Noodling around the internet “researching” something else, I ran across a New Wonders of the World list. Based on a poll run by an outfit in Switzerland, it was mostly a popularity contest. Several of the listed “wonders” can be rejected outright: neither the Statue of Liberty in New York nor Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro are wonders. Large statues, but neither the largest nor the most significant. Too modern. Ditto the Eiffel Tower. Petra and the Taj Mahal at least showed endurance.
So, I jotted down a list of seven wonders, then realized that I had actually seen only four of them. How can I judge the wonder-value of something I’ve only seen in photographs? Therefore, I started over, listing seven manmade structures which moved me when I experienced them. Rather than just list the seven, I’ll devote a short article to each. Along with a picture. Unfortunately, I visited some before the era of digital photography and, while I took pictures of each, I’d be hard pressed to find them now, and they’d be slides, prints or negatives.
The current mode would start at number seven and work up to number one, but that doesn’t work because, even if any of you have seen them, there can be only one greatest manmade wonder of the world. Even the ancients agreed. In fact, this group of structures was ancient when the ancients made their list. And is the only surviving wonder of the original list. I’m referring, of course, to:
1. The Great Pyramids at Giza, Egypt.
The Giza Pyramids are perhaps the only “gimmee” on the list. No one who sees them can miss their gigantic proportions and simplicity of form. When I saw the Pyramids in March 1983, I was prepared beforehand to be underwhelmed because I expected them not to live up to the hype. We stayed at the Mena House Hotel (a significant historical site itself) just down the hill from Khufu’s Pyramid. (The Mena House starts on the edge of the picture, by the golf course.) The first afternoon we walked up the hill to see for ourselves.
Approached that way, Khufu’s Pyramid shields those of Khafre and Menkaure. Khufu’s Pyramid isn’t just big, it’s so big that your sense of proportion is jarred. Impressive? It’s as impressive–no, more impressive in person. In addition to the three great pyramids he complex includes the Sphinx, numerous queens’ pyramids, boat pits, and the remains of the funerary temples which populated the site over four thousand years ago.
Seeing it in the late afternoon was topped by rising early the next morning, hiking back up the hill and climbing Khufu’s Pyramid to watch the sun rise over Cairo from the summit. It’s a hard climb. The blocks at the lower levels are huge, diminishing in size with elevation. The peak of the pyramid, like all its original limestone casing stones, has been lost over the millennia.
It was a wonder when it was built. It was a wonder two thousand years later when the Greeks were making lists of wonders. It’s a wonder today. No wonder so many science fiction and fantasy stories ascribe their construction or use to extraterrestrial visitors.
Khafre’s Pyramid looks bigger but isn’t. It sits higher.
Worth the trip to Egypt. Everything else–and there’s lots more–is gravy.