Will wonders never cease?

Story and photos by Bob Schulman

Jordan’s huge tourism draw at Petra scored among the New7Wonders of the World.Chances are you’ve never heard of a guy named Antipatros Sidonios. The English version of his name – Antipater of Sidon – probably doesn’t ring a bell, either. And it likely doesn’t help to know Antipatros was a 2nd century B.C. poet, and Sidon is an ancient coastal city in what’s now Lebanon.

But anyone who’s read a history book over the past 2,000 years surely knows about a famous list put together by this Greek bard. A sort of travel guide to the world’s top attractions at the time, he published it in a short piece of prose:

“I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the Colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, 'Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand.'”

From this came the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Only one of the Wonders – Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza -- still stands. The ravages of time have taken the rest: the immense Temple of Artemis at the sprawling city of Ephesus and the huge tomb of the Persian king Mausolus at Halicarnassus (now the popular cruise port at Bodrum), both on the Turkish coast; the Colossus that once stood over the harbor at the island of Rhodes on the eastern edge of the Aegean Sea; King Nebuchadnezzar’s Hanging Gardens of Babylon in Mesopotamia (now Iraq); and the seated Statue of Zeus at Olympia on the west coast of Greece.

Where’s the seventh Wonder? Antipatros only listed six in his poem, but the Greeks were partial to groupings or combinations of seven – that number representing perfection. So later on the soaring Egyptian Lighthouse of Alexandria was slipped into the list of Wonders, boosting them to seven. Who picked the lighthouse? No one knows for sure (maybe Cleopatra had a good PR man).

More wonders

Pyramid of Kukulcan is featured at the famous Maya archaeological site at Chichen Itza, one of the New7Wonders of the World.

Fast-forward two millennia, and entrepreneur/adventurer/filmmaker/museum curator Bernard Weber figures lots of eye-popping marvels have been built since Antipatros got the ball rolling on global Wonders. So in 1999 he comes up with an idea to spotlight more Wonders among the (relative) newbies. He calls the project the New7Wonders of the World, run by a nonprofit foundation based in Switzerland.

One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was the Colossus of Rhodes, a giant statue that once straddled the entrance to the harbor of that Greek island.The judging started off with some 200 nominations – amid lots of politicking by countries to get on the initial list. Then the nominations were whittled down to 21, again -- since billions of tourism bucks were at stake – accompanied by all kinds of PR campaigns.

Finally, after a reported 100 million votes were cast, the contest wrapped up on July 7, 2007. Among heavy-hitters that came in as runners-up were America’s Statue of Liberty, Paris’ Eiffel Tower, Russia’s Kremlin, Chile’s Easter Island and Australia’s Sydney Opera House.

Walking away with the top honors and officially becoming Wonders were (drum roll): Mexico’s tourism magnet at the Maya ruins of Chichen Itza, India’s Taj Mahal, Jordan’s jaw-dropping labyrinth at Petra, the Roman Coliseum, the Great Wall of China, Peru’s mountaintop ruins at Machu Picchu and the Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking Rio de Janeiro.

But wait – there’s more

Flushed with success, the New7Wonders foundation went on to stage another poll, this one focusing on nature and following much the same voting model used for the first Wonders competition. Announced in 2011 were these winners of the New7Wonders of Nature: South America’s Amazon River, Vietnam’s much-photographed Ha Long Bay, Iguazu Falls in Argentina and Brazil, South Korea’s Jeju Island, South Africa’s iconic Table Mountain, the Philippines’ subterranean river in Puerto Princesa, and Indonesia’s Komodo National Park (home of the Komodo Dragon).

The most wondrous of  the seven ancient wonders was the temple of Artemis (Apollo’s twin sister) at Ephesus in western Turkey.

But they didn’t stop there. Cities could be Wonders, too. So the pollsters came up with yet another competition called the New7Wonders-Cities. In late 2014, the  group announced these winning places from among 1,200 original contenders and 28 finalists: Doha, Kuala Lumpur, Beirut and Havana (the respective capitals of the United Arab Emirate of Qatar, Malaysia, Lebanon and Cuba); Durban, known as the melting pot of South Africa; La Paz, located high in the Andes of Bolivia; and Vigan, a classic Spanish colonial city on the Philippine island of Luzon.

More info on the 7Wonders projects: www.new7wonders.com

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