Seven Wonders stir up debate

Tuesday, July 17, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:13 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Loory: From time to time we get away from hard news to talk about something brighter, such as the recent worldwide vote to select the New Seven Wonders of the World, built by man. The idea for a new Seven Wonders list came from Swiss businessman and former museum curator Bernard Weber, who founded the New7Wonders Foundation. Weber’s idea was to run a worldwide poll to select the New Seven Wonders, while simultaneously raising money to rebuild one of the statues of Buddha that the Taliban destroyed in Afghanistan in 2001. Around 100 million people cast ballots for the New Wonders via the Internet or telephone. There was also plenty of campaigning. In Brazil, for example, bus tickets carried ads imploring riders to vote for the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. The statue made it into the top seven along with the Taj Mahal in India, the Great Wall of China, the Palace Tombs of Petra in Jordan, the ancient Inca mountain city of Machu Picchu in Peru, the Colosseum in Rome and the Mayan ruins in Chichen Itza in Mexico. The Ancient Seven Wonders of the World were selected by an obscure Greek philosopher, Philon, more than 2,000 years ago. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has criticized the list of New Wonders as unscientific and undemocratic. Many deserving places like Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the Pyramids in Egypt were left off the list. Was that because some organizations did a better job of getting out the vote than others?

DON GEORGE, editor, RECCE online travel magazine, San Francisco, California: Absolutely. This vote was similar to the American Idol TV show. It’s not always the best contestant that gets selected; it’s the finalist with the most effective vote-getting machine. It’s hard to justify leaving off Angkor Wat or the Pyramids. The Pyramids were part of the original seven so they are part of the Wonders of the World, however one categorizes them.

Loory: What do people from the New7Wonders Foundation say about that?

Tia B. Viering, head of communications, New7Wonders, Brussels, Belgium: There are over 800 sites on the UNESCO world heritage list of sites that are very deserving. However, it’s impossible to ask people to remember 800 sites. Seven is the number that has been a success for more than 2,000 years. The Pyramids have retained their status as the only remaining Ancient Wonder. The New7Wonders Foundation gave them honorary finalist status, and was very clear in announcing that they remain the only Ancient Wonder and have a different status from the New Wonders of the World. During the voting process, the Foundation had a tremendous number of votes from countries that didn’t even have candidates. We had e-mails from people all over the world who went to Internet cafes to vote and take part in the dialogue. People have shown that they don’t want to be told what culture is, they want to talk about it and have input into what global culture is.

Loory: What happened to the status of the Pyramids?

Abdallah Bazaraa, director, Egyptian Culture and Education Bureau, Washington, D.C.: It is good to know that the Pyramids have honorary status as a member of the Seven Wonders. Internet and telephone voting for the New Seven Wonders was an opportunity for people around the world to participate. However, it was an obstacle for people from many parts of the world to make long distance calls and use the Internet to vote. Those were some constraints for the Pyramids not to get the vote it truly deserved.

Loory: Why was Machu Picchu declared one of the Seven Wonders?

Vladimir Kocerha, press counselor, Embassy of Peru, Washington, D.C.: According to archaeologists, Machu Picchu was a citadel built by the Incas in the 15th century. It was “discovered” in the early 20th century by an American explorer, Hiram Bingham, who made it famous to the Western World. Some say it was a burial site, others say it was a retreat for the Inca. The Inca Empire flourished in Peru in the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries before it was vanquished by the Spaniards. The empire stretched through most of the western coast of South America, from Cuzco to Colombia to Chile. Now for Peruvians, going to Machu Picchu is an issue of national unity. It gives Peruvians pride and shows that our ancestors were capable of building something so spectacular.

Loory: Why are three of the New Seven Wonders — Machu Picchu, the statue of Christ the Redeemer, and the monuments of Chichen Itza — all in the Western Hemisphere?

Lynne Walker, Mexico City bureau chief, Copley News Service, Mexico City, Mexico: The original Seven Wonders were mostly in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, so it would seem that people have turned their attention to the Western Hemisphere. Mexico put on an unusually strong campaign for Chichen Itza. Not only was the campaign in Mexico, but the federal tourism board pushed Chichen Itza internationally. There were posters on buses in Rome, London and Madrid asking people to vote for Chichen Itza. It was a huge rally point for Mexicans. The world today is full of sad and tragic news, but people both in Mexico and around the world rallied around something positive for a change. They were excited to participate in something that felt good instead of being saddened by so many things.

Loory: Members of UNESCO have called the vote unscientific and undemocratic.

GEORGE: To say that it’s unscientific is kind of an odd characterization because what would be a scientific way to determine the Seven Wonders of the World? There isn’t a panel of experts anywhere who can proclaim the Seven Wonders of the World and everyone will say, oh yes, fine, now we know what they are. What’s bothersome is that this new list could encourage a checklist mentality among travelers. For example, some travelers might go to Rome only to see the Colosseum or to India to see the Taj Mahal, and then check those places off their lists. However, if this project encourages people to think about what is wonderful in the world around them, then it was a wonderful competition.

Loory: What was the real purpose of the project?

Viering: The original point was to encourage a global dialogue focusing on common global heritage. We’ve seen by the votes cast around the planet that people are interested in having an exchange and learning about other cultures. It’s great not to focus on tragedy, terrorism and division but to focus on unity and the things we can appreciate together.

Loory: Who supports the New7Wonders Foundation? Do travel agencies support it?

Viering: Absolutely not. We are a private, nonprofit foundation. We don’t receive a cent of taxpayers’ money, and our sole purpose is to run campaigns. We’ve pledged to donate 50 percent of excess revenues to the preservation and restoration of monuments and global heritage.

Producers of Global Journalist are MU journalism graduate students John Amick, Devin Benton, Hyun-jin Seo and Catherine Wolf.

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