Over the years, I have been very fortunate to visit 6 of the New 7 Wonders of the World. The Great Wall, Petra, Machu Picchu, Chichén Itzá, the Colosseum in Rome and the Taj Mahal. I only have the Christ the Redeemer of Rio to see to have the complete account.
All these fantastic places have one thing in common: they were created by man and have exceptional cultural and historical value.
Although I pretty much agree with the official list drawn up in 2007, I felt like offering you my own list of winners, and telling you about the marvels that particularly amazed me.
The 7 Wonders of the World
The concept of wonders is not new. From Antiquity, a first official list of the 7 wonders of the world was established. Of these 7 masterpieces created by man, only one has come down to us: the pyramid of Cheops in Egypt. All the others were destroyed by fires or earthquakes.
As it is a bit sad to think that there is only one left on earth, several people and publications at the turn of the millennium proposed their list of the “new” wonders of the world. But none of them had official status, until businessman Bernard Weber launched a project to get people to agree on a new selection.
The entirely private selection process began in 2005, when an international jury first considered 177 monuments and sites, to narrow down this list to 20 candidates.
It is a popular vote which determined the final choice of the new 7 wonders. Some countries took the opportunity to organize massive publicity campaigns to boost the candidacy of their proposals, notably in Brazil, China, Turkey and Jordan. This is the main flaw of this list.
The results were revealed in the summer of 2007, here is the selection:
- The Great Wall of China , which stretches from the Yellow Sea to Taklamakan.
- Petra , carved into stone in Jordan.
- Christ the Redeemer , in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
- Machu Picchu , perched high in the mountains of Peru.
- Chichén Itzá , in the Yucatán Peninsula , Mexico .
- The Taj Mahal in Uttar Pradesh, India.
NB The Cheops pyramid of course retains its status as a wonder of the world. It can be seen as the wonder of wonders.
My personal top 7
It really wasn’t easy to narrow down my list to 7 wonders. There are so many amazing places on earth, and of course I only saw a tiny fraction of them. I kept the same rules as in the original selection : each site must have been shaped by man, and the Pyramids of Egypt are excluded since they have been an official wonder for more than two millennia.
The 7 places I chose have one thing in common : they made me live an exotic, rich, unforgettable experience, and I would even dare to say magical. If I don’t get chills thinking about a destination, it’s not worthy of being on my list.
Here are 7 exceptional sites to see at least once in your life.
The great Wall of China
No, it is not actually visible from space. But it would be difficult not to select the longest construction in the world in this list. It is not only gigantic, but also absolutely stunning, especially in the segments where it meanders over the mountain ridges north of Beijing.
Its construction was undertaken in the 3rd century BC, under the orders of Emperor Qin, who wanted a line of defense against attacks by barbarians to the north. This sovereign probably means nothing to you, but we owe him the unification of China. And the army of terracotta soldiers from Xian, because the rascal was afraid of feeling alone in the afterlife. Last little detail: Qin is pronounced Chin … and yes, it is because of this man that China is called that. On the other hand, there is no reason to believe that it is thanks to him that we say Chin while toasting. You shouldn’t spoof anyway.
Under the leadership of this megalomaniac, the Great Wall was enlarged over the centuries, reaching a length of more than 6000 km. I had the chance to explore it in two very distinct places. Simatai, which is located about 120 km north of Beijing, and Jiayuguan… 2000 km away. This last portion constitutes the end of the Wall to the west. Prisoners there were once expelled from the Kingdom, and condemned to die of thirst in the vast desert of Taklamakan.
Most people visit the Great Wall as a day trip from Beijing. Take the time to choose your section, because let’s say that some are not very authentic. The Chinese have a bad habit of renovating so perfectly well that you no longer have the impression of walking on millennia of history. For example, the Badaling site is more Disney than historical.
I particularly recommend the walk between the sites of Jinshanling and Simatai. The Wall is very impressive and just enough restored.
In the established official list, this is my favorite place. It is the least touristy, and you can spend several days exploring it without getting tired. Petra has become the symbol of all of Jordan, a country that I loved.
The ancient city is the fruit of the work of the Nabataeans, who made it their capital from the 2nd century BC. It took genius to settle in such a secret and arid place, and the Nabataeans are there achieved by creating sophisticated networks of channels. But their talent was even better expressed in the size of the facades of tombs, which today make the reputation of the site of Petra. Dug directly into the pink stone, they have resisted the hostile environment of the desert for more than two millennia.
The site fell into oblivion during the Middle Ages, until a Swiss geographer named Johann Ludwig Burckhardt rediscovered it in 1812. He had to learn Arabic, change his name and use subterfuge, so that the locals finally bring him to Petra, whose secret was jealously guarded. As they say in English, the rest is history.
