Small figurines of clay, stone, wood, bronze or earthenware in the shape of mummies, often holding agricultural implements. They were placed in the graves in ancient Egypt, with the beginning of the Middle Kingdom (circa 2055-1795 BC.). They were to replace the deceased, who were called to work in the Afterlife. The ushabti were animated in a magical way, by the religious texts from the Sixth Chapter of the Book of the Dead, which covered the surface of the figurines (see: The Spell of Ushabtis: ‘Verily, I Am Here’).
Featured image:Memphis, 500 BC – Troop of funerary servant figures ushabtis in the name of Neferibreheb, Louvre-Lens. Photo by Serge Ottaviani (2013). CC BY-SA 3.0. Colours intensified. Photo source: “Ushabti“ (2020). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.
“Ushabti“ (2020). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <http://bit.ly/3bt54Js>. [Accessed on 23rd February, 2021].
PWN (2007). Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych, p. 427. Kubalska-Sulkiewicz K., Bielska-Łach M., Manteuffel-Szarota A. eds. Wydanie piąte. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.
From the late Latin tab(u)linum – a kind of gallery, terrace in the Roman house.
“[Tablinum] was a room, generally situated on one side of the atrium and opposite to the entrance; it opened in the rear onto the peristyle, with either a large window or only an anteroom or curtain” (“Tablinum” 2021). In the later Roman house, the tablinum was situated between an atrium with which it was connected, and the hortus (garden). Initially, it housed a marriage bedroom, then “the main office and reception room for the house master. [As such, tablinum] was the office in a Roman house, the father’s centre for business” (Ibid.) Over time, it was transformed into a reception room, “where [a master] would receive his clients. [At that time, its] walls were richly decorated with fresco pictures, and busts of the family were arranged on pedestals on the two sides of the room” (Ibid.).
Featured image: The tablinum of the House of Menander (Regio I), Pompeii. Photo by Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany (2014). CC BY-SA 2.0. Image cropped. Photo and caption source: “Tablinum” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.
“Tablinum” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3b8NPgk>. [Accessed on 2nd March, 2021].
PWN (2007). Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych, p. 409. Kubalska-Sulkiewicz K., Bielska-Łach M., Manteuffel-Szarota A. eds. Wydanie piąte. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.
In ceramics or ceramic tiles, sgraffito is a type of decoration received “by applying to an unfired ceramic body two successive layers of contrasting slip or glaze, and then in either case scratching so as to reveal parts of the underlying layer” (“Sgraffito” 2021). First, a drawing is cut out or scratched, usually in white engobe (slip) or the coloured one, contrasting to the colour of the body, or scratching in the body itself, which is successively covered with transparent, less often opaque glaze. This decoration was often found in Muslim ceramics. It has also been used in China. In Europe, it developed especially in Italy in the fifteenth century. But, “the Italian past participle ‘sgraffiato’, [which means scratched, scraped off or etched] is […] used especially of pottery” (Ibid.).
Sgraffito (graffito) is also one of the techniques of “wall decor produced by applying layers of plaster tinted in contrasting colours to a moistened surface” (“Sgraffito” 2021). It involves covering the wall with several, usually two layers of coloured plaster and partially scraping off the wet upper layers with sharp tools. In this way, the colour of the bottom layer is revealed in the scratched parts and a two or several-coloured composition is created, most often based on a geometric ornament. This technique was mainly used in a decoration of facades in architecture of Italian and Central European Renaissance. From the eighteenth century on, it was used quite sporadically.
Featured image: Detail of Renaissance sgraffito decor on walls of Březnice Chateau, Czech Republic. Photo by User: Miaow Miaow (2004). Public domain. Colours intensified. Photo and caption source: “Sgraffito” (2021). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia.
“Sgraffito” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3uo2Ku1>. [Accessed on 5th May, 2021].
“Sgraffito” (2021). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3egWK0C>. [Accessed on 5th May, 2021].
PWN (2007). Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych, p. 378. Kubalska-Sulkiewicz K., Bielska-Łach M., Manteuffel-Szarota A. eds. Wydanie piąte. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.
Austin W. (Date unknown) The Mystery of the Tring Tiles. Available at <https://bit.ly/3iEdbol>. [Accessed 23rd January, 2021].
Part of the building that limits it from the top and protects it against atmospheric conditions. It directly protects the ceilings or vaults of the highest storey, or is a direct covering of the interior. Thanks to its artistic values, such as the spatial value and colour, it largely shapes the entire body of the building.
The roof consists of a load-bearing structure and a covering (sheathing, roofing). The supporting structure in steep roofs consists of wooden carpentry trusses, i.e. a timber roof truss, steel and prefabricated, reinforced concrete trusses. In slightly sloping and horizontal roofs, the supporting structure consists of beams, trusses and plates. In the roofs with curved surfaces, the supporting structure was formerly a timber roof truss, and now reinforced concrete shells. Roofing is covered with tiles, shingles, slate, sheet metal, tar paper, straw, reed etc.
The upper surfaces of the roofing are called roof slopes, and the place of intersection of slopes – corners when they form an acute angle. On the other hand, when an obtuse angle is created, the places of intersection of the slopes are called roof valleys. The vertical plane limiting the roof slopes to the side is called the gable. The lower edge of the slope protruding beyond the face of the wall is called the eaves, and the upper edge, which is the line of intersection of the two slopes, parallel to the eaves, is called the ridge (peak, gable line).
The eaves can rest on corbels, the ends of the beams, etc. Under the eaves, horizontal gutters and special funnels connected with vertical gutters to the sewage network are attached to drain the rainwater.
The attic is the space between the highest ceiling or vault of the building and the covering, filling the zone of the roof truss. The attic can be extended for residential purposes. The slope of the roof slopes depends on the climatic conditions and the type of covering.
