A Swiss firm launched a campaign in 2000 to update the list of the 7 Wonders of the World. It used popularity polls to identify the ‘top seven’ existing monuments from around 2000 well-known structures. Till today, this last captures some of the most unique and beautiful places in the world. The current list holds wonders from centuries past and is scattered across the globe, from the Taj Mahal in India to the remains at Machu Picchu. Each with its story, unfolding its mystery, waits only to be discovered.
1. Taj Mahal, Agra, India | 7 wonders of the world
The Taj Mahal is an ode of love written in white marble. The grieving Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan built this timeless monument to immortalize his love for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The Taj Mahal is one of the best examples of Mughal Architecture. It displays a fusion of Persian, Timurid, and Indo-Islamic construction.
The main building comprises a raised, square marble platform with a central dome housing the tomb, and four, forty-feet high minarets at each corner. The minarets are designed with a slight skew to ensure they fall outwards, and not on the dome, in case of any major mishap. Intricate, proportionate carvings and inlays cover all external surfaces. Twenty thousand artisans worked for 21 years to complete this monument. In his final years, Shah Jahan was deposed and held captive in the Agra fort by his son. He spent the time looking at the Taj Mahal from his cell window. He was interred beside Mumtaz’s tomb, creating an asymmetry in this ethereal monument.
2. Great Wall of China, Beijing, China
The Great Wall of China is one of the largest man-made structures in the world. It is, in fact, a layer of walls, 4000 miles long. Construction of this wall started in the 7th century BC. The structure was built by multiple dynasties to safeguard Imperial China against invasions from the steppes. It includes fortifications, trenches, ramparts, watchtowers, barracks, signaling systems, and long stretches of formidable walls.
During the initial decades, rammed earth was used for construction, followed by stone. Major construction took place during the Ming dynasty. Tiles, lime, and bricks were used during this period. Rice-mortar consisting of rice starch and slaked lime was used to bind the bricks together. The great wall also acted as a transport corridor for the famed ‘Great Silk Route’ for trade across the Eastern and Western worlds and had systems for border controls such as gates to trap undesired movements. Parts of the wall have been eroded, stolen, and vandalized. Tourists continue to throng the site, exposing it to further risks. But with proper conservation measures, we can hope that these walls, built over centuries, will continue to stand tall for many more.
3. Machu Picchu, Peru | 7 wonders of the world
Machu Picchu is an abandoned city situated 7940ft high in the Peruvian Andes. It is estimated to have been occupied by the Incas in 1420-1532 AD. Local folklore referred to it as the lost city in the clouds, but it was not known to the rest of the world till the 19th century. Machu Picchu is now accessible through a long, steep hike. The most notable structures here include the Temple of the Sun, the Room of Three Windows, and the Intihuatana-a massive vertical stone structure which casts symmetrical shadows during the summer and winter solstice. The area is surrounded by mountain terraces which were probably used for agriculture.
Massive blocks of granite were brought to this height without the use of a wheel. The city is prone to tremors as it lies on two fault lines, but the mortar-less structures could withstand multiple earthquakes. There is no evidence of violent invasions, so the city was probably abandoned due to disease or lack of resources as the Inca civilization died out. Dense forests and a shroud of clouds preserved their memories for future centuries to discover and wonder.
4. The Colosseum, Rome
The Colosseum is a landmark structure, one of the few standing symbols of the majestic Rome Empire.It is a huge amphitheater, an oval of 620*513 feet, and towered over four stories in height. It could hold 50,000-80,000 spectators at one time, with around 80 archways to facilitate their entry and exit. It was used mainly for brutal spectator sports of the early Roman Era-Gladiator fights, re-enactments of battles, and staged hunts of exotic wild animals, criminals, and slaves. Approximately 40,000 people and 1,00,000 animals were killed in the four centuries when the Colosseum was in use. It was later used as a fortress, workshop, and shelter as the Roman Empire went into decline.
The structure remained a ruin for over 1500 years, subjected to earthquake damage, and was used as a limitless quarry for stones. Most of the original marble has been reused for religious structures. The structure is full of holes as the iron clamps holding the stone in place were removed for reuse.
The Colosseum is still standing because of the engineering details which went into its construction. It has a deep and solid substructure. It was built of solid blocks of travertine held together by concrete. Roman concrete, a mix of volcanic sand and limestone, was one of the most endurable building materials before the 20th century. Conservation efforts to restore and preserve the remains of the Colosseum started in the 1900s. The Colosseum is one of the major tourist attractions in the world. As a legacy of Roman traditions, the Pope continues to lead a Way of the Cross procession every Good Friday in this area.
