Thursday, 21 July 2011

New Additions To The List

As I've said before, my list of places to visit is far from final. I'm always willing to look into new places and if they seem like they genuinely have a chance at becoming a Wonder then I'll add them to the list. That's not to say I'm going to add places easily - there is no way I'm making a detour of several hundred or more miles to visit somewhere if I don't think I'm going to be impressed. There are thousands of interesting places in the world to visit and regrettably I don't have enough years of my lifetime to visit them. Being interesting is not enough, I need to be impressed or believe the place is going to be seriously impressive. How this can be achieved was detailed before in my Criteria of a Wonder entry.

With this in mind, I have looked into some of the suggestions made to me in the last few months, since this blog was launched and I told people I was off travelling, and have made some additions to my list. And in no particular order, here are the rejected and accepted suggestions;

1. Istiqlal Mosque, Jakarta, Indonesia: REJECTED (but I'll go anyway)

This is a huge modern mosque, the biggest mosque in south-east Asia, which is a respectable claim but as most of south-east Asia isn't Muslim isn't all that impressive. But it is pretty big, I'll give it that, with a capacity of 120,000. But that's about all. Architecturally, it's not that interesting and pretty much fits the standard mosque template. Basically, there are older, bigger and prettier mosques out there. I'll be visiting Jakarta anyway, so will maybe pop in to say hello, and I'm sure it's an impressively bulky landmark of the city, but it's never a Wonder.
(Thanks to Rosie for suggesting.)

2.Great Mosque of Damascus, Syria: REJECTED (but I'll go anyway)

Working in favour of the Great Mosque of Damascus is its age, over 1300 years old, although that still doesn't quite sneak it into the "top 10" of oldest mosques around (Saudi Arabia kind of dominates). It also claims to contain the head of John the Baptist (although buried and not on display or anything crazy), who was a prophet for Muslims and well as Christians, and this was the reason that Pope John Paul II visited in 2001, making it the first mosque to be visited by a pope. It's got a lot of history, and is the national mosque for Syria, but in the end I feel it is more an important and significant building (and one, notably, that has been questionably renovated in recent decades, with strong criticism from UNESCO) than a World Wonder. Simply because no photos or descriptions have convinced me that it's quite at the jaw-dropping level I'm after. I'll be visiting Syria anyway, so will take a look.
(Thanks to Emily for suggesting.)

3. Disney World, USA: ACCEPTED.

Considering many of my candidate Wonders are architectural masterpieces or historical landmarks, the choice of a large theme park may seem esoteric. However, Disneyworld is simply outstanding in terms of global fame and recognition, and annually is one of the most visited locations on earth. For children, it has an air of magic to it, and even for adults there is a latent excitement stretching back to childhood's of watching cartoons. I recall as a child being promised that we'd one day have a family holiday there, with it then being clearly the most desirable holiday possible, i.e. a real childhood Wonder. And it is massive, absolutely massive. Plus, I quite fancy riding a rollercoaster and molesting Mickey.
(Thanks to Chris and JuHyeon for suggesting.)

4. Pyramid of Peace and Accord, Astana, Kazakhstan: REJECTED.

Designed by the prolific and consistently high-quality Foster and Partners, this 62-metre pyramid (77-metre including the raised platform it's on) looks like an impressive modern landmark in Kazakhstan's capital and contains a 1500-seat opera house in the lower levels. An attractive landmark and cultural centre, no doubt, but I don't feel it makes the grade as a candidate Wonder. It's less than half the height of the Great Pyramid, for a start, or 1/6th of the volume, and although these comparisons may seem unfair and its size is certainly otherwise significant enough to impress, it kind of resembles a fancy shopping mall, and I don't feel there's enough "wonder" to it. It's simply an impressive piece of modern architecture, done well but not the thing that dreams are made of.
(Thanks to Simon for suggesting this, and all the following ones until the space ports at no. 12.)

5. Bayterek Tower, Astana, Kazakhstan: REJECTED.

According to Wikipedia, the locals of Kazakhstan's capital refer to this observation tower as "Chupa Chups" due to its similarity to the lollipop. It's a curious-looking tower, and to my eyes not altogether attractive. At 105 metres, it's tall, but not awesomely so in this modern world of tall towers. As you can probably see, I don't really think it's one of the world's best, although being a fan of big towers, if I ever find myself in Astana I would definitely go up.