Depending on the angle of inclination (slope) and shape, it is possible to distinguish the following roofs:
Flat (terraced-type) roofs, usually devoid of roof truss.
Sloped roofs (high, steep) with a clear slope. The sloping roof can be single-slope roof (mono-pitched, pent), gable roof (two-slope, saddleback) or multi-pitched (multi-slope).
The variants of gable and hipped roofs are: a half-hipped roof, which has got a gable with pediments, that is to say, small triangular slopes cutting the gables from the top. By these means, the gable is replaced here at the top and bottom of the roof by roof slopes, as in the case of the Black Forest house (German: Schwarzwaldhaus). There is also a gablet roof or dutch gable roof, hipped with half-gables or abutments. “A hybrid of hipped and gable with the gable (wall) at the top and hipped lower down. […] Overhanging eaves forming shelter around the building are a consequence where the gable wall is in line with the other walls of the buildings; i.e., unless the upper gable is recessed” (“List of roof shapes” 2021). Its variety is the roof of Podhale (in southern Poland).
Curved roofs with curved or warped surfaces. A special variation is the flat roof with concave slopes, reducing its slope downwards.
Helm is a steep tower roof in the form of a pyramid, cone, also with curved slopes, or in the shape of a dome.
Onion roof resembles an onion and is especially found in southern Germany, Austria and Russia.
Bulbous cupola had originated from the onion roof, but it is concave in the lower part; often it is the basis of a multi-storey helmet. In the Baroque style, the roof is topped with a lantern.
Gabled steeple is a multi-slope roof, in a quadrilateral or polygonal projection,resembling the form of an accordion.
Rhomboidal roof consists of a diamond-shaped slopes.
Transverse roofs covering a church are distinguished by the coverage of the side aisles with a row of gable roofs parallel to each other, transverse to the longitudinal axis of the church.
Raised roofs are typical of the type B of the so called stave churches in Norway (see Hopperstad Stavekirke: Under the Surveillance of Wooden Dragons). “On the stone foundation, four huge ground beams (…) are placed. (…) The ends of these beams support the sills of the outer walls, forming a separate horizontal frame. The tall internal posts are placed on the internal frame of ground beams, and carry the main roof above the central nave (…). On the outer frame of sills rest the main wall planks (…), carrying the roof over the pentice or aisles (…) surrounding the central space” (“Stave church” 2021). The two roofs are made of roof shingles and, by the way of being constructed, they slope down in two steps, as in a basilica, giving a beautiful effect of a single overhung, usually multi-tiered and cascading roof.
Tiered roof, a type having a series of overlapping rows or levels placed one above the other. It occurs, for instance, in raised roofs of stave churches (Norway) or in prasats (Thai architecture).
Clerestory roofs, typical of a basilica type of churches and cathedrals. A clerestory covers a high section of the church, which wall contains windows above eye level. Its purpose is to admit light into the main nave of the church, situated between two lower and separately roofed aisles.
Shell roof (contemporary times) covers a spherical structure supported on its four corners.
Suspended roof (contemporary times) the weight of which rests on oval supports and allows large areas to be covered without internal supports.
A curved roof, including a tower roof (cupola), a spire, a conical roof, a spherical, domed (cupola), and an onion-shaped roof always have one gable point. A decorative round or polygonal canopy, placed on a tower or a spire in those types of roofs is called a cap.
Mansard roofs are roofs with two storeys of slopes separated from each other by a break, a step, a cornice or a wall. The roof was named after the French architect J. H. Mansart (1648-1708), whose design makes it possible to place residential rooms with sloping walls (mansards) in the attic. This type of roof also includes the Polish mansard roof, and its variant, the roof of Cracow (Poland).
Shed roofs consist of several asymmetrical gable roofs arranged one after the other in such a way that the cross-section of the roof creates a toothed line. Usually, less steep roofs form a cover in a saw-tooth roof, while windows are placed in steeper slopes, which allows good lighting of workshop rooms.
Tented or pavilion roofs (hipped; in the form of a pyramid) have several triangular slopes, depending on the projection of the covered building (quadrangular, rectangular, polygonal), descending overhead at one gable point. For example, in a square projection, the four roof slopes meet at one gable point.
Pitched roofs (concave, recessed) have slopes with a slope towards the center of the building, forming a trough or a basin, with adequate water drainage, often covered with an attic. In contemporary architecture, there is a return to curved roofing, based on new construction solutions.
Surfaces and solids of the roof can be enriched with a decorative roofing system, openings, mansards, dormers, skylights, chimneys, and with special decorations: pinnacles, combs, laces and balustrades.
Featured image: Zakopane (Poland), a house with a half-gable roof. The roof is characteristic of the architecture of Podhale, hence it is also called the Zakopane or Podhale roof. Photo by Januszk57 (2012). CC BY-SA 3.0 pl. Photo source: “Dach półszczytowy” (2021). Wikipedia. Wolna encyklopedia.
“Dach półszczytowy” (2021). In: Wikipedia. Wolna encyklopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3tgL7MF>. [Accessed 1st February, 2021].
“Black Forest house” (2020). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/2NXEqyX>. [Accessed 1st February, 2021].
“Dach krakowski” (2020). In: Wikipedia. Wolna encyklopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3tpk7L9>. [Accessed 1st February, 2021].
“Dach pilasty” (2021). In: Wikipedia. Wolna encyklopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3ahe5mI>. [Accessed 1st February, 2021].
“List of roof shapes” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3tiNWgg>. [Accessed 1st February, 2021].
“Roof” (2021).In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/36x2LSn>. [Accessed 2nd February, 2021].
“Stave church” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3reLRQr>. [Accessed 1st February, 2021].
