the Mausoleum to Artemisia for choosing such skilled architects to build the structure. If it weren’t for their talent the tomb may have fallen much earlier than the 1400s and we would not be able to see parts of it in the British Museum and Bodrum Castle today.

Secondly we should thank Pliny the Elder, but most importantly Charles Thomas Newton who went to great lengths to find the remains of the Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus. Not only did he buy plots of land that he could only assume were home to the tomb, but he also dug a series of tunnels beneath the ground the find it. Thankfully his efforts were fruitful and his greatest achievement is still shown at the British Museum in London today.

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The Pharos of Alexandria, Egypt, c.282BC

The Pharos of Alexandria, Egypt, c.282BC

The Pharos of Alexandria, Egypt

November 82009

Overview:

The Pharos of Alexandria was a large tower, standing at around 330 feet tall, on the island of Pharos, Egypt. It was used primarily to both guide ships towards the island’s port and also to warn them of the dangerous sandbars just off the coast of Alexandria. Shortly after its construction the Pharos of Alexandria began life as a lighthouse, although exactly how the fires inside were sustained at its summit remains unconfirmed.

The Pharos of Alexandria, Egypt

The Pharos of Alexandria, Egypt

It was Ptolemy Soter, a general of the late King Alexander the Great (who also lead the Greek island of Rhodes through the wars of the succession) who made himself Ruler and ordered that the Pharos of Alexandria be built on this island, not far off the coast of Alexandria. Ptolemy Soter didn’t live long enough to see the full construction of the building, but his son, Ptolemy Philadelphos did.

Construction on the lighthouse began in c.305BC and finished in c.282BC, just 22 years after another of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Colossus of Rhodes, had been built under Ptolemy Soter’s instruction. It would appear that Ptolemy Soter had a lot of wealth to spend on these two projects being built almost at the same time, across the Mediterranean sea. However, Ptolemy gained hundreds of millions of pounds from selling the siege equipment and weaponry left at the walls of Rhodes after several failed attempts to invade it by another general of King Alexander the Great, who was known as Antigonus.

People:

Although Ptolemy Soter forbade the architect who designed the Pharos of Alexandria from taking credit for the work, he died before its construction was complete. This gave the architect, Sostratus of Cnidus the perfect opportunity to carve his name into a wall of the tower and be recognized for the incredible feat anyway.

For its time, the Pharos of Alexandria was an engineering marvel, and perhaps even more so if reports of a statue atop the tower are to be believed. Nobody can be sure, but if there was a statue then many believe it was of two people: Castor and Pollux (the twin sons of the King of the Gods; Zeus), Zeus himself or the God of the seas, Poseidon. Many people, however, do not believe there could be a statue on top of the Pharos of Alexandria as it would have been damaged and fallen when the fires were lit.

Where it is Today:

The Pharos of Alexandria stood on the coast of the island for over 1500 years, which gives testament to the great skill and prestige of Sostratus’ architectural ability. It finally fell at some point between 1303 and 1323. The ruins of the lighthouse stayed for a while but by 1480 they had been washed away by the sea. Reports tell us that two large earthquakes on the East side of the Mediterranean basin in the early 14th century caused the tower to be damaged beyond repair.

Where the remains of the Pharos of Alexandria lie today is two-fold. Some of the remnants still lie in the Mediterranean sea, right next to Qaitbey fort. Others, however, can be easily viewed by the general public in an amphitheatre in Alexandria called ‘Kom el Dikka’. Had Sostratus’ efforts been any less well thought out or any less skilful then these remains would certainly not be here today.

Our Knowledge:

We can thank the Arab explorer Ibn Battuta for visiting the island of Pharos and also Alexandria several times throughout the late 13th and early 14th centuries for the information we know today.

To this very day many people still visit the place where the Pharos of Alexandria lighthouse once stood. The tower’s strong foundations are now the proud home to the fort of Marmeluke Sultan named ‘Qaitbey’, which he ordered the construction of in the late 15th century. The fort is completely open to the public and makes a great day out for families interested in this island’s intensely rich history so this is the place to go if you want to find more details. A short trip to Alexandria to visit the theater showing the Pharos of Alexandria remains is also well worth visiting.

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Colossus of Rhodes, Greece, c.280BC
November 82009

Overview:

The death of King Alexander the Great in c. 323BC was an unexpected one which meant that no plans had been set in stone for a successor. Arguments over who should rule the Greek Empire broke out between Antigonus and the two other generals, Ptolemy and Seleucus, with whom he had previously divided Rhodes. Many attempts were made by Antigonus’ son Demetrius to invade Rhodes, but these attempts were defended and Demetrius’ army had to leave hundreds of millions of dollars worth of weaponry and siege equipment at the city’s walls. Ptolemy and the people of Rhodes sold the equipment and celebrated by using the money to build a great statue of their God, Helios (God of the Sun).

Colossus of Rhodes, Greece

Colossus of Rhodes, Greece

The statue was known as the Colossus of Rhodes and it stood well over 100 feet high, making it one of the tallest man made structures in the world. It was this height and the intense story behind it that earned the Colossus of Rhodes its title as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Construction began in c. 304BC once the materials and how it should be built had been decided upon. Sadly, just 56 years after its completion a strong earthquake hit Rhodes and cause the Colossus to break at the knees and after an Oracle to the city claimed reparation of the statue would be catastrophic, it was never to be seen standing in Rhodes again.

Of course, the Colossus of Rhodes cannot be seen today and remnants of the statue cannot be found anywhere in the world, but the story of its existence lives on.

People:

The Greek architect Chares is possibly one of the most important people in this legend as he was the man who led the project to construction and completion. He also fought for Rhodes before the sculpture was even a concept and indeed before Demetrius lost his equipment. In turn, Chares is the man who inspired Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the architect who worked on the Statue of Liberty that we know today as the ‘modern Colossus’.

Another important name for the Colossus of Rhodes was the historian Pliny, who lived hundreds of years after Colossus was built. He reported on the statue, saying that even after its destruction it would still have been a marvel and also told of its construction taking around 12 years. Without this information from Pliny (who was also known as Pliny the Elder) we would know considerably less about this wonder of the ancient world than we do today.

Where it is Today:

It wasn’t until AD654 that the ruins of the Colossus of Rhodes were removed from the place where it fell. The broken pieces were bought by a Jewish man and were transported all the way to Syria by camel. These remnants are now nowhere to be found, which is not surprising considering they would be thousands of years old by now.

What stands in place is hard to comment on, because there are conflicting views over where the Colossus of Rhodes stood in the first place. Some believe Helios’ legs straddled the breakwater at the harbor entrance, whereas others believe it was located further inland and away from the water. Either way, those who are interested in the Colossus can still visit the Greek Island of Rhodes (which is also now a World Heritage Site) and picture how it would have felt to be around when the Colossus was still there.

Our Knowledge:

As we’ve already said, we owe much of what we know about the Colossus of Rhodes to Pliny the Elder; a historian who lived centuries after the statue had fallen. Without Pliny writing this information down and having it passed on through subsequent generations, we may have lost a great deal of the important details that keep this spectacular story together.

Of course, there is also a lot of information documented on the Internet about Chares’ sculpture, but the Greek Island of Rhodes is the place to visit if you want to learn about the ancient traditions and lifestyle of that era, and also the details of the war that brought its construction about.

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