When you approach the Great Wall of China at Badaling, near Beijing, you cannot fail to notice a number of very large plaques set into a retaining wall. One informs the visitor that the Great Wall is a UNESCO world heritage site, while another proclaims this spectacular piece of peripatetic architecture to be one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Few people can name all seven of the original seven wonders, and many believe that the Great Wall is on that list. It isn’t. How could it be, given that the original list was compiled by Greeks, and in any case the Great Wall hadn’t been built at the time of that list’s compilation.
However, it is important to note the difference between the old and the new lists. The original was based on aesthetic judgement, although it appears that few of the writers who described the original wonders had seen all seven. Nevertheless, these seven were talked about in aesthetic terms, as ‘sights that must be seen’.
Contrast this with the new list of seven wonders, which was chosen by the votes of 100 million people. I have no doubt that the Great Wall of China belongs on the list, but it is difficult to justify the inclusion of at least one of the others. And what elevates Chichén Itzá and Machu Picchu above Angkor in Cambodia, given that only a tiny fraction of those 100 million voters will have visited all three? It is clear that nationalist politics have played a part, with governments urging their citizens to vote for candidate sites in their own country. The Colosseum probably drew a lot of votes from Christians, and I would be interested to learn how many non-Brazilians voted for the statue of Christ Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro.
In other words, the new list of seven wonders is not a definitive list of the seven most culturally significant or architecturally unique ‘sights that must be seen’ but a list that is based on votes by people for whom cultural significance or aesthetic merit would not have been considerations when casting their votes. On the other hand, I do not begrudge the election of the Great Wall of China to this exclusive list. There can be few finer monuments to the folly and vainglory of man than this historic security barrier, which, we shouldn’t forget, didn’t actually work.