Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wonders of the World


Antipater of Sidon and Philo of Byzantium are the two most famous writers of travelogues credited (blamed?) with coming up with the earliest lists of the Seven Wonders of the World. Others were quick to jump into the mix and offer up their own lists, but these are the two dead old guys who tend to get mentioned most often.

The pretty-much definitive list of the Seven Wonders of the Classical/Ancient World goes as follows:

  1. The Colossus of Rhodes
  2. The Great Pyramid of Giza
  3. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
  4. The Lighthouse of Alexandria
  5. The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
  6. The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
  7. Zeus' Statue at Olympia

Of all of these Seven Wonders, only the Great Pyramid of Giza still stands. It'll be here to watch the rise and fall of Humanspace Empires most likely.

from Wikimedia
The Colossus of Rhodes was toppled and broken during an earthquake in 226 BC and has yet to get rebuilt, stories about Arab armies knocking it down and melting the bronze scrap to make cannons or selling it all to some unnamed Jewish Merchant, not from Venice, but instead from Edessa may well just be the ravings of an apocalyptic monk trying to spread metaphor and anti-semitic propaganda whilst reframing things in terms of Nebuchadnezzar's dream. But what if an army did topple the gigantic bronze statue of a deity in decline and melt the consecrated metal down to make cannons or other weapons? It is also remarkable that the people of Rhodes never rebuilt the Colossus, which many sources attribute to the fear and paranoia that some vapor-whiffing oracle stirred up by way of Dubious Prophecies. Well, despite the old shrew's dire imprecations, Helios will once again straddle the harbor of Rhodes, but this time it'll be a Colossus in the form of a Light Sculpture, not a big, bronze hazard to aircraft. Let's just hope this has nothing to do with Dr. Forbin's cybernetic prodigy. That would be a real Nightmare.

from: Wikimedia
The Great Pyramid of Gizah is the oldest and largest pyramid within the Gizah Necropolis, which is already a fairly exclusive club. Did you know that the Great Pyramid has five boat-pits situated around it? It does. Two of them were discovered to be intact, so of course they yanked everything out of the pit and restored it. After all this time, and after all those RPG scenarios and bad novels that used the pyramids as a setting or backdrop, not once have we seen one mention the boat pits. (If you know of one, let us hear about it.) Likewise, you always see the Great Pyramid on this list, but not The Sphinx. Why is that? Oh, right. It didn't get excavated until they started digging around 1818, or 1867, or 1848 depending on whom you ask and which sources you check. But that's before Napolean's Scientific Expedition to Egypt. Yep. Old Man Bonaparte only got to see the Sphinx from the neck upwards. The rest was buried in the sand. In any case, you can get a copy of a truly well-drawn map of the Gizah Necropolis from Wikimedia that just might give you some good ideas for how to set-up a classical necropolis, complete with basalt roadways, boat-pits, queen pyramids, mortuary temples, etc. Or you can go map-up your own version of the Valley of Kings, if you dislike the crowded conditions of an urban-style necropolis such as the one at Gizah.

Right now we know of Three Interior Chambers within the Great Pyramid. A lot of people speculate that there are others, so far undiscovered. Just like the tunnels that are supposedly beneath the Sphinx. The Great Pyramid is the only one to contain both ascending and descending passageways. It has an unfinished Subterranean Chamber. The place fairly screams with potential as the site of some serious dungeoncrawling.

Would a high-powered Pharaoh-Lich build a pyramid? Probably. But they wouldn't leave the surrounding necropolis empty or deserted, would they? Imagine the pomp and ritual of competing undead dynasties carrying on their antiquated rites out in the desert. Would these dessicated potentates withdraw from ruling over the living, or would they try to preserve their power for centuries as tyrants, despots or enlightened god-kings?
Hanging Gardens of Babylon by Dutch artist Martin Heemskerck. 
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were named after a legendary Assyrian Queen, Semiramis, who managed to impress the ancient Greeks pretty thoroughly, which wasn't easy for a non-Greek, and especially for a woman. Like Arthur amongst Celts, but to a slightly lesser extent, Semiramis is sometimes considered to be a legend or some actual queen (like Shammuramat, wife [widowed] of King Shamshi-Adad V), sort of like how Boudicca gets mythologized out from under the very real historical person until we're no longer quite sure where the real-life warrior-woman ends and the comicbook fantasies of Xena begin. Of course with Semiramis we don't get the Hammer-ized Viking Queen, but we do get Mr. Hislop blaming her for inventing polytheism and goddess-worship. Though that whole bit about barbarisms and passions enflaming a pagan pleasure empire does sound kind of fun...


The Hanging Gardens were either a poetic fantasy that has persisted over centuries, or a truly amazing technological marvel that ought to get a lot of people to re-think the engineering capabilities of Classical Cultures from Antiquity...and what that implies for builders of pseudo-ancient dungeons. Piranesi isn't the only model we can work from, and we're rather intrigued with the idea of running a Roofcrawl through a place based off of the Hanging Gardens...

