Image: Colosseum
Andrew Medichin  /  AP
The ancient Colosseum is among the 21 candidates for the new Seven Wonders of the World, to be announced July 7 in Lisbon, Portugal.
By Travel writer contributor
updated 7/3/2007 9:34:08 AM ET 2007-07-03T13:34:08

It’s a “Wonder” full world.

Apparently, the planet’s covered with them. There are, I just found out, seven wonders in Canada, along with equal quantities in both Wales and Barbados. In the U.S., Idaho and Illinois each have seven, with Arkansas and Florida set to weigh in with another 14 any day now. From Arizona to Andhra Pradesh, septennial wonders seem to be everywhere these days.

Of course, none of the above can hold a seven-stemmed candelabra to the New Seven Wonders set to be announced this weekend in Lisbon. Chosen from an original pool of nearly 200 candidates, the winners that will be revealed on Saturday night represent the icons of world culture, the insights of expert judges and the votes — via cell phone, text message and the Internet — of more than 70 million people.

Hmmm, a shrinking pool of diverse nominees, a panel of professional judges and millions of people casting votes for their favorites — maybe they should call it “Architectural Idol.”

From ancient icons to modern merchandise
We’re talking top-notch talent, too. The Taj Mahal and Machu Picchu. The Acropolis and the Eiffel Tower. Stonehenge and the Statue of Liberty. They’re all, well, wonderful, as are the other 15 finalists. From the Great Wall of China to the Pyramid of Giza, there isn’t a William Hung in the bunch.

There is, however, Bernard Weber, the project’s promotion-savvy answer to “Idol”  impresario Simon Fuller. Filmmaker, aviator and all-around adventurer, Weber launched the campaign — N7W for short — in 1999 with the idea of creating a modern-day equivalent of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The result is a marketing-driven, Internet-powered juggernaut that will culminate in the star-studded gala on Saturday night.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the naming of the ancient wonders was a somewhat smaller affair. In essence, those seven — the Colossus of Rhodes, Temple of Artemis, etc. — were popular guidebook staples in ancient Greece, immortalized by the historian Herodotus and later set to verse by Antipater of Sidon. There was no expert panel, no public voting and, presumably, very little text messaging.

This time around, there’s all that and more. You can, for example, book tours to most of the 21 finalists directly from the N7W Web site. Too pricey? How about a Colosseum coffee mug or Machu Picchu messenger bag? They’re currently going for $12.99 and $26.99, respectively, although I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a major sale on, say, 14 of the contenders’ merchandise as early as next week.

There’s even an official song, available for download on iTunes. Featuring a lilting mix of power chords and pennywhistles, the tune is performed by The Dolmen, a neo-pagan quintet that proudly calls itself “the UK's most unique not to mention slightly odd but kicking folk band.” Not surprisingly, perhaps, the band is rooting for Stonehenge.

Alas, with only a few days to go, the standing stones of Salisbury Plain remain a long shot, especially when compared to competing wonders that have enjoyed the support of government-funded programs and fervent grassroots campaigns. (Three cheers for Chichen Itza! Go Great Wall! Petra Forever!) Then again, maybe Druids just don’t vote.

It makes you wonder
Meanwhile, it’s been a different story in Egypt, where the Great Pyramid of Giza was originally named to the list but later removed after Egyptian officials erupted in outrage. The pyramid, they pointed out, was one of the original Seven Wonders, and the idea of it having to re-earn its wonder status was not just absurd, but an affront to the entire nation.

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Fortunately, a compromise was reached before things got ugly. N7W officials named the pyramid an Honorary New 7 Wonder Candidate, denoting its special status but removing it from competition. Call it a cultural bye — sort of what would happen, I suppose, if Carrie Underwood had shown up to challenge Blake and Jordin.

I’m kidding, of course. Carrie clearly has enough honors already — two Grammys, multiple platinum records, PETA’s Sexiest Vegetarian of the Year (female division), etc. — to chase such “Idol” fancies. The woman is country music’s reigning Female Vocalist of the Year, for goodness’ sake — a head-to-head competition would be completely inappropriate.

And so it is with the cultural icons of the world. The Acropolis vs. the Eiffel Tower? The Taj Mahal vs. Machu Picchu? How can you possibly assign comparative values to such a diverse list of temples, towers and totemic structures? How do you measure global importance given the unavoidable influence of national pride? And when the official New Seven Wonders are named on Saturday night, does that mean that the other 14 are somehow less wonderful?

Of course not. Clearly, they’re all genuine wonders — not because of their inclusion on a list, but because of their ability to inspire that feeling in the people who experience them. Maybe that should be the climactic announcement in Lisbon.

In the meantime, I’m holding out for a 21-wonder tie.

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