Wonders of the Medieval World

Great Zimbabwe

The famous wonders of the Ancient World were initially listed by an ancient Greek Poet. His list had survived to this day, but no such list exists for other periods of history. The wonders listed below belong to the thousand years of history starting in approximately AD 500. In Europe this period is referred to as the Middle Ages and began with the fall of the Roman Empire until 1500, when modern times began to arise.  The word ‘medieval’ refers to the Middle Ages and Europe, but as you will see in the 7 Wonders below, exciting things were happening all over the world during this time period.

  • Cave of Ten Thousand Buddhas – this is one of the series of cave temples carved into the hills alongside the banks of the Yishui River situated in eastern China. The temples are called the Longmen Caves, and are dedicated to the Buddha, the Indian prince whose teachings founded the religion of Buddhism.

Work began on the Longmen Caves in AD 494, when the Chinese emperor moved the capital of his empire to Luoyang, in the province of Henan. The caves are 12 kilometers south of Luoyang, which today is a bustling city of over a million people.

The Longmen temples and sculptures are carved from the dense grey limestone found in the area. The caves contain about 100,000 Buddhist statues. The cave is square, and on the side walls are the thousands of tiny statues, which essentially give the cave its name.

  • Great Zimbabwe – the country of Zimbabwe takes its name from the huge site of stone ruins, known as Great Zimbabwe. Archeologists believe that the stone ruins were at the center of a great African empire for hundreds of years.

In the African Bantu language, Zimbabwe means ‘stone houses’. In fact the stone was used to make enclosures around buildings which were made from a mud mixture. The oldest parts of the ruins date from the eighth century, but people probably lived at the site for 600 years before then. From about 1100 the whole region was ruled by the Shona people, who today still make up a substantial part of Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

About 150 ruling adults may have lived in Great Zimbabwe at its peak, with thousands of people settled around it. A stone enclosure, 250 meters round, is the main structure left at the site. Inside are the foundations of numerous small mud buildings, as well as a round tower that stands approximately 9 meters high.  We do not know why the city fell into ruin, but drought and famine may have played a part.

  • Angkor Wat – Angkor Wat is the finest temple of the ruined city of Angkor in north-west Cambodia. Angkor was built as the capital of the once great Khmer empire, and the temple covers an area of approximately 2.5 square kilometers.

From the eighth to the thirteenth centuries, Khmer kings ruled a powerful civilization in South-East Asia. This began to grow greater when Jayavarman II became king in AD 802. He ruled for 60 years and moved his capital a number of times. Finally he chose the area of Angkor and began to build on a large scale.

Angkor, which means ‘city’ in the Khmer language, was built near the northern shores of Tonle Sap. This large shallow lake feeds a tributary of the Mekong River, and was full of fish as well as surrounded by fertile soil. Water from the lake assisted Angkor in becoming a wealthy city.

The temple of Angkor Wat was built for King Suryavarman II early in the twelfth century, and was dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. The three-story building contains a series of rectangular enclosures. Its towers, shaped like lotus buds, rise to a height of about 60 meters. When Suryavarman died, his temple was used as a tomb for him.

  • Krak des Chevaliers – this castle in Syria is one of the best examples of medieval military architecture in the world. It was built by the Christian crusaders, who struggled to recapture the Holy Land from the Muslims, followers of the religion of Islam.

Qal’at al-Hosen was an important place for the crusaders, and they set about building a large, powerful fortress on a hill 650 meters above sea level. The fortress was later called Krak des Chevaliers, which is French-Arabic for ‘castle of the knights’.

Krak des Chevaliers was virtually impossible to attack. It had two extremely tall walls and 13 towers. The inner wall was higher than the outer wall, and they were divided by a moat and a steep slope. The fortress covered 3000 square meters and could hold a garrison of almost 2000 soldiers with their horses, fighting equipment and plenty of food to last for five years.

  • Salisbury Cathedral – the famous cathedral at Salisbury, in southern England, was built in the thirteenth century. Hundreds of medieval masons and carpenters worked with amazing skill to build this beautiful creation.

The story of the cathedral begins on a hill near Stonehenge, which was first the site of an Iron Age camp, and later a Roman settlement. In 1075, the Normans built a castle and a small cathedral on the site, which they called Sarum. But there were disagreements between the people within the castle and the cathedral. Eventually the cathedral’s bishop, Herbert Poore, decided to build a new cathedral in a valley to the south, where he owned water meadows. At Old Sarum there had been no good supply of water, so the new site was in fact better.

The bishop however died before construction had begun. His brother, Richard Poore, became the next bishop, and was given the Pope’s permission to carry out the original plan. He decided to build the cathedral out of Chilmark stone, which was brought by cart from a mine almost 20 kilometers away.

In 1225 the first three altars were dedicated, and the completed chapel was partitioned off from the building work, in order for daily services to be held. The main building then took an additional 33 years to complete.

  • Alanbra – a famous citadel above the city of Granada, in the Andalusian region of southern Spain. It was built on a high plateau and was the last remaining stronghold of the Moorish kings of Granada. The citadel had incredibly strong walls around it, with 23 towers as well as four gates.

The Moors called their new citadel Al-Qal’a al-Hambra, which means ‘the red fort’. This Arabic name is said to have come from the color of the sun-dried bricks that were used to build the outer walls. Its Spanish was then later shortened to Alhambra.

The Alhambra was a military fortress, with offices, houses, shops, mosques, a royal mint, a garrison of soldiers, a prison, public baths and a hospital. But in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, especially during the reign of King Yusuf I, it was established into a magnificent palace. There were columns and arches, and the rooms were full of spectacular patterns and decoration.

Parts of the Alhambra were ruined in the last struggle between the Moors and the Christians. Some of the rooms were also damaged over time, and in the sixteenth century King Charles V of Spain had parts of the palace rebuilt in a more Italian style. In 1812 some towers were again destroyed by soldiers, and nine years later an earthquake caused even further damage. In recent years however, much of this Moorish citadel, with its palace as well as gardens, has been restored.

  • Tenochtitlan – this began as a settlement of reed huts and later became a great city and the center of the powerful Aztec empire for almost 200 years. It stood in the south of present day Mexico, and its ruins still lie beneath modern Mexico City.

Between 100,000 and 500,000 people may have lived in Tenochtitlan, and by 1500 it may have been the largest city in the world. In the central square, surrounded by a wall, was a 30-meter-high pyramid with staircases leading up to two temples. These were decorated with carvings and paintings.

The Spaniards who sailed to America in the sixteenth century were astonished by the wealth and grandeur of the Aztecs. They saw how clean the Aztecs kept the city. Roads were swept and rubbish was taken away in barges. The Spanish conquerors quickly attacked. The Aztec emperor was killed and in 1521 Tenochtitlan was completely destroyed. This was the end of the Aztec empire. Mexico City was then built on the ruins of the once great Tenochtitlan.

Although some of these magnificent buildings can no longer be seen today and others are just ruins, it evident that the legacy of the buildings as well as the people, who created such large and fantastic buildings, lives on today. It is important that grand ancient history is never forgotten.

Comments are closed.