Top 5 Wonders of the World

Posted by admin on March 20th, 2013 filed in General

We at TravelExploit.com have been lucky enough to encounter some of ancient engineering’s finest achievements. Intricately cut, carved and created buildings on 6 continents (there are none on Antarctica that we’ve heard about). While the list has some notable exceptions that we’ve yet to visit, it highlights the best of what the world has to offer, and sights that surely will leave a traveler breathless.

 

To make the list, these sites were rated based on several factors:

 

  1. Age. The older the better.
  2. The “wow” effect. Either enormously large, tall or deep, and/or in a magnificent location
  3. Degree of difficulty. Massive stones, perfectly cut lines, amazing detail and ornament.
  4. The reveal. When approaching, there is anticipation before the presentation
  5. Culture and civilization. What does the site tell us about the people who lived there?

 

With no further introduction we will begin the list of the Top 5 Wonders of the World.

 

#1. Egyptian Pyramids, Temples at Luxor, Valley of the Kings

 

Great Pyramid, with humans at base to demonstrate scale.

Great Pyramid, with humans at base to demonstrate scale.

Age: *****

Wow effect: *****

Degree of difficulty: *****

The Reveal: **

Culture and Civilization: ****

 

Ancient Egyptian constructions are an easy choice for number one on this list. There are hundreds, if not thousands of sites that have lasted through the millennia. They have also been studied more than perhaps anyplace else on earth, so there is a great amount of data about the rulers and engineers who imagined and executed the delivery of these timeless structures.

 

Our trip started in Giza with the Great Pyramids and Sphinx, then to Aswan and Luxor on the Nile. The first thing that stands out is the enormous scale. The biggest rocks imaginable were used to fashion buildings (Pyramids), statues (Colossi of Memnon – especially amazing for their graffiti from tourists, in Ancient Greek! The site has been visited for thousands of years!), towering columns and obelisks. This leads to a perfect score in degree of difficulty, as its still unclear how they were able to move and position such incredibly large stones.

 

Colossi of Memnon

Colossi of Memnon

The reveal is the only area where these ruins are less than perfect. However, I believe this was intentional. The rulers of Egypt had immense demonstrable power. They wanted you to see these buildings and immediately feel their magnitude, even at great distance. Imagine living in grass huts or caves nearly five thousand years ago, riding your camel across the desert to a faraway land, and seeing the glimmering tallest buildings in the world in front of you. Even today this is shocking, but back then would have been paralyzing. There is no buildup or anticipation, Egypt is just there. And it has remained so for eternity.

 

#2 Angkor Wat (Cambodia)

Temples at Angkor Wat

Temples at Angkor Wat

Wow effect: *****

Degree of difficulty: ***

The Reveal: ****

Culture and Civilization: ***

 

Where Angkor Wat really shines is in its presentation. Its name which translates to “a temple which is a city” explains why so much effort was spent to dazzle and amaze. Where the pyramids were designed to demonstrate power, these temples were created to inspire and conjure feelings and harmonize the soul with balance and beauty. The main temple of Angkor is set inside a glimmering moat, which is the size of a lake. It is the largest religious building on earth but is proportioned in a way that doesn’t make it feel that way; there are intimate corridors and rooms that let an individual experience solitude, even when thousands of tourists are just around the corner.

 

Some of the other temples in the area are nearly as large, but set back in the forest or jungle. In some ways they feel hidden, only noticeable by their entry gate. When pulled in to explore and passing through the gate, you experience the reveal of the large temple before you. These can be astonishing, either because of their size, overgrowth of nature, amazing carvings, or even crumbling destruction. Vising the many temples is surprising and makes you feel that you’re on a quest.

 

Aggressive roots of the trees at Angkor Wat

Aggressive roots of the trees at Angkor Wat

The only reasons Angkor scores less are due to its relative newness (only 1,000 – 1,300 years old), and the relative straightforwardness of its design. I don’t recall seeing any stones so large that 6 or 8 humans could not lift and stack them. Some appeared small enough that I could lift (think slightly larger cinder blocks). Also, it could be due to the little amount of archaeological investigation that’s been done (this is common in poorer countries). Little seems to be known about the people or the culture or the building methods that were used here. Hopefully in the years to come, more discoveries will be made and shared.

 

#3 Petra (Jordan)


Age: ****

Wow effect: *****

Degree of difficulty: *

The Reveal: *****

Culture and Civilization: ***

 

With a name that literally means “stone,” Petra is a vast and sprawling city of temples and buildings carved directly onto mountains. The stone has a rosy hue and is breathtaking at sunrise and sunset. While there were some stone blocks used, the vast majority of the structures were cut right into mountain rock. This includes an auditorium, temples, roads, steps, reservoirs, etc. The buildings tell much about the ancient Nabataeans that lived there, their merchant roots with many shops and store fronts, their Roman and Greek influences from the classical architectural design, and their religion by their altars and high point of sacrifice.

 Treasury at Petra

When it comes to amazement, you will surely be overcome by the size of the city. One could walk for 3 days and possibly not see all of the main city and surrounding complexes; the area is enormous. For reveals, Petra is perhaps the greatest of all sites. Winding through the long, tall and narrow siq brings you to the “Treasury,” a sight made famous by Indiana Jones and the last crusade. Walking this route in the morning, coming out of the dark siq, and seeing the sun reflected on the front of the Treasury transports one back in time. Hearing the flute players and merchants, and the footsteps of horses clomping about really makes you believe you are living 2,000 years in the past. In addition, a trip to Jordan offers diving in the Red Sea, wandering in the desert of Wadi Rum, floating in the Dead Sea, as well as easy access to the foundation of Christianity, all just 2-3 hours away.

