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7 Wonders of the Medieval World (+3 more)

Image of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, one of the 7 Wonders of the Medieval World

The 7 Wonders of the Medieval World encapsulate an era of profound innovation, religious fervor, and architectural prowess.

As the torchbearers of the classical world dimmed, the medieval period arose, presenting a tableau of awe-inspiring landmarks, from towering cathedrals to formidable fortresses.

In this listicle, we’ll journey back in time, tracing the silhouettes of these magnificent edifices.

Seven architectural masterpieces that defined the Middle Ages, known as the 7 Wonders of the Medieval World, plus three others often considered contenders for membership on the list:

  • Stonehenge
  • Colosseum
  • The Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa, Egypt
  • The Great Wall of China
  • The Porcelain Tower of Nanjing, China
  • The Hagia Sophia, Turkey
  • The Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy

The three additional “Wonders of the Medieval World” sites:

  • Cairo Citadel
  • Ely Cathedral
  • Taj Mahal

They stand as testaments to human endeavor during a time often overshadowed by its ancient predecessors and rich in its unique tapestry of achievements and wonders.

Let’s jump in.

The 7 Wonders of the Medieval World Explained

The medieval period, or middle ages in some circles, is an epoch of profound transformation and architectural feats, boasting wonders that have stood the test of time.

Beginning with the enigmatic Stonehenge, a relic often cloaked in prehistoric mystery, we journeyed through seven marvels that define this bygone era.

While Stonehenge significantly predates this period, its enduring legacy and mysteries continue to cast a shadow, setting the tone for exploring seven other wonders from this bygone era.

Image of Stonehnenge in Wiltshire, England, one of the 7 Wonders of the Medieval World
Ancient Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England

1. Stonehenge | Wiltshire, England

Stonehenge, one of the most iconic landmarks of ancient history, has captivated the imagination of many for centuries.

Its origins trace back to Neolithic and Bronze Age civilizations, between 3000 and 2000 BC.

This prehistoric monument, located in Wiltshire, England, consists of a ring of standing stones, each around 13 feet high, seven feet wide, and weighing approximately 25 tons.

Though Stonehenge significantly predates the medieval period, its enigmatic presence influenced the cultural and historical narrative during the Middle Ages.

By then, legends surrounding Stonehenge had already intertwined with tales of Merlin, King Arthur, and the Druids.

These stories, coupled with its mysterious construction and purpose, made it an emblematic site of historical importance.

While Stonehenge does not belong to the seven wonders of the medieval world, its lasting influence and the aura of mystery surrounding it set a precedent for other architectural and cultural marvels that would emerge during the medieval era.

It is a testament to humanity’s ancient quest for understanding, purpose, and connection to the cosmos.

Image of the Flavian Amphitheatre, aka the Roman Colosseum
The Colosseum (or Flavian Amphitheatre), in modern-day Rome, Italy

2. The Colosseum | Rome, Italy

The Colosseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, located in Rome, Italy, stands as one of the most iconic symbols of ancient Roman grandeur and engineering prowess.

Commissioned in AD 72 by Emperor Vespasian of the Flavian dynasty and completed in AD 80 by his son Titus, this monumental structure could accommodate over 50,000 spectators.

Built primarily of concrete and sand, the Colosseum played host to an array of public spectacles, including gladiator contests, battle reenactments, and animal hunts, providing entertainment and a means of showcasing Roman imperial power and military skill.

Though the Colosseum was erected centuries before the medieval period, its legacy and significance extended into the Middle Ages and beyond.

Over time, it faced numerous challenges: earthquakes, stone robbers, and general deterioration.

Yet, it remained an awe-inspiring structure, both for its architectural magnificence and the historical events it witnessed.

Throughout the medieval period and into modern times, it has been revered as a testament to Rome’s eternal splendor and the innovative spirit of ancient civilizations.

Image of the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqfa in Alexandria, Egypt
A crypt in the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa in Alexandria, Egypt

3. The Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa | Alexandria, Egypt

The Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa, located in Alexandria, Egypt, are a mesmerizing testament to the seamless blend of Greco-Roman and Egyptian artistic sensibilities.

