The Ancient Wonders Of The World... In London

By M@ Last edited 20 months ago
The Ancient Wonders Of The World... In London

As Dr Johnson once observed, 'there is in London all that life can afford'. We share his optimism. Even the seven Ancient Wonders of the World can be found in the capital, if you squint a bit and use your imagination...

Great Pyramid  versus 1 Canada Square

Left: 1 Canada Square. Image by Dillif, CC. Right, the Great Pyramid. Image, Nina, CC.

Obvious one to start. The Great Pyramid of Giza is the only remaining Ancient Wonder. It stood as the tallest building in the world for thousands of years. 1 Canada Square is clearly inspired by the giant tomb, and not just in its pyramidal crown; some would say it stands as a monument to the departed soul of the Docklands.

Which is the bigger wonder? No contest — Giza beets Geezer; the Egyptian icon is far more impressive than its east London imitator. If only the pyramid of death had been built on Primrose Hill.

Mausoleum at Halicarnassus versus St George's, Bloomsbury

Left: Mausoleum artist's impression, stock image. Right: St George's Bloomsbury, by the author.

The tomb of Mausolus, in what is now Turkey, gave its name to all subsequent mausolea. We're tempted to compare it with such London wonders as Highgate or Nunhead cemeteries. But there's a direct architectural comparison in St George's Bloomsbury. This Nicholas Hawksmoor church near the British Museum is partly inspired by Pliny the Elder's description of the Mausoleum. Note the ribbed steeple and lower columns. The Bloomsbury landmark features a statue of George I dressed in Roman garb and perched above a writhing mass of lions and unicorns. Probably not based on actual events.

Which is the bigger wonder? The Mausoleum gave rise to a new word. St George's Bloomsbury has given us a Museum of Comedy and the background to Hogarth's Gin Lane. It's a tricky one, but the mix of laughs and booze incline us toward St George's.

Temple of Artemis versus Neasden Temple

Left: Model of the Temple of Artemis. Photo by Zee Prime, CC. Right: Neasden Temple. Photo by Nikkul, CC.

The long vanished temple in western Turkey was a masterpiece of classical architecture. London has nothing quite like it. We do, however, have a wealth of wondrous temples of other stripes. Surely the most magnificent is the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Hindu temple in Neasden. Its size and grandeur are staggering, particularly in this otherwise unremarkable suburb of north London. Made of hand-cut marble and limestone, the temple rests on foundations that required the largest concrete pour in the UK. What's more, the whole thing was essentially crowdfunded, with contributions from the Hindu community.

Which is the bigger wonder? Can a 1990s building beside the North Circular in the Borough of Brent be better than a Ancient Wonder of the World? Oh yes, absolutely.

Hanging Gardens of Babylon versus Churchill Arms pub

Left: A depiction of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Right: Churchill Arms pic via Stephanie Sadler in the Londonist Flickr pool

No one knows what the hanging gardens of Babylon looked like. They might not have been in Babylon. They might not have existed at all. London has many remarkable gardens. Modern contenders include the Kensington Roof Garden, the garden on top of Canary Wharf Crossrail station, or the Sky Garden in the Walkie Talkie. All have their merits, but none quite has the humble charm of the Churchill Arms between Notting Hill and Kensington. In summer, its exterior is a riot of colour thanks to an improbable overload of hanging baskets.

Which is the bigger wonder? The Hanging Gardens of Babylon might never have existed. The Churchill Arms certainly does exist, and it serves beer. Pub wins; no contest.

Lighthouse of Alexandria versus Trinity Buoy Wharf

Left: The Lighthouse at Alexandria depicted by Emad Victor Shenouda, CC. Right: Trinity Buoy Wharf lighthouse, by the author.

The lighthouse at Alexandria in Egypt, also known as the Pharos, might be considered the world's first skyscraper (the Great Pyramid just ain't the right shape). It was built in the third century BCE and rose as high as 137 metres — taller than the London Eye or Centre Point. It lasted into medieval times, until the last remnants were cleared away in the 15th century.

London's best known lighthouse can be found at Trinity Buoy Wharf, at the mouth of the River Lea. It's no longer used as a lighthouse, but there are many intriguing reasons to visit: a tiny museum dedicated to Michael Faraday; an American-style diner; a trail of sculpture and street art; and Longplayer, a piece of music designed to play for 1,000 years.

Which is the bigger wonder? Much as we love Trinity Buoy Wharf, the Ptolemaic tower is literally a beacon of ancient ingenuity. Thumbs up to the Pharos.

Statue of Zeus versus the Albert Memorial

Left: Statue of Zeus at Olympia. Right: Albert Memorial. Image Geographer, CC.

Here's your word for the day: chryselephantine. It indicates a sculpture made from gold and ivory. Such was the monumental statue of Zeus erected in Olympia, Greece in 435 BC. Descriptions of the lost wonder may have inspired John Henry Foley. He was the chisel behind the statue of Prince Albert, which sits at the centre of the famous memorial in Kensington Gardens. Like almighty Zeus, this god among men is seated on a throne and painted gold. He lacks the ivory of his Olympian predecessor, but elephants are depicted prominently on a corner of the monument's base (also sculpted by Foley).

Which is the bigger wonder? Zeus was an angry, incestuous monster. Albert was an enlightened visionary. The Prince Consort gets our nod.

Colossus of Rhodes versus the Achilles statue

Photo of Achilles by the author.

The popular image of the Colossus of Rhodes — if indeed there is one — is of a mighty, nude statue straddling a harbour, with ships passing beneath. Nobody knows what the Colossus looked like, but it seems unlikely that the ancients could have built a statue strong enough to stand legs-akimbo over a useable harbour entrance. He probably looked more like the figure in the image to the left. The nearest equivalent in London is the hulking statue of Achilles in Hyde Park — also originally naked until the fig leaf was appended. If only we could move him closer to the boating lake, we might have a more direct comparison.

Which is the bigger wonder? Without the Colossus we wouldn't have some of the most memorable settings from Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. Colossus rules.

Result: London's Wonders beat the Ancient Wonders four to three.

Last Updated 12 May 2017