New Seven Wonders of the World

Colosseum of Rome

The New Seven Wonders of the World, or rather the New7Wonders was a campaign and popularity poll to select seven existing sites from a selection of 200 around the world that were historically and socially important. The campaign lead by Bernard Weber and the New7Wonders Foundation in Zurich, Switzerland, consisted of a poll where more than 100 million votes were cast taking seven years to count and complete. The winners were announced on 7 July 2007 and along with the seven winners there were a number of finalists in this somewhat unscientific poll.

UNESCO supported the New7Wonders in the beginning and provided advice on nominee selection but was forced by their underlying value that all World Heritage Sites are equal to distance themselves from the final decisions.

Chichen Itza (Yucatán, Mexico)

Chichen Itza at night

Located in the eastern portion of Yucatán state in Mexico, the ruins of Chichen Itza (Chichén Itzá) stand as the single greatest example of Mayan architecture. This sacred site was one of the greatest Mayan centers of the Yucatán peninsula. Over the nearly 1,000-year history of the site many different cultures left their mark on the city. The Maya and Toltec vision of the world is revealed in the stone monuments and artistic works they built, and the combination of Mayan construction techniques with elements from central Mexico make Chichen-Itza one of the most important examples of the Mayan-Toltec civilization in Yucatán.

Mayan Serpent Sculpture at Chichen Itza
Chichen-Itza is protected by the 1972 Federal Law on Monuments and Archaeological, Artistic and Historic Zones.  It was declared an archaeological monument by a presidential decree in 1986, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.

Christ the Redeemer (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

Christ the Redeemer

Christ the Redeemer is an art deco statue of Jesus Christ with outstretched arms high upon Corconado mountain in the Tijuca Forest National Park overlooking the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  Designed by French sculptor Paul Landowski and built by Brazilian engineer Heitor de Silva Costa with French engineer Albert Caquot, Christ the Redeemer is 30 meters (98 ft.) tall standing on an 8 meter (26 ft.) pedestal.  With an arm span of 28 meters (92 ft.) Christ the Redeemer is one of the most recognizable symbols of Brazil around the world.  Built between 1922 and 1931, the statue weighs 635 metric tons and is made of reinforced concrete and soapstone.  Construction of the statue took nine years and cost US $250,000 ($3.3 million adjusted for 2015 dollars) and was officially opened on 12 October, 1931.

The Catholic Circle of Rio made the second and ultimately successful proposal for a landmark statue on the mountain in 1920.  The group organized an event called Semana do Monumento (Monument Week) in order to collect signatures of support and donations that would make the building possible.  The donations collected were primarily from Brazilian Catholics and the final design was chosen from a small list of Christian themed symbols.

For the 75th anniversary, Archbishop of Rio, Cardinal Eusebio Oscar Scheid consecrated the Our Lady of the Apparition chapel in the shadow of the Christ the Redeemer statue.  The addition of a chapel now allows one of the most scenic location for baptisms, weddings, and religious ceremonies.

Lightning has struck the statue several times and during a particularly strong thunderstorm in 2008 sufficient damage was caused to require government sanctioned restoration.  In 2010 a massive restoration project was undertaken and included replacing much of the exterior with new soapstone, repairing lightning rods, waterproofing, and cleaning years of soot, fungi, and bacteria.  After all this work, which took over a hundred people and 60,000 new pieces of soapstone, the statue struck by lightning again in 2014 causing a finger on the right hand to become dislodged.  The statue is increasingly becoming darker after each periodic repair because the original pale soapstone is no longer available.

The Flavian Amphitheater (Rome, Italy)

The Colosseum of Rome at night
The Colosseum of Rome at night: Photo by Siddarth Pavanje

The Flavian Amphitheater, more commonly known simply as The Colosseum, is located in the center of Rome, Italy and is the largest amphitheater ever built.  It is difficult to go to Rome and not see the Colosseum it is so large.  Constructed of concrete and sand under the emperor Vespasian, it took only eight years to complete (72-80 AD).  The three emperors responsible for the construction and modifications between 72-96 AD were Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian; they were collectively known as the Flavian dynasty and it for them that the amphitheater gained its Latin name.

Originally used for gladiatorial contests, animal hunts, executions, and other public entertainment, the Colosseum had an estimated capacity of 50,000-80,000.  This large range is partially based on the type of entertainment that was happening at the time as the mock sea battles took up a little more space than a drama based on classical mythology.  In the early medieval period the building was no longer used for entertaining the masses, but continued in its life as a site for housing, workshops, and a quarry.