Discovered in the early 20th century, these catacombs were carved out of the city’s bedrock in the 2nd century AD.

Delving deep beneath the ground, this multilevel burial site is adorned with a remarkable array of statues, carvings, and frescoes that reveal the convergence of two major ancient cultures in architecture and funerary practices.

One of the seven wonders of the medieval world, the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa showcase an exquisite fusion of Pharaonic, Greek, and Roman iconography.

For instance, one can find a carving of Anubis, the Egyptian god of the afterlife, dressed in Roman military attire, exemplifying the mixed nature of the catacomb’s art.

This labyrinthine burial site also features a banquet hall, where families once commemorated the departed, and a central rotunda that descends into the catacombs’ depths.

Beyond its artistic significance, the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa offer a glimpse into the cultural melting pot that was Alexandria during the Greco-Roman period.

Serving as an epitome of multicultural artistry, this architectural wonder stands as a resounding symbol of historical cross-pollination, immortalized as one of the most profound sites among the seven wonders of the medieval world.

Image of the Great Wall of China at dusk
The Great Wall of China at dawn

4. The Great Wall of China

Stretching over 13,000 miles, the Great Wall of China is an enduring symbol of Chinese strength, determination, and engineering acumen.

Originating as early as the 7th century BC, various Chinese dynasties constructed, rebuilt, and maintained the wall, primarily as a defense against nomadic invaders from the north.

The most renowned sections, built by the Ming Dynasty between the 14th and 17th centuries, epitomize the advanced architectural skills and labor-intensive efforts employed to create this awe-inspiring edifice.

Interestingly, while the Great Wall predates the medieval era, its impact and significance reverberated well into the Middle Ages and beyond.

Thus, it’s often included on the list of seven wonders of the medieval world.

This colossal structure not only served as a military bulwark but also played a vital role in facilitating trade along the Silk Road and symbolized the strength and unity of the Chinese civilization, even amidst periods of fragmentation.

As one of the most monumental architectural feats in human history, the Great Wall of China is a testament to human endeavor’s tenacity.

Its winding path over rugged mountains and deserts, recognized as part of the seven wonders of the medieval world, continues to inspire wonder and admiration as one of the most visited historical places in the world.

Image of and artist's rendition of the Porcelain Tower of Nanjing, one of the 7 Wonders of the Medieval World
The Porcelain Tower of Nanjing as depicted by 18th-century (1721) European visitors to the site

5. The Porcelain Tower of Nanjing | Nanjing, China

The Porcelain Tower of Nanjing, once located in Nanjing, China, was a magnificent beacon of artistic and architectural prowess that graced the city of Nanjing during the Ming Dynasty.

Commissioned by Emperor Yongle in the 15th century, this nine-story pagoda soared to approximately 79 meters.

As its name suggests, the tower was adorned with exquisite porcelain tiles that shimmered in varying colors when kissed by sunlight, earning it admiration and awe from locals and travelers alike.

Recognized as one of the seven wonders of the medieval world, the Porcelain Tower was more than just a marvel of engineering.

It also served as a testament to the flourishing Buddhist culture in China, with the structure encompassing numerous Buddhist statues and carvings.

Inscriptions and artworks embellished its exterior, reflecting a fusion of religious reverence and the zenith of Ming Dynasty artistry.

However, the passage of time wasn’t kind to this architectural gem.

The tower suffered damage during wars and was eventually destroyed during the Taiping Rebellion in the 19th century.

Despite its loss, the Porcelain Tower’s legacy endures, immortalized in historical records and remembered as one of the most enchanting structures among the seven wonders of the medieval world.

Author’s Note: A modern replica of the original Porcelain tower was erected on the same site as the old tower and opened to the public in 2015. The link goes to a Google Map of the location.

Image of one of the 7 Wonders of the Medieval World, the Hagia Sophia in Instanbul, Turkey
The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey, from above

6. The Hagia Sophia | Istanbul, Turkey

The Hagia Sophia, an architectural masterpiece in Istanbul, Turkey, has stood as a testament to the confluence of cultures, religions, and empires for over a millennium.

Commissioned by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, this magnificent structure was completed in 537 AD, initially serving as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral.

