In 2000, a campaign began to choose the New Seven Wonders of the World. The idea was that of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, only the Great Pyramids of Giza still existed. So an update was needed. Votes were cast online and by telephone. The results were announced in 2007.
A few things are worth mentioning before I begin. First, participants were allowed to cast multiple votes in the poll. Governments touted their finalists and drummed up support for their own contenders. Some of the winners perhaps shouldn’t have made the list. And there were some surprising omissions. The most notable – of course – being the Pyramids of Giza. Which in my view should be right at the top of the list. Second, articles which try to authoritatively ‘rank’ highly personal and ultimately subjective things like historic architecture are inherently flawed. They’re usually clickbaity-type posts. They draw the reader in by promising a nice, compartmentalised take on a contentious issue. Ever so briefly giving structure and order to an unstable and ultimately incomprehensible universe.
And yet you’re still reading, aren’t you? For shame. Well, if you’re happy to accept the above flaws in these types of articles, as well as the Seven Wonders list itself, then we can proceed. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit all of the New Seven Wonders of the World in my global travels. And talk about them in more detail in my bestselling book, The Travelling Ape: What Traveling (Nearly) Everywhere Taught Me about Humanity, Geopolitics, and Happiness (out now on Amazon). These structures are emotive. They speak to humanity’s rich past. Lost civilisations. And the ingenuity of our species (as well as our historic happiness to use untold amounts of slave or indentured labour to construct silly monuments to dead men, or worse, to fictious deities). Visiting them all was quite a ride. And in my view, these are how they stack up. With 7th being the ‘worst’ and 1st being the ‘best’, even if in reality, they really all are rather nice.
7. Christ The Redeemer, Brazil
Propping up the rear is this statue of Christ, sat atop the 700 metre Corcovado Mountain, overlooking majestic Rio de Janeiro. The location is truly epic. You get sweeping views of Rio’s white-sand beaches and undulating hills and mountains. Your mountaintop location also gives you some welcome respite from the constant threat of crime and mugging at sea level (Rio is one of the least safe-feeling cities I’ve ever visited). The statue itself – of a man called Jesus – is still impressive. But its scale and majesty perhaps underwhelms compared to some of the other contenders on the list. I feel like its inclusion likely reflected deficiencies in polling to generate the New Seven Wonders of the World, with Brazilians patriotically voting to get their contender on the list.
6. Chichen Itza, Mexico
The Mayan city of Chichen Itza comes in 6th place. Pros: the epic Temple of Kukulcan is a wonder to behold, a perfectly formed step-pyramid. Sculptures of plumed serpents run down the sides of the structure. And incredibly, at the spring and autumn equinoxes, this creates shadows that look like a serpent crawling down the temple sides. Cons: this isn’t the best stepped pyramid in the world. Or even in Central America, for that matter. I personally believe that Tikal, Guatemala, is more impressive. The step-pyramids are more vertiginous, jutting proudly above thick and impenetrable surrounding rainforests. Or for the philistines among you, looking very much like the Rebel Basse on Yavin 4 from Star Wars, or some of the pyramids in the 2006 film Apocalypto.
One wonders (get it) whether Chichen Itza’s inclusion has something to do with its close proximity to Cancun, and the Mexican authorities keenness to get as many tourists as possible to visit the area. In any case, it’s worked. Cancun is full of red-cup drinking frat boys, and Tulum is full of New Yorkers working remotely. Making the southeast coast of Mexico a fairly sanitised and Americanised part of the country to visit, at least compared to a decade or so ago when it was less developed.
5. Machu Picchu, Peru
Now we’re really getting going. Machu Picchu is truly epic. The 15th Century Inca citadel seems to balance impossibly on the top of the rounded mountain peaks of the Eastern Cordillera region of the Andes. The citadel is ever shrouded in mist. Surrounded by lush vegetation, as well as heart-stopping escarpments. It would’ve been immensely hard to attack, that’s for sure. And no easier to build. It’s a must visit for anyone interested in our collective history. And to get a feeling for how advanced pre-European civilisations were in Latin America, prior to Spanish conquest.
The only downside of a visit here is the god-awful tourist town one must stay in to visit Machu Picchu. Aguas Calientes is a tourist town with almost nothing authentic or desirable about it. The high-street is thronged by locals enthusiastically playing pan pipe music, and restaurants each claiming to serve food from almost every region on Earth (if a place claims to do excellent Italian, Peruvian, Japanese, and French cuisine, among others, it’s unlikely to excel at any of them).
