5) The Great Pyramid Of Giza (circa 2560 BC) –
A list of unbelievably advanced ancient man-made structures cannot be complete without the one-and-only Great Pyramid Of Giza. The ancient architectural specimen was built in around 2560 BC, and held the record for the world’s tallest structure for 3,800 years with its impressive height of 481 ft (146.5 m). As for other mind-boggling figures, the monumental giant has a base area of around 570,000 sq ft, and a gargantuan volume of 88 million cubic ft (or 2.5 million cubic m) that accounts for an extraordinary 5.9 million tons of mass. This astronomical scope was achieved by the use of a whopping 2.3 million stone blocks (ranging from 2 to 30 tons) – that comes to an average of 800 tons of stones being installed each day, with 12 stones being precisely placed every hour! Some of these stones (especially, the ones used in the inner chambers) weigh more than 50 tons, and yet they were transported to the site from Aswan, which is 800 km (500 miles) away.
Given such a vast scope of the construction process, and that too in an epoch which was more than 4,500 years ago – one would be inclined to think that the monument might be a bit on the imprecise side with inaccurate measurements and geometry. Well, in that case, that someone will be wrong! In terms of construction, the Great Pyramid was built on an artificially flattened site that deviates from a perfectly horizontal plane by just a minute 2 cm. Even the aforementioned base edges of the structures account for an almost perfect square, thus making the corners nigh impeccably right-angled to each other. And, perhaps the most impressive feat of all – the four sides of the pyramid are almost immaculately oriented with the four cardinal directions of North, South, East and West.
This wondrous scope of immaculate geometry was visually complemented by large blocks of ‘casing stones‘. This flat-topped limestone pieces were polished to perfection with a range of abrasives like sandstone, brick and fine sand, and then placed atop the pyramid-structure. The end result of such high levels of polishing yielded smooth surfaces that were incredibly shiny beyond reckoning. And, considering that there was limited pollution and smog circa 2500 BC, the Great Pyramid of Giza must have been an otherworldly magnificent spectacle during the time of its completion – with shiny, glass-like facades basking in the glory of the effulgent sun. Quite poetically and rather aptly, the Ancient Egyptians called the Great Pyramid by the name of ‘Ikhet‘, which simply translates to ‘Glorious Light’.
6) Great Dam of Marib, in Yemen (circa 800 BC) –
Though archaeological evidences have suggested a patchwork of earth dams and complementary canal network dating from 21st century BC, the Great Dam of Marib itself was probably built in the 8th century BC, near the the ancient city of Ma’rib, which was the capital of the fabled Arabian Kingdom of Saba (of the ‘Queen of Sheba’ fame). Already known for their deep trade networks that covered rare items like frankincense and spices, the Sabeans must have also initiated agricultural reforms over the centuries, to supplement their thriving yet ‘poor in water’ kingdom. One of the outcomes of these policies was the decision to capture the periodic monsoon water from the nearby mountains, and use it in the lands around the lower-level urban areas. As a result, the gargantuan Great Dam of Marib was built to regulate the waters of the Wadi (or watercourse) ‘Sadd’; and this massive feat of ancient engineering was over a whopping 2,000 ft long (for comparisons sake, the Hoover Dam is just 1,244 ft long)!
Now, in terms of sheer technology, this 2,000 ft long structure didn’t pertain to rudimentary arrangement of rocks, but rather entailed a completely water-tight construction of packed earth bolstered by fine stone-and-masonry. In fact, Great Dam of Marib with its pyramid-shaped cross-section, boasted of complementary canals, gates, sluices, and spillways – that irrigated more than 25,000 acres of nearby farmland. When translated to a timeline, this pre-concrete advanced ancient structure survived over 1,000 years (in stark contrast to our modern dams that hardly survive 100 years), before cracking up and finally giving in to natural elements by 6th century AD. This incident surely contributed to major economic repercussions in the arid area, so much so that it might have even been alluded to in the Quran itself!
7) Pont du Gard, in France (circa 50 AD) –
Measuring over 160 ft (49 m) in height and 900 ft (274 m) in length, the Pont du Gard stands out as the ancient bastion that proudly signifies both Roman engineering and architectural prowess. Designed (in around the middle of 1st century AD) to supply fresh water to the city of Nimes (in southern France) across the Gardon River, this mammoth structure was just a part of a massive infrastructure that was spread over 30 miles, and connected the aforementioned city with the original water source. Considering such an expansive scale, the Pont du Gard must have been successful in its purpose, with estimations of the ancient aqueduct’s capacity to supply 108 US gallons (or 409 liters) of water per person per day! This must have equated to an overall large volume of water, since Nimes (or Nemausus) had a population of over 50,000 people in its Roman-era heyday.
Now in terms of sheer engineering aptitude, the ancient man-made structure was constructed with a gradient of one in 3,000, thus resulting in a drop (height difference) of 55 ft between the actual water source and the outlet on the other side supplying the city. And interestingly, the blocks of stones are set without the use of mortar – which sort of endows the structure with an unfinished bearing, especially with the uncouth-looking protruding knobs. But this probably was an intentional ploy on the part of the engineers, with the hard water depositing its minerals along the roughly-hewed sides of the water channel (at the top level of the aqueduct). This in turn made maintenance work easier, as the workers cleaned these components by attaching scaffolding to the ‘gripping’ edges.
8) Colosseum, In Italy (circa 70 AD) –
When we talk about the Colosseum, it is important that we talk about the humongous volume of its spatial scope. To that end, being elliptical in plan, the Colosseum is 189 m (615 ft) long, and 156 m (510 ft) wide – which accounts for almost 500 m (1,640 ft) in circumference, with a base area of 6 acres (24,000 sq m). Its enclosing tiers originally rose to a height of 55 m (180 ft) – thus taking the total volume of the ancient Roman amphitheater a whopping 1,320,000 cubic m or 47 million cubic ft! In that regard, it comes as no surprise that during peak events, the Colosseum could hold up to 60,000 to 80,000 people. And more such a gargantuan ambit was constructed from around 100,000 cubic m of travertine stones and tufa – with the stone blocks being placed without any mortar. Instead the Roman engineers opted for more than 300 tons of iron clamps for internalized reinforcements – a design consideration that surely worked in favor of the ancient architectural specimen, which has survived many natural calamities, ranging from earthquakes, fires to even lightning strikes.
But the best architectural innovation of the Colosseum arguably related to its internal design that was impeccably tailored to both crowd and animal control. To that end, the seating arrangement of the amphitheater was contrived in such a manner so as to streamline the audience organization based on their occupations (and even societal background). This allowed the spatial scope of the stadium to easily manage over 50,000 loud, cheering spectators in a clockwork-like manner. The seating arrangements were further complemented by the subterranean hypogeum, with its intricate double-leveled underground system of cages and tunnels that housed the animals and gladiators alike. These ‘participants’ were directly brought to the upper ground level arena via elevators – an effective design scope that had been showcased in a cinematic fashion in Ridley Scott’s ‘Gladiator‘. The hypogeum was also used for the purpose of stretching expansive awnings over the open-top of the amphitheater. And, these elaborate systems of pulleys, canvas, ropes and sockets were operated by actual sailors who were specifically recruited for the job.
Book Reference: Wonders of the World by AA Publishing
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