Standing as a symbol of Imperial Rome and all its glory, the Colosseum does not look the same as it once did.  After suffering damage from earthquakes and pillaging from robbers in need of stone, much of the original structure was slowly removed over hundreds of years.

The area where the Colosseum sits was a busy and densely populated part of the city of Rome in the 2nd century BC, but was decimated by the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD.  Nero took the opportunity after the fire to seize the area to add to his vast personal domain, and because the site was large and flat, it was the perfect location for a grand tribute to the greatness of Nero.

In what is commonly seen as a populist move, Vespasian decided to build the Colosseum of the site of Nero’s lake, and effectively give the land back to the people.  Placing the Colosseum in the city center instead of the outskirts of town made it a part of the beating heart of Rome and a symbol of the move from Nero’s policies to those of Vespasian.

With money and spoils taken from the Jewish Temple after the Siege of Jerusalem, and with the newly acquired 100,000 Jewish prisoners, Vespasian started the construction around 70-75 AD.  The slaves were required to do the manual labor and work in the travertine quarries at Tivoli as well as transport the stones more than 20 miles to the construction site.  With a large group of “free” unskilled labor to do all the actual hard work, teams of professional Roman engineers, artists, painters, and builders were able to attend to the task of designing and decorating the Colosseum.

Construction of the Colosseum had been completed up to the third story by the time of Vespasian’s death in 79. The top level was finished by his son, Titus, and the inaugural games were held in A.D. 80 or 81.  Accounts from the inaugural games note that over 9,000 wild animals, many of them from Africa were killed.

With nearly two-thirds of the original structure being destroyed by natural disasters, weather, neglect, or vandalism, restoration efforts began in the 1990’s and have continued to today. The structure itself is not a World Heritage Site but it is considered one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. The Colosseum today is a major tourist attraction in the middle of a city filled with tourist attractions and an archaeological site. Not only is the Colosseum one of the most popular sites in Rome, it is one of the most popular and recognizable sites the world over.

The Great Wall of China (China)

Panorama Great Wall of China
Photo by Joe Tym

The Great Wall of China is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, and with its 13,171 miles (21,196 km) of length is actually a series of fortifications, earth mounds, and small connecting walls rather than simply a single large wall. Constructed of stone, wood, brick, compacted earth, as well as other materials, the Great Wall of China is built along the roughly east to west line representing the historic northern border separating China from the nomadic tribes of the Eurasian Steppe. Several walls were constructed (or being constructed) in the 7th century BC and were later joined to form the beginnings of what we now know as the Great Wall. Since its original construction the majority of the wall has been added to, altered, modified, and rebuilt all the way to the Ming Dynasty which is the majority of what we see today.  In December of 1987 the Great Wall of China was added to the List of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Stretching from Dandong in the east to Lop Lake in the west, the Great wall has served a variety of purposes throughout its life.  Among its historic uses are border control, imposition of duties on transported goods, regulation and control of migration and immigration, and signaling. The defensive capabilities of the wall have included at different times, barracks for troops, garrison stations, and watch towers. Using the natural topography of the land, the Chinese were able to place themselves in perfect position to survey the land, as well as save valuable resources where transportation of materials was difficult.

In the early 16th century rumor of the Great Wall started to circulate in Europe after Europeans reached Ming China by ship, even though it would be a century before a European would set eyes on the wall. The earliest known European account the wall was the descriptions contained in João de Barro’s 1563 writing “Asia”. The Frist reputable recorded instance of a European entering China via the Great Wall was in 1605 when Bento de Góis, the Portufuese Jesuit brother ventured from India to the northwestern Jiayu Pass, the first pass at the west end of the Great Wall near the city of Jiayuguan. It was not till China opened its borders following the first and second Opium Wars that the Great Wall started to become a tourist attraction.  Foreign merchant’s stories of the wall only heightened the reputation and entrenched the mythology for generations to come.

Machu Picchu (Cuzco Region, Peru)

Machu Picchu

High above the Sacred Valley and tucked away from prying eyes for hundreds of years, Machu Picchu is a 15th century Inca citadel that sits on a mountain ridge 7970 feet ( 2,430m) above sea level in the Cusco Region of Peru. Built in a classical Inca style with polished dry-stone walls, there are three main structure and a series of smaller outlying buildings that have been reconstructed over the years to allow tourists a better understanding of what it may have originally looked like.

