Which one would you vote for?
Okay, one of them no longer exists. But you can vote for the other colossus. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Bernard Weber, a Swiss-Canadian filmmaker and author have together (the New7Wonders committee) organized a worldwide competition to select the latest set of the Seven Wonders of the World out of twenty one finalists from all over the globe. They range in age from the ancient to the modern and include statues, castles, mosques, temples and mausoleums. There is also an amphitheater, one whole city, an opera house, as also a tower and a wall. All are well known edifices and the New7Wonders committee has organized a tour of each location for members. The seven winners will be declared on Saturday, the 7th of July in Lisbon, Portugal.
It is not certain when the original list of the Seven Wonders of the (Ancient) World was compiled by a group of Greek scholars. The possible dates range from the 5th to the 2nd century B.C. We are also not sure what the content of the list was. One authoritative version was said to have been housed in the archives of the Library of Alexandria (which in my opinion, was a Wonder itself, if not for the design of its architecture, surely in the scope of its ambition as a promoter of scholarship). That list was destroyed in one of the many fires that periodically flared up at the library. The final set of Seven Ancient Wonders known to us was compiled in the middle ages. It included the seven most spectacular monuments of the ancient world. The majority of the structures on that list were already either destroyed or were on the brink of destruction at the time the catalog was completed. Most of us will be hard pressed to accurately name all seven of the original honorees.
The list of Wonders has expanded over the years to include the Wonders of the middle ages and the modern world. The Wonders of the modern world follow more than one classification, making a distinction between natural and man made wonders. One list sagely combines both categories to describe the Seven Wonders most visited by tourists. Frankly, I do not know what the current official Wonders are. Perhaps there is no official list, hence the upcoming election to establish one.
Up until now, the responsibility for generating the exclusive list was the privilege of erudite scholars of history, architecture and antiquity. This is the first time that the honors will be decided through a democratic voting process. Sounds okay until you learn that like all other elections, the Seven Wonders votes too may be influenced by heavy campaigning and partisan voting. Several countries are taking the matter quite seriously. Some politicians and entertainers are out in force to drum up support for their own national monument. UNESCO claims that voters are not making their decisions based on narrow parochial or nationalistic considerations. For example, most US voters are NOT voting for the Statue of Liberty, one of the finalists. Hmm ... I don't know for sure that artistic sensibilities, awe of engineering feat or appreciation of history will indeed trump national pride in the case of all voters.
Not everyone is pleased with the democratization of the selection process. Egypt, which is home to the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) at Giza, the only surviving member of the original elite class (Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) on the current list, has turned up its nose at the competence of the citizen voters. Egyptian scholars protested that their monument can only be judged fairly by other scholars and serious academics. When Egypt's Ministry of Culture and Council of Antiquities formally joined the protest, organizers withdrew the pyramid from the competition and designated it Honorary New7Wonders Candidate.
I don't intend to vote but I checked the voting site - you indeed cannot vote on the Great Pyramid. Clicking on the image of each contender takes you to a page devoted to its short history and the two word "reason" to vote for it - each ending in an enthusiastic exclamation mark. I found the reasons, which supposedly encapsulate the qualities best symbolized by the monuments, quite interesting. Some samples:
- The Roman Colosseum (Italy): Joy & Suffering!
- Machu Picchu (Peru): Community & Dedication!
- The Acropolis (Greece): Civilization & Democracy!
- The Kremlin and Red Square (Russia): Fortitude & Symbolism!
- The Statue of Liberty (USA): Generosity & Hope!
- The Great Wall of China (China): Perseverance & Persistence!
- Timbuktu (Mali): Intellect & Mysticism!
The "reasons" for the perennial favorite, the Taj Mahal (India), are predictably Love & Passion. It is worthwhile to note here that while most Wonders of the World, past and present, celebrate a deity or a state, there was one among the Ancient Wonders which too like the Taj Mahal, was widely believed to be a testimony to the love and passion of a smitten husband for his wife. Also, in case you were not aware, the American Statue of Liberty was fashioned after the Colossus of Rhodes, in both its dimensions and symbolism (an artist's rendition of the older statue appears at the top left of this post). The Mediterranean colossus was one of the original (and now vanished) ancient Wonders. Located at the harbor of the island state of Rhodes, it depicted victory in battle and freedom. Our own statue (known also as the Modern Colossus) looming over the coasts of Staten Island represents freedom, welcome and safe harbor.
One last thought. Had A.B. been a more chatty site, we could have opened up this thread to voting by readers on their choice of Wonders. Since we are not bound by Mr Weber's rules, our survey can go beyond the official final list including the Great Pyramid at Giza. It would have been fun to do a tally and compare with UNESCO's result at the end of the week. But as we have seen before, our readers remain reticent about sharing opinions in public. ( Sigh! ) Comments remain open of course. We will leave it at that.
A detailed report on the Seven Wonders competition in the Christian Science Monitor, here.