Few phrases are more evocative than the severn wonders of the world and to see them all is the ambition of many. However, with the exception of the Great Pyramids of Giza, the classic wonders of the world no longer exist. Fortunately, in place of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the lighthouse at Alexandria and the others, we have seven modern day wonders of the world to explore. Of course, most are not really modern at all, and it is their history as much as the intricacy and beauty of their construction that gives them their enduring appeal.
The only manmade structure that is sometimes visible from space, the Great Wall of China’s original purpose was to act as a fortification and prevent Eurasian nomads from invading what is now modern-day China. Contrary to common belief, the Great Wall was never a continuous structure; its builders also took advantage of natural fortifications, such as mountains. Visitors can find traces of the wall across many parts of China, including in the Gobi desert. However, it’s best viewed in Beijing Municipality. This Ming dynasty-era section of the wall may not be the most remote but it is well-preserved, and the sight never fails to mesmerise.
Sometimes described as “a teardrop on the face of humankind”, the Taj Mahal in India is a monument to love. Commissioned by the seventeenth-century Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, it was intended as a tomb for Mumtaz, his favourite wife. Today, Mumtaz and Shah Jahan both lie beneath its towering central dome. Inlaid with precious stone and decorated with stucco, the white marble mausoleum is widely regarded as the pinnacle of Mughal architecture. Its careful symmetry is replicated in the surrounding gardens. Their shady trees and water-filled channels are a pleasant place in which to walk and further admire the Taj Mahal.
No-one who makes the arduous trek to Machu Picchu high in the Andes can fail to be impressed by the results of sophisticated, mortar-free building methods used by its Inca builders. Still standing more than five centuries after its construction in the city of Cusco, it’s been deserted for far longer than it was in use. However, it owes its place among the seven wonders of the world both to the brevity of its existence as part of Incan civilisation and to the enduring beauty of its structures, including the evocatively-named Temple of the Three Windows and the Temple of the Sun.
Chichen Itza is part of the Riviera Maya and is what remains greatest Mayan civilisations. In use for around 1000 years, it’s no surprise Chichen Itza contains a mixture of architectural styles. Particular highlights include the famous stepped Pyramid of Kukulcan, or El Castillo. It’s no longer possible to climb this structure but, during the autumn equinox, keen-eyed visitors might discern what appears to be an enormous serpent climbing its steps. It’s actually an illusion caused by triangular shadows falling from the pyramid’s various levels but, given that the structure was built to honour the feathered-serpent god, many observers come away convinced that the effect is deliberate.
Anyone seeking out the wonders of the world should not miss the rose-red city of Petra, which owes its colour to the sandstone cliffs from which its temples, tombs and caves are carved. Dating back to the first century BC, the city was thought lost to the desert sands for centuries after its Roman annexation. The rediscovered site is much larger than it first appears and exploring it can be hard work; for example, you must be prepared to climb 850 steps in order to explore its vast monastery. If you have the chance, don’t miss a candlelit show, or Siq, put on at dusk by local Bedouins in the shadow of the awesome Treasury.
Sitting on the summit of Mount Corcovado, the open-armed statue of Christ the Redeemer is so perfectly positioned it’s hard to imagine it’s not even 100 years old. Citizens from across Brazil, but especially those from Rio de Janeiro, have taken it to their hearts as their country’s pre-eminent cultural and religious icon. Built from reinforced concrete it’s an Art Deco masterpiece that brought together the skills of some of the world’s finest engineers and sculptors. The soapstone tiles that cover the concrete hide one of the statue’s most enduring mysteries: local women who made the tiles are said to have inscribed messages on their reverse.
The Romans constructed many impressive buildings but none can compete with Rome’s Colosseum. The largest amphitheatre ever built, it was always intended to impress and to ensure that the populace of the teeming Roman city was satisfactorily entertained. Today, the gladiators, the wild beasts and the condemned prisoners may be gone but the massive stone structure seems to retain an echo of their presence. Sit on one of the stone seats, look down and consider the sights that must have played out there 2000 years ago. It’s no wonder that as bucket list destinations go, this tops many people’s must-see list.