5. Christ the Redeemer, Brazil | 7 wonders of the world
The 98 ft tall statue of Christ the Redeemer looms over the city of Rio, in Brazil-stretching its 92ft wide outstretched hands in an all-encompassing gesture of welcome, benediction, and redemption. A catholic priest had first proposed the idea of the statue in the 1850s. After the first world war, to inspire religious traditions amidst a flux of external influences, the Church wanted to install an impressive symbol of the Christian faith that would be visible from the entire region.
The peak of the 2310 ft high Mount Corcovado was selected as an ideal spot for erecting the statue for the same reason. French-Polish designer Paul Landowski designed Christ the Redeemer as the largest art-deco statue in the world. The Roman sculptor Gheorghe Leonida designed the face of the sculpture. The sculpture is constructed of reinforced concrete clad with thousands of triangular mosaic tiles. Construction materials were transported to the top of Mount Corcovado by railroad, and the structure was assembled at its current location. Christ the Redeemer is now an emblem of the region. A symbol of faith rising through the rainforests, reaching for the sky, hands outstretched towards the entire world.
6. Petra, Jordan
Petra is one of the oldest cities in the world, inhabited in 312 BC. Situated in southwest Jordan, it is now famous for its rock-cut architecture displaying Hellenistic, Roman, and ancient Bedouin architecture. It is known as the ‘Rose City’ because of the pink-hued sandstone used in all structures. Petra was the capital city of the Nabateans, a nomadic tribe. It continued to flourish after the Romans captured the city. The grandeur of the ancient city can be judged by the lavish tombs, the massive rock-cut sandstone structures, and the planned layout with dwellings, marketplaces, and temples.
For the tourists, the main attraction in Petra is the Siq, a narrow 1.2 km long natural corridor through which they enter Petra. This narrow corridor was one of the best defenses for the city. Towards the end of the path, the gap exposes the magnificent 127 ft high and 82 ft wide carved monument, popularly known as the Treasury. The city is an archaeological treasure with rock-cut tombs, halls, an amphitheater that could seat 8500 people, and the Great Temple with towering columns.
From the engineering point of view, an intriguing part of the city is its complex hydrological system. Petra lies in one of the aridest regions of the world, amidst the hot desert and exposed cliffs and mountains. Water from natural springs flowed into the city through a sophisticated network of sloping aqueducts and ceramic pipes. There were 26 dams around the city to control flash floods and store water for irrigation and domestic use.
Petra declined after an earthquake in the 8th century disturbed the hydrological basin and caused extensive damage to the city. It was abandoned and forgotten by the outside world. Local folklore referred to it as the lost city. It was rediscovered by travelers in 1812 and has been enthralling thousands of tourists since then.
7. Chichen Itza, Cancun, Mexico | 7 wonders of the world
Chichen Itza is an ancient city situated in the Yucatan plateau of Mexico. It was built by the Mayans around the 7th century AD. The city was abandoned after the decline of the Mayan civilization and was covered by forests. Explorers and archaeologists rediscovered the city in the early 20th century and are reconstructing buildings to preserve their glorious past.
Chichen Itza symbolizes a blend of Mayan and Toltec architectural elements. The most notable structures include:
- The Caracol-a circular observatory with a spiral stairway
- The Great Ball Court, which is the largest ball court in the American continents
- Tzompantli or the Skull Wall, depicts thousands of skulls belonging to criminals or enemies.
- Grand temples such as the Jaguar temple, The temple of warriors, and the house of Eagles
- Tomb of the High Priest
The structure that dominates Chichen Itza is El Castillo, also known as the Temple of Kukulkan. It is a majestic, square pyramid dedicated to the worship of the Sun God. Each side of the pyramid represents a season. Each side has a staircase of 91 steps, which along with the last step at the summit, add up to 365. They represent the number of days in the Mayan calendar.
Archaeological studies have now validated the myth of nestled pyramids within the main structure. Archaeologists have discovered nine platforms, a stairway, human remains, a jaguar throne, and symbolic sculptures. They have also detected signs of a cenote or sinkhole, corroborating the myth of Xibalba or the entrance to hell.
Twice a year, during the solstices, the shadows on the temple replicate a snake slithering down the pyramid. As per a legend, Kukulkan, the Serpent God descends from the heavens, blesses his devotees, and retreats into the underworld or Xibalba. The high priests climb the stairs to reach out to the Sun. All three worlds come together in this fascinating setting.
These wonders only encapsulate a fragment of the beauty there is to see across the world today.
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