If we were at the Oscars, Petra would surely win the prize for best direction. To get there, you have to go through the Siq, a narrow gorge 1.2 km long. At the very end, you will be doubly dazzled by the Treasury (Al Khazneh), the emblem of the entire site. This is the first of a long series of tombs that you will discover here.
I advise you to devote at least 2 days to exploring it, 3 if possible. Don’t leave without seeing the Monastery, located at the other end of the site. It is one of the largest tombs, and it can be visited in relative tranquility if we compare it to the Treasury.
A perfect day here concludes with the Petra by Night experience . You will cross the Siq lit by hundreds of candles, and will be treated to a concert in front of the Treasury, also illuminated by simple candles. An unforgettable moment in a remarkable place.
It was the first wonder of the world that I had the chance to visit. It was 2007, and the voting campaign was in full swing. All over Peru, banners were seen urging people to vote for their wonder. Well, it worked. And this status is fully deserved.
What’s amazing here is the combination of human and nature. The mountain is already magnificent in itself. But when you add the ruins of this Inca city, you get the greatest wonder of the Americas.
Contrary to what one might think, the city of Machu Picchu is not very old. It would have been built in the middle of the 15th century, probably as a place of worship. Less than a century later, the Spaniards landed in Peru, and the site was already abandoned. It sank into oblivion, until its “rediscovery” in 1911 by the American Hiram Bingham, who came across ruins overgrown with vegetation.
When you go there today, you will find that the trees have been replaced by… tourists. So much so that the government imposed a new measure in 2019, to restrict visitors to a maximum of 4 hours on the site. Even if it doesn’t seem like much, know that Machu Picchu isn’t huge, and that’s more than enough to discover every corner of it.
There are two ways to visit it: from the town of Aguas Calientes, which is at the foot of the mountain, or even better, by hiking. Good luck getting places on the very famous Inca Trail, which is limited to 500 people per day. I advise you to do the Salkantay trek or the Choquequirao trek instead, which are a bit wilder.
The temples of Angkor
I really have a hard time understanding why the temples of Angkor weren’t selected as one of the new wonders of the world. It is a place that amazes as much by the quantity as by the quality of its temples. It is in my humble opinion the most beautiful architectural ensemble on earth.
Since the selection was made by popular vote, I imagine Angkor was disadvantaged by Cambodia’s small population size, especially compared to giants like Brazil. It must be said that in 2007, the country was less known than today.
These magnificent temples are the work of the Khmer people, who dominated much of Southeast Asia between the 9th and 15th centuries . Once again, it is the mastery of irrigation that allowed such masterpieces. The moat around Angkor Wat, the most impressive temple, is not decorative. It keeps the soil at a constant density, which prevents buildings from collapsing.
There is something for everyone on the site. Angkor Wat, the best known temple, is considered the largest religious structure on Earth. You will be just as amazed by its size as by the delicacy of these bas-reliefs. It is the only wonder of the world to be present on the flag of its country.
If you want to see temples overgrown with trees, go for Ta Prohm or Preah Khan. To see the heart of the ancient Khmer city, go to the gigantic complex of Angkor Thom, where you will notably see dozens of sculpted heads of Buddha at the temple of Bayon. T he small temple of Banteay Srei is also worth a visit, and its bas-reliefs are exquisite.
You will have understood that it takes several days to do justice to such a site. I advise you to spend at least 3 days there to get a good overview, and more if your schedule allows it. It’s a marvel that you can’t get enough of.
You will find my tips for visiting Angkor temples and more details about them in this article .
The Acropolis of Athens
This wonder needs absolutely no introduction. And to my great surprise, she is not on the official list. Yet it is one of the places that moved me the most on my trip, the Acropolis being much more than a rocky plateau with the Parthenon on it. It is above all the symbol of Greek civilization, which laid all the foundations of our Western world: democracy, medicine, theatre, etc.
If you have the chance to walk around Athens, you will see that it is visible from almost everywhere, and that it attracts the eye like a magnet. When I saw her for the first time from the roof of my hotel, it was love at first sight. It is as if Machu Picchu were at the center of a city of several million inhabitants.
The site has been inhabited since Neolithic times, but the majority of the temples that can still be seen there were erected in the 5th century BC. The Parthenon is obviously the best known and the best preserved to date, with its impressive columns. But don’t leave without taking a look at the Erechtheion and its Caryatids, as well as the Temple of Athena Nike whose name inspired a humble sports equipment company.
Many of the artefacts found at the site, as well as a portion of the Parthenon friezes, are beautifully displayed in the Acropolis Museum, which is located just below. I advise you to explore it first, and then climb the Acropolis. It will give a lot of depth to your visit. And this marvel is divine at sunset.
It is for all these reasons that the Acropolis trumps the Colosseum for me as the ultimate wonder of the ancient European world. (I apologize Italy . But you know that you’re still my favorite country, huh? I love you.)
