Monday, July 02, 2007

The 7 Wonders of The World

A quick history quiz: Name the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. Bonus points for remembering who drafted the list.

I'm sure you can check your own answers with the assistance of Google, or my new favourite search engine No, I'm not getting paid to say this, I just like the way they let you expand or narrow down your search. This is especially good if you don't really know what you are searching for. It helps you to arrive at the correct search terms by guiding you through the branches of the semantic trees.

Internet is a modern wonder, and organising the information in it and being able to find anything there requires almost a miracle. But there is a gap between the 7 wonders of the Ancient world and the wonders of technology of the modern one. And to fill this gap, there is a global vote going on to choose the New 7 Wonders. There's just over 4 days left to vote, as the new septet will be announced on the triple-seven Saturday this weekend.

Actually, it's not about wonders that are newer than those that Philon of Byzantium listed 2200 years ago, as a tourist guide for the free men in Athens - although there is a condition that these ones need to be still standing. In fact, the monoliths of Stonehenge and the statues of the Easter Islands are on the shortlist. It is about a wider geographical coverage, to include things like the Great Wall of China, which I suppose many people erroneously name as one of the original 7 Wonders, even though Philon's selection was concentrated on the Mediterranean.

Just by entering an email address, you can vote for your selection of 7 new wonders, out of a shortlist of 21 constructions and buildings. Here's my list, in quasi-random order.

1) Akropolis. The seat of European civilisation. To me, it symbolises imagination, thinking, arts and philosophy. Erosion, pollution and time might have eaten much of the physical presence of the buildings on Akropolis, but the immaterial products of the culture that produced them are still alive and well - albeit being covered by layers upon layers of culture so that the origins have partly been forgotten. But luckily there are still people that are like the father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, reminding people that all words originally come from Greek roots.

2) Alhambra. I think this is one of those places that you need to see to be able to fully appreciate and respect. Just like it says in some property advertisements, viewing is essential. The complex of Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzin in Granada is a stunning exhibit of the advances of Islamic and Arab culture. Way ahead of what the Europeans had at that time, Alhambra is a showcase of wealth, power and art. The elaborate decorations inspired Escher, and the geometric complexity that was the bread and butter for the medieval Islamic artists was mathematically conceptualised and understood only centuries later.

3) The Great Wall of China. I believe this needs no comment, and I'd be very surprised if this didn't make the final 7.

4) Eiffel tower. Among the historical buildings, places of worship and palaces, Eiffel tower stands out as having been constructed just for the sake of pushing the envelope of engineering. It has grown from an eyesore and a temporary installation to one of the best known symbols in the world. But my vote goes for this because it represents the era of engineering, bold, new, analytical and even scientific approach to construction and innovation, the aspirations and ethos of modern. This is a symbol of all that which has brought us the great bridges, ocean liners, skyscrapers, space flight,...

5) Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto. Another wonder I've had the pleasure of visiting. Of the Japanese imperial temples, I actually was expecting to see the Kinkakuji Temple and its Golden Pavilion here, but this is a wonder as well. The Japanese have traditionally had attention to detail, to put it mildly. And it definitely isn't same as having a lot of detail, but that everything is just like it should be. Take the Golden Pavilion, for instance. I've never seen such perfect proportions anywhere. The pavilion is the perfect size, taking into account that on a perfect day it is reflected from the surface of the pond by which it lies. The surrounding garden leads you subtly to the perfect vantage point, where the pavilion is framed perfectly by its surroundings, including the little island on the pond. The island brings depth to the view, and further mesmerises the viewer with the perspective and proportions. Consequently, it is very difficult to tell whether the pavilion is actually large or small - it's just the perfect size. The pavilion dominates the view but doesn't intimidate you; you can not not to look and admire it, yet it is not pushing itself to you, which is a lot to say about a building that is factually golden. And the Kiyomizu Temple is amazing too, but more in the sense of the Eiffel tower, as it is built on wooden pillars, and it seems to grow from the side of the mountain.

6) Petra. How to make your city withstand the millennia? Carve it from solid rock. I haven't been to Petra, but it is on the to-do list.

7) Taj Mahal. A symbol of eternal love.

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