Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Wonders all around us

On July 7, 2007, the New Seven Wonders organization, founded to document, maintain, restore and reconstruct world heritage sites, announced the new 7 wonders of the world as chosen by a world-wide internet vote. Although many wrote off the campaign as nothing more then a publicity stunt aimed at making a profit, it did capture the attention of millions, educating the masses on the sites and focusing attention on the need to upkeep these wonders for the enjoyment of future generations. For those who did not pay attention in history class, or were not taught the actual fun and exciting stuff in the world, this contest provided a wonderful background on the nominees and a reminder that the fate of these sites could be subject to the same doom as 6 of the original 7 wonders.

There is actually a history of Seven Wonders lists generated over the centuries. Most people know of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, which are based on ancient Greek, Roman and Persian writings and focused primarily on locations around the Mediterranean:

  • Great Pyramid of Giza: Built as the tomb for Fourth dynasty Egyptian pharaoh Khufu and the only ancient wonder still standing.
  • Hanging Gardens of Babylon: Described as multi-leveled gardens reaching 75 feet high, complete with machinery for circulating water and large trees grew on the roof; destroyed in a 1st century BC earthquake.
  • Temple of Artemis at Ephesus: Dedicated to the Greek goddess Artemis and burned down by Herostratus to achieve lasting fame.
  • Statue of Zeus at Olympia: Occupied the whole width of the aisle of the temple that was built to house it, and was 40 feet tall and presumed destroyed by fire or earthquake.
  • Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus: 135 feet tall with each of the four sides adorned with sculptures and the origin of today’s word mausoleum. Damaged by an earthquake and eventually disassembled by Crusaders.
  • Colossus of Rhodes: A giant statue of the Greek god Helios roughly 75% the size of the Statue of Liberty; destroyed by an earthquake.
  • Lighthouse of Alexandria: Estimated between 383 to 440 feet, it was among the tallest man-made structures on Earth for many centuries; destroyed by an earthquake.

A lesser known list is the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages, although most of the locations on this list are very well known:

  • Stonehenge: Stonehenge is a circular setting of large standing stones in the UK countryside. Archaeologists believe the standing stones, weighing around 50 tons each, were erected around 2200 BC.
  • Colosseum: Amphitheatre in the center of Rome and completed in 80 AD, it is the largest structure built in the Roman Empire and considered one of the greatest feats of Roman architecture and engineering.
  • Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa: Located in Alexandria, Egypt and consists of a series of Alexandrian tombs, statues and archaeological objects of the Pharaonic funeral cult, displaying the melding of various cultures with Hellenistic and Imperial Roman influences.
  • Great Wall of China: A series of stone and earthen fortifications in China built and maintained between the 5th century BC and the 16th century to protect the northern borders of the Chinese Empire.
  • Porcelain Tower of Nanjing: A white porcelain brick tower adored with glaze and stoneware art located on the south bank of the Yangtze in Nanjing, China, it was constructed in the 15th century AD, but was mostly destroyed in 19th century warfare and currently being reconstructed.
  • Hagia Sophia: Formerly a patriarchal basilica, later a mosque and now a museum in Istanbul, Turkey, it is considered the ultimate display of Byzantine architecture and served as the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years, until the completion of the Medieval Seville Cathedral.
  • Leaning Tower of Pisa: The freestanding bell tower situated behind the cathedral of Pisa, Italy, was intended to stand vertically but began lean almost immediately after construction began due to a poorly laid foundation.

The Seven Modern Wonders of the World as chosen by the American Society of Civil Engineers:

  • Channel Tunnel: Tunnel under the Strait of Dover, between England and France.
  • CN Tower: Tallest structure in the world, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
  • Empire State Building: Art Deco skyscraper in New York, NY that stood as the world's tallest building for more than forty years, from its completion in 1931 until the construction of the World Trade Center North Tower.
  • Golden Gate Bridge: The Golden Gate Bridge was the largest suspension bridge in the world when it was completed in 1937, built to withstand the San Francisco Bay area’s seismic activity, and currently the second longest suspension bridge in the United States after the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York City.
  • Itaipu Dam: Hydroelectric dam on the ParanĂĄ River located on the border between Brazil and Paraguay, most known for the agreements that needed to occur between Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina for construction to begin.
  • Delta Works: Dams, locks, dikes and surge barriers constructed between 1950 and 1997 in the southwest of the Netherlands to protect a large area of land from the sea.
  • Panama Canal: Ship canal that crosses the Isthmus of Panama in Central America, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and considered one of the most difficult engineering projects every undertaken.

