It’s a list almost as old as time itself. Thanks to the conquest of much of the known world in the 4th century BC, Hellenistic travellers had access to the civilizations of the Egyptians, Persians, and Babylonians. These visitors, smitten by the landmarks and marvels of the various lands, began to list what they saw. The most prominent of these lists was a poem writen by a Greek-speaking traveller named Antipater of Sidon back in 140 BC. And thus was born the first listing of The Seven Wonders of the World. Now of course, as man has been able to travel further and further, the scope and breadth of the original list has changed dramatically. But what has not changed however, is that there have always only been seven entries (seven being a magical nunber in the ancient world). Here now is the 2011 version of the seven wonders of the world:
Chichen Itza, Yucatán, Mexico
Chichen Itza is a large pre-Columbian archaeological site built by the Maya civilization located in the northern center of the Yucatán Peninsula, in the Yucatán state, present-day Mexico.
The Maya name “Chich’en Itza” means “at the mouth of the well of the Itza.” This derives from chi’, meaning “mouth” or “edge”, and ch’e'en, meaning “well.” Itzá is the name of an ethnic-lineage group that gained political and economic dominance of the northern peninsula. The name is believed to derive from the Maya itz, meaning “magic,” and (h)á, meaning “water.” Itzá in Spanish is often translated as “Brujas del Agua (Witches of Water)” but a more precise translation would be Magicians of Water.
Among the many buildings included in the site is the Temple of Kukulkan, often referred to as “El Castillo” (the castle) where on the Spring and Autumn equinox, the corner of the structure casts a shadow in the shape of a plumed serpent – Kukulcan, or Quetzalcoatl; a Great Ball Court where Mesoamerican ballgames were played; and Cenote Sagrado a sinkhole which was a place of pilgrimage for ancient Maya people who, according to historical sources, would conduct sacrifices during times of drought.
During the time of the Mayans, Chichen Itza became a major regional capital, dominating political, sociocultural, economic, and ideological life in the northern Maya lowlands.
According to Mayan chronicles, Hunac Ceel, ruler of Mayapan, conquered Chichen Itza in the 13th century. And while Chichén Itzá finally depopulated around AD 1000, it does not appear to have been completely abandoned. According to post-Conquest sources, the site remained a place of pilgrimage and continues to this day to attract tourists from around the world.
Christ the Redeemer – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Christ the Redeemer is a statue of Jesus Christ in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and is considered the second largest Art Deco statue in the world. The statue is 39.6 metres (130 ft) tall, including its 9.5 meter (31 feet) pedestal, and 30 metres (98 ft) wide.
It weighs 635 tons and is located at the peak of the 700-metre (2,300 ft) Corcovado mountain in the Tijuca Forest National Park overlooking the city. A symbol of Christianity, the statue has become an icon of Rio and Brazil. It is made of reinforced concrete and soapstone, and was constructed between 1922 and 1931.
The idea for erecting a large statue atop Corcovado was first suggested in the mid-1850s, when Catholic priest Pedro Maria Boss requested financing from Princess Isabel to build a large religious monument. Princess Isabel did not think much of the idea and it was dismissed in 1889, when Brazil became a republic with laws mandating the separation of church and state.
The second proposal for a landmark statue on the mountain was made in 1921 by the Catholic Circle of Rio. The group organised an event called Semana do Monumento (“Monument Week”) to attract donations and collect signatures to support the building of the statue. The donations came mostly from Brazilian Catholics. The designs considered for the “Statue of the Christ” included a representation of the Christian cross, a statue of Jesus with an globe in his hands, and a pedestal symbolizing the world. As designed by local engineer Heitor da Silva Costa, the statue of Christ the Redeemer with open arms was finally chosen. It was sculpted by French sculptor Paul Landowski.
Construction took nine years, from 1922 to 1931 and cost the equivalent of $250,000 ($3,068,097 in 2011). The monument was officially opened on October 12, 1931.
The Colosseum – Rome, Italy
The Colosseum, originally the Flavian Amphitheatre, is an elliptical amphitheater in the center of the city of Rome, Italy, the largest ever built in the Roman Empire. It is considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and Roman engineering.
Occupying a site just east of the Roman Forum, its construction started between 70 and 72 AD under the emperor Vespasian and was completed in 80 AD under Titus, with further modifications being made during Domitian’s reign (81–96). The name “Amphitheatrum Flavium” derives from both Vespasian’s and Titus’s family name . (The name Colosseum has long been believed to be derived from a colossal statue of Nero nearby.)
Capable of seating 50,000 spectators, the Colosseum was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.
Although in the 21st century it stays partially ruined because of damage caused by devastating earthquakes and stone-robbers, the Colosseum is an iconic symbol of Imperial Rome. It is one of Rome’s most popular tourist attractions and still has close connections with the Roman Catholic Church, as each Good Friday the Pope leads a torchlit “Way of the Cross” procession that starts in the area around the Colosseum.