Koch W. (2009) Style w architekturze. Arcydzieła budownictwa europejskiego od antyku po czasy współczesne. [Baustilkunde], pp. 244, 281, 436, 680. Baraniewski W., Kunkel R., Omilanowska M., Sito J., Zięba A., Żak K. trans. Warszawa: Świat Książki.
PWN (2007). Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych, pp. 81-82. Kubalska-Sulkiewicz K., Bielska-Łach M., Manteuffel-Szarota A. eds. Wydanie piąte. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.
It “is a specific type of the lin mythological family of one-horned beasts”, resembling a unicorn. It looks like a “hooved chimerical creature [mostly represented] in Chinese and other East Asian cultures”. It “is said to appear with the imminent arrival or passing of a sage or illustrious ruler”. The qilin has thus symbolized good and wise governance of a country.
The earliest records with references to the qilin date back to the fifth century BC. The Chinese emperor Wu of Han (157-87 BC.) is believed to have captured a live qilin in 122 BC. Yet the contemporary historian, Sima Qian (ca. 145 – 86 BC.) expressed his skepticism concerning that account. Since then, the qilin has appeared “in a variety of subsequent Chinese works of history, [art] and fiction.
They have been described and depicted in art in various hybrid forms but always with a pair of horns or a horn, the single one or double. Most often, the quilin resemble Chinese dragons with an elongated body and with antlers. Yet, they may also look like a horned bull or a horse. Since the times of the Ming Dynasty (the fourteenth – the seventeenth centuries AD.), the quilin’s body became much more massive than before. It was often covered in fish or reptile scales, and was built of the components of a dragon, fish, and ox, with the pair of horns on top of its maned head.
Featured image: Plate with a qilin in the center, Yuan dynasty (1271 to 1368 AD.). Photo by Rijksmuseum (not provided). CC0. Colours intensified. Photo source: “Qilin” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.
“Qilin” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3bwTqMf>. [Accessed 23rd February, 2021].
PWN (2007). Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych, p. 340. Kubalska-Sulkiewicz K., Bielska-Łach M., Manteuffel-Szarota A. eds. Wydanie piąte. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.
An architectural ornamental element, specifically found in Classical, Neoclassical and Baroque architecture, where it is called frontispiece, where it is richly filled with sculpture. In the construction of roofs, it takes the shape of the half-hipped roof (see:). The pediments usually consists of triangular gable (a portion of a wall between the edges of intersecting roof pitches). Nevertheless, it can equally be segmental, broken, shaped, or scrolled (in the form of a volute), or it can constitute a cantilever above a window or door.
Featured image: Two windows with pediments of the house with number 10 on the General Eremia Grigorescu in Bucharest (Romania). Photo by Beautiful Buildings Pics (2019). CC BY-SA 4.0. Image cropped; colours intensified. Photo source: “Pediment” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.
“Pediment” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3bgG2eT>. [Accessed 17th February, 2021].
Koch W. (2009) Style w architekturze. Arcydzieła budownictwa europejskiego od antyku po czasy współczesne. [Baustilkunde], pp. 436, 460, 484-485, 496, 498. Baraniewski W., Kunkel R., Omilanowska M., Sito J., Zięba A., Żak K. trans. Warszawa: Świat Książki.
PWN (2007). Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych, pp. 81, 125, 272. Kubalska-Sulkiewicz K., Bielska-Łach M., Manteuffel-Szarota A. eds. Wydanie piąte. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.
From Greek obeliskos: spit, nail, pointed pillar; from Latin obeliscus.
Tall and usually four-sided, narrow stone pillar tapering upwards, truncated at the top, with a pyramid-like shape or pyramidion in the form of an elongated pyramid. Monumental and monolithic obelisks were made of a single stone. They are characteristic of ancient Egyptian architecture, where they “[originally] were called tekhenu. […] The Greeks who saw them [in Egypt] used the Greek term obeliskos to describe them, and this word passed into Latin and ultimately [into] English [and other modern languages]” (“Obelisk” 2021).
In modern European art, obelisks were adopted as one of the forms of commemorative monuments, and in smaller proportions as a decorative element in architecture, including the form of pinnacles, sculpture and artistic craftsmanship. The obelisk has also been popularized especially in the romantic gardens as a form of monument commemorating outstanding people and events. “Most modern obelisks are made of several stones” (“Obelisk” 2021).
The ‘Seven Wonders of the Ancient World’ is the collective concept and canon of knowledge, widely known to the ancient European (Klein 1998:136). The entry into the canon was determined not only by the majesty and uniqueness of a given building, but also by its historical significance and, above all, the myth related to these wonders (Ibid.:136). The latter has always revived ancient monuments and their creators in wandering human minds trying to fully embrace their mystery with a triggered imagination. Such feelings must have accompanied ancient travellers while they were setting off in the unknown to visit the outstanding monuments, many of which had already been said archaic in those times. Even today, when one is faced with the fate of the seven ancient wonders, they unconsciously study the history of the real world from those ages, where such monuments were a real symbol of human striving for perfection and beauty, and of a growing desire to discover and travel far, beyond one’s limits and knowledge (Ibid.:136). But visitors of the ancient wonders had already been guided.
Eternal ancient wonder in Egypt
I was in Egypt on the Plateau of Giza, surrounded by over two millions of squared multi-ton blocks of stone, piling up into three massive pyramids. While standing at the foot of the Pyramid of Khufu, I was looking up at its cone shining in the background of the clouded sky. After a while, I decided to follow some visitors in their way up along the pyramid’s northern wall.
