In the second century BCE, a list was compiled of what, at the time, many considered to be the “Seven Wonders of the World.” The magnificent seven included the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, and the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt — the only ancient wonder still standing today.
The Seven Wonders were chosen by a Greek writer called Antipater of Sidon, who was so inspired by these incredible places, he immortalized them in poetry. But Antipater wasn’t the first person to create such a list, and he certainly hasn’t been the last. Other Hellenic travelers created artwork and travel guides promoting places that they thought deserved wider attention.
But there was something about Antipater of Sidon’s choices that held interest over time. Eventually, a global poll was conducted to create a definitive list for the modern world in 2007. The brainchild of the Swiss New7Wonders Foundation, the poll asked over 100 million people across the globe to vote for their favorite “wonder” from a long list of suggestions and the “New Seven Wonders of the World” were chosen..
The New Seven Wonders of the World epitomize human ingenuity, engineering, and culture. And though they might be the "new" wonders, they're timeless in their own right. Here are seven landmarks that everyone agrees are some of the most magnificent human-made places on Earth.
Christ the Redeemer (Rio de Janeiro)
The iconic statue of Jesus Christ on top of the 2,329-foot-tall Mount Corcovado overlooking the city of Rio de Janeiro is immediately associated with Brazil. Its official name is “Cristo Redentor,” which means “Christ the Redeemer” in Portuguese. Though the Catholic community in Rio funded the project, the Art Deco statue was actually commissioned by a Polish-French sculptor named Paul Landowski, though he outsourced the face to a Romanian sculptor named Gheorghe Leonida. Brazilian engineer Heitor da Silva Costa oversaw the construction of this nine year-long project, which wrapped in 1931.
At 98 feet tall — not including the pedestal — Christ the Redeemer is smaller than the Statue of Liberty. Jesus’ famous outstretched arms measure 92 feet from fingertip to fingertip. However, the statue’s mountaintop location ensures it can be seen from all over the city. To get a closer look, you can hike uphill from Jardim Botânico (the Botanical Garden of Rio) or make life easy and hop on the mountain tram that shuttles visitors to and from the top.
Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China does not consist of a single wall as its name might imply. Instead, it is a series of fortifications that extend across the northern part of the country — some of which run parallel to each other. It comprises not only walls, but also signal towers and passes and stretches for 13,171 miles. The earliest of these defenses date from the seventh century BCE. Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of a united China, took a number of existing fortifications and connected them to form a single structure.
The most extensive and best-preserved section extends from Mount Hu to Jiayu Pass. It was erected much later, during the Ming dynasty, which lasted from 1368 to 1644. Today, some sections of the wall have been left in their original state, while others have been heavily reconstructed.
Taj Mahal (Agra, India)
It’s hard not to fall in love with the Taj Mahal. India’s most famous landmark is a mausoleum built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan after the death of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Work on the Taj Mahal began in 1632 and was completed in 1648. This famous site is as exquisite as you’d expect — constructed from white marble inlaid with precious and semi-precious stones. But it’s not just the building materials that give the structure the wow-factor.
For instance, the tomb was placed at the far end of the surrounding garden to create an illusion of depth and distance. Arches and domes add to its beauty, playing with light and shadows. Shah Jahan intended to have his own mausoleum facing his wife’s final resting place across the Yamuna River. Instead, he was buried in the Taj Mahal next to his wife, though his cenotaph is considerably larger. They’re both empty; the graves themselves are actually in the crypt as dictated by imperial Mughal tradition.
Colosseum (Rome, Italy)
In its day, the Roman Colosseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater, was as state-of-the-art as any sports stadium today. For instance, to cope with the searing heat of a Roman summer, a huge retractable awning called a velarium could cover the 50,000 spectators gathered inside. Hundreds of Roman sailors did the job that would now be automated, pulling on the rigging to pull it across, enabling those present to enjoy the show. And what a show it would have been — gladiator battles with live animals, chariot races, and even mock naval battles were held here.
The Colosseum was built between 72 and 82 CE on the site of what had been the previous emperor’s private lake. The lake was drained, which symbolized a policy change by Emperor Vespasian to give something back to the people. Even after the Roman Empire fell, the space continued to serve as a gathering place. For a time it was a church, and then a fortress. Time took its toll on the ancient structure, but these days, its heavily restored shell is one of Rome’s most iconic landmarks.
The ancient city of Petra is believed to have first been established in 312 BCE. The Nabataeans were the first people to settle in the region, part of modern-day Jordan, which was located near major trade routes. In addition to its remarkable architecture, the city is also considered a feat because of the waterways that were created. The place thrived until an earthquake in 555 CE led to its demise, and the city lay forgotten for centuries. Today, visitors to Petra must first pass along a narrow cleft in the rock called the Siq.
This tight, winding thoroughfare helps create an air of expectation and when Petra finally comes into view, it’s a truly breathtaking sight. The first building you see is arguably the most impressive — Al-Khazneh. More commonly known as the Treasury, the building was carved out of the sandstone rock face and designed as a tomb. The structure is especially mesmerizing during the Petra by Night show, when the dusty ground in front of the Treasury is covered with flickering candles.
Chichén Itzá (Mexico)
Chichén Itzá is the jewel of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. It was founded around the sixth century CE. At its peak, around 35,000 people lived in this city, whose name means “at the brim of the well where the wise men of the water live.” The water came from two large cenotes, which are natural underground reservoirs revealed when limestone collapses.
At the heart of Chichén Itzá is El Castillo, a well-preserved pyramid constructed to honor the feathered serpent deity Kukulcán. At the equinox, shadows fall on the steps of the pyramid and give the illusion of a snake sliding down to the ground. Other notable landmarks within the complex include the observatory El Caracol, the Mayan ball court, and the Temple of the Warriors.
Machu Picchu (Peru)
At its peak, the Inca Empire stretched from the southwestern tip of Colombia to southern Chile. Standing at an altitude of nearly 8,000 feet above sea level, Machu Picchu is nestled in a tropical mountain forest in the Andes Mountain Range of Peru, and was believed to have been settled around 1450 CE. The ascent to this remote ancient village is not an easy one. To reach it, you’ll need to hike up 1,600 old stone steps or catch a train; there’s no road access along this inaccessible valley from nearby Cusco.
No one is certain of Machu Picchu’s purpose, but some historians theorize that the structures might have been used for educational purposes or as a citadel. The air of mystery is enhanced by the fact that after Machu Picchu was abandoned in the 16th century, it remained hidden until the late 19th century, when a German explorer named Augusto Berns was led to the area by local guides. However, it wouldn’t be until 1911 when American historian Hiram Bingham revealed it to the world. The rest, as they say, is history.