The ancient Greek writer Herodotus wrote the original list of the Seven Wonders of the World, based on travellers’ accounts. That’s why the original list comprised purely things that could be seen around or close to the Mediterranean and ignored the far off lands of India and China. It’s not even certain that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon actually existed.
I decided to put together my own list, and limit it (a) to things I’ve actually seen myself, and (b) to things that are manmade. I’m well aware that there are plenty of awesome sights that fail those two criteria; heck the only place I’ve been to in China is Hong Kong, and in the United States, New York.
Nonetheless, here is my list – and some not-quites.
The Pyramids of Giza
The only one of the original seven wonders left standing, the pyramids have the curious aspect of being unphotogenic. Yes, you’ve seen pictures of them, but somehow they seem to shrink in photographs. When you see them in the flesh the sheer amount of work that must have been involved in constructing them nearly blows the mind.
The Grand Mosque in Esfahan
I’m going to quote what I wrote for my own benefit about the mosque: “I am not a religious man. I do not put much stock in the gods of Judaism, Christianity or Islam. And yet, as I looked through the entrance portal to get my first glimpse of the south iwan and the main sanctuary, my jaw dropped and I felt what is probably the closest thing to reverence that I will ever experience in my life. The mosque, quite simply, is one of the most amazing and astonishing buildings in the world.”
The Taj Mahal
Let’s get some statistics in place. According to the website How Many Are There, there are 125 million houses in the USA alone. Throughout the whole of human history the total number of buildings constructed could be several multiples of that. The total number might even reach a billion.
And yet the Taj Mahal still stands out as the most beautiful building ever constructed. That is quite something.
Luxor – the hypostyle hall at Karnak, and the Valley of the Kings
A double entry here. The Hypostyle Hall at Karnak is a giant forest of pillars and has lost none of its power to awe after thousands of years. The Valley of the Kings, on the other hand, not only houses remarkably preserved tombs with fantastic paintings, it is also has the coolest name of any tourist attraction, ever.
In a remote part of Greece, the rock pinnacles of the valley would be an attraction in their own right, carved as they have been by the winds into smooth forms. But atop some of these rock pinnacles sit monasteries, a strange and surreal site.
Not Antonio Gaudi’s most famous building – La Sagrada Familia and Casa Milà are both better known – but this is his best. The melted-wax front is matched by a luscious interior. Several of the floors are private an not accessible to visitors – how I envy whoever owns them.
The only place I’ve even been that seemed magically hypnotic, like a day dream, even while I was there. Clearly a dying city, but what a dowager.
Setenil de los Bodegas: an extraordinary Spanish town where house are built beneath rock overhangs along the gorge of the river, resulting in a remarkable aesthetic where it looks like the earth is consuming the town. The picture at the top of this post was taken in Setenil
Il Duomo, Florence: soaring and magnificent, Il Duomo remains a stunning feat of engineering, art and architecture.