Mysterious monoliths, stunning sacred structures, fantastic fortresses, thrilling tributes to Gods and lovers… Since Man first started daubing crude cave drawings we’ve created ever more remarkable things of beauty.
And with so many breathtaking buildings built down through the ages, it certainly wasn’t easy picking just seven! (If you’d like to know how we made our decisions there’s a brief explanation included at the bottom of the page…)
Meenakshi Amman: Otherworldly beauty
The Meenakshi Gopurams (Madurai, India)
The Meenakshi Amman Temple complex, near the ancient city of Madurai, is a major Hindu pilgrimage destination. The site boasts an array of stunning, intricately carved ‘gopurams’ (gateways) – one of the which is touching 50 meters in height, and is adorned with over 1,500 sculptures – and ‘mandapams’ (halls).
The temple complex itself is absolutely gigantic – equivalent in size to twelve football fields. What’s more, to add to the atmosphere of otherworldly grandeur, parrots have been trained to squawk the name of Meenakshi, the sister of Vishnu and wife of Shiva!
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Pharaonic pillars of power
The Great Hypostyle Hall of Karnak (Luxor, Egypt)
The pharaonic monuments are undoubtedly among Man’s foremost achievements. As you enter the Great Hypostyle Hall in the precinct of Amun-Re, it’s impossible not to be struck dumb in amazement. There’s just something about the dimensions of those huge, ancient columns and the sheer cavernous scale of it all… It’s actually rather daunting.
In addition to being right next to some of the world’s greatest archaeological riches, the city of Luxor has a great selection of cheap accommodation. And when we say cheap, we mean really cheap! Prices for a shared room start at only a couple of euros, and even a cheap hotel will only cost you about 5 Euros.
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Tikal: The greatest of the ruined Mayan cities
To our mind the Tikal Ruins, are both more intimate than some of their more famous counterparts, and less overgrown and dilapidated (and inaccessible!) than other Mayan ruins like ‘El Mirador’.
Ornate sculptures, hieroglyphics, and, of course, several enormous Mayan step pyramids, are dotted throughout the jungle. Most intriguing of all, though is the fact that only a small portion of the 60km² site has been properly excavated!
There are also seven courts where the Mesoamerican ballgame (held to be the earliest known team game) used to take place. Artifacts from this mysterious ballgame – a version of which was once played across Central America – stretch back to 2000BC. The game had a gory twist: whoever lost was offered to the gods as a sacrifice and their head put on a spike…
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Glorious, grand and golden
Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Bangkok, Thailand)
Picking just one wonder from the astonishingly beautiful Grand Palace complex in Bangkok is no easy task. But Thailand’s most hallowed temple, the world-famous Wat Phra Keo, is a truly exceptional mixture of the subtlest detailing and grand, sweeping architecture.
In addition to its collection of cultural riches, Bangkok is one of the great backpacking destinations. After a long day checking out its many palaces and temples, the city explodes into life after dark.
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The incomparable Potala Palace
The Potala Palace (Lhasa, China)
More and more travelers are coming round to China as a destination. And one of the main reasons is that you can’t move in the country without stumbling over some UNESCO World Heritage Site or other. There are (amongst literally dozens of others): the Terracotta Warriors, the Forbidden City, and the immense Great Wall…
But to our mind, few monuments can match the Potala Palace, set against the glorious backdrop of the snowcapped Himalayas. This massive Buddhist structure clings to the side of Marpo Ri Hill, 3,700 m (12,000 ft) above sea-level, a stunning sight to behold.
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Banaue: A 2,000-year old engineering feat
The Banaue terraces get on the list for a number of reasons. Firstly, for the variety they bring to the mix: They’re actually more of an engineering feat – in total they stretch over 4000 square miles, and are located about 1500 meters above sea-level.
Secondly, because of the fact that they were first carved out of the hills between 2,000 and a staggering, 6,000 years ago, and are still in use today. But what really makes them stand out is the soothing beauty – at once both even and irregular – of the green steps as they climb skywards…
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The Mezquita: Evocative memory of a fallen empire
Whenever wonders of the world are discussed, the glorious Alhambra Palace in Granada is nearly always brought up. Just a few hours away in Cordoba, the striped horseshoe arches of the Mezquita are hardly unknown, but they don’t get quite the same plaudits.
More than anything else, the Mezquita reflects the many twists and turns of Spain’s wonderfully rich and turbulent history. First there was a Visigothic church on the site. Then it was razed to the ground in the 10th century and replaced with a mosque. And then during the ‘Reconquest’, it became a church again!
Cordoba itself is a charming little town. The narrow alleyways and shady plazas of the Judería are full of historical treasures. Just outside the city limits lie the ruins of the Moorish palace Medina Azahara, another evocative remnant of the glory of Al-Andalus.
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So just how do you choose seven wonders?
It goes without saying that we’ve been following the New7wonders campaign keenly. And since it had been a source of such – occasionally heated – debate in the office, we decided to put together our own list.
Now all the votes are in and the winners have been announced in Lisbon. What we didn’t want to do was mirror the choices of the thousands and thousands of travelers who entered their vote.
So, yes, we’ve left out (amongst other dazzling monuments) the Taj Mahal, Petra, the Great Wall of China, Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu and the Pyramids. Outstandingly beautiful they may be, but we felt that just a little of their appeal is lost by over familiarity…
We know our choices are slightly controversial. But frankly, no matter what we suggested, this is a subject on which nobody is going to be able to agree… We wanted to create a roundup of places around the world that, whilst not exactly unheard of, perhaps weren’t quite as well known as they could be.
We tried to create a good geographical spread, and not include all the same ‘type’ of wonder. We kept it ancient (we’ll feature some ‘Modern Wonders’ and ‘Wonders of the Natural World’ one of these days…) but most importantly, we picked our personal favorites!
Really, though, this was meant as a discussion point, not a definitive list. Everyone’s going to have a different opinion on it, so… How was our selection? Good, bad, indifferent? What would you choose? Contact us.