The world will never be quite the same after this weekend. A lavish ceremony resembling the opening night of the Olympic Games will be held in Portugal to reveal the final results of (currently) 70 million public votes. The New Seven Wonders of the World will be presented to the grateful global populace (with a couple of significant objectors - but more on them later) with all the pomp of the Eurovision song contest. Brainchild of Swiss industrialist Bernard Weber and his 'New Open World Corporation' - who sound like the evil media empire Pierce Brosnan toppled in Tomorrow Never Dies - the New 7 (as they are abbreviated) will join the other rollcalls of whopping majesty on the 7th of July in Lisbon.
There are more of those than you would think, too. The Seven Ancient Wonders, of course, and the Seven Natural Wonders (Grand Canyon, Barrier Reef, Rio harbour, Mount Everest, the polar aurora, Parícutin volcano and the Victoria Falls). There's the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages (Stonehenge, Colosseum, Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa (?), Great Wall of China, Porcelain Tower at Nanjing, the Hagia Sophia, and the leaning tower of Pisa), the Seven Wonders of the Modern World (the Channel Tunnel, CN Tower, Empire State Building, Golden Gate Bridge, Itaipu Dam, Panama Canal, and the Dutch land reclamation works), and the Seven Underwater Wonders (Palau, the Great Barrier Reef, the Beleize Barrier Reef, undersea vents, the Galapagos Islands, Lake Baikal, the Northern Red Sea).
So why do we need another list? Well - we don't, according to the universally accepted guardians of the world's wonders, UNESCO. They released a stinging statement at their recent meeting in Christchurch (during which they elevated 21 more sites to World Heritage status - now making 851). It read ...There is no comparison between Mr Weber’s mediatised campaign and the scientific and educational work resulting from the inscription of sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The list of the “7 New Wonders of the World” will be the result of a private undertaking, reflecting only the opinions of those with access to the internet and not the entire world. This initiative cannot, in any significant and sustainable manner, contribute to the preservation of sites elected by this public. Ouch.
I can see their point, too. UNESCO send teams of earnest inspectors to places like the 'Ecosystem and Relict Cultural Landscape of Lopé-Okanda' (a recent listee, from Gabon), whilst Herr Weber gets a flashy website and SMS vote to garner millions upon millions of votes. It's the classic stuffy beaurocrats versus modern media types battle. You can register and vote for the New 7 for free (online), if you vote by phone or SMS it costs you an international call. Cleverly, while the free votes are capped at seven, you can send as many texts as you like, enabling those who have an interest to 'buy' extra votes. So who has an interest? Well, even if it's not recognised by UNESCO, having a 'New' wonder of the world in your country would be a huge boost for tourism, at the very least.
So what are the sites in the running? Twenty-one possible candidates were selected into a shortlist from 77 nominations. They are...
- The Acropolis (Athens, Greece)
- The Alhambra (Granada, Spain)
- Angkor Wat (Angkor, Cambodia)
- Chichen Itza (Yucatan, Mexico)
- Christ the Redeemer (Rio de Janiero, Brazil)
- Colosseum (Rome, Italy)
- Easter Island Moais (Easter Island, Chile)
- The Eiffel Tower (Paris, France)
- The Great Wall (China)
- The Hagia Sophia (Istanbul, Turkey)
- Kiyomizu-dera (Kyoto, Japan)
- The Kremlin and St Basil's Square (Moscow, Russia)
- Macchu Picchu (Cuzco, Peru)
- Neuschwanstein Castle (Füssen, Germany)
- The stone city of Petra (Jordan)
- The Pyramids of Giza (Giza, Egypt)
- The Statue of Liberty (New York City, USA)
- Stonehenge (Amesbury, UK)
- The Sydney Opera House (Sydney, Australia)
- The Taj Mahal (Agra, India)
- Timbuktu (Mali)
Some worthy candidates there, certainly. Like the Pyramids at Giza, for example, which are of course the only surviving member of the original Seven Wonders. Their entry on the shortlist caused a huge kerfuffle in Egypt - as the politicians there (and this has become depressingly political) quite understandably argued that they shouldn't suffer the indignity of having to win their place again, having already been sitting proudly in the original list (which incidentally was thought up by a single person, Philon of Byzantium, in 200BC). So the pyramids were hastily given 'honorary status', and removed from the voting. The historic stone city of Petra was lagging down the order until the King of Jordan apparently went on telly there and urged the citizens to text support for their entrant. I don't remember seeing Queeny do that for Stonehenge, eh?
That's an odd one too - Stonehenge was built before any of the original seven wonders, and here it is trying to replace them, despite being on the medieval list. I dunno, it doesn't make sense to me (and I love lists). You can just imagine the glossy tourist brochures proclaiming Come and SEE the New Wonder of the World!!! for the winners, as the losers sit there, with nothing to shout about. I've nothing against this kind of thing in principal - I had a great time years ago at Bodrum poking about the ruins of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (mostly pretending to be Indiana Jones). It's just the predictably modern spin that's been put on it, the SMS charges (only 50% of which go to a heritage restoration fund), and the fact that 'organisations and governments' can allegedly block-buy votes. What's the point? I agree with UNESCO.
Next week I'll bring you the results, who I would have voted for, and my real New Seven Wonders of the World...
New Seven Wonders Website
UNESCO 'not involved' in New Seven Wonders
Opera House 'fading' in race to be New Wonder [Sydney Morning Herald]
Taj Mahal - not so wonderful? [BBC]