The colossus of rhodes

Watching over a harbour, standing tall, the Colossus of Rhodes stood at the entrance of the Island of Rhodes with a crown, gazing upon the sky towards the sun, protecting his eyes from the sunrays with the help of his right hand. This bronze statue with the structure of a man was enormously tall and symbolised unity and victory which stood over two thousand years ago. It was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Statue of Liberty is an echo of none other than the statue – The Colossus of Rhodes. And both these statues were built as celebration of freedom. Although, the Colossus had been destroyed and its remains are not available anymore, one can imagine its structure by looking at the Statue of Liberty standing at the harbour of New York. This unique piece of art had lived not so long but its gigantic structure and the techniques involved in its construction amazes the world even today.

What lead to the construction of the Colossus of Rhodes?

After the death of Alexander the Great, the reign of the Island of Rhodes was in despair and confusion. Three of his generals, Ptolemy, Seleucus and Antigonus, decided to take up the responsibility and divide among themselves the rule of the kingdom. But, the Rhodesians happened to support the rule of Ptolemy and it made Antigonus furious. Out of fury and angst, Antigonus decided to punish the city of Island of Rhodes. He commanded his son, Demetrius, to move towards the city and capture it, in 305 B.C. Following his father’s instruction, Demetrius attacked the Island of Rhodes. However, it was not so easy because a strong and tall wall protected the Island of Rhodes across the border. Demetrius and his army of thousands had to cross the wall in order to capture the city. Thus, they built a wooden tower, which was known as ‘siege tower’ that would help the armies to climb over the wall and enter the city. He lashed six ships together and mounted a giant siege tower over it, in order to make an attack. Unfortunately, for Demetrius, nature did not support him. While his army was approaching the city, a sudden storm hit the sea and the siege tower fell upon destroying his ships. His armies were killed and Rhodesians were victorious in this battle. Demetrius decided to attack once again and this time he was equipped with another tower that had huge catapults attached to it. The tower was also covered with leather so that it could protect his troops from the arrows that the Rhodesians would shoot. These towers were wheeled and were moving towards the wall of the Island of Rhodes. Before they could reach the wall, the Rhodesians flooded a ditch outside the wall. It stopped the war machines of Demetrius and it took a long time for them to move forward. Time passed by and it was almost a year. In the mean time, fleets of ships from Egypt arrived to help the Island of Rhodes. Thus, Demetrius had to retreat with his troop but left his siege tower. People of Rhodes were ecstatic being victorious and earning their freedom. Thus, they decided to build a giant statue of their sun god, Helios, celebrating their victory. The statue was then known as the Colossus of Rhodes.

When was it built?

After the Rhodesians’ victory against the army of Demetrius, the Rhodian sculptor, Chares of Lindos, started the construction of this marvellous statue in 294 B.C. It was built at the harbour of the Island of Rhodes. The construction had many complications and it took 12 years to be completed. Chares himself could not live until the completion of the statue.

What were the features of its structure?

The statue stood at a height of 34 m over a base which was 15 m tall. The God of sun, Helios, was sculpted with bronze collected from the war machines of Demetrius. The statue of Helios was naked and stood with a crown holding a cloak on his left hand. The face turned towards the sky and the right hand over his eyes as if comforting the eyes from the rays of sun and guarding the harbour.

What made the Colossus of Rhodes one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World?

It was the size of this statue that grabbed everyone’s attention. At that time, it was incomparably bigger than any other statues ever built. It was something which no one had ever seen or imagined. However, it was not just the size that made it one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was, indeed, the techniques that were used in constructing such a humungous replica of their God. The sculptor, Chares, had used iron frames and beams inside the statue in order to support and help the statue stand. While building the statue, his major concern was its visibility, location and the foundation which had to be strong enough to hold the statue to the ground. They used bronze, collected from the war machines of Demetrius, for its construction. The siege towers were also used as scaffoldings to an extent. The statue was made up of tons and tons of iron and bronze. He had to cast the bronze in different shapes for different parts of the statue. Though Island of Rhodes was famous for bronze casting, the bronze sheet casted in any of the ordinary pit would fit for just a small piece of the statue. Thus, Chares made a huge casting pit which had been the biggest pit ever used for bronze casting. The pit was then filled with large blocks of clay. The clay blocks were then smeared or spread with wax all over so that it would cover the entire clay block. The wax was then moulded into the shape which he wanted for any part of the statue. It thus automatically shaped the clay blocks as well, accordingly. Then the clay is heated from beneath with strong flames of fire. With the heat, the clay would be set firmly in the required shape and the wax would be drained out. Simultaneously, the bronze also had to be heated and liquefied. As soon as the wax drained out, liquid bronze were poured into a gap from the top. When it is cooled, the bronze took the shape of the piece Chares wanted. Thus, the statue was assembled piece by piece from the ground. Since the statue was huge and tall, as the construction grew towards the upper part of the body, it was difficult to reach. Thus, Chares mounted earth around the statue and made a ramp where the workers could climb and continue the construction. Little by little as the statue grew, the earthen ramp also grew higher and higher covering the statue. No one could see the finished parts of the statue as a whole. The sculptor himself continued with a blind faith. It went on and on for years. The construction took 12 years to its completion. Once the crown was fixed and finishing touches were made, the earth was removed and then, there was the tallest, most amazing statue of that time standing overlooking the bay. Thus, today, it is remembered as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

How long did the Colossus of Rhodes last?

The statue did not last for long. After standing tall and strong for 56 years, an earthquake destroyed it into pieces in 226 B.C. The giant bronze statue collapsed because it could not withstand the earthquake and it fell on the ground lying there into pieces for hundreds of years with no one to reconstruct it.

What happened to the remains of this statue?

With no one to use the remains and none to reconstruct the statue, the broken bronze pieces were there for nearly 800 years. There were few tourists who would visit it. Then, in 654 A.D., when the Arab traders landed the Island of Rhodes, they took the broken bronze pieces and started to trade them. The scraps of the metals were carried to their trading markets and sold them. Thus, the Colossus of Rhodes which stood tall, huge and represented unity and victory ended up in a trade market of metal scraps. Although, it is destroyed and its remains are nowhere to be found, this ancient piece of art is still considered a work of genius.

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