When I approached its base at the north side, the pyramid’s stones enormously grew in my eyes, which is quite logical when one observes something from close but at the same it was still surprising how large they really turned out to be, especially for someone who had just looked at illustrations of the pyramids depicted from the distance. Simultaneously, I noticed at the bottom of the pyramid a fragment of a flat and white row of stones which were said to be the remains of the outer casing of the pyramid (Grimault, Pooyard 2012). It was not, however, placed there originally, as if its trajectories are stretched up it would hit the opposite blocks just above it (Ibid.).
Presumably, the fragment of the imitated casing was there just to show how it may have looked like in the past, yet it does not give any valuable insight into an actual construction of the pyramid (Grimault, Pooyard 2012). When I got used to my first impressions, I started climbing up the pyramid, stretching my arms forwards and lifting my legs up to reach the edge of another block above, using each like a successive step of the stairs on my way up the building. Every block reaches at least to my hips, and some even up to my arms, so climbing up the pyramid definitely involves some physical fitness and strength. Soon my sister joined me and we were both found ourselves just under the original entrance to the pyramid, flanked by angled stones forming a pointed arch above it.
“Man fears time, but time fears the pyramids”
The Great Pyramid, as the Pyramid of Khufu is usually called, has captivated human imagination throughout centuries. Various studies evidently show that there are as many presumptions as false facts about the history and construction of the pyramid (Grimault, Pooyard 2012). As a result, it has remained an everlasting mystery (Ibid.). Actually, it was already so in the times of Herodotus (the fifth century BC.), who, together with other contemporary and later authors unanimously identified it and the two other pyramids of Giza as one of the architectural wonders of the ancient world (see: Zamarovsky 1990:13-64; Klein 1998:141-146).
It may have been either due to their massiveness, majesty, age or mystery, or all these aspects together were taken into account, deciding about their high status throughout human history (Zamarovsky 1990:13). The pyramids are also the only wonder of the ancient world that has ever survived and is still enjoyed by the modern world. As such these three pyramids in Egypt seem to be eternal, which is highlighted by the old and broadly known Arab proverb “Man fears time, but time fears the pyramids.”
As many wonders as their lists
Since the discovery of the pyramids in Egypt by the Hellenized world, much progress had already been made in history by construction of brand-new in comparison to the pyramids but spectacular buildings that arouse such admiration among people to which only natural wonders inspire (Starożytne Cywilizacje 2007:2). There were many authors of the lists of wonders, enumerating these human achievements, and their selection was measured, as it seems, by certain criteria (Ibid.:2).
At some point in history, there were huge discrepancies in various records of the Seven Wonders, which were prepared by independent ancient authors. And although the enumerated wonders were always compiled in the number of seven, each list slightly differed depending on its author. After an archaeologist from the University of Trier (Germany), Michael Pfrommer, If one would sum them all up, they could find ten, if not eleven, or even a dozen ancient wonders described by all the ancients writing on the subject (Klein 1998:137). On the other side, the fact that the successive wonders are listed by various authors in a different order is quite irrelevant as they are all treated on the same scale; It is not a ranking (Zamarovsky 1990:8).
Modern list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World
The modern canon of the ancient wonders, known today as the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World is provided by numerous contemporary lexicons and the Internet (Zamarovsky 1990:7). It includes works which, due to their technical or artistic qualities, were admired by the ancients (Ibid.:7). These are: the Great Pyramid of Giza, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, Colossus of Rhodes (see: Island of the Sun in Favour of Gods), and the Lighthouse of Alexandria (Ibid.:7).
Although at first the Seven Wonders of the World, including the pyramids and the hanging gardens of Babylon, were considered must-see attractions on ancient travel routes, they were later considered the greatest structures ever built by man (Starożytne Cywilizacje 2007:1). What was so special about them that they were clearly distinguished by the ancients? Philo of Byzantium answers that question:
For these wonders are the only things which diminish the worth and reputation of other distinguished sights, for, truly, ordinary men may see them in the same way as other sights, but they do not marvel at other sights in the same way. For beauty, like the sun, dazzles by its own brilliance and does not allow one to see the others.
Philo of Byzantium, “On the Seven Wonders of the World”. A free translation by Jean Blackwood of the text of De Septem Orbis Spectaculis as it appears in Aelianus Praenestinus, compiled by Rudolf Hercher and published in 1858. In: Rogers Pearse. Thoughts on Antiquity, Patristics, Information Access and More.
Though tarnished by time, the Pyramids of Giza have fortunately survived to our times. But what about those wonders that have already gone? Michael Pfrommer says that ancient travellers describing the wonders were surely convinced of the durability of these places and monuments (Klein 1998:137). Often, however, of the architectural wonders people consider to be eternal, there is absolutely nothing left behind after all (Ibid.:137). Or at least very little. The garden on the terraces of Babylon and two statues, one of Zeus made of chryselephantine and the other of Helios made of bronze, have disappeared forever. Of the burial site of Mausolus of Caria, the mighty temple of Artemis in Ephesus and the Lighthouse of Pharos, there are left only few remains, of which some are scattered in museums around the world.
The real authorship of the list
Little is known today about an ancient Greek poet, named Antipater of Sidon, who lived in the second half of the second century BC. (Klein 1998:147). His character unfortunately disappears now in the fog of history (Ibid.:147). Still it is believed that it was him who compiled the first completely preserved list of wonders of the ancient world in the second century BC. and perhaps he had seen them all himself during his long and distant journeys (Ibid.:147). It was a list of architectural wonders that would surely have been labelled today as ‘must see monuments’, and therefore his work can be regarded as the first travel guidebook for contemporary adventurers and travellers.
