We find the Statue of Liberty, situated at the entrance of the New York harbour, as an impressive figure and are amazed to know that it has been standing there for almost one and a half centuries!
Now imagine a shinning bronze statue, almost two-third the size of the Statue of Liberty, at it was about 110 feet high (the Statue of Liberty is 152 feet high), standing at the entrance of a harbour some 2294 years ago, in 282BC. Isn’t that a bit mind-boggling? It is, and that is why the Colossus of Rhodes is among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
While our Lady Liberty is a symbol of freedom, the Colossus of Rhodes was the symbol of the unity of the people of Rhodes, a beautiful island in the Mediterranean Sea.
In the year 305BC, the island of Rhodes was besieged by Antigonids of Macedonia, who brought an army of 40,000 men — which was more than the entire population of Rhodes at that time — and lots of heavy military equipment. However, they could not penetrate the heavily guarded walls of the city and finally had to abandon their attempt and leave.
The enemy left behind a lot of machinery, such as armoured battering rams and giant catapults. Some historians say that the Rhodians sold these war machines and used the money to built a giant statue of their patron god, Helios, the god of sun, while others say that they melted the metal, which was bronze, from the machines and used it in the project. But most agree that it took 12 years to complete the construction of the huge statue, clearly one of its kinds at the time.
There are conflicting reports about the exact location of the Colossus. Many believe it stood tall at the entrance of the Mandraki harbour, one of the important cities of Rhodes at the time. Others argue that it couldn’t not have been right at the entrance as the mouth of the harbour would have been blocked when it was destroyed in an earthquake that rocked the region. It, therefore, must have been a little more inland.
A Rhodian sculptor, Chares of Lindos, who had the experience of making large statues before, was commissioned as the architect and he is said to have initially made smaller versions of the statue first. And based on these smaller versions, he started work on the massive structure.
First the base of the statue was made, of white marble, and is said to have been fifty-foot high. Then Chares had the outer bronze skin parts cast separately. After the feet and ankle of the statue was put in place, other higher parts were placed using an iron and stone framework. A ramp, made of earth, like the Egyptians used to make the Pyramids, was used as the structure grew in height and after the work was done, the romp was removed.
Finally, the outer bronze layer was polished which is believed to have shone in the rays of the sun and could be seen by ships miles away. Imagine how high it must have been, a 110-foot statue on a 50-foot pedestal — that’s 160 feet high! This is eight feet higher than the Statue of Liberty, but here we are taking the liberty of not counting the pedestal or base of the modern statue as the overall height from the base of the pedestal foundation to the tip of the torch is 305 feet, 6 inches.
The actual shape of the statue is not known with much accuracy. Popular ancient stories claimed that it stood with its leg spanning the harbour entrance and ships would pass beneath it, it wore a spiked crown with the right hand over its eyes as a shield to the rays of the sun and a cloak over its left hand. But modern researchers believe it was standing upright and not over the harbour.
As luck would have it, the Colossus of Rhodes was the first of the Ancient Wonders that was destroyed. Just 65 years after it was completed, in 226BC, a strong earthquake shook the region, bringing down this glorious monument. The king of Egypt, a friend of the Rhodians, immediately came to the rescue of these islanders and even made the generous offer of paying for the statue to be rebuilt.
The Rhodians consulted an oracle, which was usually a priest or a religious person who was believed to know about the future, and they were warned against it and told not to disturb the fallen god. The remains of the Colossus lay undisturbed for centuries, attracting admirers and tourists in droves.
Pliny the Elder, a Roman author and natural philosopher, visited the ruins of the Colossus and gave a very interesting account of it, “...even lying on the ground it is a marvel. Few people can make their arms meet round its thumbs, and its fingers are larger than most statues.” Imagine the size of the entire statue!
In AD654, Rhodes was invaded by Arabs and realising the worth of these ruins, they further dismantled the pieces and sold the bronze. Today, nothing of this once towering statue remains and the exact location where it stood tall can only be guessed, but not pinpointed with complete accuracy. So, to make a guess of what a sight the Colossus of Rhodes would have presented, let us turn to the Statue of Liberty at the New York harbour and appreciate the skill and effort of Rhodians more than two millennia ago.