Most people are familiar with the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World, even if they might not be able to name them all. So what then are the New Wonders of the World? It turns out that while they are older than you think, their designation as such is actually relatively recent.
The quest to identify the Seven New Wonders of the World started as a private initiative by Bernard Werber in 2001. He wanted people around the world to vote to select the new wonders. More than 90 million people participated, choosing from 200 submissions. The list of the final seven was revealed in 2007.
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The seven New Wonders of the World
The seven New Wonders of the World are spread across four continents and were erected by ancient empires. They are also accessible today and attract visitors from across the world. All seven have also been recognized as the UNESCO World Heritage Sits, although UNESCO had no affiliation with the competition.
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Great Wall of China
Location: China | Date of construction: 220 B.C. to 1644 A.D.
The Great Wall of China stretches almost 9,000 km (over 5,500 miles) across China. After adding numerous defensive barriers, trenches, hills and rivers, the wall is closer to over 21,000 km (over 13,000 miles) in length. This makes this defensive system one of the most impressive architectural feats.
Different ancient Chinese states built parts of the wall during the early days of construction. The first Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang (220–206 B.C.), joined them together. The wall’s best-known and preserved walls date to the Ming dynasty (1368–1644).
Today, tourists can visit parts of the wall. One of the most popular is the Badaling near Beijing. I had the opportunity to visit the Great Wall of China a few years ago, and it was pretty incredible. The steps were a lot steeper than I anticipated, while the surrounding area was slightly unremarkable. I think at that time, the greenery usually seen in images was done for the season.
Location: Jordan | Date of construction: c. 100 B.C.
If you haven’t yet been to the stunning Petra, you probably have it on your bucket list. Or you might remember it from the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. No matter how you look at it, the stunning site known as the Treasury (Al-Khazneh) and surrounding tombs attract over a million visitors annually (2019 numbers). So far, only 15 per cent of what’s hidden here has been uncovered. We can only imagine what secrets are hidden here.
Carved out of the pink, orange and red sandstone rocks in the Jordanian desert, Petra was once the home to the Nabataean empire of King Aretas IV (9 B.C. to A.D. 40). With a sophisticated water system, it once sustained more than 30,000 people who lived here. Petra eventually fell to the Romans and became known as the Arabia Petraea. It ultimately suffered damage during an earthquake in 363. The city continued to decline during the Byzantine times due to a decline in trade and eventually became forgotten.
The Swiss traveller and geographer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt rediscovered Petra in 1812. In 1985, UNESCO inscribed Petra as a World Heritage Site, thanks to its outstanding universal value of elaborate tombs and architecture. I have not been to Petra yet, but it’s very high on my bucket list.
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Christ the Redeemer
Location: Brazil | Date of construction: 1922 to 1931.
The Art Deco statue of Jesus is an iconic symbol of Rio de Janeiro, and it’s the youngest member on the New Wonders of the World list. The figure stands atop Corcovado Mountain at 98 feet (30 metres) high on a pedestal that measures 26 feet (8 metres). The Christ’s arms stretch 92 feet (28 metres) wide, and the statue is visible from almost every part of the city.
The idea of placing a religious monument on top of the mountain was first floated around by a priest during the 1850s. It didn’t entirely take off until the 1920s with a push of a Catholic organization that also helped to raise funds. The Christ was unveiled in 1931 and had been standing with open arms over Rio since then.
The statue of Christ is imposing and impressive, especially when you consider its location. However, the views of Rio are even more breathtaking as you stand under the statue. I ended up going very early in the morning to avoid the crowds, and it was worth getting up for. Bucket list item, check.
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Location: Peru | Date of construction: c. 1450 A.D.
The archaeological site of Machu Picchu is a pre-Columbian Inca settlement. Sitting majestically between the Peruvian Andes Mountain peaks, it has been fascinating people since its rediscovery in 1911. It’s a popular bucket list item for many, including me.
Machu Picchu’s origins and purpose still baffle experts. Theories range from being a royal retreat for the Incan emperor Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui to a pilgrimage site. The site was abandoned during the mid-16th century for unknown reasons and was largely forgotten.
Machu Picchu attracts so many tourists that the local government limits visitors’ numbers to prevent damage. You can reach the site by hiking up the Incan train or by train.
Location: Mexico | Date of construction: c. 600 A.D.
Chichen Itza was an ancient Mayan city in what today is the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. This was the centre and religion, and power of the Maya and then the Maya-Toltec civilization. Although it was a flourishing place around the 9th and 10th centuries, it was abandoned when the Spanish found it in the 16th century.
Today, several monuments survive, including the Warriors’ Temple, El Caracol observatory and the stepped pyramid El Castillo (or the Temple of Kukulkán). The symmetrical temple rises 79 feet (24 meters) above, with 365 steps, each representing a day in the Mayan calendar. They represent the Mayan innovation in astronomy and science.
The site deteriorated due to elements after it was abandoned. Archaeological excavations in 1841 brought the city to light once again. Today, Chichen Itza is a designated protected archeological monument on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.
Location: Italy | Date of construction: 70 to 80 A.D.
The Colosseum (aka Flavian Amphitheatre) is as iconic as Rome itself. This amphitheatre is an architectural marvel commissioned by Emperor Vespasian around 70 A.D. and completed by his successor Titus in 80 A.D. Built out of brick-faced concrete, tuff and travertine limestone, the Colosseum could hold between 50,000 to 80,000 spectators.
The Romans gathered here to watch public spectacles, mock sea battles and gladiators who battled each other and the wild beasts brought in for that purpose. Its ingenious design included a retractable awning that could shelter audiences from the elements and the hypogeum (the underground) that we see today. An elaborate network of tunnels and cages beneath the arena allowed men and beasts to be brought onto the stage for entertainment.
Today’s Colosseum is a shadow of its former glory, damaged by earthquakes, fires, and looting over time. While it’s important to praise its architectural design, it’s also worth noting that thousands of people and animals were slaughtered here for entertainment. Today, you might see crosses at the Colosseum. That’s because, in 1749, Pope Benedict XIV consecrated the building as a sacred site to commemorate the many Christians that were killed here.
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Location: India | Date of construction: 1632 to 1648 A.D.
The white marble complex of the Taj Mahal is easily recognizable around the world today. A blend of numerous architectural styles, including Persian, Islamic, Turkish and Indian, is considered a jewel of Muslim art in India.
Taj Mahal was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to honour his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. She died in childbirth in 1631. The construction of the mausoleum took over two decades and more than 20,000 workers to complete. The complex includes formal gardens and a reflecting pool.
Not only is the Taj Mahal on the list of seven New Wonders of the World, but it was also designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. It is a universally admired example of an architectural masterpiece and attracts anywhere between seven and eight million visitors annually.
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Final thoughts on the 7 New Wonders of the World
The Great Pyramid of Giza is the only remaining wonder of the ancient world. As such, it was added to the list of New World Wonders as an honorary candidate. That is also why you might often hear eight, not seven, New Wonders of the World.
As with any contest of this kind, there are many awe-inspiring wonders out there that didn’t make the final cut. Understandably, not everyone agreed with the selection or felt that other, well-deserving places should be on the list. Whether you use the New Wonders of the World list as your motivation or not, these seven places are worthy of admiration.
The idea of identifying world wonders has led to the creation of other lists—the architectural wonders, the wonders of nature, wonders of the industrial world and so on. No matter what the list is, there are always seven items on it. The number seven represented perfection to the Greeks, who came up with the original bucket list. Seven also represents the five planets that the ancients knew, plus the sun and the moon. So, there you have it.