Image: Louvre Pyramid
Ljupco Smokovski  /  Shutterstock
Modern wonder: Built in 1989, the glass Louvre Pyramid, which looms at the front entrance to the Louvre in Paris, was an instant source of controversy. Some found the futuristic glass structure set amid the ancient Louvre a desecration. Others praised its mix of the classical style with the ultra modern. A myth sprang up that the number of glass panes was 666, a false factoid exploited by Dan Brown in "The Da Vinci Code".
updated 9/4/2007 9:50:13 AM ET 2007-09-04T13:50:13

If you think we love lists here at Forbes Traveler, consider the Ancients. We don’t know for sure who spawned the "Seven Ancient Wonders of the World", but we’re certain it helped sell papyri. As long ago as the 3rd century B.C., historian Herodotus made reference to "Ancient Wonders", but maddeningly, his choices—and manuscripts—have not survived. Later in the 2nd century A.D., Callimachus of Cyrene, apparently ensconced in the reserved book room of the Library of Alexandria (which unaccountably did not make the final list), also referred to his roster of wonders without naming them.

It took Antipater of Sidon, writing in 140 A.D., to nail them down by name: the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Mausolem of Maussolos at Halicarnassus, the Colossus of Rhodes, and the Lighthouse of Alexandria. (The latter wasn’t mentioned by Antiper, who preferred the Gate of Ishtar in Babylon—making it two Babylonians—but was swapped for the Alexandria Lighthouse in the 6th century, presumably for geographical diversity.)

Flash forward to the 20th and 21st centuries: Countless lists of modern wonders were compiled throughout the centuries, but it took the American Society of Civil Engineers—of all the unlikely groups—to come up with a list that’s been widely accepted. Until now. Their list, which they claimed they arrived at with help from “experts,” included the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Panama Canal, all built by Americans, and to our mind a little U.S.-centric.

Then in 1999, a Swiss non-profit company launched a worldwide contest to name the "Seven New Wonders" from what became a pool of over 200 nominees. The rules were: a structure that was man-made, was built before 2000, and still standing. Claiming that 100 million votes were cast (a number that dwarfs even "American Idol’s" electorate), the final list was announced eight years later, in July, 2007. Among the winners were such musty artifacts as the Great Wall of China (started in the 6th century), the ancient rock city of Petra, and the Coliseum (80 A.D.). New? In fact, the voters only picked one less than 100 years old, and most dated back 500 years or more. (See their full list on our slideshow.) So we had the idea to put together a list of truly modern wonders that reflects our era.

Image: Chichen Itza
Curtis Kautzer  /  Shutterstock
New wonder, Chichen Itza: In the 6th century the Mayans in Yucatan built a complex of pyramids they named “The Mouth of the River Itza.” (Nicely for this list, it was also called the “7 Great Rulers.”) It was a capital of the Mayan empire, and is considered an archeological masterpiece of the pre-Columbian era.
We polled a number of smart people, including some architect friends, to come up with a truly modern list, i.e., structures built in the 20th and 21st centuries. Then we gave it a special twist: to create a relationship, a common theme, between an "ancient wonder", a so-called "new wonder", and our own "modern wonder".

Image: Petra, Jordan
Gemma Ivern  /  istock
New wonder, Petra, Jordan: Carved into sides of the reddish mountains that run from the Gulf of Aqaba to the Dead Sea, this UNESCO World Heritage site is considered a masterpiece of bas relief monumental sculpture and architecture. Its origin is hazy, but the site is mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the rock dwellings are thought to have originated with the Semite tribe, the Nabataeans.
For instance, we made a “pyramid” connection between 1) the Ancient Pyramid of Giza, 2) the “New” Chichen Itza and 3) our own 20th century Modern choice, I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid at the Louvre. Similarly, taking the idea of “colossal,” we’ve linked 1) the Colossus of Rhodes to 2) the Coliseum in Rome (another oldie-but-newie ) and 3) Forbes Traveler’s modern choice of a “colossal” structure, the Three Gorges Dam in China.

If there’s a more sweepingly subjective list on Earth, we can’t guess what it is. And our insistence that the three lists thematically connect to each other—shall we admit now that some are a stretch? — results in an even more personalized roster. We have divided our list into seven appropriately exalted categories: Great pyramid, most beautiful, colossal structure, lofty monument, carved in stone, solemn memorial, and visible from afar.

So leap in, travelers: get the word out and urge your friends to send their candidates to (Remember, anyone can be an “expert.”) At some future date, we’ll assemble the results and present a follow-up list. Maybe we’ll call it the "Forbes Traveler New and Improved Wonders of the World".


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