Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 26, 2021
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The Magnificent Seven

After thousands of years of decay and disaster, the world's seven wonders are down to one. It's time for a whole new set

When I was very young and planning a career as a professional adventurer, I dreamed of visiting the seven wonders of the world, a voyage of Homeric proportions that would take me to the furthest, most exotic reaches of the planet. China, Peru, India, West Africa -- I traced my route from wonder to wonder like a pint-sized Indiana Jones.

You can imagine my disappointment when, tattered National Geographic back-issues in hand, I discovered six of the seven wonders no longer existed. Except for the well-worn pyramids at Giza, these marvels of engineering and architecture were all lost thousands of years ago. To top it off, most of the original seven were from the same culture and in the same geographic region, not spread towards the four corners of the earth as I had suspected. This hardly made for an adventuring tour-de-force.

What? But wait a minute. What about the Great Wall? The Taj Mahal? Angkor Wat? EuroDisney? Nope. The original list was compiled sometime in the second century BC by Greek scholars, whose scope of the world didn't extend much past the Middle East and the olive groves of their own country. So the original seven are all very Mediterranean-centric: the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the Temple of Artemis, the Statue of Zeus, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Mausoleum at Halikarnasus and the Pyramids of Egypt. This definitive list of wonders was finalized years later by medieval scholars, even though some of the structures had long since been toppled, buried, crumbled or otherwise destroyed by then. Enter the wonder boys

Enter the wonder boys
Fast forward a few thousand years, and you can forgive would-be expeditoneers for scratching their heads at a list that would excite only the most hardened of archaeologists and Grecophiles. In fact, there is debate about whether one of the seven even existed. Archaeological efforts to find the Hanging Gardens of Babylon have so far come up empty-handed, and its supposed resting spot near present-day Baghdad has fuelled disbelief that such a lush and wondrous monument could have existed in such a dry desert environment. So we're left with possibly six wonders, only one of which still stands. What's an adventurer to do? Make up new ones, of course.

A team of Swiss philanthropists has taken it upon themselves to create a new list of wonders, seven magnificent displays of human achievement that -- and here's the catch -- are still around today. They've created a society of New Seven Wonders enthusiasts who have launched a multimedia project that will determine a new set of marvels by the end of the year.

Culling a list of candidates from 529 of UNESCO's (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage sites worldwide, the society has organized a public voting forum to determine which monuments represent the most important human accomplishments of the last 2000 years. It's no small task and they have enlisted the help of millions of Internet users to cast their votes. Their web page ( lists 25 candidates as diverse as the statues of Easter Island to the Empire State Building. And as befits the Swiss, the breakdown is as neutral as possible, with solid representation from European, North American, African and Asian monuments.

The organization hopes the Internet will also allow for the widest demographic breakdown in voting, and on-site polling backs this up, showing voters from Suriname and Kiribati alongside those from the UK and Canada. So far over 5.5 million votes have been tallied from over 200 countries. In one instance, Internet users in Peru have formed a sort of coalition voting bloc for Machu Picchu, which has received a suspiciously high percentage of votes. (Kind of like when Billy Graham won fourth place in Time's Person of the Century online vote two years ago.) Such is life on the Internet.

There are some surprises in the cast of 25 wonders. The New Seven Wonders society teamed up with UNESCO representatives to determine an initial list of 17 monuments, then left the remaining eight selections up to the Internet-using public. Although it's nice to see African and Middle Eastern entries like the old cities of Sana'a and Timbuktu alongside modern giants like the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower, the ancient city of Angkor and the cliff-carved tombs of Petra inexplicably only managed to get on the public's "wild-card" list. Meanwhile the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Kremlin were on the original list picked by UNESCO and company. Go figure.


Stranger still are the monuments left off the list completely, like Stonehenge and the ancient city of Bagan in Burma, both of which I'd place well ahead of Venice's nice-but-hardly-monumental Doges' Palace, which sits incongruously alongside Tibet's Potala Palace and the Mayan city of Chichén Itzá on the top contenders list. The inclusion of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge is a tribute to massive feats of engineering instead of just plain old architecture. Strange then that there's no mention of the Channel Tunnel, the Aswan, Hoover or Itaip£ dams or the Panama and Suez canals, surely some of the most important and impressive feats of engineering ever. But there will always be debate about these things and I guess that's part of the point: encourage discussion and interest in these issues and maybe things like preservation and education will follow.

Once the votes are tallied on January 1, 2002, the society will set off on a 'round-the-world multimedia promotional tour visiting the selected seven, filming for an IMAX movie and a seven-part television documentary. With many of the candidates currently threatened by pollution and neglect, the publicity tour aims to raise awareness (and more importantly, money) for the restoration and maintenance of these global treasures. In one case, the beautiful marble of the Taj Mahal is under constant threat from the pollution spewed from nearby factories in Agra. An oil refinery upwind from the tomb is contributing to its decay, turning its pearly white exterior yellow and grey, as if it were a two-pack-a-day smoker. Restoration funds could help bring back its lost lustre.

One of the society's side projects is a campaign to rebuild a pair of giant Buddha statues in Afghanistan that were pounded into sand by Taliban artillery earlier this year. Through media pressure, fundraising and academic research, the society is pushing for these colossal Buddhas to be raised again in a post-Taliban Afghanistan. There's no better time than the present

There's no better time than the present
You can bet that the seven winners will use their new "wonder" clout to lure in tourists, though it's not like the Taj Mahal or the Empire State Building are hard up for visitors. If you've been delaying that once-in-a-lifetime trip to Angkor or the Potala Palace, perhaps now's the time to dust off the Tilley hat and hiking shoes and get moving before the marketing gurus set up billboards and theme parks nearby, or before Pepsi becomes the official drink of Timbuktu (though I wouldn't worry about lineups for those statues on Easter Island).

Maybe a better idea than following the official list would be to make up your own list of dream monuments and wonders of your own fantasy travel world. Fenway Park in Boston. Amritsar's Golden Palace. That huge mall in Edmonton. All of Prague. Wonders for all my friends!

Wonders for all my friends!
The wonder-buck doesn't stop here. The society has plans to repeat the Internet-voting scheme for future features, including seven symbols of peace, seven natural wonders and seven technical wonders. We can expect olive branches and doves to dominate the peace vote, and nifty inventions/discoveries like electricity and the computer to top out the technical vote. However, the seven natural wonders vote should prove the real contest, as the world's canyons, waterfalls, reefs, deserts, forests and mountains go up for review. Stay tuned.

So log on and cast your ballot. Sadly, there are no Canadian entries (what? No Montreal Olympic Stadium?), but it's hard to imagine the CN Tower taking any votes away from the Great Wall of China. Regardless, come January I can finally don my pith helmet and tour the Seven Wonders of the World, wherever they may be.


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