The Taj Mahal
There are many tombs among the wonders of the world. The pyramids of Egypt, where the pharaohs rest, and those of Petra in Jordan. But only one was erected in the name of love: the fabulous Taj Mahal.
When Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s favorite wife died giving birth to their thirteenth child in 1631, he decided to build her a mausoleum worthy of his love for her. You have to believe that he loved it madly: impossible not to be moved when you see the Taj Mahal, which is the most beautiful building on earth in my opinion.
You will first contemplate it from a distance, passing among the gardens and ponds where its white dome is reflected. Then as you approach, you will quickly realize that the whole is as magnificent from near as from afar. Its exterior is adorned with calligraphy, and thousands of precious stones encased in marble.
The sovereign and his illustrious wife rest for eternity in the heart of the central building. Do not miss to admire the Kau Ban mosque, which offers a splendid view of the site, in an atmosphere of tranquility and silence.
I knew before visiting the Taj Mahal that it was a remarkable work, and it definitely deserves its place in my list. It is a really pleasant place to explore, and the poetry of the place will certainly bewitch you.
The Registan, in Samarkand in Uzbekistan
The choice was really not easy for my 7th wonder of the world. The first 6 were obvious to me, but several places deserved the last place on this list. I finally selected an unknown place that I had the chance to visit in 2008: Registan in Uzbekistan.
At the time of Marco Polo, Samarkand was considered the center of the known world, a middle stop for the caravans that transported fabrics and spices on the mythical Silk Road. The large square of Régistan is still its living heart today.
On this square, you will see 3 imposing buildings: the medersas (school where the Koran was taught) of Ulugh Beg, Cher-Dor and Tilla-Qari. They were built between the 15th and 17th centuries . Each is decorated with mosaic ceramics and calligraphy, and topped with a turquoise dome. The finesse of their work is remarkable.
If you noticed a resemblance between the medersas of Registan and the central part of the Taj Mahal, you are entitled to a bonus point. Ulugh Ben, to whom we owe the first of these medersas, has a common ancestor (Tamerlane) with Shah Jahan, and both are part of the long line of Mughal kings. T he style of Registan has therefore served as a model for the Taj Mahal, and for many important sites throughout Central Asia.
Registan is definitely the least touristy place on my list, and that only adds to its charm. It is easier than ever to visit Uzbekistan, especially since the government has simplified the visa process. Nothing to do with what it was like in 2008, when I felt like I was taking a KGB exam.
I therefore advise you to go there quickly before Instagrammers discover this place which will transport you to another era.
The 3 wonders excluded
It seems impossible to me to dismiss a marvel without a bit of explanation. I still have class.
THE COLOSSEUM IN ROME
If you don’t agree with my exclusion from the Colosseum, you have the right to give me a thumbs down sign, as Julius Caesar would have done at the time. It is an enormous building, and above all the symbol of one of the greatest empires known to the world. It came a hair’s breadth from being in my Top 7.
I enjoyed visiting it, but I didn’t feel any magic. Probably should have taken a guide, always helps bring ruins to life. I was also a little disappointed to learn that the majority of the bleachers are not accessible.
In this incredible city that is Rome, I was more charmed by the Pantheon than by the Colosseum. And my favorite Roman ruins are those of Ephesus (Efes) in Turkey.
CHICHEN ITZA IN MEXICO
It’s a magnificent site which I really liked, and which is a very valid candidate for the title of wonder of the world. The Pyramid of Kukulcán is an incredible giant calendar, which must have required a great mastery of astronomy. I was also impressed with the Observatory and the Temple of Warriors.
Why isn’t it on my list then? I haven’t done enough Mayan places in Central America yet, to be certain that it’s the most accomplished. Are Tikal in Guatemala and Palenque in Mexico more impressive? And what about the site of Teotihuacan near Mexico City, which was already considered a marvel at the time of the Aztecs?
CHRIST THE REDEEMER OF RIO DE JANEIRO IN BRAZIL
It’s the only one of the New 7 Wonders of the World that I haven’t been lucky enough to have seen, so you can take everything below with a grain of salt. It is also the only wonder that has never particularly attracted me. I can’t wait to visit Rio, but much more for its exceptional geographical location than for the Cristo Redentor .
There are many things that make me doubt the status of this work as a marvel. It is by far the most recent, having only been completed in 1931. So about 300 years younger than the Taj Mahal, the other youngest wonder. The statue, although located on a superb mountain, is not very large with its 38 meters including the base.
To give you an idea, the Statue of Liberty is 93 meters tall with its pedestal. And at the cultural level, I consider that its New York cousin has a much greater value.
You will therefore understand that it is far from being part of my list. Let’s say that the 200 million Brazilians must have skewed the results a little during the 2007 vote. These are indeed the limits of a popular vote.