Monday, 18 March 2013

New Additions To The List: Part 5 (Mini-Edition)

I recently updated my list of candidate Wonders to visit, adding two - the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, and Florence Cathedral, and removing Albi Cathedral and Derinkuyu Underground City. I considered but rejected many others, from what was a strong list, including the likes of Milan Cathedral, Castel del Monte, and Mada'in Saleh.

But a rejection is not necessarily final. I don't go in for the whole double jeopardy style of judgement, and will happily reassess a place given further evidence, or following a sustained campaign. After all, I want the best list possible, in the end.

And thus, following a very gentle campaign from Varwell, a man known for his pro-Scottish stance, I have decided to add Scotland's very own Forth Bridge to my list.

The reason is pretty simple: just look at it. Now, can you find me any other bridge that looks similar? I'm not aware of any. In my previous update, I mentioned that originality and being different is a strong appeal: eat ten chocolate muffins and you'll welcome the blueberry one. Sure, the Forth Bridge is a bridge, but it's far from your average bridge. It's not small either: 100 metres high and 2.5 kilometres long.

My reticence is adding it was simply familiarity. I've crossed this bridge many times in the train, and seen it many times from its neighbouring road bridge. I already know that it won't be a top Seven Wonder, but as time is going on, I'm realising my mission isn't only to find the Seven, it's also to find the outlying group of "other" Wonders. We have a lot more amazing constructions than we did 2000+ years ago when the original list was made, and I think there might end up being around twenty or so other almost-as-good-Wonders. A bit like the subs bench for Real Madrid or Barcelona. I'm not saying the Forth Bridge will be among them, but I am saying it deserves a chance.

I don't operate a strict one-in, one-out system, but this is happening today. I'm becoming a harsher critic and my last lists of rejections was a strong one, making me look harder at my current list. And not all make the grade. Ushiku Daibutsu, please step forward (a couple of large strides will do you).

The big Buddha of Ushiku in Japan is the third biggest statue in the world. Impressive - but I've already visited the two bigger than it, the Spring Temple Buddha and the Bodhi Tataung Standing Buddha (aka Laykyun Setkyar). Like these, the Ushiku Daibutsu is modern - built in the 1990s - and... well, there's not much else to distinguish it. It's not famous, even in Japan, and isn't at all original. It's big, that's all, and while I don't doubt it's impressive, it's one selling point of size has been outsold by two others. Thus visiting it seems redundant. When I do eventually make my trip to Japan, I'll make the effort to visit it nonetheless, but not to formally review it.

So, plus the Forth Bridge, minus the Ushiku Daibutsu, leaving me with 102 Wonders and a minor dilemma.

You see, I'm ready to take Timbuktu off the list. Not really because of its recent political upheaval, though having Islamists destroy their own history and dismantle ancient shrines certainly doesn't help. But because I just don't see it fitting into what a Wonder actually is. It's a remote town with a lot of history, but it's not monumental or with a cohesive set of impressive structures. It's a still-living town with locations scattered around of great historic interest and no doubt a fascinating place to visit - but not a Wonder. Even a quick search for Timbuktu on Google Images is quite revealing.

See the first two images? That's not even Timbuktu. That's the Djenne Mosque, in an entirely different town in Mali. It looks pretty impressive, which is why it's already on my list of candidate Wonders - but it's clearly not allowed to stand for Timbuktu if it's not from there. Any other images of Timbuktu usually focus on the third image (and others) above, of Sankore Madrasah. And from this slightly amusing picture, you can see it's not all that big.

Maybe 14 metres high? There's also the Djinguereber Mosque, capacity about 2000, but again it doesn't look to be the scale I'm after (and again, a Google Image search throws up tons of pictures of the Djenne Mosque).

So, that's another minus 1 for my list, bringing me to 101. And herein lies my small problem. You see, I've never set myself a target number for possible Wonders to visit - if it seems worthwhile, then I'll visit it. But
a simple search on Amazon for the numbers 99, 100, and 101 reveals that they are quite loaded numbers for list-making enterprises. Clearly, the number is chosen and the required number of locations/things/recipes etc are chosen to fill them. That's not what I want to do. And it's not what I'm doing - but by God if I end up with 101 candidate Wonders on my list, that's how it seems. Therefore, in taking Timbuktu off my list and being left with a cliched 101 Wonders To See Before You Die Forever list, I find myself very eagerly looking for another one or two Wonders to add to my list.

So - any suggestions? I'm going to scour my previous rejections and see if anything appeals, and I'm going to find other nice lists of fancy buildings/monuments/constructions and see if I've missed anything. But I've been hunting, in some form, for almost six years now, and I think I might have covered most things. Ideally, something in a nice and easy place to visit, like Glasgow, but if there turns out be a colossal marble cube a kilometre each side carved by Roman Aztecs somewhere in the Pacific only reachable by professional divers, then hell, I'll see what I can do.


  1. Forth Bridge: certainly! I have seen this in real life and I was very impressed, especially compared to the rather bland 20th century concrete road bridge next to it which makes it stand out even more. Like many examples of Victorian engineering, when you know the history behind its construction it makes it even more impressive as they were often experimenting with new techniques and on unprecedented scales.

    Also, as you have pointed out yourself, you have quite a high number of churches, cathedrals and temples in your list; but just two bridges: Millau Viaduct and Golden Gate (unless I have missed any more).

