originally published November 20, 2012
What is the eighth wonder of the world?
For years, people have been slapping that label on all sorts of things, from the Houston Astrodome to the Empire State Building to West Edmonton Mall (up until recently, the Mall contained three McDonaldses! How magnificent!). That’s an argument I’ll shelve for another month, because we’ve never really discussed the original seven.
In 2001, a Canadian/Swiss guy named Bernard Weber organized the New7Wonders Foundation to formally select the official Seven. It took six years and a massive poll – the largest poll in history, actually – but after 100 million votes, this is what they came up with.
The Giza Pyramid Complex, the only still-standing monument from the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, is an honorary Wonder. One Egyptian journalist, writing for a state-run paper, claimed this was a conspiracy against Egypt and completely unscientific. As to the second point, well no kidding. As for the former, I highly doubt anyone is putting in the time and effort to manage a poll like this just to stick it to Egypt. Get over yourselves – people will still flock to see the pyramids for Chrissake.
The Taj Mahal in Agra, India (the building, not the blues singer, though the other Taj Mahal is quite wonderful also) is first on the list. The story behind this building is well-known: Shah Jahan was devastated when his wife died during the birth of their 14th child. Seriously, maybe if he had opted not to use her uterus like an expressway, he might have avoided all that grief.
Anyway, the mausoleum and its surrounding complex took thirty years to build, wrapping up in 1653. Shortly after it was finished, Shah Jahan was deposed by his own kid and placed under house arrest at Agra Fort. He died, and was buried in his masterpiece, but the guy never really got a chance to bask in it.
If you’re considering a trip, you should probably hurry. The building’s structural integrity is a concern, due to the receding water level of the Yamuna River. The wooden foundation may be rotting; some experts figure the tomb may collapse in the next five years.
Chichen Itza, which would be a great name for a restaurant that specializes in chicken pizza, certainly belongs on this list, even though as pyramids go, it ranks a distant second to the Egyptian titans. We white folk didn’t even know these things existed until Europeans came along and whited up the American continents, but this ruin dates back as far as 750 A.D.
This is another one you’re going to want to visit soon. The Mexican government has been closing off monuments, or limiting access to the general public. El Castillo, that gigantic pyramid with all the steps (a real turn-off to more portly tourists who can’t ride up to the top in their Little Rascal scooters), was shut down in 2006. If you want to climb all those steps and see the throne room inside the top, you’ll be disappointed.
Christ The Redeemer, also known as Cristo Redentor, also known as Brazil’s Big Honkin’ Jesus, is actually shorter than the Statue of Liberty, even without her pedestal. Still, it hovers above Rio de Janeiro and shows up as often in city shots of Rio as the Opera House shows up in city shots of Sydney. It took nine years, from 1922 to 1931 to bring this creation to completion, carved from soapstone overtop reinforced concrete.
The original plan had been to flood the massive statue with lights for its debut, triggered by shortwave radio courtesy of Guglielmo Marconi, who was still riding the wave of being the master of technology because he invented radio. Bad weather intervened, and that never happened. Then a few years later, television was invented. Marconi couldn’t catch a break.
Next up we have the Colosseum in Rome, a structure my daughter was proud to tell me she licked whilst travelling on a school trip to Italy last year. I just don’t understand kids. The first blocks were laid for this Wonder back in 72AD. When the Colosseum was built, the only one of the Seven Ancient Wonders that wasn’t around anymore were the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. This is an amazing building, and one of the most ancient structures we have. Any movie or TV show that takes place in Rome is legally required to show the Colosseum in the background.
This one-time sports arena (if you consider lions eating people a sport) is undergoing a massive renovation, so it’s entirely possible you’ll one day be able to visit this piece of history and see a show. Bieber at the Colosseum! Maybe they’ll feed him to a lion.
The Great Wall of China certainly belongs on this list; its oldest components date back to the 7th or 8th century BC, which is older than everything on the Ancient-7 list, except for the pyramids. One archeological survey pieced together all branches of the wall and found the thing to be over 13,000 miles long. That’s like four Americas. This didn’t make the cut of the Seven Ancients? Screw it, it belongs on this list then.
Some say you can see the Wall from the moon. Actually, while its length would certainly be evident from that far away, its width would be the same as viewing the width of a single human hair from a distance of two miles away. Under perfect conditions, you might be able to spot it from a low Earth orbit. Maybe.
Also known as the other Wonder with lots of stairs, Machu Picchu was championed by the nation of Peru in this poll, almost as much as Brazil had urged its citizens to vote for Big Jesus. It’s believed this Incan city was built for emperor Pachacuti in the mid-15th century. The longer you wait to see this site, the more you’ll get to experience, apparently. Work is constantly being done to restore the city to how it would have looked back in Inca days.
There are 140 features – buildings, temples, parks, gift shops, three Starbucks – on the site. Naturally, since this is the most visited tourist location in Peru (huge bonus points to anyone who can think of one other tourist location in Peru), there are concerns over foot traffic. Now they only let in 2500 people a day. So plan on making your trip early in the morning.
Lastly we have the city of Petra, home of some of the most incredible rock-cut structures in the world. The Treasury, pictured above, does not actually contain the Holy Grail, as was depicted in Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade. You can visit the site, but don’t expect to be crawling around inside all the rock-buildings – they want to protect this place.
The city was established as long ago as 312 BC, but was unheard of in the western world until its discovery in 1812. The Roman Empire moved in and took over, which didn’t bode well for the Petra-ites. After an earthquake in 363 destroyed a lot of the buildings, it quickly degenerated into ruin status.
All seven of these sites are worth a visit. But shouldn’t the Pyramids still have made the cut? As the only survivor from the Seven Ancients, I think it should have been grandfathered on to this list.
Or maybe it was just a conspiracy against Egypt all along.