Why was Rhodes famous for its Colossus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and what happened to it?

Rhodes is a Greek island in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, known for its rich history, culture and natural beauty. But perhaps the most remarkable feature of Rhodes was its Colossus, a colossal statue of the sun god Helios that stood by the harbour of the city for more than 50 years. The Colossus was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, a list of remarkable architectural and artistic achievements that amazed ancient travellers and inspired generations of artists and engineers. In this blog post, we will explore why Rhodes built the Colossus, what it looked like, where it stood, and what happened to it.

Why did Rhodes build the Colossus?

The Colossus was a symbol of victory, gratitude and pride for the people of Rhodes. In 305 BCE, Rhodes was besieged by Demetrius I Poliorcetes, a powerful general who wanted to conquer the island and use its strategic location and wealth for his own ambitions. Demetrius brought a large army and navy, as well as massive siege engines that could hurl stones and fire at the city walls. The Rhodians resisted bravely for a year, with the help of their allies from Egypt, led by Ptolemy I Soter, a former general of Alexander the Great. Ptolemy sent a relief force of ships and troops that forced Demetrius to abandon the siege and leave behind most of his equipment. The Rhodians sold the abandoned siege engines for 300 talents (about 9 tons) of silver and decided to use the money to build a colossal statue of their patron god, Helios, to thank him for their deliverance and to celebrate their freedom and prosperity.

What did the Colossus look like?

The Colossus was designed and built by Chares of Lindos, a native of Rhodes and a renowned sculptor who had studied under Lysippos, the official sculptor of Alexander the Great. Chares had experience with large-scale statues, having previously made a 22-metre-high bronze statue of Zeus at Tarentum in Italy. The construction of the Colossus began in 292 BCE and took 12 years to complete. It was made of bronze plates that were fixed to an iron framework with iron bars and stone blocks. The bronze was obtained by melting down the weapons and armour of Demetrius’ army. The statue was about 33 metres high (about the height of a modern 10-storey building) and weighed about 225 tons. It depicted Helios standing upright with a cloak over his left shoulder, holding a torch in his right hand and a spear in his left hand. His head was crowned with rays of light and his face had a serene expression. Some sources suggest that he also held a bow or a shield in his left hand, or that he shielded his eyes with one hand as if looking at the sun.

Where did the Colossus stand?

The exact location of the Colossus is still debated by scholars and historians, but most agree that it stood near the harbour entrance of Rhodes city, on a white marble pedestal that was about 15 metres high. Some ancient sources claim that the statue straddled the harbour mouth, with one foot on each side, allowing ships to pass under its legs. However, this is technically impossible, as the statue would have been too heavy and unstable to stand on such a narrow base. Moreover, there is no evidence that the harbour was ever widened or deepened to accommodate such a structure. A more likely scenario is that the statue stood on one side of the harbour, either on a breakwater or on land, facing or overlooking the sea. A relief from Roman times shows the statue standing on land with one hand raised above its head.

What happened to the Colossus?

The Colossus stood proudly for more than half a century, attracting visitors from all over the ancient world who marvelled at its size and beauty. However, in 226 BCE, a strong earthquake struck Rhodes and caused extensive damage to the city and its monuments. The Colossus was among the casualties: it snapped at the knees and fell to the ground, breaking into several pieces. The Rhodians were devastated by the loss of their wonder, but they did not attempt to rebuild it, as they believed that it was a sign of the gods’ displeasure. According to an oracle, they were advised to leave the statue as it was and not to offend Helios. The fallen Colossus remained in place for more than 900 years, still attracting curious visitors who could walk among its fragments and touch its bronze skin. The Roman writer Pliny the Elder described the Colossus as “a work to be admired even in its ruins”.

In 654 CE, Rhodes was invaded by an Arab force under the caliph Muawiyah I, who conquered the island and plundered its treasures. According to some sources, the Arabs dismantled the Colossus and sold its bronze for scrap. The historian Theophanes the Confessor wrote that it took 900 camels to carry away the metal. However, this account may be unreliable, as there is no archaeological evidence of such a massive operation. Some scholars suggest that the Colossus was already gone by then, either destroyed by another earthquake or taken away by earlier invaders or traders. The exact fate of the Colossus remains a mystery.


The Colossus of Rhodes was one of the most impressive and influential statues in history, a testament to the artistic skill, engineering ingenuity and civic pride of the Rhodians. It was a symbol of their resilience, prosperity and devotion to their god. It was also a source of inspiration and admiration for generations of travellers, writers and artists who visited or imagined the wonder. Even today, the Colossus lives on in popular culture and imagination, as many modern monuments and sculptures have been modelled after or influenced by it. The most famous example is the Statue of Liberty in New York, which was designed by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, a French sculptor who had visited Rhodes and seen the site of the Colossus. The Statue of Liberty shares many features with the Colossus, such as the height, the pose, the torch, the rays and the harbour location.

Since 2008, there have been several proposals to build a new Colossus at Rhodes Harbour, either as a replica or a modern interpretation of the original statue. These projects aim to revive the cultural and economic significance of Rhodes and to create a new landmark for the island and the world. However, none of these proposals have been realized yet, due to various challenges and controversies. Moreover, some people argue that building a new Colossus would diminish the value and uniqueness of the ancient wonder, and that it would be better to preserve and respect its memory and legacy.

Whether or not a new Colossus will ever rise again in Rhodes, the old Colossus will always remain one of the most remarkable achievements of human creativity and spirit.