    While we're on that subject other bridges worth looking into are the Pont du Gard (Roman aquaduct) and the Ponte Vecchio (Florence), although the latter may not meet your requirements in terms of size/grandness. Also Tower Bridge is a favourite of mine (again, the inventiveness of Victorian engineers) although perhaps it seems too cliché.

  2. You'll be pleased to hear that both Tower Bridge and the Pont du Gard are already on the list (nos 35 and 52 respectively, though my numbering system means very little), so that makes five bridges in total.

    The Forth Road Bridge is due to be closed down at some point in the near-ish future, and a third bridge built (a cable-stayed one, not unlike the Millau Viaduct) - do a search for Forth Replacement Crossing. The plan is to turn the old Road Bridge into a tourist attraction in the manner of Sydney Harbour Bridge, where tourists can climb to the top. This trio of bridges might be something quite special, and enhance each other, much like the three pyramids at Giza do.

  3. Now that you mention it I seem to recall reading something about the Forth Road Bridge having structural problems, and googling it confirms it. Rather shameful that our structures can't keep up with those of a century ago, but I have a firm dislike of 1950s and '60s architecture, engineering and urban planning, and this merely confirms my thoughts on the matter.

    So a third bridge is in project, all it takes is another one which I hope will officially be named the Fourth Firth of Forth Bridge.

    1. I take back "engineering", in its broadest sense. Quite a lot was achieved in those decades; but not necessarily in construction work. A good example is the post-war tower blocks that have been crumbling for years.

    2. I'm inclined to agree. The world seems to have suffered a collective aesthetic breakdown during these decades, and successfully managed to build an enormous amount of quite appalling buildings. At least they weren't built to last, and are disappearing before us. (not that new ones aren't being built, mind you.)

      I don't mind the Forth Road Bridge to be honest, just a fairly straightforward suspension bridge. With the rail bridge and the new mini-Millau, there's a nice trio of bridges crossing the Forth. And indeed, I look forward to an eventual "Fourth Forth".

  4. I must say that I am not aware of any lost cities of gold in the mountains of Patagonia, but I'll throw out a few suggestions:

    The New River Gorge Bridge- I am more than a bit biased, but I am still in love with the sheer size of this arch bridge, still the third longest span in the world, and the longest one over a valley. Also, approaching it on a raft on the New River is very impressive, and there are numerous other viewing points.

    The United States Capital Building: Some nationalist pride going on here, but it still features an 88 meter dome with some very nice ceilings on the inside.

    The Motherland Calls- You undoubtedly came across this statue, but I'd like to pitch it to replace Ushiku Daibutsu. While it isn't as large, it has a much more interesting and dynamic pose that most of the world's statues that may bump it up a bit.

    Also, I'm curious what the current status of Krak des Chevaliers is. I know that it and the town around it have been shelled in the Syrian civil war, and it may be damaged and unsafe to visit right now.

  5. Thanks Nessie, these are all excellent suggestions that I'll look into further. Both the Capitol Building and the Motherland Calls I'm very aware of, but haven't looked into in any depth before; I'd not heard of the New River Gorge Bridge but it seems to take a nice photo according to Google Images.

    As far as my Wonders go, I'm more concerned about Palmyra in Syria that the Krak des Chevaliers. Both appear to have suffered damage, with Palmyra having been looted, and Krak suffering damage to a chapel. However, Krak is a very sturdy structure, celebrated for its sheer bulk more than anything else, and I think it can soak up the bullets (though this is still clearly far from ideal). I see Palmyra as being more fragile and susceptible to war. Of course, I've not visited either before, so this is just my own thoughts on them.

    More concerning is the suggestion that some groups are deliberately targeting heritage sites to make some kind of point. While I don't think either will go the way of Afghanistan's Bamiyan statues, in the modern day those who are determined to cause damage have far greater means of destruction at their disposal.

  6. I don't know (and googling takes too darn long on this 2G fone) but would guess that the popularity of "101 Whatevers" lists is a function of some smartalek a while back deciding to take a previously-standard 100 to 11 (as it were), and the meme proving sticky.
    That in turn relies on the historic popularity of 100 as a special value, culturally reinforced by our digit-based (literally and figuratively both) adoption of base-10 numbering, further solidified by the near-universal adoption of the metric system.
    But why be enslaved by culture, which is ultimately arguably arbitrary?
    Some numeric types have always liked the concept of base 12, not least because it factors so nicely (way more than 10s): 120 is a multiple of 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 15, 20, 30, 40, and 60, making it especially attractive for lists in which multiple, overlapping internal categorization schemes are easily accommodated.
    Using a total of 120 for your list would also place you as a potential leader, establishing a new trope for lists to come, in an ever-burgeoning cosmos that could clearly use some bigger values, instead of just another follower of someone else's played-out patterns.
    And, of course, let you throw a few more worthy sites on your list, allowing for fewer painful excisions.
    Just a thought.
    Thank you for your stellar work here.
    I'll clearly be back.

  7. Ultimately, my list is as long as it is. I'm trying avoid any number dictating its length, whether 100, 120, 1001, or whatever. If a place is deemed worthy of a closer look, it gets put onto the list, irrespective of the number.

    In saying that, I want to avoid a contrived number like 100 or 101. But I've reached the stage now where it looks like my final number will be just a little over a hundred.

    The only number really dictating this whole thing is 7.


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