I’m sure all of us grew up reading about the famous Wonders of the World, like the Egyptian pyramids, the Colossus of Rhodes or the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. With only one of the original wonders of world still standing, in 2007, Swiss-based New7Wonders Foundation started a major process of updating the wonders list, by holding what it became the largest poll ever recorded. More than 100 million people expressed their opinions on how the “New Seven Wonders of the World” should look like.
Of course, there is much controversy around this poll, many considering it absurd and the general perception being that there’s no scientific reason behind this list, being more of a popularity contest. And this was somehow officially confirmed when UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) declared they won’t be involved in any way in the making of this list. But still, with all these, the list (the 7 winners and the other 13 finalists) includes some of the most amazing landmarks in the world and, if you ask me, this is more of a “must visit before you die list”. So here are the winners, the New Seven Wonders of the World” (ordered alphabetically):
Chichen Itza, Mexico
The site became known in 1843, when John Lloyd Stephens visited the Yucatan region, including several Mayan cities and reported about his travel in the “Incidents of Travel in Yucatan” book. The Chichen Itza historical site features plenty of beautiful stone buildings connected through a very developed network of paved roads. The most popular areas are the Great Ball Court, the Central Group and the Great North Platform, the latter containing probably the best known monument from the site, the El Castillo (Temple of Kukulkan).
Located in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, Chichen Itza was founded in the 6th century (around 550 AD) by the Maya civilization, as a ceremonial center. The name is Mayan for “at the mouth of Itza’s well” and apparently comes from Itza, the name of an ethnic group very powerful at that time. For three centuries, the civilization and culture around Chichen Itza flourished, but in the 10th century the city was completely abandoned. There is still no explanation on why this happened but archaeologists discovered many Mayan cities being abandoned around this period. Around 1000 AD the Mayans returned to Chichen Itza, but the city started to decline and never reached its previous power, all ending in the 16th century, when it was conquered by the Spanish Conquistador Francisco de Montejo and transformed into a cattle farm by the Spanish government. Today, the Chichen Itza site is visited by more than 1.2 million visitors every year.
How to get to Chichen Itza: It’s located near the highway between the province’s capital Merida and Cancun, so you can easily get there by car or by bus (the ticket’s around $15), on one-day trips from one of these two cities (Google Maps).
Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
At a height of 130 ft (39.6 meters) and a width of 98 ft (30 meters), Christ the Redeemer (“Cristo Redentor” in Portuguese) is one of the largest Art Deco statues in the world and is Rio de Janeiro’s iconic landmark. The statue is located in the Tijuca Forest National Park, on top of 2,300 ft (700 meters) Corcovado mountain, overlooking Rio and depicting Jesus with its arms stretched (a symbol of peace).
Though around 1850 Princess Isabel dismissed the first project of building a large statue on the Corcovado mountain the Catholic Circle of Rio didn’t abandon the idea and 70 years later, in 1922, the construction began. The statue was designed by Brazilian engineer Heitor da Silva Costa and was executed by French sculptor Paul Landowski, using reinforced concrete for the core structure and soapstone for the outer layer. The construction was finished in 1931 at an estimated cost of $250,000 (around $3 million today, considering the inflation).
Over the years, the statue faced several problems that required restoration work. First, in 2008, it was struck by lighting, the local government being forced to replace some parts of the fingers, head and eyebrows and installing new lightning rods. And in 2010 the statues was vandalized, graffiti being sprayed on the right arm and head. Beside these, the statues needs permanent restoration due to exposure to strong winds and rain.
Colosseum, Rome, Italy
The Roman Empire’s greatest architecture and engineering work, the Colosseum’s construction started between 70 and 72 AD, under the rule of Emperor Vespasian. The arena was remodeled and restored several times and during the Roman Empire’s existence it was mainly used for gladiator and animal fights (for example, Dio Cassius reported more than 9,000 animals killed during the inauguration ceremony). After the Roman Empire’s fall, the Colosseum’s use was changed several times, by the 12th century being a cemetery, after that used as a castle by the Frangipani family. In 1349, a major earthquake caused the South side to collapse and no important restoration process has been made since, most of the stone being used for other buildings in the area.
In modern history, the Colosseum was restored, the arena substructure was excavated and the largest restoration effort was made between 1993 and 2000, at an estimated cost of $20 million. Today the Colosseum is probably Rome and Italy’s most famous landmarks, being visited by millions of tourists every year. An interesting fact about the arena is that it become a symbol of fight against the capital punishment, several demonstrations being held here, all culminating with the Italian government’s decision to change the night-time illumination from white to gold every time someone with the death penalty is being released or commuted.
How to get to the Colosseum: The site is easy to get, being located in the very popular Colosseo tourist area with most of the Roman Empire ruins (Google Maps).