Initially, the creation of the list was mistakenly attributed to a certain Philo of Byzantium, a mathematician who probably lived in the second century BC. and was wrongly said to have been the author of a treatise titled On the Seven Wonders of the World (Klein 1998:147; Zamarovsky 1990:7). Such information was first disseminated by the first modern translator of the book by Philo of Byzantium, a French D.S. Boessius, who in 1640 discovered the Greek original in the Vatican Library and translated it into Latin as De septem mundi miraculis (Zamarovsky 1990:7-8). Such mistakes once in writing are often copied in the literature, and the wrong information about the authorship had been then unintentionally replicated and so circulated from one work to another (Ibid.:7-8).
The matter was clarified only by a Swiss classical scholar, Johann Caspar von Orelli, who published Philo’s book in print for the first time in 1816 and it finally turned out that there were actually two different ‘Philos’, who had initially been confused (Klein 1998:147; Zamarovsky 1990:7-8). The real author of the work is also Philo of Byzantium but he lived much later than his namesake, probably in the third or fourth century AD. (Zamarovsky 1990:7-8). The records of him are fragmented almost as much as those of the ancient Philo (Ibid.:7). It is only known for certain that Philo from our era is an actual author of the book On the Seven Wonders of the World (Klein 1998:147; Zamarovsky 1990:7-8). Additionally, from this work one can also learn that he had not seen a single monument of the architectural wonders he described in his work (Zamarovsky 1990:7-8). So he depicted them just with the eyes of his imagination, inspired only by what he knew from second-hand accounts (Ibid.:7-8). To justify such practice, it can be added that many current authors, including myself, do the same today, when it Is not possible to take a trip and see a given site personally (Ibid.:8). Sometimes, it is an education that relieves some authors of the necessity of traveling, and things worthy of their attention they learn just from books without even leaving home (Ibid.:8).
In any case, Antipater of Sidon has regained his right to be named the first author of the list of the Seven Wonders of the World that he described in a poem written about 140 BC. (Starożytne Cywilizacje 2007:3; Klein 1998:147-150; “Antipater of Sidon” 2021). Accordingly, his name is now placed just along with Philo of Byzantium, Strabo, Herodotus and Diodoros of Sicily, who were all involved in writing on the subject (“Antipater of Sidon” 2021).
Travel fever in ancient times
Today there is a common view that real travellers no longer exist and a noble phenomenon of traveling has already been replaced by the less noble term of mass tourism (Lachowicz 2015). As a result, white spots on the travel map of the world are slowly disappearing, being replaced by tourist folders to distant, so far inaccessible places on the planet (Ibid.). The epoch of pioneering unknown routes and travelling over hidden treasures has unfortunately ended with the last dare-devil explorers at the turn of the twentieth century. Yet, I believe that a human desire for an adventure is still alive in the hearts of curious modern travellers and there is somewhere not a single wonder still waiting for its discoverer.
Simultaneously, I can imagine all these ancient visitors coming to see the seven wonders, directed just by guidelines of contemporary authors, who had visited the sites first. Surely, a journey along the track of the seven wonders must have taken many years or even a lifetime to be accomplished, providing that one was taking a journey with intention to see all the monuments on the list. Alternatively, ancient travellers could have chosen their desired destinations at random, according to their own bucket list, as it is practised today. I can bet that many modern travellers, if they only had a chance to live in those times, would have travelled long distances to visit the wonders at their height. Nowadays, there are, after all, lots of people who are addicted to travelling and they are only fully alive on the way, even at their personal cost. On the other side, although such an ancient journey made one’s dreams come true, it must simultaneously have been a real challenge to contemporary travellers.
Everyone knows of the renowned Seven Wonders of the World, but few have set eyes on them, for, in order to do so you have to arrange a long journey to the land of the Persians on the far side of the Euphrates; you have to visit Egypt; you must then change direction and go to Elis in Greece. Then you must see Halikarnassos, a city-state in Caria, and Ephesos in Ionia, and you have to sail to Rhodes, so that, being exhausted by lengthy wanderings over the Earth’s surface, and growing tired from the effort of these journeys, you finally fulfil your heart’s desire only when life is ebbing away, leaving you weak through the weight of years.
Philo of Byzantium, “On the Seven Wonders of the World“. A free translation by Jean Blackwood of the text of De Septem Orbis Spectaculis as it appears in Aelianus Praenestinus, compiled by Rudolf Hercher and published in 1858. In: Rogers Pearse. Thoughts on Antiquity, Patristics, Information Access and More.
An outstanding ancient travel journalist, Antipater of Sidon must also have possessed quite a bit of courage and endurance to visit all the wonders he later described (Klein 1998:147). Certainly, in antiquity there were people such as the author, who were ready to endure the hardships of dangerous journeys, especially in the period after the conquests of Alexander the Great, when the world known at that time expanded considerably in the fourth century BC., including the lands of Babylon, Persia and Egypt (Klein 1998:147; Starożytne Cywilizacje 2007:1).
Those ancient travellers took risks that modern tourists have not even dreamed of (Klein 1998:147). To imagine any struggles they may have encountered on their way, it is enough to read various descriptions of a number of journeys done by mythological heroes, such as Hercules, Theseus or Odysseus, who on their way met hosts of various monsters, robbers, giants, including cyclops, or mermaids, and their journey lasted for years, additionally experienced by the violent vagaries of nature and the whims of the gods deciding about travellers’ fate (Ibid.:147,149). All these stories testified to the dangers that the ancient traveller had to reckon with (Ibid.:147,149). How mysterious and dangerous but, at the same time, fascinating the world must have been for them (Ibid.:147,149). For some, travel meant fullness of life, but also death (Ibid.:147). Nevertheless, the ancient traveller, though exposed to many dangers, trusted in both, their lucky star and the smile of gods (Ibid.:147,149). They were also able to be delighted with what they had seen, as can be noticed in the verses recorded by Antipater of Sidon, returning from his expedition (Ibid.:147,149).
I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the Colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, ‘Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand.
