Sunday, 26 October 2014

New Additions To The List: Part 6

It has been around 18 months since I made any changes to my list of candidate World Wonders, and rather a lot has happened since then. As time has gone on, my list has become more and more fixed; now two-thirds of the way through, it's possible that this could be my final amendment. But probably not.

Anyway, let's cut the waffle. The following are the new additions to the list, or the ones I have considered but rejected. It should be said that rather a lot has been considered in the last 18 months, and the below ones represent only the most heavily pondered, i.e. if they didn't make it, they came pretty damn close to being given the thumbs up.

1. The Baha'i Gardens in Haifa, Israel: ACCEPTED.

I've visited these before, during my first ever travels, in 2001. Of course, back then I wasn't thinking in terms of Wonders, I was just looking at things and thinking "Hmm, that looks nice." Eighteen immaculate and symmetrical terraced gardens, stretching up the slopes of Haifa's Mount Carmel to the Shrine of the Bab, the second holiest place in the world for the Baha'i Faith (the holiest is reserved for the shrine of the religion's founder, Bahá'u'lláh, in nearby Akko. He's so holy that only true believers can pronounce his name). Bab is a central figure in the Baha'i Faith and his shrine was first built back at the start of the 20th Century, with the version we see now dating to the 1950s. The gardens however - and I was surprised to learn this - were only completed in 2001, mere months before I visited. Along with some other Baha'i sites in the area, it became an UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008 - fast moving.

Obviously, this is a pretty late addition for something I've known about for a while, but it's been floating around at the back of my mind for a couple of years. What's tipped it over the edge into acceptance for my list is the notion that it's kind of like a spiritual descendent of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon; indeed, according to Wikipedia, they are also known as "The Hanging Gardens of Haifa". Also: it stands out. I saw these in 2001 and I haven't seen anything like them since, and one consequence of these most recent travels is a greater appreciation for distinctiveness.  But removing all the reason and analysis, they are simply beautiful gardens.

2. Pena National Palace, Sintra, Portugal: REJECTED (but worthy of further investigation)

Oh, I've troubled over this. My brother suggested it earlier this year, or rather, he suggested the town it belongs to, Sintra. Not far from Lisbon, Sintra looks amazing, full of castles and palaces and monuments, but it's a diverse town with almost 400,000 people and hardly a single or even an ensemble Wonder. But putting Sintra into Google Images gives many pictures of Pena National Palace, one of the town's highlights. And doesn't it look fabulous? A 19th Century Romantic riot of colour, perched on a craggy peak, it has a splendid, over-the-top quality, reminiscent of Neuschwanstein Castle. So why doesn't it make the grade? Because there are a lot of palaces and castles around Europe, and Pena's main selling point is its colours and position - architecturally, it's attractive, but hardly a stand-out. Like cathedrals, I could includes scores of European palaces, and I've got to draw the line somewhere. Nevertheless, I'm going to get a book or two for further reading, as the door isn't firmly closed on this one. Also, I think I can get return flights to Lisbon for less than £50, so I could even pop over and get a quick preview if I fancy...

3. Jetavanaramaya, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka: ACCEPTED

Why do I do this to myself? Sri Lanka's not exactly conveniently located for someone who lives in Scotland, but I was there in 2012. Alas, I hadn't heard of Jeta... Jetavanar... hang on, I need to copy and paste this one: Jetavanaramaya. Phew. It's part of the ancient city and kingdom of (sigh) Anuradhapura, a still extant city of about 60,000, filled with incredible ancient Buddhist structures. Jetavanaramaya is the most incredible, as far as I can see. It's 122 metres high and up to 176 metres wide, and comprises of something like 93 million bricks. That's pretty damn massive, and getting into the realm of Great Pyramid dimensions. Built in the 4th Century, it was the third tallest structure on earth for almost a thousand years, behind - you guessed it - the Great Pyramid and the other great Pyramid, the Pyramid of Khafre.

Simply being ancient and massive is enough really, but also being part of a magnificent, ancient kingdom helps too. I just wish I'd known about it earlier.

4. Kuelap, Peru: REJECTED

To my horror, when in Peru at the end of last year, I picked up the Lonely Planet and discovered Kuelap. It's a gigantic ruined fortress-like city, around 600 metres by 100 metres, filled with several hundred circular stone buildings. It's built along a ridge, overlooking a valley, with all the spectacular views you'd expect. Not much is known about it - Machu Picchu gets all the headlines in Peru - but it seems to have been started in about the 6th Century, and built upon for almost a thousand years, before the Spanish arrived in South America and everything went tits up. It appears to have belonged to the Chachapoya people, but surprise, we don't know much about them. We don't even know that they called themselves - the Chachapoya was what the Incas called them.

