Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Seven Wonders...

After all the hoopla this past weekend over the NEW Seven Wonders of the World, this itchy-footed gnome had to comment.

First, do you remember what the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World are?
The Great Pyramid of Giza
Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
Statue of Zeus at Olympia
Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus
Colossus of Rhodes
Lighthouse of Alexandria
After consulting with Wiki, it occured to me that these Wonders were proposed by historians/philosophers and (with the exception of the Great Pyramid of Giza) no longer exist. Consequently, I was suprised to see The Great Pyramids of Giza included as one of the finalists for the New Wonders. (Should also note there is a seven wonders of the Middle Ages... of which a number of finalists are previously listed.)

Over the past decade, I’ve noticed an alarming trend in ‘tourism’ – once a place is “discovered”, and by that I mean Westernized and admission charged; it tends to be lost forever. A perfect example is Venice, Italy. As most will recall I was in Amsterdam, Holland back in May. One morning, over breakfast, I got to chatting with a couple who were over visiting their son and his wife. A very interesting discussion ensued because NONE of us had been to THE tourist attractions in town and had NO intention of visiting them either. I’d mentioned in passing that I’d hoped to re-visit Venice and Florence in the coming months. I feel they didn’t get a fair shake back in 1997 when I was jetlagged and whizzing by them on a tour bus. The husband, from Seattle to my surprise, explained, “Venice has died. Only tourists go there now. There is nothing left of Venetian or Tuscan culture unless McDonalds has suddenly changed ownership.” This actually broke my heart a bit.

Recently, Edinburgh, Scotland, my current base, has been discovered and it undergoing the growing pains associated with becoming a tourist centre 365-days a year. I’ve been horrified to learn of recent planning applications (a number of which have received approval) that will completely alter the face of the Old Town. There are even very heated discussions about if Edinburgh will remain on the UNESCO list once it is ‘gentrified.’

So, back to the ‘alarming trend’ I was commenting on a few paragraphs ago. Over the years I’ve travelled a fair bit in Western Europe. After a series of amazing ‘tourist trail’ experiences (let’s be honest, its very hard to get off the tourist trail in Western Europe), I’ve noted it is almost impossible to enjoy the experience due to the high volume of tourists whom are there simply to check off the local on a list and best their buddies. The dramatic increase in visitors, and their health and safety requirements, has ruined some beautiful experiences. Don’t get me started on my morning at the Musee d-Orsay in Paris. I thought it was me, being a bit critical, but a scan of a number of traveller’s sites last night highlighted the plight of Angkor Wot, Cambodia, for example.

I find myself a bit conflicted about this entire NEW Seven Wonders concept:
“... the express aim of documenting, maintaining, restoring and reconstructing world heritage under the motto: OUR HERITAGE IS OUR FUTURE.”

Obviously, it is fantastic that my contemporaries have the opportunities to expand their minds and horizons through travel. But, can the landmarks handle their growing popularity? Will their “15-minutes of fame” lead to their destruction? It is important to note that UNESCO has loudly distanced them from this campaign. Read their statement here.

Below is a list of the 21 finalists for the New Seven Wonders of the World competition; the winners are boldly italicized. I’ve also noted if the sites are on the UNESCO list and if so when they were recognized. These were chose from an initial group of 77 sites by a panel of leading architects. The final seven were arrived at through a highly un-democratic Internet voting system where by you are encouraged to vote as frequently as possible. (Wonder if the natives on Easter Island had an opportunity to vote?)
The Acropolis – UNESCO, 1987
Hagia Sofia – UNESCO, 1985
The Kremlin/St. Basils – UNESCO, 1990
The Colosseum
Neuschwanstein Castle
The Eiffel Tower
Stonehenge – UNESCO, 1986
The Alhambra – UNESCO, 1984/1994
The Great Wall of China – UNESCO, 1987
Kiyomizu Temple
The Sydney Opera House – UNESCO, 2007
Angkor – UNESCO, 1992
The Taj Majal – UNESCO, 1983
Timbuktu – UNESCO, 1988
Petra – UNESCO, 1985
The Pyramids of Giza – UNESCO, 1979
The Statue of Christ Redeemer
The Easter Island Statues – UNESCO, 1995
Machu Picchu – UNESCO, 1983
Chichen Itza – UNESCO, 1988

The Statue of Liberty – UNESCO, 1984
How would you have voted? (If you are curious, I've visited 3 of these to date. Will be seeing another 3 before the year is out, have plans to visit a further 3 in 2008, and 1 in 2010.)

I can’t claim to know how to resolve the problems associated with seeing the world, but as ever, I advocate responsible and culturally sensitive adventuring. (Lets not Westernize everything if possible.) I also whole heartedly support the work of UNESCO.

For more information:
  2. The New Seven Wonders of the World