Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Seven Wonders of the World

Have I been everywhere and seen every single remarkable site that the world has to offer? No, I have not. Should this preclude me from declaring what the magical 'Seven Wonders of the World' are? Maybe... but it won't - this is my list, if you disagree with something, feel free to make your own!

I thought about coming up some criteria, but it's really quite easy - the 'wonders of the world' are things that unique and amazing. And these are all man-made structures; wonders of the natural world would be a whole another matter, likely a much harder one. I also tend to favor wonders that are amazing because of what they are, not because of the important/amazing/rare things that had happened there. Otherwise, it should just be Jerusalem, Rome, Athens, and New York for a bit of modern flavor.

So, without further ado, the list:

#1. The Pyramids of Giza: Cairo, Egypt

You have to start with the Pyramids, don't you? It's the only one left of the original Seven Wonders, and they are still going strong - still gigantic, still incomprehensibly ancient. It took us as a civilization over 4,000 years to finally build a structure that was taller than the Pyramids. Egypt has gone through a succession of rulers and overlords since the Pyramids had been constructed - various ones of these lords tried to destroy or alter the Pyramids; they barely made a dent. They are as they had always been - colossal, monumental, huge, imposing... When you see them in person, they are even bigger, than you had imagined.

#2. The Taj Mahal: Agra, India

The jewel of the Indian sub-continent, constructed as a burial shrine to a King's former wife. It's a beautiful, gleaming, almost magical site to behold. The contrast it offers to the slums that dominate the rest of India is striking, but it doesn't, in any way, need any extra points for the contrast - it deserves to be on any list of this kind just for its own unique and magnificent splendor. Criss-crossing India by rickshaw, getting to Agra to see the Taj Mahal was, at least, a three day detour for us, and it was easily worth it.

#3. Angkor Wat: Siem Reap, Cambodia

While the gloden domes of Thailand's famous temples shine in the lights of Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Angkor Wat stands solemnly across the border in Cambodia, in the heart of the former Khmer kingdom. The individual temples of Thailand and Laos may be more beautiful than the less glittering Khmer architecture, but not a single one stands out in my memory quite as strikingly as the ancient Angkor Wat, towering over the jungle from its position near Siem Reap. This wasn't the only Khmer temple I visited, and while the architectural styles are similar, none of the others could even begin to compare to Angkor Wat on sheer size and scale. It's huge, and it just peaks out of the jungle, with a subtle air of mystery, as if a real-life Angelina Jolie - Tomb Raider really is going to emerge from behind the trees any second. It's a stark contrast to Giza, where the Pyramids have been all but swallowed up by the metropolis of Cairo. Of course, Siem Reap isn't much of a metropolis, and Cambodia rolls along at a much slower, quieter pace than Egypt anyway.

#4. Kinkakuji Temple, a.k.a. the Golden Pavilion: Kyoto, Japan.

Just as I was starting to get a little despondent after a month in Japan, complaining that the Japanese architecture, while unique and beautiful, wasn't particularly varied, I finally arrived in Kyoto, the cultural capital of the country. A lot of the structures here were more of the same too (not another five story pagoda!?), but, Kyoto did have a few that very much broke the mold and inspired the imagination. Tops among them is the Golden Pavilion. Actually, I think, it's the golden reflection in the perfectly calm waters, on a clear winter day, that truly sold me. The stark green forest background surely made it one of the most photogenic sites in Japan...

#5. The Eiffel Tower: Paris, France

The structure that finally bested the Pyramids in height? That would be the Eiffel Tower. I think we are all pretty familiar with it by now, so I don't need to try and wax poetic about it - it's the avant garde symbol of modern day France. While Notre Dame, Versailles, and Louvre were the gleaming, golden symbols that the French royalty erected to celebrate their rule, the modern, and relatively spartan in decoration, Eiffel Tower is the symbol of Paris, and of France that I think of. In fact, it's the on the very, very short list of the most striking and memorable sites in all of Europe that immediately come to mind.

#6. St. Basil's Cathedral: Moscow, Russia

Maybe I'm biased having grown up in Moscow. Maybe I overlook the Moscow sites because I take them for granted, having grown up there. I don't know, but while Europe boasts plenty of amazing churches and cathedrals, none is quite as unique as Moscow's St. Basil's with its assortment of beautifully multi-colored domes. Even the other Russian Orthodox churches don't look like this, with their always golden cupolas, and I did emphasize uniqueness among my criteria!

#7. Sydney Opera House: Sydney, Australia

Nobody ever said this was a list of ancient wonders, and for #7, I settled for something modern, unique, and beautiful. Skyscrapers have really become symbols of modern architecture, but they are really not that different from each other. Sydney's Opera House is absolutely unique in its contemporary combination of function and design - sails blowing in the wind, as it's coming in from the harbor. The Eiffel Tower was reviled when first constructed, Shanghai's Oriental Pearl Tower remains ugly, but I doubt anyone didn't admire the beauty and elegance of the Sydney Opera House from the moment it had been completed.

And that's the list! There's plenty I haven't seen yet - the Mayan and Aztec Pyramids, the brand new Burj Dubai Tower, the Moai of Easter Island, even America's very own Mt. Rushmore, just off the top of my head, so I may, some day, decide to adjust the list, but, for now, I'm quite happy with it. Some notable runners-up that didn't quite make the cut:

- The churches of Western Europe: Notre Dame in Paris, London's Westminster Abbey, St. Peter's Basilica at the heart of the Vatican, Sagrada Famillia in Barcelona. None of them quite stood out and separated themselves enough from other similar Cathedrals, in my mind. Sagrada Famillia has a chance, as it's still under construction...

- Machu Picchu is awesome, but it is in large part awesome because it's the 'Lost City of the Incas' and because of its amazing surroundings in the Peruvian mountains. But the actual Incan architecture, especially minus all the gold, that conquistadors so kindly removed/stole, isn't quite astounding enough. The Potala Palace in Tibet falls into the same category - it's mystical and full of history and tradition, but as far as the actual architecture and decoration, I didn't think it was quite up to par. Very compellingly close though...

- Thailand and Burma each has a plethora of amazing temples, but they are hard to separate from each other. As a whole, Bangkok and the plane of Bagan are amazing, but I can't pick an individual temple over the likes of Angkor Wat, Taj Mahal, and Kyoto's Golden Pavilion. In a similar vein, Istanbul, Cairo, and [especially] Samarquand had some amazing Islamic architecture - from the massive spires of the minarets of Istanbul and Cairo to the ancient, mosaic'd madrassahs of Samarquand and Buchara, but that left each of them just good enough to merit mention among the runners-up category.

- Finally, the modern world gives us the Petronas Towers of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the Yokohama Landmark Tower in Japan, San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge, and even the Flora General of Buenos Aires (among others), but amazing as each of those is, I don't think they crack the top seven of amazing!

1 comment:

Alex said...

Wikipedia apparently disagrees with me - the Great Pyramid of Khufu in Giza was the tallest structure in the world for a mere 3,800 years and was surpassed by the Lincoln Cathedral in England in 1311. The Eiffel Tower did become the tallest structure in the world when it was constructed (1889) and was the first to surpass 300 meters in height, but it was apparently not the first to surpass the Pyramids... In fact, there were apparently seven structures built between 1311 and 1889 that held the distinction of new 'Tallest in the World' for a brief period of time (including our very own Washington Monument on the National Mall in Washington, DC in 1884) - some as brief as two short years...

Thanks, wikipedia.