No, the Eiffel Tower Isn’t On the List: What You Didn’t Know About the Seven Wonders of the World
Here’s a gift from me to you. I’m dropping a bit of that “Sweet, I didn’t know that before!” knowledge.
Here’s a quiz: can you name all of the “Seven Wonders of the World”?
Honestly, neither could I until very recently. That’s okay. We’ll learn together . . . or, rather, I learned so that you don’t have to do it yourself, but can skip ahead to impressing your dinner party companions with what you’re about to read.
This all started with a vacation. Recently, I vacationed in Peru.
This girl . . .
. . . travelled to here.
My close friend is a savvy world traveler; under her influence, I (the less-than-savvy world traveler) took a jaunt down to Lima and Machu Picchu for an impromptu “let’s-get-outta-here-and-explore-Peru-for-the-heck-of-it” trip. As it turns out, she’s got seeing the Seven Wonders of the World on her bucket list, so she knew exactly what she wanted when we started talking about taking a break from the madness of clinical life. She did the heavy lifting on the planning, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But I went with it. I’m fluent enough in Spanish to get us around, so why not?
Aaaand spoiler alert: I LOVED IT.
Besides the remarkable warmth and kindness of the people and the richness of the landscape, there was Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu is one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
As it turns out, the popular “New Seven Wonders of the World” list is steeped in a complex and controversial history. Here’s what you may not know.
There has to be a first: The first popularized list is called the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.” The author is, well, kind of unknown. The Hellenistic Greeks are said to have originated the list sometime between 500 BC and 0 AD, as tourists, travellers, and big timers explored the Greek-dominated territories of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions. Conquering a civilization or two gave the Greeks access to landmarks that had previously been beyond their reach. If most experts were pinned to the wall and had to give just one name of an originator, they would credit Antipater of Sidon, the poet, who wrote this about the wonders:
“I have gazed on the walls of impregnable Babylon along which chariots may race, and on the Zeus by the banks of the Alpheus, I have seen the hanging gardens, and the Colossus of the Helios, the great man-made mountains of the lofty pyramids, and the gigantic tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the sacred house of Artemis that towers to the clouds, the others were placed in the shade, for the sun himself has never looked upon its equal outside Olympus.”
— Greek Anthology IX.58
In my mind, I picture Antipater (or “Anti” as I call him – dude needs a nickname) visiting each site, googly-eyed with wonder, with locals in the background giving him a major eye-roll. Call it a prequel to the “discovery” of the Americas by Christopher Columbus. Or perhaps he didn’t exactly keep to himself. Maybe he gathered the locals and made a Kanye-esque speech: “Shout out to y’all for being so, so like, awesome.” Who knows?
Philo of Byzantium, an engineer and mathematician, was equally fascinated by the same wonders; he wrote about it in a recovered manuscript called “The Seven Sights of the World.”
Depiction of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World by Maarten van Heemskerck (credit: Wikimedia Commons). Find the list here.
The new list is a gift from the internet: The New Seven Wonders Foundation sponsored an web-based global competition for the “New Seven Wonders of the World.” This is the list you can never remember. The competition was a private initiative created by Bernard Weber, a modern day explorer and filmmaker, otherwise known as “some guy” to many. His motivation? He says it was to create a more democratized version of the list, capitalizing on the world-flattening power of the internet. Enthusiasts voted from 2001 to 2007, picking from a list of 200 sites, with approximately 100 million votes cast at final count. At the end, the final list includes . . . drum roll . . . Machu Picchu, Chichen Itza, Christ the Redeemer, the Great Wall of China, Petra, the Taj Mahal, and the Colosseum. The Pyramids of Giza were granted an “obvi” honorary status and removed from the voting options.
How to get your country’s main attraction on the list: You gotta hit the streets! No surprise here. The same inequities that govern political campaigns, access to funding, and the availability of technology probably determined the outcome of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Guess who’s mad: Where the heck is the Eiffel Tower? Said a whole lot of people.
A lot of people hate the notion of a “Seven Wonders of the World” list: Cynics are everywhere. And, you know, maybe they’re right. Why just seven? And is the process of voting democratic? And who is this Bernard Weber guy anyway? Where did funding come from to run the campaign, and do we really need to franchise The New Seven Wonders (the New Seven of Nature was revealed in 2011, with the New Seven Cities to follow)? Find a brief distilling of the controversy here and here.
After learning the real story behind the Seven Wonders, it does make me a bit uncomfortable. Now, I have more questions than answers. How can a reportedly democratic process prevent powerful local private interests groups from creating inequity? And does the increase in tourism mean more devastating foot traffic through these areas? Some say it already has. And does the post “New Seven Wonders of the World” boost in tourism revenue trickle down to the locals?
At the end of the day, here’s what I know. I was just as fascinated with the life of Jose, the elderly El Salvadorian man who sat next to me during my layover flight from Washington Dulles to El Salvador, as I was with Machu Picchu. I wanted to improve my Spanish, and he wanted to improve his (already stellar) English, so he told me all about his family. His wife had the window seat, and I watched as they held hands and sneaked kisses. He turned to me and said “I just love this woman!” I asked if they were newlyweds, thinking that perhaps I was witnessing the early stages of a new relationship. Nope: they’ve been married for 40 years. He then regaled me with tales of his life as a mechanic, info about where he likes to travel in Central America, and a mini-lecture on why relationships don’t last these days.
I was in an Antipater—kind of awe. Sounds cliché, and the immigrant in me (shoutout to fellow Trinis) wants to eye-roll at myself. But I guess I needed to be reminded that exploring a foreign land is, at its best, an open-minded, open-hearted endeavor.
Now, I’m more inspired than ever to discover the undiscovered parts of the world – and, by that, I mean the people. I’ll stand in line for the typical touristy stuff, but I’ll hope to spend my time talking and dancing with the people who have built and maintained those sites, and the communities that have grown around them.
And if, for unforeseen reasons, my overseas adventures come to an end, I hope that I’ll learn to discover the wonders in my own backyard.
Do you love to travel? If so, where to next? What do you think about the “New Seven Wonders of the World”? Tell us in the comments!