The Colossus of Rhodes, the bronze wonder of the ancient world

Standing for a little more than 50 years in the third century B.C., Rhodes’s titanic statue of Helios made a colossal impact on Western art, history, and imagination.

Louis de Caullery’s 17th-century painting depicts the Colossus astride the port of Rhodes, a stance that has since been debunked by historians. Louvre Museum, Paris
Photograph by Christophel Fine Art/Getty Images

The Greek poet Antipater of Sidon, writing in the second century B.C., is often attributed with compiling the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. These outstanding monuments and feats of engineering were referred to in Greek as themata, or things to be seen, similar to today’s must-see lists in travel guides. (See also: Standing tall: Egypt's Great Pyramids.)

Earthquakes, fire, war, theft, and the relentless ruin of time, have left the world with just one of Antipater’s recommendations, the Pyramids at Giza. Although the Pharos of Alexandria, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, and the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus have fallen into ruin, archaeology and historical accounts provide some idea of their appearance. Not so with the Colossus.

Like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (which some say never existed), the exact appearance of the Colossus that towered over the port of Rhodes is a mystery. Toppled by an earthquake around 225 B.C., the massive statue stood for a little more than 50 years. Historians have very little information as to what the structure looked like, where it stood, and how it was built. This vacuum has filled with much speculation and artistic license, but certain clues have helped researchers piece together credible theories about this marvelous structure.

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