Sunday, 10 January 2016

The End Of Wonders

Even the greatest Wonders have a lifespan; in the end, nothing is forever.

About 2300 years ago there was a period of around a generation - though nobody then could have known - that all seven of the original Wonders of the World stood. But then Man and Nature conspired. In 226 BC, an earthquake reduced the Colossus of Rhodes to its knees. The remains were eventually melted down for reuse. A few centuries later, the Temple of Artemis was destroyed by barbarians. The Statue of Zeus appears to have been destroyed by fire in the 5th Century. The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus lasted centuries more, surviving numerous invaders; a series of earthquakes from the 12th to 14th Centuries saw its demise, and the rubble was recycled into a Crusder castle. Earthquakes from the same era destroyed the Lighthouse of Alexandria too, and what was left was turned into a sultan’s fort in 1480. Only the Great Pyramid survives, venerable 2300 years ago and even more incredible and venerable today, albeit in much stripped-back form. (The Hanging Gardens, if you’re wondering, are only vaguely placed in history, but if they existed they weren’t around after the 1st Century AD.)

The process continues. Man and Nature continue to conspire. All the famous ruins around the world were once shining and resplendent  - Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu, Chichen Itza, the list goes on – until abandoned to the elements. Often, the ruins are the result of active sabotage – the Parthenon was blown up in 1687, cathedrals and palaces were pillaged during the French Revolution, in 1860 the French and British reduced the Old Summer Palace in Beijing to rubble as an act of revenge. Many historic town and city centres were lost during World War 2. These days more than ever before, there is a sense of protection and preservation, but history will still judge our generations. In 2001, the Taliban dynamited the Buddhas of Bamiyan. Just months later, the Twin Towers followed. The Taliban's spiritual heirs, Daesh or whatever you choose to call them, continue to tear apart history in the present day. When not murdering civilians, they have been blowing up sites in Iraq and Syria. Most notoriously, the 2000+ year-old Palmyra, a Wonder on my list I’ve yet to see, has been their highest profile victim, as numerous parts of the ancients city have been blown to dust. History vanished in a few moments. Thousands of years gone in seconds.

Maybe the rest of Palmyra will go the same way. Maybe it will be saved. In Libya, sites such as Leptis Magna are threatened similarly. Over the next hundred years, other splendid monuments will surely go, not by Daesh, just by mankind – after all, we have the easy capability for destruction as never before. What will my list look like in 2116? In 3016? In 20,015? Some of it will be destroyed, some will be lost to nature. Because nothing is forever.

And so it is with this blog. Readers this year may have guessed from the sparsity of recent entries that my Wonder mission is going through a quiet phase. A very quiet one. Last year was tough. With the plunging of the oil price came the collapse of the oil industry and the loss of my job. This came about just as I'd returned from travelling - very unfortunate timing. I've since found other work, that I enjoy and that pays ok, but it doesn't offer the freedom or the rewards that being a contractor in the oil industry did. Travelling takes time. It costs money. Both of these are in short supply. How can I possibly justify a four-week trip to China and Japan? How can I possibly justify a night in the £1500-a-night Burj-Al-Arab? And so on. I have 107 Wonders on my list but have only visited 68 of them. This project began four-and-a-half years ago. To finish it at the same pace would take another two years at least, and a lot of money that I don’t have. To do so would ruin me.

I’m sad to say, then, that I’m pressing an indefinite pause. I’m not giving up, but I can’t see this being finished in the near future. The blog too is being paused indefinitely – anything else would be thrashing a dying horse. Will I be visiting any Wonders this year? I doubt it. Next year? One or two? Really, the remainder of my mission is pushed into the long term. When will I even be able to visit my Syrian and Libyan Wonders, and will they even be standing? One day. I'll get round to it one day. But not today, and not tomorrow.

The experience of visiting my 68 Wonders to date has been amazing. For my regular readers, thank you, thank you so much. I’ve loved doing this. It has been a passion and a dream come true. And I look forward to more. But it won’t be any time soon. So press X in the top right corner of your screen, make yourself a whisky, and come back in twelve months time. Let's make a date - 10th January 2017 for my next update. I’ll get there in the end, but you may need to be patient. Cheers.