Great Wall of China – the People’s Republic of China
The Great Wall of China is a series of stone and earthen fortifications in northern China, built originally to protect the northern borders of the Chinese Empire against intrusions by various nomadic groups.
Several walls have been built since the 5th century BC that are referred to collectively as the Great Wall, which has been rebuilt and maintained from the 5th century BC through the 16th century. One of the most famous is the wall built between 220–206 BC by the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. Little of that wall remains; the majority of the existing wall was built during the Ming Dynasty.
The Great Wall stretches from Shanhaiguan in the east, to Lop Nur in the west, along an arc that roughly delineates the southern edge of Inner Mongolia. The most comprehensive archaeological survey, using advanced technologies, has recently concluded that the entire Great Wall, with all of its branches, stretches for 8,851.8 km (5,500.3 mi). This is made up of 6,259.6 km (3,889.5 mi) sections of actual wall, 359.7 km (223.5 mi) of trenches and 2,232.5 km (1,387.2 mi) of natural defensive barriers such as hills and rivers.
.In 2009, an additional 290 km (180 mi) of previously undetected portions of the wall, built during the Ming Dynasty, were discovered. The newly discovered sections range from the Hushan mountains in the northern Liaoning province, to Jiayuguan in western Gansu province. The sections had been submerged over time by sandstorms which moved across the arid region.
A popular myth that has been debunked many times is that the Great Wall is visible from space. However, there has been some evidence that the Wall is visible from low earth orbit (an altitude of as little as 100 miles (160 km). (NASA claims however, that it is barely visible, and only under nearly perfect conditions; it is no more conspicuous than many other man-made objects.)
Machu Picchu – Cuzco Region, Peru
Machu Picchu which means ”Old Mountain”, is a pre-Columbian 15th-century Inca site located 2,430 metres (7,970 ft) above sea level. It is situated on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in Peru, which is 80 kilometres (50 mi) northwest of Cusco and through which the Urubamba River flows.
Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472). Often referred to as “The Lost City of the Incas”, it is perhaps the most familiar icon of the Inca World.
Machu Picchu was built around 1450, at the height of the Inca Empire. It was abandoned just over 100 years later, in 1572, as a belated result of the Spanish Conquest. It is likely that most of its inhabitants died from smallpox introduced by travelers before the Spanish conquistadores arrived in the area. Although known locally, it was unknown to the outside world before being brought to international attention in 1911 by the American historian Hiram Bingham.
Machu Picchu is believed to be a sacred religious site. This theory stands mainly because of where Machu Picchu is located. The area is called “sacred geography” because the site is built on and around mountains that hold high religious importance in the Inca culture and in culture that previously occupied the land.
The space is composed of 140 structures including temples, sanctuaries, parks, and residences that include houses with thatched roofs. Machu Picchu was built in the classical Inca style, with polished dry-stone walls. Its three primary buildings are the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows. These are located in what is known by archaeologists as the Sacred District of Machu Picchu.
As part of their road system, the Incas built a road to the Machu Picchu region. Today, tens of thousands of tourists walk the Inca Trail to visit Machu Picchu each year. This is usually a two- to four-day journey on foot from the Urubamba valley, up through the Andes mountain range and then on to the isolated city.
Petra, Ma’an Governorate, Jordan
Petra which means, rock is a historical and archaeological city in the Jordanian governorate of Ma’an that is known for its rock cut architecture and water conduits system. Established sometime around the 6th century BCE as the capital city of the Nabataeans, Petra is also a symbol of Jordan. The site remained unknown to the Western world until 1812, when it was introduced by Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt.
Petra lies on the slope of Mount Horin a basin among the mountains which form the eastern flank of Arabah (Wadi Araba), the large valley running from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. Evidence suggests that settlements had begun in and around Petra in the eighteenth dynasty of Egypt (1550-1292 BCE). It is listed in Egyptian campaign accounts and the Amarna letters as Pel, Sela or Seir. Though the city was founded relatively late, a sanctuary existed there since very ancient times.
The Nabataeans worshipped the Arab gods and goddesses of the pre-Islamic times as well as a few of their deified kings. The Monastery, Petra’s largest monument, dates from the 1st century BCE. Christianity found its way to Petra in the 4th century CE, nearly 500 years after the establishment of Petra as a trade center.
According to Arab tradition, Petra is the spot where Moses struck a rock with his staff and water came forth, and where Moses’ brother, Aaron is buried. The Wadi Musa or “Wadi of Moses” is the Arab name for the narrow valley at the head of which Petra is sited. A mountaintop shrine of Moses’ sister Miriam was still shown to pilgrims at the time of Jerome in the 4th century, but its location has not been identified since.
