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Last Updated: Friday, 6 July 2007, 11:52 GMT 12:52 UK
More than a one-hit wonder?
By Kathryn Westcott
BBC News

In less than 24 hours, the world will have Seven New Wonders, to add to numerous international lists of top tourist must-sees and natural wonders.

The contest to find the most popular man-made heritage sites has attracted votes from some 75 million people, organisers say.

But not everyone is happy - least of all some cultural experts.

The campaign - which organisers have billed as the first global exercise in democracy - has been some six years in the making.

ANCIENT WONDERS
Pyramid at Giza
Great Pyramid at Giza
Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Statue of Zeus at Olympia
Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
The Colossus of Rhodes
The Lighthouse of Alexandria
The non-profit New7Wonders Foundation is the brainchild of a Swiss man, Bernard Weber, who has had a varied career as a filmmaker and museum curator.

Given that very few people could remember the original seven wonders, and that only one of them still stands today, he decided to stage a global vote to pick some new ones. These will be revealed on Saturday at a ceremony in Lisbon's Benfica stadium.

The original list was established more than 2,000 years ago by Greek scholars.

It included the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Colossus of Rhodes, the ancient lighthouse outside Alexandria, the great pyramid at Giza - the only survivor - and three other long-vanished edifices.

The list gave Greek travellers access to the older civilisations of the Egyptians, Persians, and Babylonians.

POPULARITY CONTEST
Great Wall of China
Acropolis, Greece
Hagia Sophia, Turkey
Kremlin, Russia
Colosseum, Italy
Neuschwanstein, Germany
Eiffel Tower, France
Stonehenge, Britain
Alhambra, Spain
Great Wall of China
Kiyomizu Temple, Japan
Sydney Opera House
Angkor, Cambodia
Taj Mahal, India
Timbuktu, Mali
Petra, Jordan
Statue of Christ Redeemer, Brazil
Easter Island, Chile
Machu Picchu, Peru
Pyramid at Chichen Itza, Mexico
Statue of Liberty, US

Today a number of nations with an eye on the modern-day traveller have actively embraced the campaign and urged their countrymen and women to get out and vote.

"Some countries have got very, very involved, but we have also seen a lot of interest from countries that don't have a candidate on the shortlist," Tia Viering, spokesperson for the New7Wonders organisation told the BBC News website. "It's all about celebrating our common global culture, not just a national one."

"Anyway," she says, "when you vote, you have to vote for seven candidates, so you have to be inspired by six others. The bottom line is that this is not a political vote."

Voters are able to vote more than once if they want but Ms Viering says that is impossible to prevent.

"This happens any time you involve technological voting," she says.

'Commercial'

But the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) - which has long had its own World Heritage List - has criticised the organisation's approach.

It has sought to dispel media confusion that the organisation had lent its support to the campaign.

Indian man with a miniature taj

"The New7Wonders is more directed towards commercial purposes than the conservation of heritage," Unesco spokesperson Sue Williams told the BBC News website.

There is certainly a cost element involved in some of the voting, which can be done online or by phone.

Visitors to the website can purchase certificates confirming their selections, or book trips to tour short-listed "wonders". Broadcasting rights to Saturday's event will also generate revenue.

"The new seven wonders doesn't appear to have a commitment to conservation and it doesn't appear to include the types of things we include, such as a commitment by our members to education, working with the media and tourism etc," she says.

She said that several approaches were made to Unesco to support the campaign but they felt "they were not really writing on the same page."

Interest

Unesco argues that the list is very limited. Its own World Heritage List numbers sites including 660 cultural and 166 natural.

Miss Petra
Jordan has just crowned its first Miss Petra as part of its campaign
"You can't just focus on outstanding monuments," Ms Williams says. "There are some parts of the world that simply don't have a monumental cultural heritage. It's all about a different manifestation of what is considered cultural."

But the New7Wonders foundation says it has a commitment to conservation, and has pledged half what's left, after costs, to restoring and preserving cultural sites.

The money will not necessarily go to the winning seven but Ms Viering says any project would be eligible to apply. The rest of the money will go towards running costs and to prepare for the organisation's future campaigns.

But, so far, the foundation has no money to offer up to such projects. "We haven't actually made any money yet," says Ms Viering. "We've invested over 10 million euros to date in the campaign and we are still in the investment phase."

Later this year, it will launch a campaign to find seven wonders of the natural world, and there are plans for a later search for top global technological triumphs and top symbols of peace.

There is no doubt that the poll has excited a great deal of interest in certain parts of the world.

  • In Jordan, the Royal Family had led a national campaign costing tens of thousands of dollars. Miss Petra has just been crowned and a private firm has also set up voting kiosks in the capital Amman
  • In Brazil, the country's football players held up a banner appealing for votes before a match with England in London. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, standing in front of the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio, called for people to vote.
  • The government of Peru has opened computer terminals in public plazas to encourage people to vote for the ancient city of Machu Pichu.
  • Chile's President Michelle Bachelet called on Chileans to support the candidacy of Easter Island. In a press conference, she said: "None of us need a vote to know that Easter Island is one of the wonders of the world, but the truth is that we want this wonder to be known by everyone."

  • In India, a popular singer is touring the country singing an original song about the Taj Mahal to generate votes and Bharat Kapadia, chairman of private media group I Media Corp Ltd, has been trying to galvanise public support.

But success in the competition would not be popular with everyone.

Archaeologists said the Mayan ruins, at Chichen Itza in south-eastern Mexico could be hit by an avalanche of additional visitors if it wins the contest and that the extra wear and tear could force authorities to limit the tourist traffic.

Another source of friction was in Egypt, where there was anger that the pyramids had to compete for their ancient honour in what some described as a gimmicky 21st-century popularity contest.

The organisers have now removed them from the contest and given them an honorary New7Wonders status.

It is impossible to tell how widely accepted the new list will become, even if millions have voted. Organisers will no doubt be hoping the whole affair will be more than a one-hit wonder.




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
The sites shortlisted to be one of the seven wonders



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