6. Ak Orda Presidential Palace, Astana, Kazakhstan: ACCEPTED.

Bollocks bollocks. I suppose I may be finding myself in Astana. Kazakhstan really was not on my itinerary but my resistance has been broken down. The glass pyramid seemed a bit too "shopping mall" for my liking, and the big, weird tower like a tribute to lollipops, but this 8-year-old presidential palace has something about it that seems worth a visit. It's massive - 80 metres high, albeit I think that cheeky spire adds about 20 metres - and appears to have an impressive approach with a wide gardened avenue flanked by two gold towers. As with most of Kazakhstan's new and modern capital, it all appears to be the brainchild of their autocratic dictator... excuse me, their democratically elected leader, who has ruled for over 20 years with sweeping victories every general election. Well done! And as with all gigantic edifices built by megalomaniacs, it could be absolutely fantastic or could turn out to be a ghastly tacky piece of modern tat. Time will tell. And so will I, when I fit it into my travels.

7. Central Mosque, Tashkent, Uzbekistan: REJECTED.

This looks perfectly nice, and originally dates from several hundred years ago but appears to have been knocked down and entirely rebuilt in 1997. In terms of world monuments it doesn't really stand out; indeed, it's only the third biggest mosque in Uzbekistan, doesn't have a Wikipedia page and as far as I can tell (whether called the Central Mosque or Jami Mosque or Juma Mosque, all of which I've seen applied) doesn't even feature in the Wikipedia page for Tashkent. Wikipedia isn't quite the litmus test for Wonders, and I'm aware that a Uzbek mosque won't have quite the same profile as a Western building, but I'd expect it to make some kind of appearance. Anyway, as an architecturally straightforward modern remake, I don't see it being of Wonder status.

8. Registan Square, Samarkand, Uzbekistan: ACCEPTED.

Yes. That was pretty much my first reaction to seeing a photo of it: a square with three huge portals at three sides, each leading to a madrasahs (Arabic schools). It looks distinct, unusual, and impressive, and is at the historic heart of one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. I'm going.

9. Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, Turkestan, Kazakhstan: REJECTED.

Another one in the category of "interesting but not a World Wonder". It's an unfinished rebuilding of a mausoleum to a Sufi (a mystical tangent of Islam) teacher by the Central Asian leader, Timur. It's pretty big, architecturally interesting, and quite attractive, but with tombs and mausoleums figuring often in my Wonder list, "pretty" big and "quite" attractive isn't enough to seriously compete.

10. Diocletian's Palace, Split, Croatia: REJECTED (but I'll go anyway).

A 1600-year-old ruined but well-preserved palace by the Roman emperor Diocletian, it has the effect of being an ornate walled town. It's definitely impressive but I'm not adding it to my list simply because I've already been there, ten years ago, and don't think it quite of Wonder status. However, as I'll be travelling through the area, I'll certainly pay it a visit.

11. Lviv's Old Town, Ukraine: REJECTED

This is historic centre of Lviv full of architectural and national landmarks, and looks very charming. It's not being added to my list because it's a relatively sprawling area of multiple buildings, and so not the distinct structure (or set of directly associated structures) I'm looking for.

12. Space ports - Cape Canaveral, Baikonur, Kourou: REJECTED.

While space ports are no doubt absolutely incredible feats of large-scale engineering, and I would imagine to be awe-inspiring in their dimensions, I can't help but feel they will have a temporary feel to them much in the way of oil rigs, and likewise are constructs of brute function without any aesthetic merit. Having been on plenty of oil rigs and visited quite enough industrial yards in my time, even with everything scaled up a bit I am fairly sure that these won't be the best mankind can offer, unless you are particularly fond of massive chunks of metal. I do, however, admit a sneaking affection for gloriously brutal pieces of engineering, so may visit one if I find it in my path.

13. Church of Saint George, Lalibela, Ethiopia: ACCEPTED.

When I was originally making my list, the rock hewn churches of Ethiopia were considered but eventually dismissed because I felt them more in the category of just interesting. However, since then more than one person has mentioned them and I've taken a closer look. With the benefit of some perspective I realise that they were not something I should have overlooked. They are quite unique, a series of monolithic churches simply carved from the rock, but not from the side of a cliff face (such as with Petra or the Magao Caves) but instead from the ground. The best example is the one I'll be focussing on, the Church of Saint George, which when approached looks like a large cross on the surface, but this cross has thirty metres of depth in a giant carved hole and becomes a fully-carved church from the exterior and interior. It looks very impressive. They all appear to date from about 800 years ago, and seem to fit all the criteria I'm after - monumental, artistic, feats of engineering etc. So - onto my list, and with some enthusiasm.