Antipater, “Greek Anthology IX. 58“. In: “Antipater of Sidon” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia.
The walls of Babylon instead of the Lighthouse of Pharos
It is noteworthy that Antipater mentions the walls of Babylon in his work, an object that does not appear in later lists (Klein 1998:149). And he omits the Pharos Lighthouse (Ibid.:149). This may be a decisive clue saying that Antipater used a prototype for his own work as the Lighthouse had already been there when the author lived, that is to say in the second century BC. (Ibid.:149-150). Babylon’s walls made of fired bricks were on everyone’s lips in the fourth and third centuries BC, while the Pharos Lighthouse had not been built until around 280 BC. (Ibid.:149-150). On the other hand, the original list cannot be much older than the Alexandrian Tower, since the author mentions the Colossus of Rhodes (Ibid.:150). This statue was built less than twelve years before the Lighthouse was built (Ibid.:150). Thus, the date of the creation of the oldest list of wonders of the world can be placed between 292 and 280 BC. (Ibid.:150).
Accordingly, some scholars claim that in the third century BC., a Greek scholar of the Great Library of Alexandria, Callimachus of the Cyrene, Libya, was probably the first to have compiled the very first list of marvellous buildings (Starożytne Cywilizacje 2007:3). Presumably, he placed on it the greatest achievements of contemporary Greece, taking into account their size, materials used, technical solutions and innovation of their creators (Ibid.:3). His list, however, has not survived to our times (Ibid.:3).
As it is seen, while searching for any historical traces of the first description of the ancient wonders, one comes across many complex issues, in which they move like in a maze of assumptions and questions (Klein 1998:150). Generally, taking into account the above, Antipater of Sidon, who was born a hundred years later than the estimated above dates, may have used an earlier source, treating it as a travel guidebook in his journey and at the same time the source of his own work (Klein 1998:150; Starożytne Cywilizacje 2007:3). Is it possible that Antipater had access to Callimachus’ work, and so compiled his list a century later? (Klein 1998:150; Starożytne Cywilizacje 2007:3). Or maybe his trip, which he described, took place only in his imagination …? (Klein 1998:150; Starożytne Cywilizacje). Or for the author, the walls of Babylon he had visited deserved more attention and privilege to be called one of the wonders than the Lighthouse itself; accordingly, the latter did not appear on his list, which was created in the second century BC.
The truth, however, remains unknown.
Different roads guided by different writers
Like Antipater of Sidon, Philo of Byzantium lists other wonders of the world than those given in today’s lexicons (Zamarovsky 1990:8). He clearly does not consider the Lighthouse from Pharos as a wonder of the world and, like Antipater, grants this dignity to the walls of Babylon (Ibid.:8). There is also no description of the Mausoleum in Halicarnassus in his work, as this chapter has been lost along with a part of the description of the temple of Artemis (Ibid.:8). What is more, after J.C. Orelli, Philo of Byzantium describes the wonders in a more subjective way, ascribing them more glory and splendour than they really deserve (Ibid.:8). Therefore, in order to obtain a faithful description of these timeless works, one should turn for help to Herodotus, Strabo, Diodorus, Pliny the Elder, Pausanias and many other ancient authors and, equally, to modern archaeology (Ibid.:8).
Father of History
Herodotus (the fifth century BC.), called by Ciceron the “Father of History”, was a native but Hellenized Carian, born in Halicarnassus (modern Turkey) (Zamarovsky 1990:8). He has travelled a huge part of the world, even for our measure, and everywhere he did what the Greeks called ‘theory’, that is to say in modern language, conducting research (Ibid.:8). Accordingly, he got to know countries, cities and people, and wrote down everything he learned about their past (Ibid.:8). The work Histories of Herodotus to this day is a valuable historical resource about peoples such as the Lydians, Medes, Persians, the ancestors of the Greeks, the Scythians, and even the Slavs, and about lost countries, such as Babylon, Little Asiatic Greece, regions of India and Arabia, and, of course, ancient Egypt (Ibid.:8).
Herodotus adds to the list of wonders and describes in detail also the Tower of Babel (the ziggurat of Etemenanki in ancient Babylon and not necessarily the Biblical Tower of Babel), the bridge over the Euphrates River again in Babylon and the legendary Egyptian labyrinth (Zamarovsky 1990:8). All these wonders either are in ruins, vanished or, like the latter, has never been found (though academic Egyptologists claim that the labyrinth has already been uncovered and it has turned out to be much less miraculous than it is described by the ancient historian).
Simultaneously, Herodotus also delightedly described three other buildings, all of the located on the island of Samos, treating them as ancient marvels of architecture (Starożytne Cywilizacje 2007:3). These were the water-pipe tunnel, port breakwater and a temple in honour of Hera (Ibid.:3).
The book, Travels with Herodotus (2004) by Ryszard Kapuściński (1932-2007), a Polish journalist, photographer, poet and author shows how Herodotus’ records have also stimulated an imagination and creativity of modern authors (“Ryszard Kausciński” 2021). Kapuściński was the Communist-era Polish Press Agency’s correspondent and in the aforementioned book the author compares his travels through Asia and Africa with the adventures of the ancient historian, Herodotus, where he conducts deliberations and often recounts amusing or interesting anecdotes from his escapades, enriched by those from the Historiesof Herodotus (“Ryszard Kausciński” 2021; lubimyczytać.pl 2021).
Personally, I often refer to the quotes from this book, especially those about the nature of man in relation to travel and the passion for discovering the world, or the the phenomenon of travelling itself:
After all, the journey does not start when we hit the road and it does not end when we reach the finish line. In fact, it starts much earlier and practically never ends, because the tape of memory keeps spinning inside us, even though we haven’t physically moved for a long time. Actually, there is such a thing as an infection by travel, and it is a kind of disease that is essentially incurable.
