Modern wonders a source of inspiration

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 July, 2007, 12:00am

It is unlikely that much debate was aroused when the ancient Greeks put together the first list of the seven wonders of the world. Theirs was a small world and it is no surprise that the seven choices they made were all to be found in the Mediterranean region.

If a panel of experts were assembled today, however, they would not easily reach such a consensus, except perhaps on the need for a much longer list.

The same is true of course of the global online poll of 100 million people organised to choose the modern-day seven wonders of the world. The outcome was never going to make everyone happy. For a start, it necessarily represented only one-third of a shortlist of 21 drawn up by world-renowned architects.

Nonetheless, the jubilation with which the results were greeted among people whose cultures were accorded such exalted recognition is understandable, although it was business as usual yesterday at the Great Wall of China. State TV did not carry the telecast that named it as one of the new seven wonders.

Critics of the poll dismissed the notion that world wonders could be chosen by a popular vote by ordinary people. The United Nations cultural organisation Unesco complained that a popular poll could not contribute anything worthwhile to preservation of the elected sites. This may be true, although the New 7 Wonders organisation, established by Swiss-Canadian adventurer Bernard Weber, has promised to use half its revenues to fund restoration efforts worldwide, including recreating the Bamiyan Buddha statue in Afghanistan, which was destroyed by the Taleban.

It should not be forgotten that heritage belongs to the people. Therefore their opinions do matter, even if the practical value of the poll can be questioned. Indeed, the pressure of public and international opinion can help preserve heritage. An example is concern about the pressure of tourism on the Great Wall.

If the outcome of the poll stimulates debate, that may be its lasting value - as a talking point that enhances awareness of the cultural heritage that sets societies apart.