4. Petra, Jordan
The great, ancient city of Petra lies half-hidden in the wind-blown landscapes of southern Jordan. The approach is one of the best parts of a visit. You walk for 1.2 km through a crack in the rocks – a high-walled Siq – torn apart by tectonic forces. You get to meander through smooth, orange canyons, only wide enough to fit a handful of people at a time at its thinnest parts. And eventually after a short time walking, the spectacular sandstone structures of Petra emerge. They were built in the 3rd Century BCE by the Nabataeans, who carved ornate temples into the soft cliffs. They’re a sight to behold. So delicate and opulent, ancient engineering at its finest. When you visit, you’ll likely feel like you’re discovering a long-lost secret of human civilisation for the first time. Save – like for almost all of the Seven Wonders – for the hordes of other tourists being present. Who you cleverly crop out of photos to make it look like you had the place to yourself.
3. Great Wall Of China, China
For some reason, I didn’t have the highest hopes when going to see the Great Wall of China. I couldn’t imagine a long wall being as structurally impressive as some of the other Seven Wonders. My visit was also in 2014. I was visiting with a group of friends who had a keen interest in drinking beers at the time – as did I – sometimes at the expense of culture. “There’ll be people on the wall selling beers, I can guarantee it,” a friend said hopefully. And incredibly, he was right. Not only this, while sipping our beers and gazing at this snaking, beautifully undulating wonder of humanity, we had the pleasure of watching marathon runners haplessly scrambling up the steepest parts of the wall. Seemingly about to take their last breaths. I can’t really think of many harder places to go for a short jog, let alone a marathon.
The Great Wall is awe inspiring. While it can’t be seen from space as is commonly claimed, it stands as a monument to China’s ancient history. It spans a stunning 20,000km. It appears one with nature. Undulating with the hills and mountains. Snaking its way onto the distant, hazy horizons, as if it’d always been part of these ancient landscapes. But it definitely hasn’t. Some 300,000 soldiers and peasants are estimated to have built the walls, which suffice to say, can’t have been very much fun at all. I for one I’m glad we live now, and not then.
2. Taj Mahal, India
The Taj Mahal has to be one of the most beautiful structures in the world. If not the most beautiful. It’s almost the perfect building. Its majestic, marble curves. Its delicate and flowing silhouette. The way it seems to almost float above the hazy skies of Agra. An oasis of calm and beauty, amid pulsating and chaotic Indian urban life. It was completed in 1653. A monument to Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s favourite wife (he had five). Shah Jahan allegedly gouged the eyes of the artisans and craftsmen who designed the building, so they couldn’t recreate its beauty elsewhere. While there’s no evidence to support this story, it heightens the drama. And we can be sure that as with all of these grand, historic monuments, a huge number of humans died and suffered in the building’s construction in any case.
1. The Colosseum, Italy
It could be because I like sport, and have been obsessed by stadiums since I was a child. But the Colosseum in Rome gets the number one spot for me. And given that this ranking is objective; the global debate is now settled once and for all. This is the number one. What a relief. The structure speaks of the truly incredible Roman civilisation. More than any other monument, the Colosseum symbolises the drama and power of ancient Rome. A 50,000 seater area; built over 2,000 years ago. It looks like it could’ve been built decades ago, not millennia. It even had a retractable shade roof, which operated like a sail to protect people from the sun. The mind boggles.
Despite being two millennia old, Roman art, architecture, and, culture seems almost Victorian in how advanced it was. The Romans were so very like us. You only need to read Meditations by Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius to understand that the human mind hasn’t changed at all since historic times, and the ancient Romans were preoccupied with similar worries to modern humans. And yet, the Romans used slaves and liked to watch people kill each other for fun in the Colosseum, rather than watching people kick balls around. Proof, it if were need, that for all of the follies of the modern world, humanity heads ever further in the right direction as the centuries pass.
For more anecdotes and views on the world, informed by travelling to over 80% of the world’s countries, check out my bestselling book. Michael Mackay Richards – The Travelling Ape: What Travelling (Nearly) Everywhere Taught Me about Humanity, Geopolitics, and Happiness is out now in eBook, paperback, and hardback. Search for ‘The Travelling Ape’ on Amazon to purchase the paperback or hardback in your home country, where it’s available.