What Makes A World Wonder?

When I was a boy, I wanted to see the wonders of the ancient world set forth by the great Greek historian Herodotus. Unfortunately, by the time I was born, only one of them still existed. In fact, five of the seven wonders of the ancient world were destroyed long before Christopher Columbus bumped into the New World, and the sixth – the Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus – fell victim to an earthquake in 1494.

The only ancient world wonder still standing – the Great Pyramid of Giza. Completed more than 4,507 years ago, it’s still unclear how many people it took to build that great pile of stones – numbers range from 30,000 to more than 100,000 – and if the workers were slaves, hired help or religious believers taking time off their own lands during the periodic Nile floodings. Mathematics show that almost 2.5 million blocks of stone were used, some weighing as much as 80 tons.

Nowadays these stones are worn, sometimes crumbling, with visitors’ initials carved roughly into their crumbling facades. You’re not allowed to climb the stones or sit on them, and everywhere you turn, someone wants to sell you a camel ride. Still, one can’t help wanting to touch the structure, just to believe it’s real.

Most people don’t know that the Great Wall of China is not one of the initial world wonders.

However, just a little over a year ago, the Great Wall of China became one of the Seven New Wonders of the World. These new wonders are not part of the UNESCO World Heritage program, which I greatly respect, but some other endevour. In fact, UNESCO has distanced itself from the 7 wonders campaign, which has been run something like a world contest for travel fame. I’m conflicted here, because I’m an avid traveler and supporter of UNESCO and I’m wary that this 7 wonders deal is nothing but a marketing stunt.

The New World Wonders are:

  • The Great Wall of China
  • Petra, Jordan
  • Christ the Redeemer, Watching over Rio, Brazil (I object! See below.)
  • Machu Picchu, Peru
  • Chichén Itzá, Mexico
  • The Roman Colosseum, Italy
  • The Taj Mahal, India

Who surprisingly did not win?

Well, quite a few places. To name a few:

  • Statues of Easter Island
  • Stonehenge, United Kingdom
  • Pyramids of Giza, Egypt (You’re an old wonder, so you don’t get to play)
  • Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy, France

Ok, so why did I object to Christ the Redeemer being a wonder of the world? Well, honestly, I don’t. I object to it being one of the seven greatest architectural achievements existing on Earth at this time. One thing I associate with a world wonder, whether its an ancient one, or a new one, is that it has to be a truly collective effort. It must require the sweat, blood and even lives of many people in order to gain its status. I like to think it’s the kind of project that crosses country, class, race, and economic status – although many such structures are religious in nature. And it should take time.

Is it wrong that I consider the scale of the Rio project not grand enough? After all, its final construction cost of $250,000 was covered by tiny donations from the faithful, which certainly is a collective effort.

So please tell me, what am I missing about the icon of Rio? How did this statue merit such a status? What sets it apart from all the other candidates, such Mont-Saint-Michel – a monstrous monastic stronghold more than 1000 years in the making, built on quicksand, with the largest tidal changes (up to 50 feet) in the world?

You tell me.

Just a follow-up note.

I was trying to think of what I was missing in my definition of world wonder, and it came to me: Mystery.

Even much, much later, you should be able to stand looking at a world wonder and WONDER:

How on Earth did they do that?


~ by Digory Kirke on August 6, 2008.

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