14. Great Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe: REJECTED.

A lot of people have suggested this one too, but I just don't get it. Sure, it's old - about 900 years - and sure it's of great historical interest, there not being many stone ruins of sub-Saharan African civilisations. But it just doesn't look that impressive to me, not when you're comparing it to the world's best monuments. It just looks like a series of stone walls, not unlike an average ruined European castle. Due to its location and totally different history, it's more interesting than your average European castle, but there is no chance of this being a World Wonder when there are clearly many older, better, bigger, prettier, more remarkable constructions around. A few people have noted that there aren't many African representatives on my list (clearly ignoring the multiple Egyptian ones), but that's just because Africa hasn't produced that much monumental architecture, and I'm certainly not to add some as a token gesture.

15. Palace of the Parliament, Bucharest, Romania: REJECTED.

This wasn't suggested to me with much seriousness, but it's worth a quick mention. Because it's huge. And also quite ghastly. Built as the home of the Romanian parliament on instructions from general all-round Communist madman Nicolae Ceausescu, it encapsulates the Soviet-style lack of grace and subtlety quite marvellously. I grudgingly admit to be impressed by its sheer size and sense of humourless awe, and it has some impressive statistics, such as having 1100 rooms, being 86 metres high and reaching 92 metres underground, and often being called the second biggest building in the world after the Pentagon (although I personally have my suspicions about this claim). I've visited it before, briefly when visiting Bucharest ten years ago, and can confirm its gargantuan existence, and as I'll be travelling in the area I'll very likely visit it again. But if it qualified as a Wonder, I'd have to question the very point of mankind's existence.
(Thanks to Rocknroll for the suggestion.)

16. Reliant Astrodome, Houston, USA. REJECTED.

This is one of many buildings around that claim to be the Eighth Wonder of the World. In this case, I can only imagine the claim was made by some over-zealous Texans, many of whom, worryingly, I have no doubt firmly believed it. It's basically a large sports arena built in 1965. It has hosted American football, baseball, wrestling, concerts by the likes of Madonna and Elvis Presley, and even 25,000 evacuees from New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. So, it's big and functional - but since 2002 has been superseded by its even bigger neighbour, the Reliant Stadium, which does everything it did, but bigger and better (that being the Texas way). So now it's barely used at all, except by occasional hurricane evacuees. In 2007, it ranked 134th in the "America's Favorite Architecture" poll. It may be demolished. Nothing I've said here qualifies this as an Eighth Wonder of the World.
(Thanks to Dave Allen for the suggestion.)

17. Sacre-Coeur, Paris, France: ACCEPTED.

Oh, ok then. The Sacre-Coeur should of course be on my list of places to visit, it just kind of slipped the net. In fact, I must shamefacedly admit to getting it muddled with the Notre-Dame whenever someone mentioned it. That's sorted out now, and I realise that they are entirely different buildings.
(Thanks to Rosie and Emily for independently suggesting it on the same day.)

There we go, five new places to add to the list, including a wild detour to central Asia. Our two new Central Asian friends - Ak Arda Presidential Palace and Registan - will likely have to wait until after the main travels and be tacked on the end, along with trips to Dubai and Mali, and this may also apply to the Church of Saint George in Ethiopia. Disneyworld will fit quite neatly into my trip, being just an enjoyable detour during a jaunt across the USA, and the Sacre-Coeur won't be a problem.

So, 97 locations in total to formally research and visit.

Any more suggestions?

(really easy ones very welcome.)


  1. Glad you've included the Ethiopian church idea, and 6 and 8 look fascinating too. I'm surprised you went for the Sacre-Coeur though as I wasn't aware it was all that impressive historically etc. Will look forward to your previews of each.

  2. I suppose the Sacre-Coeur is my "ladies' choice" of the list. Every lady I mention it to seems very enthusiastic. I would dare to do a separate "World Wonders for the lady" list, but it would inevitably just be series of handbag shops.