Aside from the mystery and the location, a large part of the appeal for me are the outlines of hundreds of circular structures, a very striking repetition of ruins. But in the end, the word "ruins" are what maybe lead me to reluctantly reject this from my list. It appears very ruined, and Peru (and the world) has plenty of very ruined stone structures and settlements everywhere. Is it the greatest? No, Machu Picchu is clearly greater. It's a very interesting, very scenic set of ruins rather than a World Wonder.

5. Chand Baori, India: REJECTED.

Looks a bit like an optical illusion, doesn't it? It's actually a stepwell in northern India, which as you might imagine is a well with steps leading down to it. In this case, a lot of steps aligned in a very fancy geometry. It's old - about 800 AD - and there are about 3500 steps over thirteen storeys. Sources seem to disagree, but it's between 20 and 30 metres deep, although my guess would be nearer 30 metres based on these pictures.

As with everything in this entry, I've pondered this for some time, but in the end I think this might be one of these places that look better in photos than it does in person. It's not all that big, so would need to be quite transfixing to compensate for that, and I simply don't think it is. I reckon it would probably rank pretty respectably on my overall list, but I'm not looking for that, I'm looking for bona fide World Wonders, and I can't see this making the grade. However, it definitely goes on the longlist for places I want to visit before I'm 80.

6. Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE: ACCEPTED

Yup. Sometimes, I can make a decision pretty quickly. French Claire sent me a link to this via Twitter some months ago, and it didn't take me long to give it the double thumbs up. If I had three thumbs, I'd have given it a triple thumbs up. As many thumbs as it takes. Sheikh Zayed Mosque is a modern mosque, finished in 2007, and being in Abu Dhabi, Dubai's more grown-up sibling, runs all the risks that modern constructions of this region lead - namely, being garish pieces of tat built by rich show-offs. Yet, from pictures, I really feel this looks pretty nice. Pristine, immaculate... and massive. Look again at the above picture, in the courtyard. These are people in there. The main dome is 85 metres tall - that's 12 metres higher than the Taj Mahal. There's enough to go on here to warrant a visit, I think. A visit might confirm that, yes, it's just another Emirati slice of bling; but it may also confirm that this is actually something pretty special.

7. Uxmal, Mexico: REJECTED

Another day, another Maya city. There are rather a lot of old Maya ruins in Mexico and Central America, and plenty of them feature huge pyramids and temples. It's just a matter of choosing the best ones. So far I've visited Palenque, Tikal, and Chichen Itza - so what about Uxmal? It peaked around the 9th Century, and is regarded as one of the most impressive and best preserved of all Maya sites.

The above photo is of Uxmal's highlight, the brilliantly named Pyramid of the Magician, so called because folk legend had it that the entire thing was built in a day by a magician. It looks great. But it's also why, upon a little thought, Uxmal doesn't quite cut it. First of all, look at the size. About 35 metres high, and very roughly in the region of 40,000 cubic meters in volume (online figures are highly erratic, so I have used my own calculations), that's big, but look at Jetava...whatever... above. It's 122 metres high and.... oh, hang on, no it's not. That's why you can't always rely on Wikipedia, especially for more obscure locations. It used to be 122 metres high, but more reliable figures state that it today stands a still-impressive 70.7 metres high, with a diameter of 102 metres. Its volume is 233,000 cubic metres. Hmm, that gives cause for some reflection.

Anyway, regardless of its modern height, Jetava...etc... is also centuries older than the Pyramid of the Magician, as well as being considerably larger. This might be said of the other Maya temples, but the ones on my list are more than just a single temple or pyramid, they are sprawling sets of ruins, without a single dominant focus. With Uxmal, the Pyramid of the Magician is certainly the main man, with the rest of the site being a lot smaller.

Don't get me wrong, I'd love to visit. But there are tons of Maya sites I'd love to visit, and for the purposes of my Wonder mission I have to pass judgement swift and hard, like a judge at a children's beauty pageant.

8. The Big Mosul Mosque (formerly Saddam's Big Mosque), Iraq: REJECTED

Oh great, Mosul. Just where I want to go. It's been in the news recently, as the extremist IS group have taken over, subjecting people to their extremist views, or simply killing them instead. That's how I stumbled upon this, called (probably) the Big Mosul Mosque, and (probably) formerly called Saddam's Big Mosque as he seems to have initiated its construction. It featured in the background of an unpleasant news story, with some angry militants making the world a worse place. Despite that, the building appealed, as I find the masses of smaller domes surrounding the large central dome to be a pretty distinctive and interesting vision.