Great Wall of China
Located in Northern China, the Great Wall measures more than 5,500 miles, of which the actual wall is around 3,900 miles, the rest being made up of trenches and natural barriers like rivers and hills. Construction on the wall was started as early as the 5th century BC as a way of protecting different areas from invasions and raids. Over the years, following dynasties made changes to the wall, either repairing or expanding it. But the most important dyansty in the wall’s history was the Ming Dynasty, which, starting with the 16th century, rebuilt most of the wall using more advanced techniques and materials such as bricks and stone, most of the parts visible today dating from this period.
Unfortunately, the only sections in good shape are the ones from tourist areas, because a large part of the wall is in extremely bad shape: due to erosion from sandstorms hundreds of miles of the wall disappeared or its height was severely reduced from 16 feet to less than 6 feet, while large parts were taken down for the stone or to make room for other buildings.
For many years, the Great Wall of China was considered to be the only man-made structure visible from space but recent research and reports from astronauts reported that this is completely false. While advanced cameras are able to photograph it from low Earth orbit, the human eye can’t see the wall, even from low orbit 7.7 times better than normal visual acuity being required.
How to get to the Great Wall of China: Being such a long structure, the Great Wall of China can be visited from many location, one-day trips being easy to find in Beijing, Hebei, Tianjin, Liaoning, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Ningxia and Gansu.
Machu Picchu, Peru
Also called “The Lost City of the Incas”, Machu Picchu is a historical site located on a mountain above the Urubamba Valley in Peru. Built at an altitude of 7,970 ft (2,430 meters) is considered one of the most significant cultural site because it was never discovered by Spanish conquistadors, so it remained almost intact.
According to archaeologists, the settlement was built around 1450, during the reign of Inca emperor Pachacuti and even though there are theories claiming it was built as a prison or as an agricultural testing station, most probably it was designed to be a religious site. Founded at the height of the Inca Empire, Machu Pichu was abandoned in 1572, during the Spanish Conquest, the cause being unknown, most probably from diseases introduced by foreign travelers before the conquistadors arrival. The city was discovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham who was searching for another Inca settlement, Vilcabamba and was led to Machu Pichu by a local boy. In 1981 Peru declared the area a “Historical Sanctuary” and in 1983 the site was included on the World Heritage Site list by UNESCO.
How to get to Machu Picchu: The closest largest city is Cuzco (a World Heritage Site also) and from there you can take one-day trips to Machu Picchu. You’ll have to make a stop in Aguas Calientes from where you can take the bus (round trip for $16) or go on a multiple-day hiking trip on the famous Inca Trail which ends in Machu Picchu (Google Maps).
Jordan’s most visited site, Petra (Greek for “rock”) is an ancient settlement in the Ma’an Governorate famous for being carved directly into rock. Apparently, a sanctuary existed in the area long before the 16th century BC, but the actual city was founded around the 6th century BC and became the capital of the Nabataeansa, ancient people from that part of Asia. Benefiting from an advanced water management system, the city quickly flourished and became one of the most important trade centers in the area. In 106 AD, Petra became the capital of the Roman Empire province Arabia Petraea. It was then when the city started to decline, mostly because Romans reorganized trade routes and Petra lost its importance, the final kick being the 363 AD earthquake that destroyed a lot of buildings and seriously damaged the water conduits system.
Petra came back into popular culture after Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt visited the ruins in 1812. But it was only a century later that proper archaeological work started on the site, in 1929, with local tourism exploding after the site was featured in the Steven Spielberg’s 1989 movie “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, after in 1985 it was declared a World Heritage Site. Today, according to reports, more than 400,000 tourists visit Petra every year.
How to get to Petra: For about $35 you can take the bus from Amman, Aqaba or Eilat or you can choose the taxi, which costs around $70 (round trip) if you take it from Amman (Google Maps).
Taj Mahal, India
Built between 1632 and 1653, the Taj Mahal is a mausoleum ordered by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to commemorate his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child. Considering this and the reports depicting the emperor’s grief, the Taj Mahal is often seen as a beautiful symbol of love. After his death, Shah Jahan was buried here also, next to his wife and the Taj was neglected, the whole complex being damaged, especially after the British raids during the Indian rebellion of 1857. However, at the start of the 20th century, British viceroy Lord Curzon supervised major restoration process which brought back the Taj Mahal glamor.
Today, the complex is stunning, featuring the beautiful mausoleum made of white marble, reflecting pools, other buildings, magnificent ornamental gardens and attracting between 2 and 4 million visitors every year. Unfortunately, problems showed up in recent years, due to pollution, acid rain making the Taj Mahal turn yellow, the Indian authorities taking strict measures trying to stop this.
How to get to Taj Mahal: The mausoleum is located in the city of Agra, which is very easy accessible by plane or by train from Delhi, Mumbai or Chennai (Google Maps.
Pretty amazing list, right? And besides these seven extraordinary landmarks, The Great Pyramid of Giza, the only surviving wonder of the original Seven Wonders of the World was granted an honorary site.
Photo credit: 1234567