So I’ve had this conversation a few times:
It’s weird how the Seven Wonders of the World list is so extraordinarily well known, yet somehow nobody knows what it really means. They all seem to think it’s some objectively compiled list of glorious buildings, as though there’s a Seven Wonders Police that evaluates the list every year and keeps it updated with only the bestest things ever.
In reality, it’s absolutely nothing of the sort, and has no basis whatsoever in sensible art appreciation. In fact it’s one of the dumbest ways of evaluating the worth of architectural marvels that draw legions of awestruck visitors each and every year.
Let’s dive into the rabbit hole, shall we?
What counts as a Wonder of the World?
Here’s where it gets tricky. People tend to think the only qualification is awesomeness, but it’s not even close. The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World has very little to do with how wonderful things are.
What the hell are they, you ask? Well, to find out, we have to go way back to the beginning. Of civilization.
Thousands of years ago, back when the Greeks were busy inventing democracy and taking naked baths together, a few of them ventured out into the world, discovering works of magnificent art, from pyramids to lighthouses to gardens. Yes, gardens. And they wrote about them. And compiled them into lists of their favorite seven.
That’s right, kids. The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was nothing more than an Ancient Greek bucket list.
There was no “correct” list of Seven Wonders, just as today there’s no “correct” list of favorite places. Everyone has their own. But many of the entries matched up with each other, because, well, the world was barely civilized back then. If something amazing was out there, chances are it’ll show up on everybody’s list.
And as history went on, a few of the more famous lists, such as those from Antipater and Philo, and second-hand references to a much earlier list by Herodotus, came to be seen as the important ones. So although everyone had their own, the world did indeed settle on a single, official answer. Behold:
The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World
In order of construction:
- Great Pyramid of Giza
- Hanging Gardens of Babylon
- Tempe of Artemis at Ephesus
- Statue of Zeus at Olympia
- Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
- Colossus of Rhodes
- Lighthouse of Alexandria
The Lighthouse only just barely made the list. For a long time, the Ishtar Gate of Babylon was number seven.
You may have noticed you haven’t seen many of these showing up as National Geographic cover photos lately. That’s because most of them are gone. Sadly, the only one remaining is the Great Pyramid of Giza. Pyramids can’t fall down.
Notice anything else weird about the list? Yeah. Let’s discuss.
“Why isn’t _______ a Wonder of the World?”
You’ve probably heard it before. “Why not the Taj Mahal? Or Tikal? Or Stonehenge? Or the Great Wall? Or Angkor Wat? Or anything awesome?!?!!?”
Most people seem to get annoyed when they hear the Eiffel Tower isn’t one of the Seven Wonders. Or the Dome of the Rock, or Machu Picchu, or whatever. They’re wondrous, right? They’re in the world, right?!?! So why aren’t they Wonders of the World?!?!
Remember that list above? Well, it was developed from around 500 BC to about 0 AD. By Greeks, traveling around…Greece, basically.
So not only does the list include only things built before that time, but also includes only things built within that area. That’s as far as they could explore without cars and stuff. So it should really be called the Seven Wonders of Ancient Greece and Nearby Environs.
Doesn’t sound so cool now, does it?
Now, to be fair, what was going on in Ancient Greece and Mesopotamia was pretty great. Chances are that if they had done a real Wonders of the World list, and traveled all over the globe to find the absolute best, it would look pretty much the same. Except they might have added the Great Wall, which existed during that time.
But as time goes on, it makes less and less sense to view the Seven Wonders as a “best-of” list. It’s just a neat historical document of something that happened in Ancient Greece, not a list of the world’s most wonderful things. For the most part, they literally don’t even exist anymore.
Which is why so many cool buildings don’t count. No building you’ve ever seen, except the Pyramid, is a Wonder of the World.
So if anyone ever asks, “is this a Wonder of the World?”
The answer is no. Unless it’s the Pyramid.
The “New” Seven Wonders
Over the years, plenty of people and organizations have compiled their own versions, including specific lists for modern engineering marvels, natural formations, celestial bodies, and all sorts of other fun stuff. This is a neat idea, and it’s a nice way to get people interested in marvelous things around the world, though it’s by no means “official” in any way.
There was, however, a massive undertaking to select what came to be known as the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Given that most ancient wonders are now nothing but dust, the organizers wanted to compile a list of humanity’s most magnificent, still-standing monuments. They chose the method of a worldwide vote, receiving 100 million votes in the process.
The survey immediately raised the question of whether a global popularity contest is the best way to select the world’s greatest architectural marvels, as well as the problem of keeping the list at a mere seven, despite 2,000 extra years of history since the first such lists were drafted.
These are problems, of course, but…well, we all want to know the answers, right?
In 2007, the New Seven Wonders of the World votes were unveiled.
In (approximate) order of construction:
- Great Wall of China
- Chichen Itza
- Machu Picchu
- Taj Mahal
- Christ the Redeemer
The Great Pyramid of Giza was grandfathered in as an Ancient Wonder, so it wasn’t part of the new list.
Once again, there’s nothing official about the results. It’s literally a global popularity contest, with the quantity of votes cast consisting of 1.4% of the human population (admittedly including the problem of people voting multiple times), so it’s by no means scientific, but it does represent what (part of) humanity has chosen as our collective grand achievements. And…well, it’s certainly not bad.
But I bet Brazil did some serious campaigning to get up there. I mean, come on, guys. No Eiffel Tower? No Hagia Sophia?!?!
Oh well. The arguments could go on all day, and will probably go on for the next 2,000 years.
But you know what’s really weird about this list?
That’s right, boys and girls. Since the original Wonders are all gone, the guys who came up with the Seven Wonders list in the first place are absent from both lists, ancient and new. Greece is home to *zero* Wonders of the World.
I bet they’ve been drowning their sorrows in ouzo ever since.
Sorry, Greece. Maybe 2,000 years from now we’ll have a new vote and maybe you’ll make it.
In the meantime, the world is still full of wonders. Time to explore!