With its massive dome, lavish mosaics, and intricate design, the Hagia Sophia was not just the world’s largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years but also an emblem of Byzantine engineering and artistic prowess.

Interestingly, while the Hagia Sophia’s origins lie in the Byzantine era, its significance and influence permeated throughout the medieval period, earning it a place among the seven wonders of the medieval world.

Over the centuries, this venerable structure has witnessed the ebb and flow of empires.

In 1453, following the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, Sultan Mehmed II converted the cathedral into a mosque, a role maintained until 1935, when it was secularized and transformed into a museum under the Turkish Republic’s directive.

Today, the Hagia Sophia stands as a symbol of Istanbul’s rich and layered history.

Its walls whisper tales of Byzantine emperors, Ottoman sultans, and the countless worshipers who have sought solace under its vast dome.

As one of the seven wonders of the medieval world, the Hagia Sophia continues to captivate and inspire, a beacon of architectural genius and historical resilience.

Image of the Leaning Tower of Pisa at night
The Leaning Tower of Pisa (and the Duomo of Pisa) at night

7. The Leaning Tower of Pisa | Pisa, Italy

The Leaning Tower of Pisa, located in Pisa, Italy, with its unmistakable tilt, is one of the country’s most recognizable and celebrated landmarks.

Initiated in the 12th century, the tower’s construction spanned nearly 200 years, a timeline extended due to numerous interruptions from wars and other events.

Designed as the freestanding campanile (bell tower) for Pisa’s cathedral, the tower began to lean soon after construction, a tilt attributed to the unstable soil foundation comprised of soft clay, fine sand, and shells.

This unintentional architectural quirk soon caught the attention of many, and the Leaning Tower became renowned not just for its engineering challenges but also for its unique aesthetic appeal.

Even as it veered from the vertical, the tower’s fame grew, and it was eventually recognized as one of the seven wonders of the medieval world.

Over the centuries, efforts have been made to correct its lean or at least prevent further tilting.

Still, the inclination remains, endearing the monument to millions and transforming what might have been seen as an engineering flaw into an iconic symbol of serendipity.

Today, the Leaning Tower of Pisa continues to draw tourists from around the globe, all eager to glimpse and perhaps lean against this marvel of medieval engineering.

Its enduring charm is a testament to humanity’s ability to find beauty in imperfection, and its legacy as one of the 7 Wonders of the Medieval World remains undiminished by time.

3 More Wonders of the Medieval World

While the original medieval wonders list has typically been relegated to 7 Wonders, the following three structures are commonly included in other medieval wonders lists instead of those I have listed above.

Image of the Cairo Citadel in Egypt
The Cairo Citadel (or Citadel of Saladin) in modern-day Cairo, Egypt

8. The Cairo Citadel | Cairo, Egypt

The Cairo Citadel, perched prominently on Mokattam Hill in the heart of Cairo, stands as a formidable testament to the city’s rich history of defense, governance, and architectural grandeur.

Initiated by Salah ad-Din (Saladin) in the 12th century, the citadel was primarily conceived as a defense against the Crusaders.

Over successive centuries, various rulers expanded and embellished the citadel, turning it into a nerve center of power, a royal residence, and a hub of religious significance, as mosques and schools sprang up within its robust walls.

While the Cairo Citadel might not be universally listed among the seven wonders of the medieval world, its prominence and relevance during the medieval period are undeniable.

As a strategic fortress, it played a pivotal role in many significant historical events of the era.

Furthermore, its impressive battlements and towering minarets became symbols of both military strength and spiritual aspiration, reflecting the intricate weave of politics and faith in medieval Cairo.

The Cairo Citadel remains a major attraction in contemporary times, drawing tourists and historians alike.

It offers panoramic views of the sprawling city below while its walls whisper tales of bygone battles, great leaders, and the deep-rooted spirituality that shapes much of Cairo’s identity.

As a monument, it undoubtedly evokes the grandeur and significance often associated with the seven wonders of the medieval world.

Image of Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire, England
The Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire, England

9. Ely Cathedral | Cambridgeshire, England

Ely Cathedral, often called the “Ship of the Fens” due to its prominent stature amidst the surrounding flatlands, is a masterwork of medieval architecture in Cambridgeshire, England.

