Jacqueline Oud - Culture

The world wonders - a journey from the Greek to tomorrow’s new list

World wonders - from the past to tomorrow

Everyone has heard of the 7 world wonders and everyone can - normally - cite at least one. Surprisingly, there are less people that can cite all 7 of them. A quick recall:

  • The Great pyramid of Giza
  • The Hanging gardens of Babylon
  • The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
  • The Statue of Zeus at Olympia
  • The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
  • The Colossus of Rhodes
  • The Pharos of Alexandria

For those of you who play at Trivial Pursuit (or Triviant in the Netherlands) may be aware that there are even some questions included regarding these world wonders. Most of you probably also know that only the Great Pyramid of Giza is still existing and that of the other 6 there are in the best case some archaeological remaining.

You will probably have noticed that these world wonders are all located in the geographical zone around the former Hellenistic empire. It is also agreed that the date of the list of 7 dates back from this era. However, there are some uncertainties that lie around the identity of the author of the list and the exact date of creation of the list. In fact, it seems that the original text was never found, and that humanity since has been using various sources and quotations.

Who established the list of the ancient 7 world wonders

It is said that the author is Philon of Byzance but there seem to have been several persons with the same name .... Initially the work seems to be written in the 3rd century BC ( +/- 225BC) by he who also wrote the “Mecanical Syntaxe” but there has also been some confusion whether it should be rated dated in 4th or 5th century AD. But why all the fuzz around this? Simply because Philon argues in his list that this list is not only decided by him but agreed upon by the people - mostly intellectuals - around him and from his era. If not everyone can establish a list of world wonders and claim its validation.

At this period, the centre of the world - in terms of research and intellect - is based in Alexandria. Maybe the origin from the list comes from there. It is a fact that the Greek admired the regions of Egypt and Mesopotamia and its architecture. It can be argued that the period of Alexander’s travels have shown the Hellenistic word some beautiful architectural works and 5 of the world wonders lie in the new Greek zone. The other 2 are in the city of Babylon, where Alexander planned to settle down. Quite some reason to accept the logic of the list.

The number of 7

Did you ever wonder why there are 7? I mean, Alexander and his army went by Persepolis - ok, he burned it - but it could have been an 8th world wonder. There are certainly other sites that could have been added too. It was already then that the number 7 was given magical surroundings. It combines the 3 (divine triad) and 4 (the elements) and then represents the idea of the universe. Moreover, the origin of the number 7 seems to lie in the Asia Minor (Ionia), next door.

The empire of Rome strikes with its list

After the era of the Greek, the Romans arrived and apparently, the fact being that none of the Greek world wonders are in their zone, they wanted to have their own list and show their importance.

It was Gaius Plinius Secundus (or know as Pliny the Elder) who decide upon 18 world wonders of the Roman world. He was the famous author of the Naturalis Historia (Natural Histroy). In his work he came with more than 18 world wonders, thus showing the supremacy of Rome to Greece. Out of these, some he criticises and leaves 18 he really considers worth being the Roman world wonders. Amongst his list we can find the the private houses of Lepides, Caligula and Nero; the aquaduct from Marcius Rex, the gate of Ostie and the peace temple. His aim was to show monuments of political and moral importance and not only esthetical. He insisted on the practical part of the monument and condemned too much luxury - too expensive - and praised the usefulness of the community.

The era of the Middle Ages and renaissance and their list of world wonders

In the middle Ages, the list of world wonders was established by linking the sites with divinity. Religion was present everywhere and so it had to be represented in a list. No particular findings have been transported during time though and after the religious aspects, the renaissance mentioned the importance to include also the natural sources into the list of world wonders. These where (are) after all supposed to be timeless therefor a wonder. The word wonder was also studied: should it be a wonder in the sense of a exceptional or rather in the sense of miracle.

What makes a world wonder

This takes us to the question on how to decide what is to be on a list of world wonders or heritage to be preserved. From the different era we have seen above, most wonders are highly influenced by the geographical or cultural environment of that precise time of creation of the list. Quite normal: what you don’t know, well you can’t list nor appreciate.

Unesco - today’s list of world wonders?

With today’s “global” world there is no longer the excuse of not knowing the places. We all know a maximum of places that are beautiful but unfortunately, we don’t always take care of them. Many are destroyed or where about to be destroyed for simple reasons as “lack of space for other constructions”, “so much used to seeing it that the value of it disappears”, “against today’s beliefs” etc.

It is for the safeguard of these places that the UNESCO created the world list of heritage in 1972. The first inscriptions were listed in 1978. Sites that could be listed needed to be or natural or cultural and needed to have a universal exceptional value. Today there are 812 sites on the list of the Unesco World Heritage.

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UNESCO’s world heritage list

Click on the image above or the url to find the full list of sites: UNESCO - WHC Map of sites

In the beginning the sites came mainly from the developed countries, but today there are sites in more than 138 countries. Though there are always some controversies about this list and the proposed sites, there is no doubt that altogether this safeguard is important for today’s world.

Tomorrows list of world wonders

Even though I stated just above that we can see the UNESCO as the safeguard of today’s world heritage and world wonders, there is currently a new project that will finalise in 2007 a list of the 7 world wonders for the 3rd millennium. “New 7 Wonders” has been launched by Bernard Weber in 2000 at the same moment as the Olympic Games in Sydney (wink to the Greek 7 world wonders). One of the differences with this to-be list is that there is a pre-defined list of 21 sites and you can pick 7 out of them for your vote.

The 21 sites were selected upon a prior selection of 77 sites from the UNESCO list. The votes for the 7 best wonders have started since January 2006 and will open till .... July 7, 2007 - 07.07.07 (didn’t we yet discuss the number 7 before?).

Everyone can vote, click on the link or in the picture hereunder: www.new7wonders.com - vote

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the 21 potential winners of "new7wonders"

And next?

There will always be discussions ongoing about the world wonders and different arguments on what and why a site is to be considered a world wonder. Today’s new architectural sites like the Burj Al Arab in Dubai or the Petronas Twin towers in Kuala Lumpur are also signs of cultural heritage and a world wonder. People will always want to impress with their constructions and take them into history. That’s just human after all.

More information

More information on the web around the world wonders and heritage:

[2 June 2006]


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