Information is very scarce. It doesn't feature on Wikipedia, and despite often being called the Grand Mosque of Mosul, it isn't the 12th Century Great Mosque of al-Nuri, which is a lot more famous in Iraq. It appears to be a fairly modern mosque, despite looking a lot older, and may only have been finished in recent years. The Google Maps image (as of October 2014) still features cranes. Indeed, Saddam Hussein seems to have started it, and lent his name to the mosque before he was ousted. Since then, it appears to have the very mundane name of the Big Mosul Mosque. Like Hussein, IS are Sunni Muslim, so the mosque would appear to be safe from the wave of destruction the terrorist organisation are wreaking upon the region's monuments.

I'd like to get a little more information on it, as it certainly looks impressive. How big? How tall? I just don't know. Based upon this photo of it in construction, comparing it to the tower crane, I'd say around 60 metres high. But anyway, it doesn't matter, as I'm not adding it to my list. Not because visiting Mosul these days would be virtual suicide, but because in the end I think this is a big, modern, striking mosque rather than a structure that goes the extra mile - whether in history, importance, beauty, or mystique - that differentiate the world's very best. I'd like to find out more, however.

9. Wieliczka Salt Mine, Poland: ACCEPTED

If there was a line that divided "Wonder candidates" from "everything else in the world", the Polish Salt Mine (seriously, I'm not going to try typing the actual name over and over again) would have been slipping back and fore across that line, like a man slipping across the road at night to have an affair with his neighbour. Basically, it's a salt mine, about 130 metres underground, with its origins in the 13th Century, that over the years has seen the miners carve out, incredibly, a cathedral, plus various chapels and statues. This isn't some commissioned piece, it's just a huge, ornate space that has grown and evolved over the years thanks to some dedicated miners.

I'm a little wary of underground Wonders, as they inevitably have no exterior to speak of, and are just an interior space. Can an interior be a Wonder? That's a question for another day, and the Polish Salt Mine may help me answer it, as there's no doubt it's a pretty special, and very unusual, interior. Ultimately, it comes down to how much it impresses me, and after plenty of swithering, I've decided to see for myself. The photos look intriguing, but its the descriptions and the setting that appeal the most.

10. Key Monastery, India: REJECTED

Again, another difficult decision - if time and money were unlimited, I'd love to visit this place. It's a Tibetan Buddhist monastery over 4000 metres up in the Indian Himalayas, established as early as the 11th Century, although it seems that the version we see now dates either from being rebuilt in the 1840s after a fire and being trashed by invaders, or as recently as the 1980s, after a 1975 earthquake. The style is from the 14th Century, with Chinese influence.

And doesn't it look remarkable? It's kind of like Mont Saint-Michel in the mountains. So, why dismiss it? Well, it's not Mont Saint-Michel, which is a coherent and complete reshaping of an island into a cathedral, its vaults, and a surrounding community. Rather, it is a collection of structures higgledy-piggledy clustered upon a mound, as this picture highlights. And then, take a look at this Google Image page for "remote monasteries". There are loads of the things, and you may recognise Meteora among them. And my conclusion for it would be the same for Key Monastery and all these other remote monasteries - gorgeous, breath-taking, but defined by the scenery rather than comprehensively defining the scene itself. I would love to visit Key Monastery some time in my life, but I don't think it will be any time soon, and it won't be as part of this Wonder mission.

And finally, a tweak

The Forth Bridges (Forth Bridge, Forth Road Bridge, Queensferry Crossing), Queensferry, Scotland.

In my last update, I put the Forth Bridge onto my list, the 19th Century iron cantilever behemoth that carries trains across the Firth of Forth. It's not bad.

But it's not the only bridge that crosses the Forth. In the 1960s, a suspension bridge was built to carry road traffic across - it's not a beauty, but it's big and pretty impressive nonetheless, an uninspired younger cousin of the Golden Gate Bridge.

But wait, there's another. Turns out the Forth Road Bridge isn't doing its job very well, and can't cope structurally with all the traffic that crosses daily, far more than was ever predicted in the 1960s. So a new one is being built, the Queensferry Crossing, a cable-stayed bridge. The name's a little disappointing (I was deeply hoping for the "Third Forth Bridge" but would have settled for the "New Forth Bridge", but at least they didn't go for pish like the Caledonia Bridge or the Saltire Crossing, which were serious candidates) but the design isn't. It's like a baby Millau Viaduct.

That's just an artists rendering as it's not finished yet, but is due to be completed in 2016, but I think substantially contributes to the scene. Take a look at some other artistic renderings of the final scene, with all three bridges.