Petra declined rapidly under Roman rule. Then in 363 an earthquake destroyed many buildings, and crippled the vital water management system. The ruins of Petra were an object of curiosity in the Middle Ages and were visited by Sultan Baibars of Egypt towards the end of the 13th century.
Today the site suffers from a host of threats, including collapse of ancient structures, erosion due to flooding and improper rainwater drainage, weathering from salt upwelling, improper restoration of ancient structures, and unsustainable tourism though on December 6, 1985, Petra was designated a World Heritage Site.
Taj Mahal–Agra, India
The Taj Mahal, which means ”crown of buildings”, is a mausoleum located in Agra, India. Built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj Mahal is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful buildings in the world and stands as a symbol of eternal love.
In 1631, Shah Jahan, emperor during the Mughal empire’s period of greatest prosperity, was grief-stricken when his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, died during the birth of their 14th child, Gauhara Begum. Construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1632, one year after her death. The tomb took roughly 12 years to complete while the remaining parts of the complex took an additional 10 years.
The Taj Mahal was constructed using materials from all over India and Asia and over 1,000 elephants were used to transport building materials. The translucent white marble was brought from Makrana, Rajasthan, the jasper from Punjab, jade and crystal from China. The turquoise was from Tibet and the Lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, while the sapphire came from Sri Lanka and the carnelian from Arabia. In all, twenty eight types of precious and semi-precious stones were inlaid into the white marble.
The central focus of the complex is the tomb. Like most Mughal tombs, the basic elements are Persian in origin. The marble dome that surmounts the tomb is the most spectacular feature. Its height of around 35 meters (115 ft) is about the same as the length of the base. Throughout the exterior of the complex, passages from the Qur’an are used as decorative elements.
The interior chamber of the Taj Mahal steps far beyond traditional decorative elements. Here, the inlay work is full of precious and semiprecious gemstones. But while Muslim tradition forbids elaborate decoration of graves, the bodies of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan were put in a relatively plain crypt beneath the inner chamber with their faces turned right and towards Mecca.
In 1942, the Indian government erected a scaffolding in anticipation of an air attack by German Luftwaffe and later by Japanese Air Force. During the India-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971, scaffoldings were again erected to mislead bomber pilots. Today, the Taj Mahal attracts between 2 million and 4 million visitors annually, including more than 200,000 from overseas.
Giza Pyramid Complex–Giza, Egypt
The Giza Pyramid of Egypt, the only remaining Wonder of the Ancient World, was granted an honorary site. The Giza Necropolis stands on the Giza Plateau, on the outskirts of Cairo. This complex of ancient monuments includes the three pyramid complexes known as the Great Pyramids, the massive sculpture known as the Great Sphinx, several cemeteries, a workers’ village and an industrial complex. It is located some 9 km (5 mi) inland into the desert from the old town of Giza on the Nile, some 25 km (15 mi) southwest of Cairo city center.
It is not known how they were made but there have been varying theories regarding the construction techniques. Most construction theories are based on the idea that the pyramids were built by moving huge stones from a quarry and dragging and lifting them into place. The disagreements center on the method by which the stones were conveyed and placed and how possible the method was. A recent though unpopular theory proposes that the building blocks were manufactured in-place from a kind of “limestone concrete”.
The Pyramids of Giza and other were constructed to house the remains of the deceased Pharaohs who ruled over Ancient Egypt. A portion of the Pharaoh’s spirit called his ka was believed to remain with his corpse. Proper care of the remains was necessary in order for the “former Pharaoh to perform his new duties as king of the dead.” The pyramid not only served as a tomb for the Pharaoh but also as storage for the various items he would need in the afterlife. The people of Ancient Egypt believed that death on Earth was the start of a journey to the next world. The embalmed body of the King was entombed underneath or within the pyramid to protect it and allow his transformation and ascension to the afterlife.
The work of quarrying, moving, setting, and sculpting the huge amount of stone used to build the pyramids might have been accomplished by several thousand skilled workers, unskilled laborers and supporting workers. Bakers, carpenters, water carriers, and others were also needed for the project. Along with the methods utilized to construct the pyramids, there is also wide speculation regarding the exact number of workers needed for a building project of this magnitude. When Greek historian Herodotus visited Giza in 450 BC, he was told by Egyptian priests that “the Great Pyramid had taken 400,000 men 20 years to build, working in three-month shifts 100,000 men at a time.” Evidence from the tombs indicates that a workforce of 10,000 laborers working in three month shifts took around 30 years to build a pyramid.
One of the most amazing aspects of the Giza Pyramids is the fact that the sides of all three of the Giza pyramids were astronomically oriented to be north-south and east-west within a small fraction of a degree.
Today the Giza Pyramid Complex is one of Egypt’s most popular tourist destinations attracting millions of tourists each year.