A drawing of the lighthouse by German archaeologist Prof. H. Thiersch (1909).

The Lighthouse of Alexandria is cool, we like lighthouses and all, but really, why wouldn't you include the Library of Alexandria in this list? Oh. It's not an architectural marvel, not a monument. Okay. Maybe it should have been, and then it might not have burned. Or not. At least the Library of Alexandria has been rebuilt.

Lighthouses like the Pharos at Alexandria deserve some consideration, especially from those who are looking to further expand the Seas of O'SR Adventure Path with loads of islands, atolls, and other hazards to navigation. What kinds and sorts of lighthouses will players encounter out upon the Seas of O'SR?

The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, thanks to Wikimedia
The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus is that stupendous tomb that gave us the word mausoleum, for which thousands of undertakers, revenants and ghouls are plenty thankful. There's a miniature model of the mausoleum in Istanbul. Architects are still inspired by this long-gone wonder of the ancient world. Like the Taj Mahal, it has a peculiar fascination for those who have come after, though the Taj Mahal is still standing and still quite striking. What sorts of mausoleums would great wizards, patriarchs, and mighty lords erect within a world filled with magic? Would they be content with damp, dank, holes in the ground, or would they create massive, towering edifices that reached upwards to the stars like the now lost Mausoleum at Halicarnassus? Tombs need not be buried beneath the ground. They can be just as gaudy and richly decorated as any temple or palace, and if the undead have any power or standing within a society, the Mausoleums might well transform into necro-thrones and worse. Mausolus ruled from Halicarnassus for about 24 years, building a Greek-inspired kingdom that promoted democracy and other Greek virtues along the coastline of Asia Minor. What could an undead king accomplish from his throne within a great Mausoleum?

Artemis of Ephesus
The Temple of  Artemis at Ephesus was built upon a very, very old sacred site that might have belonged originally to the Amazons. Much like how Notre Dame was constructed over an ancient pagan worship-site, the Temple of Artemis was built over the foundations and lingering traces of previous temples that we know very little about, really. Various expeditions and excavations have turned up signs of floods, amber and ivory-plaques carved with griffins and depictions of the Tree of Life. Experts might argue, fight or discuss the various findings and artifacts, and especially their significance, but they pretty much all agree that the site itself is very, very old.

What stuff lies beneath the older temples and cathedrals of your setting? What secrets lie beneath the marble walls of the currently active holy places within your world(s)? Have these sites switched hands like Hagia Sophia, or have they ever been re-built over their own ruins, or were they deliberately set-up to take advantage of some peculiar quirk of the prevailing ley-lines, interplanar geometries or some pre-existing site saturated with divine energies? Or were some of these temples erected over terrible things that have been shackled, chained, barred and locked away within the ecclessiastical vaults below like demonic parodies of Edmond Dantes or Barker's Rawhed Rex? Cthulhu isn't the only preternatural being with delusions of godhood wallowing about in the primordial slime. 

Things could get...complicated...digging about in the basements and sub-levels of old temples...

As a bonus, with the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, you get Heros--that guy whose name we're never to mention ever again. You know; the bright fellow who thought it would be a brilliant bit of self-marketing to set fire to the temple and by destroying something so beautiful his name would forever be famous. The putz. The unnameable putz.

Statue of Zeus at Olympos

Zeus' Statue at Olympos had to have been truly awe-inspiring. People are still talking about it, and the thing has been destroyed for quite a long while. The thing was over 40 feet tall, making it very close in overall size to Athena's statue in Nashville. They found Phidias' workshop in the 1950s and people have recreated most of his techniques. Like iron chisels and hammers, the basic tools employed haven't really changed a whole lot. There are new tools, but the same old tools that Phidias used are still in use today. It makes one wonder what  things might be like in a setting where clerically-indentured or hired sculptors are prevailed upon to build huge 40' tall mega statues of the various gods. How would Michelangelo have fared in such a trade? What would become of those artisans who botched a job, or offended the priests? Would competing sects vie for the most accurate or 'doctrinally correct' depiction of their deity? Would the gods themselves get involved?

Could get interesting...even...wonder-full.



It was one of those things that just needed to be written at the moment.


Here are a few more links to Wonders that you might find interesting or helpful in developing a few Wonders of Your Own World

And Sanne Smit made this wonderful photo of the reconstructed Zeus at The Hermitage public domain, so you can use it too:
You can find the file HERE


  1. A mass of great ideas and reminders, some of which would be eminently suitable for a Humanspace take, and I'm sure Hogintu could also find a home for one or two.

  2. @Porky: If you're going to explore a world, then there needs to be something in the world worth exploring. Not every adventure takes place down in a hole--most adventurers actually went someplace, like Sir Richard Francis Burton, or Marco Polo, or that nice Attila fellow who took a tour of Europe a while back. People spend hours developing hellholes and chambers of horrors, but who really develops something like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon or legendary mausoleum-throne for some undead monarch who combines the best features of Doctor Doom with Genghis Khan, only with French Revolutionary Ideals? Besides us...


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