Recently I wrote a post featuring a graphic called The Seven Wonders of the World. It was an interesting look at some of the greatest human achievements that we can still see today, and in some cases tour. But somehow, it left a few people, including me, wondering: is that all there is?
In truth, seven is an arbitrary number, and most of us can think of other great sites that could legitimately make the list. There could be 10, 12, maybe even a whole other Seven Wonders of the World.
Of course, first we have to discuss what exactly makes something a “wonder”. To me, just being beautiful or historic isn’t enough – there are hundreds of beautiful and historic sites around the world, like the massive Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg, seen at right. (For a look at a few, read my post about UNESCO World Heritage Sites.)
To be a wonder, the site must be so impressive that building it was a triumph of human achievement, so prodigious that we wonder at the vision and determination of those who built it. And of course, it must still exist in some substantial form.
That narrows the field considerably. But it still leaves a good number of wonderful places around the world that deserve the name. So I thought I’d reply to last week’s Visualistan list with a list of my own. So here they are, my seven “other” Wonders of the World.
The Great Pyramid of Giza
Long acknowledged as one of the wonders of the ancient world, the pyramid of the Egypian King Khufu (also known as Cheops) is a truly amazing achievement, for its time or any other. Standing 481 feet, or 146.5 metres high when built around 2560 B.C. (it has since lost its outer surface layer), it was the world’s tallest man-made structure for 3,800 years.
The centrepiece of a complex that included other, smaller pyramids and temples, the Great Pyramid was the product of sophisticated design techniques that are still not fully understood. No one truly knows how the Egyptians transported an estimated 2.3 million huge blocks of stone across the desert and lifted them without the use of horses, wheeled vehicles or pulleys. Despite the loss of its smooth outer surface, the pyramid is nearly intact, and still an amazing sight. And even now, it’s yielding new secrets.
The Panama Canal
Most wonders of the world come up out of the ground, but the people who created the Panama Canal made their great achievement by digging into it. The canal is an amazing feat, the result of more than a decade of effort and many setbacks and failures. But somehow its builders managed to dig a waterway right across the isthmus of Central America, providing a short route from east to west that changed the world of travel and trade.
The canal was the engineering marvel of its day, and still stands as a great achievement, raising ships 85 feet (26 metres) above sea level with a series of three locks. But it came at a terrible cost. More than 25,000 workers died during its construction, many from malaria and yellow fever, and the project cost $375 million U.S. Still, it’s an amazing sight, and when the new expansion opens, it will be even more of a wonder.
Almost every traveller who visits Cambodia makes the trek to see the “temple mountain” called Angkor Wat. But the massive, tree-draped temple, with its beautiful carvings, is just the centrepiece of what was once a major city, buried in the Southeast Asian jungle.
Seat of the Khmer Empire from the ninth to the 15th century, Angkor is thought to have covered more than 400 square miles (1,000 square km): that’s considerably bigger than the five boroughs of New York. The city was sustained by a system of canals, dikes and reservoirs, one of them five miles (eight kilometers) long. It’s another lasting testament to mankind’s quest to leave its mark on the planet – in this case, a positive one.
While not a prodigious building feat, the Acropolis of Athens is both a landmark achievement of architecture and an icon of Western civilization. Perched on a rocky outcrop in the centre of the historic city, its collection of classic temples, monuments and theatres is a model for the major civilizations that came after it, including those we live in today.
In the fifth century B.C., following the establishment of Greek democracy, a group of artists created a classic collection of buildings that has influenced architecture for centuries: the Parthenon, one of the most famous buildings on earth; the Erechtheon, or temple to Poseidon (seen here); the Propylaea, the monumental entrance; and the temple to Athena Nike. To see them rising above the city is to see the cradle of Western civilization, still standing despite the buffets of time.
The Golden Gate Bridge
This iconic bridge was an engineering marvel when built, but it has become more famous as a classic combination of architectural excellence and beauty. The American Society of Civil Engineers declared it one of the modern wonders of the world, and Frommer’s called it “the most photographed bridge in the world”.
Though other bridges have now surpassed it in sheer size, the 1.7-mile (2.7 km) bridge had the world’s tallest suspension towers when it was completed in 1937, and the longest centre span of all suspension bridges. It also introduced a unique safety net that saved the lives of 19 workers during construction. However, 11 men did die before it was finished, and over the decades the bridge has been a favourite local spot for suicides.
The Hofburg Palace
Dominating the centre of Vienna’s historic centre, the Hofburg Palace is a staggering example of imperial might. Built in the 13th century and expanded many times over the centuries, the palace has 2,600 rooms and boasts that it is the largest building ever constructed for human habitation. Once the seat of power for several dynasties, including the Austro-Hungarian empire, it’s now the official residence and workplace of the Austrian president.
But the complex is a virtual city within a city, encompassing an amazing array of institutions: the imperial chapel, the national library, the imperial treasury, the royal theater, the world-renowned Spanish riding school, the imperial stables, the Congress Centre and several museums, including one dedicated to Elisabeth, the last Empress of Austria, better known as “Sisi”. The newest addition, the Neue Burg wing (seen at top), provides a stately backdrop to the old centre of the city as the modern world rushes by.
The moai of Easter Island
Among all the amazing wonders of the world, the most mysterious might be these huge, stone head-and-shoulder statues, which explorers found standing in great rows across the landscape of a remote Pacific island. The moai, as the Rapa Nui inhabitants called them, were apparently family totems, mostly erected from the 10 to the 16th century, and on a scale almost unknown among the people of the Pacific.
The statues, with their big noses and abalone eyes, average 13 feet (four metres) tall and weigh about 14 tons (12.7 tonnes) each. And how they were transported long distances from the quarry where they were carved is still a mystery. Descendants of the moai-makers said they “walked” to their final sites, but no one knows exactly how. This wonder has a dark side, too: the Rapa Nui people completely destroyed the island’s forests, perhaps partly to transport the moai. That is thought to have led to the downfall of their society.
So that’s my “other” Seven Wonders of the World. See if you agree with them, or if you think there are others more deserving of the title. If so, leave a comment and let us know. Maybe there’s even a third Seven Wonders out there somewhere …