Tuesday, 14 August 2012

New Additions To The List: Part 3

As said before, my list is not a fixed one. New suggestions arise, or new light is shone on previous landmarks I'd chosen not to add, or I quite simply hear about something for the first time; likewise, Wonders on my list, sometimes seem less appealing upon further scrutiny. Thus, I tinker a little, and add, reject, and remove places from my list, as done twice already: here and here.

Here are the current amendments.

1. Albi Cathedral, Albi, France. ACCEPTED.

During my recent trip to the south of France, we stopped at the town of Albi, en route from Millau to Avignon, after a recommendation that the cathedral was nice. It certainly was. From the outside, the brick behemoth appeared as fortress-like as it was designed to be, dominating its surroundings, but the inside was an ornate overloads of painting and sculpture. The contrast could hardly be starker. For a while, I thought I'd just add this to the list of my Unofficial Wonders, but a week or two on I realised its impact had been deeper. Some places I visit don't leave much of a lasting resonance, but Albi Cathedral has, hence my intention to return after learning more about it.

2. Pont du Gard, near Nimess, France. ACCEPTED.

One of the regrets of the trip to France was that, due to time constraints, I wasn't able to visit the 1st Century Roman aqueduct, the Pont du Gard. This had been considered a few times already, but visiting the area has given it that extra nudge to make it onto the list. Its sheer age, size and distinctiveness make it noteworthy.

3. Mount Athos, Greece. REJECTED.

I heard about Mount Athos when reading about another of my Wonders, the Meteora monasteries in Greece. While Meteora, although visually spectacular, always had a pretty incidental role in history, Mount Athos was far more significant. A tiny peninsula in the north-east of Greece without easy land access so usually reached by boat, it is autonomous, a UNESCO Heritage Site, and has gathered monasteries from around the 9th Century, many hugging cliffs and slopes. Only monks and monastery workers live there, all of them men, and even to this day women are prohibited from entering. Visitor numbers are restricted, requiring obscure Byzantine visas. The entire area sounds fascinating, rich with history, and like a remote world cut off from everything else. Unfortunately, I think it's just a little big to classify as a Wonder - it's bigger than Malta, at 335 square kilometres. But if I ever feel like an alternative holiday...

4. Konark Sun Temple, Konark, India. REJECTED

My first impression of this when I first saw a picture was "yes". Often this is all it takes to add a Wonder to my list, but for Konark Sun Temple it ended up being let down by its details. Hugely ornate and ancient, it appears fabulous, but the problem is, well, there are a lot of temples out there and I don't think Konark is the best of them. Go to Indonesia and to Prambanan, and there you have bigger and older buildings, and more of them. Angkor in Cambodia likewise. Konark looks great, and appears to have a wealth of sculptural detail, but it's not for the list.

5. Chateau de Chenonceau, Chenonceaux, France. ACCEPTED.

Like Konark Sun Temple, my first impression was "yes", but unlike Konark, that opinion remains. It just looks... pretty cool. A castle stretching across a river, dating in its current form from the 16th Century, it has that important feature of any Wonder of being distinctive and original. Apparently too, rowing boats can be hired to float underneath the castle arches.

6. Spaghetti Junction, Birmingham, UK. REJECTED.

This was a suggestion from Simon, who is occasionally known for his esoteric and sometimes challenging manner of thought (though in this case I don't think he was being entirely serious). Gravelly Hill Interchange, better known as Spaghetti Junction (there are many with this title, but Gravelly Hill is the original), is a whole bunch of roads built entirely for function, without any sort of aesthetic value. Perhaps if you love junctions and driving about in circles, then this is the Wonder for you, and sure, its construction took some degree of technical competence, but Spaghetti Junction is just a blot on the landscape, not the sort of lasting legacy of sublime excellence I'm looking for.

7. Wurzburg Residence, Wurzburg, Germany. REJECTED (though I'd love to visit if I get the chance).

This was a suggestion from Lucy, and one I've had to ponder. It's a big palace in Germany, from the 18th Century, and a great example of Baroque architecture. It looks unquestionably impressive. But unfortunately, the world of European castles and palaces is a very competitive one, and I just can't see Wurzburg Residence outdoing the fairytale drama of Neuschwanstein Castle, or the lavish glamour of Versailles. It's big and impressive, but doesn't look to have that extra factor that would take it to the top, and for that reason - and despite the fact I can tell it would outperform much on my list - I can't add it. However, if I get the opportunity to visit - and I should be in the rough area - I definitely will, and am willing to reconsider if I'm wrong.

So, that makes three extra Wonder candidates for my list, bringing the total to 105. Ah, but there are a few that I've decided to excise from my list. They are:

The Catacombs of Alexandria, Alexandria, Egypt

These underground tombs, from the Roman era, look pretty interesting, but just don't have the size or grandeur required from a Wonder. It goes about 30 metres underground, but the likes of Derinkuyu in Turkey, for example, is twice that.

Fort Qaitbay, Alexandria, Egypt

Fort Qaitbay is said to be built from the ruins of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Ancient Seven Wonders of the World, which was destroyed by earthquakes in the 14th Century. That was the main reason I added this originally. But sentiment just isn't enough. Taken on its own merits, Fort Qaitbay is a pretty decent fortress, but just not in the big boy league.

Thiepval Memorial, near Thiepval, France

I'm wavering on this one, I admit. I really like the look of it, and all accounts indicate it's at the centre of a very powerful and moving memorial to just some of the many war missing of the First World War. But I'm just not convinced it's Wonder material, just not quite the scale or effect I'm looking for. In saying that, I hope I get the chance to visit.

There we are then - plus three, minus three, and back to a total of 102 Wonders.


  1. Chateau de Chenonceau looks amazing - original, as you say.

    I only barely remember suggesting Spaghetti Junction, so doubt I was wholly serious; and agree it's not exactly got aesthetics on its side.

  2. It was at your final dinner, in Nimes. It may have been before our food arrived, so your suggestion of it may have been inspired by your hunger. But yeah, I don't you were genuinely considering it was one of the world's greatest works.

  3. Have you been to Red Square, Moscow?


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