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The 90 Wonders of the World

Herodotus has a lot to answer for. He lived during the wars between Greece and Persia in the 5th Century BC. His writings about the origins of those wars mean he is now referred to as the ‘Father of History’. Herodotus also wrote about his extensive travels, and this started another, more unfortunate trend. He did not mean to, but Herodotus unwittingly started the business of marketing aimed at tourists. Herodotus, Father of History, was also the first person to write about ‘wonders’ of the world.

A couple of hundred years later, Philo of Byzantium followed Herodotus’ precedent, and came up with what in now considered the definitive seven wonders. He was writing the progenitor of a travel guide, but just like Lonely Planet it was out of date by the time it was published. The Colossus of Rhodes, a giant bronze statue of the god Helios, had fallen over the year before. If you wanted to see the wonders now, you would come up a long way short. Apart from the Great Pyramid at Giza, none are standing. The Lighthouse of Alexandria lasted longest, but was eventually toppled by earthquakes. If you want to see the Mausoleum of Halikarnassos you had best go to the British Museum. They have some good bits that were left over after Crusaders used the rubble to build a castle. The Statue of Zeus at Olympia and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon lasted a millennium and half a millennium respectively, which proves the adage ‘they used to build them to last’ – but not long enough. The most destructive history, however, belongs to the Temple of Artemis built near Ephesus. It was first destroyed by an arsonist, Herostratus. His motivation was pretty stupid. Herostratus destroyed the temple just so he would be famous. To serve him right, the people decided to not write down his name, so it would be forgotten. That largely worked, though by now you will have noticed that somebody cheated. The Ephesians rebuilt the temple, but then Goths went on a rampage and knocked it down again. The Ephesians were stubborn, and rebuilt the temple yet again. By this time, Christianity was changing. It had been a poor, downtrodden religion whose adherents suffered greatly from persecution. It was turning into the state religion, and it was the Christians’ turn to do the persecuting. Not content with closing the temples that worshipped the wrong gods, Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, personally led a mob to pull the Temple of Artemis down. So if you ever find your house or place of work under attack from a riot, you can console yourself that the rioters are behaving just like saints.

The real reason we still talk about the wonders of the world is that they beautifully serve the purpose of sounding official enough to influence where you take your holidays, but are unofficial enough for everybody to invent their own list, or to add their own crummy tourist trap to the list. People who work in marketing for tourism always have a way of telling you that, wherever you are or wherever you have been, there is somewhere else you really must see. I once stayed in a hotel right next to the Great Pyramid at Giza, the Mena House Oberoi. It was right next to the Pyramid. You walked out of the hotel and up the hill for ten minutes and you were at the Pyramid’s base. It was a short break for a few days, so we picked somewhere luxurious and ideal for the one historical monument we wanted to see. Yet, the whole time I was there, I was plagued by people suggesting I visit the pyramids – the pyramids located elsewhere in Egypt. The greatest pyramid of all, the only remaining wonder of the world from the original list, stands just a few hundred yards from your hotel balcony, but countless strangers suggest that what you really want to do is to get on a bus and go see another pyramid somewhere else. That is marketing logic for you.

Marketing logic now means there are quite a few more ‘wonders of the world’. We have ‘wonders of the modern world’, ‘wonders of the natural world’, and even ‘wonders of the underwater world’. Creating new lists of the wonders of the world is a bit like arriving at a bus stop, not wanting to join the back of the queue, so starting a new queue instead. There are so many ‘eighth wonders of the world’ that you marvel that so many people have had the cheek to consider their wonder to be eighth, and not ninth, tenth or eleventh. Being ‘eighth wonder’ is a bit like arriving at a bus stop and being prepared to queue, but only if you get to go eighth in line. Of course, if you get hundreds of wonders, then each wonder is a lot less significant than if you only have seven or eight wonders. That is how marketing logic works – you end up with hundreds of wonders, but each pretends it is in a special group of seven or eight. So here is my compilation of the wonders of the world, designed to find out how many there really are. I scoured the internet for as many lists and eighth wonders as I could find. In no particular order (except that I start with Philo’s seven) is the complete list of wonders of the world…

1. Great Pyramid of Giza
2. Hanging Gardens of Babylon
3. Statue of Zeus at Olympia
4. Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
5. Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus
6. Colossus of Rhodes
7. Lighthouse of Alexandria
8. Stonehenge

Okay, they are big stones, but they are pretty lame compared to the Great Pyramid

9. Colosseum
10. Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa
11. Great Wall of China

Great Wall, or great folly? If you wanted to get past it, you just got a traitor to open one of the gates…

12. Porcelain Tower of Nanjing
13. Hagia Sophia

Including the Hagia Sophia in a list of wonders shows how two-faced people can be about wonders – the Hagia Sophia was built using stones taken from the Temple of Artemis by Saint John Chrysostom’s mob!

14. Leaning Tower of Pisa

Says it all about why you should not add to the list of wonders. The Lighthouse at Alexandria was tall and straight. Building a crooked tower is no wonder, if you did not mean to!

15. Taj Mahal
16. Cairo Citadel
17. Ely Cathedral
18. Cluny Abbey
19. Channel Tunnel
20. CN Tower
21. Empire State Building
22. Golden Gate Bridge
23. Itaipu Dam
24. Delta Works/ Zuiderzee Works
25. Panama Canal
26. Petra
27. Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro
28. Machu Picchu
29. Chichen Itza
30. Potala Palace
31. Old City of Jerusalem
32. Polar ice caps

Come on! Who put this on a list of wonders? It is a lot of ice where the world is coldest. Geez. About as wondrous as my freezer when it is time for it to be defrosted.

33. Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument
34. Internet

All I can say is that some people are too easily impressed. Or have no idea what the internet actually is.

35. Maya ruins

It goes from bad to worse. Could they not work out which ruins were specifically the most wondrous ones?

36. Great Migration of Serengeti and Masai Mara

We are really stretching the envelope now…

37. Grand Canyon

As voted by 100% of Americans who do not have a passport.

38. Great Barrier Reef
39. Harbour of Rio de Janeiro
40. Mount Everest
41. Aurora
42. Parícutin volcano
43. Victoria Falls

Water falls off a cliff. Okay, it is a lot of water and a big cliff, but you get my point.

44. Palau

This is where the list gets a lot of input from underwater divers, hence I have no idea whether these really are that wondrous… or even where they are (unless it says so in the name)

45. Belize Barrier Reef
46. Deep-Sea Vents
47. Galápagos Islands

What, every bit of each island is a wonder? Even the bit where they erected a portaloo so you could take a dump?

48. Lake Baikal
49. Northern Red Sea
50. SS Great Eastern
51. Bell Rock Lighthouse
52. Brooklyn Bridge

Nice bridge, but come on… a wonder of the world?

53. London sewerage system

At last, a real wonder that does not get the credit it deserves. It did the tricky job (no pun intended) of saving London from being buried in sh*t (though some might argue it was not enough).

54. First Transcontinental Railroad

I am just copying from other sites. You would think that they would come up with a more impressive title for something that was a wonder. Or at least let you know where it started and ended.

55. Hoover Dam

Named after the George W. Bush of his time.

56. Bali

I have been to Bali. I am pretty sure the average Aussie surfboarder is not thinking ‘wonder of the world’ as he drunkenly lurches from one Kuta bar to the next…

57. Angkor Wat
58. Forbidden City
59. Bagan Temples & Pagodas
60. Karnak Temple
61. Teotihuacán
62. Iguazu Falls
63. Amazon Rainforest

Many parts of the world used to be covered in forest, you know. Man chopped them down. So the Amazon Rainforest is a wonder only because it is one forest we have not chopped down yet. But we will probably level it in the end…

64. Ngorongoro Crater
65. Bora Bora
66. Cappadocia
67. Milford Sound, New Zealand
68. Natural Tunnel, in Virginia
69. Pink and White Terraces near Rotorua, New Zealand

At last, a relatively honest ‘eighth wonder’, in the sense that nobody can exploit it any longer – the terraces were destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 1886.

70. Giant’s Causeway
71. Burney Falls in California

The connection between wonders and US Presidents goes on and on. This ‘wonder’ was nominated by Theodore Roosevelt. Perhaps the real ‘wonder’ is why US Presidents feel entitled to determine the wonders of the world. You might think they were too busy to do a comprehensive survey…

72. Banaue Rice Terraces, Philippines

This is a better entry than most. Carved with minimal tools into steep-sided mountains, these rice terraces are visually stunning as well as an epic feat of human endeavour. Try walking up and down those mountains for a few days, and you will soon understand just what it took to make them. Of course, what makes them so amazing is also why they are less likely to make it on to most people’s list – they are bloody hard to get to, and people do not tend to list wonders if they have never seen them…

73. The Terracotta Army of Xi’an

I have to say, I was rather underwhelmed when I visited the Terracotta Army in Xi’an. Sure, there are loads of them, and it was pretty mental to make a load of statues and then to bury them, but I am not sure I would call them a wonder. If they were, than making any art in very large numbers and then burying it would also have to count as a wonder. The real wonder is that the army was buried next to an earthen pyramid that is 76 meters tall. The mind boggles at might be hidden underneath that.

74. Amber Room in the Catherine Palace
75. The monastery of San Lorenzo del Escorial
76. The rock-hewn churches at Lalibela
77. The stelae of Axum
78. Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
79. Royal Palace in Amsterdam
80. Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty is only a wonder if you are impressed by fat French women who have turned a peculiar shade of green.

81. The moai statues of Easter Island
82. Palm Islands of Dubai

Expensive. Impressive. But a wonder? This wonder will soon be diluted when we realize just how many plans there are to build palm islands elsewhere in the world. This entry will seem as anachronistic as all those skyscrapers that have since been surpassed by yet more skyscrapers.

83. Sydney Opera House

It is beautiful, but the real wonder here is the same as for many other ambitious modern constructions – you wonder how they managed to make something so much smaller than originally planned whilst spending so much more than originally budgeted…

84. Thames Barrier
85. Bahá’í terraces, on Mount Carmel
86. Three Gorges Dam
87. Reliant Astrodome

If you listen to Americans for long enough, then you might end up believing that fourteen of the world’s seven wonders lie within the borders of the US.

88. West Baden Springs Hotel
89. King Kong

At least, he is the eighth wonder according to the movie. But then, King Kong does not actually exist.

90. André the Giant

André the Giant, a wrestler, was proclaimed the eighth wonder by the World Wrestling Federation. People who watch pro wrestling will believe anything.

Compared to the seven wonders, I much prefer the seven blunders per Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. It is a good antidote after wading through a list of bombast.

1. Wealth without work
2. Pleasure without conscience
3. Knowledge without character
4. Commerce without morality
5. Science without humanity
6. Worship without sacrifice
7. Politics without principle

My guess is that some of the items listed in the 90 wonders of the world owe a debt to blunders three and four on Gandhi’s list – knowledge without character and commerce without morality. Saying that, some people never learn. Gandhi wrote his list of seven blunders for his grandson. His grandson was then unable to resist temptation. He coined an eighth blunder of the world: ‘rights without responsibilities’. If he was going to make an addition, he should have gone with ‘lists without end…’

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