After Alexander the Great died, his extensive empire was fought over by three of his generals. The people who lived on the island of Rhodes supported Ptolemy (who ultimately ended up ruling Egypt). This angered one of the other generals, Demetrius, who decided to go to war against the Rhodians.
After a fierce battle, and against overwhelming odds, the Rhodians defeated Demetrius. To celebrate their great victory, they erected a huge statue to their sun god, Helios. They used the weapons of war which Demetrius and his men left behind: bronze (for the statue's exterior) and the siege tower (for the scaffolding).
Pliny (who wrote his account several centuries later) tells us it took about twelve years to build. It is believed work began in about 304 B.C. The statue stood for about fifty-six years until it collapsed because of an earthquake.
It was majestic even in ruins, according to Pliny: "Even as it lies, it excites our wonder and admiration. Few men can clasp the thumb in their arms, and its fingers are larger than most statues. Where the limbs are broken asunder, vast caverns are seen yawning in the interior. Within it, too, are to be seen large masses of rock, by the weight of which the artist steadied it while erecting it."
This video clip tells the story of the great statue of Rhodes.