Colossus of Rhodes
Rhodes Town
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Rhodes Town

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The mighty Helios statue, erected around 280 BC in Rhodes city, remains an enigma in size and location after 19 centuries. It’s among the ancient world’s wonders.


Rhodes, both an island and a city, was coveted by Greeks and their adversaries, serving as a strategic trade gateway and welcoming sea vessels with goods for the mainland. Locals staunchly defended this prized maritime jewel.

In 305 BCE, Demetrius of Macedonia, son of Antigonus Cyclops, laid siege to Rhodes with an army of 40,000. The Rhodians valiantly withstood the year-long assault without surrendering. Demetrius eventually retreated. To commemorate their defense and honor Helios, the sun god believed to have protected their land, the citizens planned to erect a colossal statue in his memory.

The massive undertaking of building the Colossus commenced around 294–292 BC, taking a full 12 years to complete. The renowned sculptor Chares of Lindos, a pupil of Lysippus with several grand statues to his name, was entrusted with the project. Initially, plans for the base envisioned it reaching a height between 15 to 18 meters. The local citizens pooled their resources to cover the cost in full.

During its construction, the creators decided to double the size of the statue and paid the sculptor an additional fee equal to the first. However, the funds were insufficient for a third of the required materials for the Colossus. Hares miscalculated the costs, leading him to borrow money from family and friends. Despite the financial issues, he succeeded in crafting the statue. After 12 years, the locals beheld an immense representation of the sun god Helios, adorned with brass (or perhaps bronze, according to some sources) plates that sculpted its skin, with clay filling the interior. Hares also incorporated stone and iron in the structure, which stood 32–33 meters tall.

The base supporting the statue had a diameter of at least 18 meters and was described variably as circular or octagonal in shape, with most sources suggesting it was constructed from white marble. The sculpture itself featured the sun god Helios with a crown on his head, and one hand raised to his forehead.

What became of the statue?

After standing for just over 50 years, a catastrophic quake hit Rhodes in 226 BC, leveling not only the statue but much of the city. The massive Colossus was broken at the knees and toppled over. Its immense size became apparent, with its thumb thicker than many monuments; few could wrap their arms around it. Egypt’s ruler, Ptolemy III, once offered to rebuild it. However, the Delphic oracle claimed locals had incurred Helios' wrath, leading to divine retribution. Fearing further anger from the sun god, the Rhodians decided against restoring the statue.

The Location of the Colossus of Rhodes

It’s a common belief that the mighty statue by Chares stood over Mandraki harbor’s entrance in Rhodes. However, historical records, including those from Strabo, indicate that the fallen statue remained on the ground for over 800 years. During that time, travelers continued to visit Rhodes, drawn by the colossal remains.

The idea that the Colossus blocked sea access to the harbor doesn’t appear in historical records. It’s unlikely that Chares could have built it over the sea, as he had to pile up earth for elevation. Scholars also doubt it could stand on marble pillars above water due to the gap between its legs and its immense weight, which would cause it to collapse into the sea. Therefore, the statue must have been situated on land, not at the port.

Historians believe that the statue was erected either at the site of the Medieval Fortress of Saint Nicholas or close to it, as curved marble blocks have been found there. Some also theorize that the Colossus was located in the city center near the temple of Helios, which makes sense given the Greek tradition of placing statues near temples to honor the deities.

Fascinating Tidbits about the Colossus

  • In 653 AD, a merchant from Edessa employed a caravan of 900 camels to transport the molten remains of the statue from the island.
  • The Colossus of Rhodes was a beacon of liberty, much like the Statue of Liberty in the USA.  It is rumored that the sculptor Hares, burdened by heavy debts, ended his life through suicide after completing the Colossus.
  • A plan to erect a new Colossus in Rhodes city was proposed in 2008. However, due to uncertainties regarding the location of the original statue, the project remained unrealized.

It’s impossible to see the actual monument today. Yet, one can envision where it may have once proudly stood. Should you visit or find yourself near the Old Town’s walls, head to the Mandraki