It is believed that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti but there are more questions about this site than there are answers.  What is known is that it is probably not the Lost City of the Incas, and that it was built sometime around 1450.  The site high up on the hill was abandoned about a century later at the time of the Spanish Conquest but was neither discovered by the Spanish or known about by outsiders till 1911 when Hiram Bingham, the American historian brought international attention to the site.

Machu Picchu was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 just two years after being listed as a Peruvian Historic Sanctuary. In 2007 the site was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World by an international internet poll.

As Peru’s most visited tourist site and a source of great national pride (and revenue), Machu Picchu is constantly exposed to commercial and economic forces sometimes making it difficult to maintain in pristine condition. In the late 1990s the government of Peru granted concessions that allowed construction of tourist infrastructure including hotels, a cable car, shops, and restaurants near the site, this move by the government was met with consternation as many locals as well as international scientists thought the physical burden places on the ruins would destroy any knowledge that may be garnered and harm the valuable sacred history.

As of July of 2011, entrance rules to the citadel of Machu Picchu have been tightened by the Dirección regional de Cultura Cusco (DRC). These more strict regulations limited the number of daily visitors and were instituted to reduce the negative effects tourism may be having on the site.

Petra (Amman, Jordan)

Petra, Jordan

Famous for its rock cut architecture and advanced water conduit system, Petra is a historical city and archaeological site in Jordan.  Inhabited since prehistoric times, Petra served as an important crossroads between Arabia, Egypt, and Syria-Phoenicia.  Petra is often referred to as the Rose City because of the color of the stone from which it is carved.  Half-built and half-carved into the rock, Petra is the most recognizable symbol of Jordan and is the most visited tourist attraction.  One of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Petra has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.  UNESCO described the site as “one of the most precious cultural properties of man’s cultural heritage”.  Smithsonian Magazine considers Petra to be one of the 28 places to see before you die.

It is estimated that Petra was established as early AD 312 BD as the capital city of the Arab Nabataeans.  Because of its proximity to important trade routes, the Nabataeans established the city as a hub for trading.  Petra lies on the slope of the Jebel al-Madhbah in a basin among the mountains that run along the eastern edge of Arabah.

An earthquake in 363 AD destroyed the city’s water conduit system as well as many of the homes and buildings.   After a following earthquake and the waning power of the Nabataeans it was decided that the city should be abandoned and many of the treasures were taken when it was left.  In the 2nd century the Roman Empire took possession and control over Petra and there are traces of Roman influence in some of the art and architecture there.  There are statues of Nike and a Greco-Roman deity named Dushara, paved streets, and a large Roman theater carved into a mountainside.   The Roman control of Petra was to be short lived in the grand scheme of history however.  When the Romans altered the Nabataean trade routes away from the city it was no longer an area that held any financial benefit for them.  This move effectively took the population of 20,000-30,000 and removed the economy.

Outposts built during the Crusades are the last evidence that the West knew anything of Petra for half a millennium.  Effectively forgotten about by the Western world till 1812, it was Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, the Swiss explorer that introduced it to the rest of the world.  Petra is sometimes referred to as the ‘Lost City’ largely because it was hidden from the rest of the world for hundreds of years.

Taj Mahal (Agra, India)

Taj Mahal

On the south bank of the Yamuna river in Agra, India sits the most famous mausoleum in the world.  Perhaps the greatest monument ever built for love and loss, the Taj Mahal, commissioned in 1632 is a mausoleum built by Emperor Shah Jahan as a monument to his favorite wife who died after giving birth to their 14th child.  While the tomb is the centerpiece of the site, the complex stretches out over almost 42 acres (17 hectare) and includes a mosque, a guest house, and immaculately maintained gardens.

The majority of the construction took place in 1643 but the complex saw continued work for more than ten years, and with more than 20,000 workmen and artisans, it is estimated that the entire site cost 32 million rupees.  Since it was constructed well before the creation of modern machinery, the heavy lifting and moving of materials was done by elephant power.

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, the Taj Mahal is considered by many to be the best example of Mughal architecture.  Standing as a symbol of India’s rich history and the enduring love a person can have for their partner, 7-8 million people visit the site each year.  In 2007 the Taj Mahal was declared one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

The complete list of finalists for the New7Wonders