Founded as an abbey in 672 AD, it was later refounded as a cathedral in the 12th century following the Norman conquest.

The cathedral’s design is a testament to evolving architectural styles, with its early Romanesque elements gracefully blending into later Gothic additions, including the awe-inspiring Octagon and Lantern Tower.

Though Ely Cathedral might not be traditionally counted among the universally recognized 7 wonders of the medieval world, its significance and architectural splendor during the Middle Ages were unparalleled.

The cathedral’s illustrious Octagon, built after the collapse of the central tower in 1322, is particularly noteworthy.

With its vast internal open space topped by a lantern, this engineering marvel became a symbol of innovation and resilience, encapsulating the spirit of medieval architectural ambitions.

Today, Ely Cathedral continues to inspire visitors with its majestic presence, intricate carvings, and stained glass windows that play with light in mesmerizing patterns.

Its storied history and magnificent structure resonate with the grandeur and reverence often associated with the 7 wonders of the medieval world, marking it as a must-visit relic from an era of profound religious and architectural fervor.

Image of the Taj Mahal, in Agra, India, a wonder of the medieval world
The Taj Mahal, with many visitors, in Agra, India

10. Taj Mahal | Agra, India

The Taj Mahal, often described as the “crown of palaces,” is a paragon of Mughal architecture and one of India’s most iconic landmarks.

Situated on the southern banks of the Yamuna River in Agra, this magnificent white marble mausoleum was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

The construction, which spanned over two decades, involved thousands of artisans and craftsmen, and the result was a harmonious blend of Persian, Turkish, and Indian architectural styles.

While the Taj Mahal was constructed after what is traditionally regarded as the medieval period, its grandeur, artistry, and historical significance evoke the same awe and reverence as the 7 wonders of the medieval world.

The complex isn’t just about the main mausoleum; it encompasses a series of captivating structures, including a mosque, a guest house, and lush gardens that symmetrically converge towards the main tomb.

The intricate inlay work, the soaring dome, and the minarets’ delicate details make it an epitome of love and an architectural marvel.

In modern times, the Taj Mahal is a testament to a man’s love for his wife and a symbol of India’s rich history and cultural heritage.

Drawing millions of visitors annually from around the globe, it remains a profound example of the world’s architectural and cultural wonders, echoing the magnificence commonly associated with the 7 wonders of the medieval world.

interior of the Hagia Sophia in Turkey
The interior structure and ceiling of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul

Wrap-up: Wonders of the Medieval World

In reflecting upon the 7 wonders of the medieval world, it’s evident that these architectural marvels are not merely relics of the past but poignant reminders of human ambition, artistry, and reverence.

Whether standing tall today or existing in fragmented memories, each monument bears testimony to the era’s profound achievements.

They offer us glimpses into the medieval mind’s creativity and resilience, where despite limited technological advancements, humans manifested grand visions into tangible, awe-inspiring structures.

As we journey through modern times, the 7 Wonders of the Medieval World continue to serve as benchmarks of human potential, reminding us that with passion and perseverance, boundaries can be redefined.

Their tales of origin, survival, and eventual legacy are intertwined with the fabric of our collective history, ensuring that these wonders, and the stories they tell, remain eternal.

Image of Stonehenge at sunrise
The ancient wonder Stonehenge, at dusk

FAQs: Wonders of the Medieval World

1. Aren’t some of these wonders built before the medieval period?

Yes, some wonders like Stonehenge predate the medieval era.

However, their sustained influence and significance during the medieval period led to their inclusion.

2. Is it possible to visit all the 7 Wonders of the Medieval World today?

Most of them, yes.

Some popular tourist destinations include the Hagia Sophia, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the Great Wall of China.

However, specific sites, like the Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa, may have restricted access.

3. What technological advancements or innovations during the medieval period made constructing these wonders possible?

The medieval era saw several technological and engineering advancements, such as the improved design of cranes, the introduction of flying buttresses, and the use of new building materials.

These innovations played crucial roles in constructing towering structures and intricate designs characteristic of the wonders.

References: Wonders of the Medieval World