The original Forth Bridge by itself is no doubt pretty spectacular, but as a trio I think this is a far greater vision: three massive bridges in three different styles. It's a bit like the Great Pyramid - it's enhanced manyfold by having two other huge pyramids right next to it, and what we're celebrating really is the trio rather than the single pyramid. Therefore, I'm tweaking my Forth Bridge submission as a candidate World Wonder to the Forth Bridges, plural. The Three Forth Bridges, I'll call them. Even though it'll be 2016 before they're eligible, making this a a rare "future" Wonder. If all goes well (which includes Syria finding a very quick solution to their troubles) I would quite like the Three Forth Bridges to be my very final Wonder I visit, thus closing my mission, whilst allowing me to wake up in my own bed - very hungover - the next day.

I make that 105 now, in all. I should really update the official list I suppose.


  1. The Baha'i gardens is an interesting one. Especially as gardens are, after all, man-made things, and any World Wonder list will be dominated by structures rather than greenery so it is a good idea to consider gardens as wonders. However, having looked these ones up on the internet I fail to be that impressed by them. Yes, they look nice, and I like the terracing, but I feel that they would be trumped by many other gardens and parks around the world, and indeed many of the major botanical gardens that are in major cities. These Baha'i ones even have a main road running under them, that emerges on either side. Having said that, I haven't seen them for real and you have.

    The Chand Baori. I find that amazing. I wonder where the simple need get access to water ends, and the desire to make it something more special begins. Did they go to the trouble to make all those steps because they needed it to be accessible to a lot of people at once? Or is their function mostly decorative? (which makes it even more impressive in a way). It reminds me of an Escher picture.

    Forth Bridges: I agree, it's a good idea to have all three as a single entity. Although they are separate structures, they fulfill the same roles, without making the other redundant (well, the second one is, but it kind of fills the role of a historical "bridge" (haha!) between the first and the newest). I really like the Forth Bridge (the rail one) and have seen it for real. Amazing engineering. Look up on on the internet if you can find a photograph of three Victorian gentlemen demonstrating how it holds itself up using a rope, chairs and weights, with the man in the middle dangling in the air between his mates. It's worth a look.

    1. You make a good point about the gardens. I think (from memory now 13 years distant) they looked a lot better than the photos seem, but it does open the worrying Pandora's Box of theoretically allowing a whole bunch of gardens onto my list. However, I think in terms of being a potential Wonder, they definitely have the edge over botanical gardens and the like, simply because of the grandeur of being lined up along what is a very steep slope, not to mention their religious significance. Plus, the shrine at the top gives them a focal point; if not for that, I can't imagine just allowing the actual greenery qualify.

      I think the Chand Baori is part of a temple, so I guess the well maybe had additional significance beyond simply being a water source. But I'm just guessing - I don't know a huge amount about it.

      I'd seen that photo before, thanks for reminding of it. It's both hilarious and instructive - definitely one for my review.

    2. Regarding the Bahá'í Gardens. I recently had a chance to visit them. There is something magical and mystical about the experience. I heard many people saying that it is the most beautiful thing they have every seen, Israelis themselves say its the most beautiful part of the Holy Land. I understand that there are many beautiful gardens in the world. I visited some in France that were really nice. But none are so immaculate, so well thought out, nor as well maintained. That being said, these are not really just gardens. There is a part called the Arc which is on the right side of the shrine when facing the sea. It includes 4 or 5 beautiful buildings in semi-modern blended Classical Greco-Roman style marble buildings surrounded by a very steep garden in a semi circle shape with marble monuments. In fact all the 19 terraces are built upon a limestone structure embedded into the mountain, and in some cases the structures go 9 stories underground with offices, cafeteria, market, archives, vaults, and museums. These are all connected as one giant self-contained structure partly hidden by the mountain and the gardens. Apparently the goal was for the gardens to take precedence over the buildings. Seated above the limestone structures are hand carved stone balustrades and fantastical statues of falcons and flowers perched near beautiful iron and brass gates. There are at least two bridges, one very large one. These elements all surround the Shrine of the Báb which is a delicate blend of eastern and western architecture, Islamic, Roman and Oriental elements. There is a beautiful dome of fire-glazed gold tiles. It starts as a Holy Site but expands from there, it is also an example of a new form of architecture, a global international style blending old and new. It is very majestic. Walking in it you almost cannot believe that you are there or that it is actually real. One has a feeling of being in heaven! Based on my experience it definitely deserves to be on your list.

    3. Thanks, that's a very helpful comment, and makes me feel a lot happier about having added the Gardens to my list!


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.