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World wonders II, coming 07/07/07

Web voting has carved out a list of 21 finalists, including the Eiffel Tower and Stonehenge.

March 19, 2007|John Ward Anderson | Washington Post

PARIS — Maybe it simply feeds modern society's obsession with lists and rankings, but more than 2,000 years after ancient Greeks identified the Seven Wonders of the World, millions of people around the globe are casting Internet ballots to update the list.

Whether motivated by nationalism, conservation, curiosity or sheer boredom, more than 4 million Americans, Brazilians, Chinese, Indians, Mexicans and others have cast 28 million votes, organizers say. They have generated 21 wonder finalists, including the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, the Acropolis in Athens, Jordan's ancient city of Petra and the pyramids of Giza in Egypt.

Also in the running are Britain's Stonehenge and the statues of Easter Island off the coast of Chile. A few finalists -- notably the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty and the Sydney Opera House -- have left experts and neophytes alike wondering.

"It is comparing apples and oranges, and that's why it is a subjective thing, but a wonder is something that moves you and makes you wonder why they built it and how they built it," said Tia Viering, a spokeswoman for the organizers, the New7Wonders Foundation.

The seven winners will be announced on July 7, or 07/07/07.

The new list would join the roster of the seven ancient wonders, only one of which, the pyramids, still exists. There is scant physical evidence that some, such as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, ever existed.

In recent times, more than a few panels of experts have compiled Seven Wonders of the Modern World. The American Society of Civil Engineers, for instance, drew up a list that includes the Empire State Building and the English Channel tunnel.

The new campaign has generated controversy in Egypt, where Culture Minister Farouk Hosni called it "absurd." Zahi Hawass, head of the country's Supreme Council of Antiquities, demanded that the 4,500-year-old pyramids at Giza be removed from the competition, saying they "don't need a vote to be among the world's wonders," according to the state-run Middle East News Agency.

Viering said the pyramids could not be removed because the competition is a purely democratic process, driven by Internet voting (and, to a much lesser extent, phone balloting). "It's the people of the world who are making this list. It's not our decision," she said.

The idea for the campaign came from Swiss-born Canadian filmmaker Bernard Weber, who, according to the group's website (www.new7wonders.com), formed the nonprofit foundation in Zurich in 2001 "to protect humankind's heritage across the globe" and alert people "to the destruction of nature and the decay of our man-made heritage."

Weber, who clearly has a knack for self-promotion, has spent recent months touring the finalists with a massive blimp, ginning up publicity and filming and photographing the sites for a forthcoming movie and book about the project. Organizers promise that half the proceeds will go toward efforts to protect and restore threatened sites.

Voting began in 2001. Nominated monuments swelled to 177, were culled to 77, then winnowed in late 2005 by a group of experts to the current 21 finalists, each from a different country.

According to Viering, as of Jan. 31, the top seven vote-getters were Petra, the pyramids, the Great Wall, the Taj Mahal, the Easter Island statues, the Colosseum in Rome and the Incan city of Machu Picchu in Peru. The Statue of Liberty has remained in the bottom seven for most of the campaign, she said.

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