These past four months of travel have brought us in and out of the region unofficially known, at least to many Western and Middle Eastern historians, as the Cradle of Civilization; areas in which we have spent a significant portion of our semester such as the western coast of Anatolia and the Nile Valley are a part of this Cradle region that, by most reckoning, stretches from Egypt in the west to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the east and reaches as far north as Turkey and Armenia. One way to display the cultural significance of our destinations, while at the same time instilling a sense of accomplishment in all of us on the trip, is to count how many of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World we have either seen or come close to seeing.
Obviously for a modern viewer (or really anyone born after the 14th or 15th centuries), ‘seeing’ the Seven Wonders is only possible in the loosest sense – even if most survived the foibles of the humanity in the years directly after their creation, each eventually succumbed to the battering of earthquakes and fires over many centuries, the obvious exception being the Great Pyramids at Giza. Perhaps partially to console ourselves at this great loss, the modern world has compiled many lists of wonders, with varying levels of authority and in various categories. The New7Wonders Foundation has perhaps the most authoritative and universally agreed-upon list, however others exist: the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, the Seven Wonders of the Underwater World, the Seven Wonders of the Industrial World (the London sewage system made this list), and even the Seven Wonders of the Solar System – all are modeled after the original Seven.
So, how many of the original Seven Wonders have we seen this semester? In Turkey, we
saw the ruins of the Temple of Artemis – now just a few columns in a grassy, rectangular field. If we had followed the coast of the Aegean much farther south to the coastal town of Bodrum, we might have seen the other Wonder whose ruins are in Turkey: the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. But, since we didn’t, the Mausoleum will have to remain on the ‘to be seen’ list. In Egypt, we have seen the Great Pyramids at Giza (the only Wonder still standing) and, only a few days ago, the site of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, now occupied by a 15th century fortress.
Of the three Wonders that remain, two (The Statue of Zeus at Olympia and the Colossus of Rhodes) would have required us to travel to Greece, and the location of the historic Hanging Gardens of Babylon would put us an hour south of Baghdad. By the end of the trip I expect none of us will have the money to travel to Greece, and since the US State Department would probably frown on the prospect of an Iraq extension taking the place of our recently cancelled week in Israel, we’ll have to settle for three out of seven. Poor us.