History’s Forgotten Masterpieces: 5 Overlooked Wonders of the Ancient World

The ancient city of Bagan in Myanmar. Travel Wire Asia

Those with a love of history are probably aware of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. From the Great Pyramid of Giza to the Colossus of Rhodes, those great structures are a source of astonishment as we try to understand how the ancients had the ability to create them. The thing is, there are dozens of incredible buildings and complexes that haven’t garnered the same kind of coverage. These ancient wonders are no less spectacular than their better-known counterparts, and in this piece, I examine 5 of the best.

The Lost Labyrinth. Ancient Origins

1 – The Lost Labyrinth of Egypt

Anyone with even the slightest interest in history has heard of the Egyptian pyramids that were used to store the bodies of Pharaohs. Relatively few people are aware of the remarkable Labyrinth of Egypt that was apparently built by Amenemhat III in the 19th century BC. Ancient sources claimed there were 12 palaces over two levels with at least 3,000 chambers in this vast underground complex. The sprawling masterpiece received the ‘Labyrinth’ name from Greek writers, and it was supposedly the tomb of 12 kings and a number of sacred crocodiles.

The problem is: there is practically no visible trace of the Labyrinth remaining, and we rely on the accounts of ancient historians for more information on this extraordinary structure. It was located around 90 kilometers south of modern day Cairo and contained a huge number of secret tombs, shrines, and chambers. According to Herodotus: “the Labyrinth surpasses even the pyramids.”

Several other ancient historians such as Strabo, Pliny the Elder, and Diodorus wrote about this ancient marvel, and a couple of them claim to have seen the structure first hand. Herodotus was the first to write about the Labyrinth in the 5th Century BC, and he witnessed the complex for himself. He only saw the upper levels but was astonished at its grandeur and said it was hard to believe it was the work of men. Unfortunately, he was unable to provide a first-hand report on the underground levels because the Egyptians refused to let him enter.

We don’t know the exact reasons behind the destruction of the Labyrinth, but it’s likely that the structure was broken up and used for other projects while thieves also plundered the complex. A German scholar and polymath named Athanasius Kircher created the first pictorial reconstructions in the 17th century which he based on the writings of Herodotus. Kircher drew 12 courts surrounding a maze.

Professor Flinders Petrie claimed to have located the site of the Labyrinth in 1888. He said it was almost 1,000 feet long and 800 feet wide. To put these measurements in context; you could fit the temples of Luxor and Karnak in the structure! It is perhaps odd that more wasn’t made of the Labyrinth during the Egyptology frenzy of the early 20th century, but then again, hardly any traces remain. Compare that to the tomb of Tutankhamen and other remarkable discoveries where there was plenty of archaeological evidence lying around.

The Labyrinth remained under the radar until 2008, when a team of researchers from Egypt and Belgium investigated the location of the complex. Thanks to the use of advanced technology that studied the sand, the team determined that there had been an underground temple near the Pyramid of Amenemhat III. Bizarrely, the Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities suppressed the findings.

Eventually, the leaders of the expedition created a website to share their findings with the world. At the time of writing, there are no plans to excavate the area which is a shame because the Labyrinth could hold answers to burning questions about Ancient Egypt.

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  • ralph

    So it withered and was plundered!