Ryszard Kapuściński, Travels with Herodotus, 2004.
And there is another interesting quote that seems particularly true in relation to travelles being continuously pushed into the unknown by their own personal passion and curiosity of the wold, in comparison to people to whom such feelings are completely alien:
The average person is not particularly curious about the world. Well, they are alive, they have to face this fact somehow and the less effort it costs them, the better. But learning about the world involves effort, and that is a great deal of effort that consumes men.
Ryszard Kapuściński, Travels with Herodotus, 2004.
I believe that explorers of the world must have made such an effort, from ancient times to the present day.
Father of Geography
Strabo (the first century BC.), called in turn the “Father of Geography”, was a slightly later travel guide around the contemporary world (Zamarovsky 1990:8). He was born in the Greek settlement of Amaseia in Pontus (in present-day Turkey), by the Black Sea (Ibid.:8). Like Herodotus, Strabo undertook numerous journeys and travelled all over the known world (Ibid.:8). The results of his observations the author included in the seventeen books of Geographica hypomnemata (Ibid.:8). As an ancient guide along the track of the Seven Wonders, Strabo helped find paths in ancient Egypt, on the Island of Rhodes and in Mesopotamia and described some of the Eastern legends related to the subject, such as those about Ninos and Semiramis (Ibid.:8).
Diodorus, Pliny and Pausanias, and their wonders
There were also other ancient travellers and authors, who were experts on the ancient wonders (Zamarovsky 1990:8). One of them was Diodorus Siculus or Diodorus of Sicily (the first century BC.) (Ibid.:8). He includes particularly important information on the wonders in his descriptions about Egypt, Babylon and Greece (Ibid.:8). Some of them he drew from the now lost work of Ctesias of Cnidus (the fifth century BC.), the physician of the Persian king, Artaxerxes the Second (Ibid.:8).
The next author, Gaius Plinius Secundus, known as Pliny the Elder (the first century AD.), was a Roman author, who created the famous Historia Naturalis (Zamarovsky 1990:8). In terms of the subject of wonders, it is extremely important that he was interested in the history of art and so he interpreted the wonders in their artistic context (Ibid.:8). Moreover, as a real Roman citizen, he also included on the list the whole city of Rome (Klein 1998:137). The constant drive to knowledge, however, ultimately led to Pliny’s downfall; on August 24, in 79 AD., the author wanted to take a closer look at the erupting volcano Vesuvius, which resulted in his death from poisoning by sulfur fumes (Zamarovsky 1990:8-9).
In the second century AD., there was another guide to the Seven Wonders, a Greek geographer Pausanias, who elevates to the rank of wonders the walls of a citadel from the times of the Mycenaean, located in Argolis, in the Peloponnese (today’s Tiryns) (Zamarovsky 1990:9). According to legend, it was the seat of the hero, Hercules, built of blocks so huge that the structure is attributed to one-eyed giants, Cyclopes (Ibid.:9). Hence, similar megalithic walls composed of crude stones are called Cyclopean. Pausanias’ work, known as Hellados Periegesis (Description of Greece), was especially appreciated by Heinrich Schliemann (1822 – 1890), the famous discoverer of Troy, who, using information from Pausanias, thought that he had excavated the so-called tomb of king Agamemnon in Mycenae (Peloponnese), in 1876 (Ibid.:9). The archaeological site is located around twenty kilometres north of Tiryns and is also characterised by similar Cyclopean masonry. Moreover, it has turned out that it is not the tomb of the legendary Greek chieftain from Troy, but actually of a Mycenaean king who reigned in Mycenae several centuries earlier (Ibid.:9).
More travel guides wanted
Among other authors writing with the wonders of the world, a Roman poet, Marcus Valerius Martialis (the first century AD.), considers the Roman Colosseum to be the first of the wonders of the world (Zamarovsky 1990:9; Klein 1998:137). A Latin Author, Gaius Julius Hyginus (at the turn of our era) adds to the list of wonders the palace of the Persian king Cyrus in Ekbatan (today Hamadan in Iran), built of coloured stones and gold by an artist, named Memnon (Zamarovsky 1990:9; Klein 1998:137). The palace is also included among the wonders of the world by a Roman writer Vibius Sequester (the fifth century) (Zamarovsky 1990:9). Another Roman geographer and historian, Lucius Ampelius (the fourth century) even multiplies the number seven by seven wonders and records forty-nine wonders of the world, including the oil sources in present-day Iraq or Iran (Ibid.:9).
More pretenders for the title
Among other wonders mentioned by various ancient authors, there is also a notice of the horned altar on the Greek island of Delos and Egyptian Thebes of the hundred gates (Klein 1998:137). And then one can list the wonders endlessly: Minos’ Labyrinth in Crete, Hadrian’s Tomb in Rome (today’s Castel Sant’Angelo), the Roman Capitol, the Athenian Acropolis, or finally the altar of Zeus in Little Asian Pergamon (modern Turkey) (Zamarovsky 1990:9).
From the Middle Ages to modern times
In the first millennium AD, two monks also wrote about the wonders of the ancient world in Christian Europe (Zamarovsky 1990:9). The one was an ex-dignitary at the court of the Ostrogothic king, Theodoric the Great, and was called Cassiodorus (490-583), whereas the second was an Anglo-Saxon historian, known as Beda (673-735) (Ibid.:9). J.C. Orelli assumes, however, that the work on the ancient wonders is wrongly ascribed to Bede, as the book seems too primitive to have been written by a man as educated as he was (Ibid.:9).