 

The only downside for this site is the lack of creativity within these buildings. On the inside, they are nothing more than caves. Square holes cut into the mountain, with the real beauty and difficulty of design a facade.

 

#4 Tiwanaku/Isla Del Sol/Puma Punku

Age: *****

Wow effect: ****

Degree of difficulty: ****

The Reveal: ***

Culture and Civilization: ****

 

Gate with monolith statue in distance.

Gate with monolith statue in distance.

In many ways, this site could be higher on the list. Highlighting the skill and power of the Tiwanaku race, predecessors of the Inca, these structures blend masonry expertise with an air of mystery. With some assessments dating Tiawanku as 13,000-15,000 years old, carbon dated and generally accepted assessments date this collection of ruins as being built from around 2000 BC up until 500-700 AD, making it the 2nd oldest on this list.

 

Lake Titicaca in the distance

Lake Titicaca in the distance

These sites were also built at an incredibly high elevation, and in the case of Isla Del Sol, on a small island in the middle of the world’s highest lake. Even when the lake was more shallow in 2,000 BC, the lake still had depths of over 400 feet separating it from the main land. That means that ancient builders had sophisticated and strong enough boats to traverse such depths (the ancient Nile was nowhere near as deep).

 

Monolith statue over 20 feet tall

Monolith statue over 20 feet tall

The stones here are massive, with some of the monoliths towering 30 feet tall. The rocks are also cut with amazing detail. The site has great impact and feels old and spiritual. Isla Del Sol is as serene as they come, situated in a glimmering lake over 12,000 feet above sea level. I got a blistering sunburn here on a cool November day due to the lack of atmosphere at this altitude.

 

We started our tour in the Bolivian city of La Paz. The Tiwanaku site is about an hour from the La Paz airport, and makes a nice trip if you have a few hours between flights or are visiting the city. The only downside is that much of Tiwanaku is buried underground, due to its age. Some say that only 10% of it has been excavated, which is saddening. Even though the country is poor, more foreign funds should go to archaeological endeavors here. The Sun Gate and other rock gateways are aligned with the stars and sun, and thousands of people still flock here on the solstices to watch the sun pass through the gate. Although Bolivia is off the road map for most travelers, I strongly encourage you to consider adding it to your itinerary when visiting Peru or the surrounding areas.

 

#5 Taj Mahal/Chand Baori Step Well

 

Age: ***

Wow effect: *****

Degree of difficulty: ***

The Reveal: *****

Culture and Civilization: ****

 

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

As you may have noticed, we’ve taken the liberty of combining sites built from different eras on this list. As TravelExploit is mainly concerned with destination travel, we’ve combined sites from a common destination that you would likely see as part of a single tour. These two sites in Northern India are incredibly beautiful and astonishing. The Taj Mahal is one of the most famous sites in the world. It is romantic, gorgeous, and perhaps the finest example of Mughal architecture. When touring Rajistan (Northern India) you will inevitably come across many buildings with similar design and embellishments. However, none have the profound impact of the Taj Mahal, with its white marble glistening in the early morning light. Constructed in the 1600′s, the building is the youngest on the list. Even though it is of enormous scale and employed some of the region’s finest craftsmen, it loses points for belonging to the modern era. The Muslim world was skilled in math and for making elaborate blueprints, not to mention its use of elephants to move heavy objects, something most cultures did not have available.


Its reveal, while walking through the entrance gate is perhaps 2nd only to Petra. You know you’ve reached an amazing place and its gravitas will surely have you pause and absorb the moment. The beautiful and intricate carvings, as well as inlaid jewels makes is wonderful to experience. There are also surrounding buildings that are amazing in their own right. This building is a must see for anyone going to India.

 Chand Baori Step Well

A few hours down the road is the Chand Baori Step Well. It wasn’tChand Baori Step Well on our itinerary, and our tour guide made a quick surprise stop for us to see it. With no introduction or explanation, this site earns points for a jaw dropping “wow” effect. There is not much of a reveal, as you enter a poor primitive city. There were no ticket stalls, maps or brochures. You just walk past the locals and find a massive 100 foot deep hole in the ground. The 3500 steps in pyramid substructures remind you on an M.C. Escher drawing. While probably not that difficult to fashion, Chand Baori earns points for its scale and ambition, as well as ingenuity for capturing water and escaping the blistering heat in the region.

 

That concludes our list of the Top 5 Wonders of the World. There are a few notable exceptions from this list that we have visited but chose to exclude. Ancient Rome and Greece have some of the finest engineering achievements in the world, although are in various states of decay. Perhaps because they were so advanced as a society, they do not feel that primitive. Walking through Rome and admiring the Coliseum did not transport me back in time like I hoped it would. The buildings on this list are far more awe inspiring. We have also toured China and experienced the Great Wall of China, Terracotta Soldiers, and other masterpieces. While extremely impressive, and very old, these sites did not possess the spirituality and wonderment of the 5 sites on our list.

 

We hope that you are able to visit these places in the near future. Please feel free to share your list of favorite ancient buildings below.


3 Responses to “Top 5 Wonders of the World”

  1. Dee Reynolds Says:

    Your comments, summaries and descriptions of your top five sites have put them on my bucket list. I have not traveled to any of these places, but would dearly love to see them in person.

  2. Dee Reynolds Says:

    What wonderful sights to see this morning with my coffee. These critiques make me want to renew my passport and get going to see these sights myself.

  3. Dee Reynolds Says:

    One other comment. I thought Tiwanaku was considered to be the oldest building on earth, or even Puma Punku, which some estimates place at more than 15 to 18,000 years old?

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