There were originally 77 nominees for the New Seven Wonders of the World and the following 21 made the final cut and were the choices available to voters worldwide:

  • The Acropolis in Greece: The temples of the Acropolis are among the most famous architectural landmarks of ancient and modern history with the Parthenon recognized as an international symbol of Greek civilization.
  • The Kremlin/St. Basil's in Russia: Built as a residence for Ivan I, the Kremlin was the official residence of the Czars until the 1917 Russian Revolution and one of the most recognized symbols of Russian architecture.
  • Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany: Constructed after the time when castles were strategically necessary, the castle was built to bring people architectural beauty and art.
  • The Eiffel Tower in France: Steel tower recognized as one of the most popular architectural achievements in the western world and serves as an international symbol of France.
  • The Alhambra in Spain: The structure is renowned for stunning frescoes and interior detail and is one of the finest examples of Moorish architecture in the world.
  • The Great Wall of China in China: Part of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages list above.
  • Kiyomizu Temple in Japan: Palaces and temples of Kyoto were the residences of Japan's emperors and shoguns for more than 1,000 years.
  • The Sydney Opera House in Australia: This architectural masterpiece and landmark building put the whole continent of Australia on the world map.
  • Angkor in Cambodia: The most important monument of the south-east Asian Khmer Empire and the world's largest sacred temple.
  • The Taj Mahal in India: Immense mausoleum was built on the orders of Shah Jahan, the fifth Muslim Mogul emperor, to honor the memory of his beloved late wife and regarded as the perfect example of Muslim art in India.
  • Timbuktu in Mali: The crossroads of the four most important caravan paths supplying the Arab world and home to one of the first universities in the history, the Koranic Sankore, where 20,000 students studied.
  • Petra in Jordan: A city with great tunnel constructions and water chambers, a Greco-roman theater; best known for the Palace Tombs of Petra.
  • The Statue of Christ Redeemer in Brazil: One of the world's best-known monuments was designed by Brazilian Heitor da Silva Costa and created by French sculptor Paul Landowski.
  • The Easter Island Statues in Chile: Collection of 82 feet high stone sculptures that still puzzles historians and archaeologists as to its origins.
  • Machu Picchu in Peru: Incan Emperor PachacĂștec built a city in the clouds on the mountain known as Machu Picchu that lies halfway up the Andes Plateau.
  • Chichen Itza in Mexico: The most famous Mayan temple city, its various structures; the pyramid of Kukulkan, the Temple of Chac Mool, the Hall of the Thousand Pillars, and the Playing Field of the Prisoners, can still be seen today.
  • The Statue of Liberty in the U.S.A: Gift from the French government to the United States to honor the ideals of freedom and independence, this huge statue became a symbol of hope and freedom for the people who immigrated to the United States.
  • The Pyramids of Giza in Egypt: Part of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World list above.
  • Hagia Sophia in Turkey: Part of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages list above.
  • The Colosseum in Italy: Part of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages list above.
  • Stonehenge in the United Kingdom: Part of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages list above.

I voted early on in the process and, being a complete history and travel geek, came up with a pseudo-scientific methodology for determining my top 10. First, I referenced the Webster’s definition of the word “wonder;” a cause of astonishment or admiration: MARVEL. Then I looked up “astonishment;” something that astonishes: a cause of amazement or wonder. Then I looked up “amaze;” to fill with wonder: ASTOUND. Then I looked up “astound;” to fill with bewilderment: WONDER. After coming full circle on the word wonder, I pondered when the dictionary started reading more like a Thesaurus and then devised the following methodology for voting:

  • Does the site cause me to “wonder;” having some mystery on the when, where, why and how the site came to being?
  • Was I aware of the site prior to this contest through my studies or my addiction to the travel channel (although I appreciated learning about a few new places)?
  • Does the site have a “Wow” factor?