The author of the first modern work on the ancient wonders was also a monk, but apart from that also a French philologist and archaeologist, and a great traveller (Zamarovsky 1990:9). He is known as Bernard de Montfaucon (1665-1741) (Ibid.:9). In his work Diarium Italicum (Italian Journal) there is a new list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, which was based on ancient sources (Ibid.:9). It contains: Egyptian Thebes, the walls of Babylon, the Mausoleum in Halicarnassus, the pyramids by the Nile, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Roman Capitol and the Tomb of Hadrian (Ibid.:9).
After Bernard de Montfaucon, it was the turn for an encyclopaedist who eventually represented such a list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World as it is well known today (Zamarovsky 1990:9).
The magic number of seven
All the lists of the ancient wonders may have contained various monuments but they have always had one common feature (Klein 1998:139). Namely, the number of the ancient wonders has always been limited to seven (or seven was additionally multiplied by seven) (Ibid.:139). This was because the number of seven played an important role in the Greek tradition (Klein 1998:139; “7 (liczba)” 2020). Moreover, it was already widely referred to in cultures much older than that of ancient Greece (Klein 1998:139; “7 (liczba)” 2020). As a matter of fact, the ‘seven’ encompassed the entire mystery of existence and was seen as a magic number (Klein 1998:139). As such it reappears numerously in culture (Ibid.:139).
In ancient Greece, there were seven artes liberales, in Greek mythology, seven gates defended the Greek city of Thebes (Boeotia, central Greece), against which Theseus set off at the head of seven heroes (Klein 1998:139; “7 (liczba)” 2020). Then, the Christian tradition enumerates the Seven Cardinal Virtues, the Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Sacraments, and the week was divided into seven days, too; as the Bible says, on the seventh day God rested after creating the world (Genesis 2:2-3) (Klein 1998:139; “7 (liczba)” 2020). It was also believed that there had been seven hills of Rome, on which the city was established, and that the heaven and hell were divided into seven spheres, hence the phrase ‘the seventh heaven’ (Klein 1998:139; “7 (liczba)” 2020). In addition, the Bible says about seven fat cows and seven thin cows, and then the seven ripe heads of grain and the seven worthless heads of grain (Genesis 41:26-27) (Klein 1998:139; “7 (liczba)” 2020). Noah waited seven days before he released a dove from the Ark to see if the flood waters had subsided (Genesis 8:6-12) (Klein 1998:139). Seven is also the key to Saint John’s Revelation; there are mentioned the seven churches, the seven spirits (Revelation 1:4), the Seven Signs in the Book of Signs (Revelation 1:19-12:50), seven golden lampstands (Revelation 1:12), seven stars (Revelation 1:16), a scroll with seven seals (Revelation 5:1), the Lamb with seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits (Revelation 5:6), as many angels, the trumpets of the Last Judgment (Revelation 8:2) thunders (Revelation 10:3) and seven thousand people killed in the earthquake (Revelation 11:13) (Ibid.::139). There is also a dragon with seven heads and seven crowns on its heads (Revelation 12:3), the seven last plagues (Revelation 15:1), seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God (Revelation 15:7) and also seven kings (Revelation 17:10). Such list is much longer.
A special position of the number seven can also be obtained scientifically (Klein 1998:139). In mathematical terms, seven is a prime number, so it is only divided by itself and by one (Klein 1998:139; Starożytne Cywilizacje 2007:2). Accordingly 7 cannot be a product or a quotient of integers other than 7 in the range from 1 to 6 and from 6 to 10, so it cannot be obtained either by multiplication or by dividing the integers from the given range (Klein 1998:139-140).
Rankings of modern wonders
From a psychological point of view, the number seven seemed to be perfect for the ancients in terms of quantity; it would have been too difficult or even impossible to select up to three ancient wonders, and a list of more than ten would, in turn, have lost its relevance (Klein 1998:140). One could imagine loads of magnificent buildings, but not loads of wonders of the world (Ibid.:140).
Nowadays, numerous travel guidebooks and magazines are created describing increasingly distant and exotic destinations (Lachowicz 2015). Such “wonders of the world” are usually illustrated in rankings, by referring to them as ‘places to visit before you die’. And although ‘the must-see places’ are usually grouped into sub-categories, like monuments and places within particular countries, cities, or lists including just architectural monuments or wonders of nature, their number keeps changing. Accordingly, one can find in travel books or online such travelling clues as “21 Most Beautiful Places in Poland to See Before You Die!”, “25 Truly Amazing Places To Visit Before You Die”, “30 World’s Best Places to Visit”, “50 Must Visit Places in the World” or “50 awe-inspiring natural wonders for your bucket list”, and so on …
Well, once the world has become larger, it has also got smaller due to greater possibilities of modern travellers to reach its remotest corners. Accordingly, the number of places to visit has essentially grown.
Despite all these changes of the world, we still come back in memories to the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, which even now create a unique world of human achievements, on which Pliny the Elder writes about in the first century AD., referring to the Egyptian pyramids in his words: “Owing to such works, people ascend to gods, or gods descend among people” (Klein 1998:140-141).
Featured image: Own work made of two images from Wikipedia, illustrating the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World on the map: there are Great Pyramid of Giza, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (also known as the Mausoleum of Mausolus), Colossus of Rhodes, and the Lighthouse of Alexandria as depicted by 16th-century Dutch artist Maarten van Heemskerck. Images of the ancient wonders by Mark22 at English Wikipedia (2007). Public domain. Photo and caption source: “Wonders of the World” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Combined with: Europe depicted by Antwerp cartographer Abraham Ortelius in 1595. The used Map by Abraham Ortelius – Orteliusmaps.com (created from 1570 until 1609). Public domain. Photo and caption source: “History of Europe” (2021). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Images cropped, colours changed to sepia.
By Joanna Faculties of English Philology, History of Art and Archaeology. University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland; Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw, Poland; University College Dublin, Ireland.
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