Using the three questions listed above, I was able to take the list of 21 and eventually narrow it down to my list of 7:

  • Acropolis
  • Chichen Itza
  • Easter Island Statues
  • Great Wall
  • Machu Picchu
  • Pyramids of Giza
  • Stonehenge

And the winners:

  • Great Wall
  • Petra
  • Christ the Redeemer
  • Machu Picchu
  • Chichen Itza
  • Colosseum
  • Taj Mahal
  • Pyramids of Giza

You might notice that there are 8 in the list of winners above. Egypt was outraged at the contest, protesting that the Pyramids are the only wonder in the world and should not be put to a vote; driving the decision to make the Pyramids an honorary wonder and pulling them out of the vote. Since I voted prior to the removal of the Pyramids from the vote, I am declaring that my new 7th would be Angkor using my outlined methodology above, which did not make the final list. Actually, out of my 7, only 3 made the final list of 7; Chichen Itza, the Great Wall and Machu Picchu.

While I am amazed that Stonehenge, the Acropolis, and the Easter Island Statues did not make the list, there is only one that I am truly disappointed in; Christ the Redeemer. Honestly, this is really nothing more then a very big statue and we know who made it; where is the wonder and mystery. The final vote was influenced by a variety of global factors that affected the outcome of the vote, with a major one being the varying level of interest in this contest across the globe. Certain countries, like Brazil and Jordan, aired government sponsored commercials and waived the phone fees for residents voting for their home-country nominees.

The announcement on 07/07/07 caused very little fanfare in the United States; probably because we only had one nominee and frankly, I think we could have done much better then the Statue of Liberty (did anyone even think of Mount Rushmore or Crazy Horse?). Now that the verdict is in on the New Seven Wonders of the World, the organization is in the midst of their next vote; The New Seven Wonders of Nature. While the US should fare much better in this global vote, I cannot help but question the reason behind this vote. Declaring the New Seven Wonders was a fun way to bring new attention to world sites and show the need for their historic preservations. It was a means to almost replace the 6 wonders that are no longer part of planet earth. However, there is already a well established list of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and we should ensure that their ecological safety is protected for generations to come.

The Seven Natural Wonders of the World:

  • Mount Everest
  • The Great Barrier Reef
  • The Grand Canyon
  • Victoria Falls
  • The Harbor of Rio de Janeiro
  • Paricutin Volcano
  • The Northern Lights


Julie said...

Hey Chelle! Our lists were virtually identical, although I had the Hagia Sofia, since Istanbul is my favorite city in the world. I have visited Hagia Sofia 3 times. its a miracle its still standing (built in 579..survived earthquakes, fires and wars)...I was also shocked that Christ the Redeemer made the list. How did it beat out the freaking Acropolis?!

Steve said...

The writers of this article forgot two Italian Natural wonders: Sophia Loren and Monica Bellucci. I was so disappointed...

Diane said...

Are you insinuating that Sophia Loren is as old as the Acropolis? I know she's old, but come on!

Explosive Bombchelle said...

I think I might be nominating George Clooney as my 8th wonder of the world... Yeow!

Explosive Bombchelle said...

As for Christ the Reedemer, Brazil had a huge national campaign to vote for the statue, proving that it's not the best candidates that win; it's the candidate with the best campaign team.

Steve said...

Diane, NO far from making a crack about Sophia Loren's age, she IS a natural wonder. I don't care if she is in her 70's now. As good as she looks, I would be happy to be her boy-toy. Sophia Loren in her 70's, Monica Bollucci in her mid 40's are both stunning AND classy women who should both be classified by the Italian Government as Natural wonders, as well as National Treasures. I would take either of these women over some skanky 20 something like Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan or Brittany Spears.

husband said...

What may have started as a good idea turned into a farce. With countries like Peru suspending cell phone text charges if you sent in a vote for Machu Picchu. While many of the finalist were worthy, it's ridiculous that Christ the Redeemer ended up in the final 7 (er, 8). Never underestimate the stupidity of the masses, or the number of cell phones in South America.