Thursday, January 18, 2007

Thursday, January 4, 2007

21 Places I Plan to Visit

[01] The Acropolis of Athens, Athens, Greece
The Acropolis of Athens, Athens, Greece

This large acropolis (which means "high city" in Greek) was built on top of what is known as the "Sacred Rock" of Athens, and it was supposed to radiate power and protection for its citizens. It was also known, in ancient times, as Cecropia in honor of the legendary serpent-man, Kekrops or Cecrops, the first Athenian king. A large temple dedicated to Athena Polias (Protectress of the City) was probably built here by the mid-6th century B.C. This Doric limestone building was referred to as the "Bluebeard" temple, named after the three-bodied man-serpent sculpture that was part of it, whose beards were painted dark blue. Whether this temple replaced an older one or simply was built where there had been a sacred altar is not known. Later this century (6th century B.C.), yet another temple was built, usually called the Archaios Naos (Old Temple).

Much of the original Acropolis, including the Older Parthenon, was destroyed by the invading Persians in 480 B.C. Once the Persian Wars were over, the Athenians fixed the sacred place up, first ceremonially burying objects of worship and art that could not be used any more -- this group of articles is the richest archaeological treasure found on the Acropolis, having been protected from further destruction through the ages by the rebuilding of the temples on top of it.

Most of the major temples were rebuilt under the leadership of Pericles during what is called the Golden Age of Athens (460 - 430 BC). Phidias, a great Athenian sculptor, and two famous architects, Ictinus and Callicrates, were mostly responsible for the reconstruction of the great monument. During the 5th century B.C., the Acropolis gained its final shape. After an interruption caused by the Peloponnesian War, the temple was finished during the time of Nicias' peace, between 421 and 415 B.C. The temples of the Acropolis have become some of most famous architectural landmarks of ancient and modern history. Today, the Parthenon in particular is an international symbol of Greek civilization. A graphic illustration of the temple also appears in the UNESCO logo, representing culture and education.

[02] Alhambra, Granada, Spain
Alhambra, Granada, Spain

The Alhambra (Red Castle) is an ancient palace and fortress complex in Granada, in southern Spain (known as Al-Andalus when the fortress was constructed), on a hilly terrace on the south-eastern edge of the city. The complex, which covers an area of 13 hectares, is renowned for its stunning frescoes and interior detail. It is one of the best examples of Moorish architecture in the world and among Europe's most-visited tourist attractions.

The history of the Alhambra is connected closely to the geography of Granada. On a rocky hill that is difficult to access, on the banks of the River Darro, protected by mountains and surrounded by woods, among the oldest quarters in the city, the Alhambra rises up like a great, imposing castle. Originally designed as a military area, the Alhambra became the residence of royalty and of the court of Granada in the middle of the 13th century, after the establishment of the Nasrid Moorish kingdom and the construction of the first palace by the founder king Mohammed ibn Yusuf ben Nasr, better known as Alhamar. Throughout the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, the fortress became a citadel with high ramparts or walls and defensive towers, which enclose two main areas: 1) the military area or citadel, called the alcazaba, which contain the barracks of the royal guard and is built on an isolated piece of high land, and 2) the medina or court city, with the famous Nasrid Palaces and the remains of the houses of noblemen and other citizens who lived there. The Alhambra resembles many medieval Christian strongholds, since it includes a castle, a palace and a residential annex for subordinates. The Charles V Palace (built after the city was taken by the Catholic monarchs in 1492) is also in the medina.The complex of monuments also has an independent palace opposite the Alhambra, surrounded by orchards and gardens, which was where the kings relaxed: the Generalife.

The majority of the palace buildings are quadrangular, with all the rooms opening on to a central court. Everywhere, the exterior is left plain, in contrast with the inside of the palace, which is full of exquisite details on its marble pillars and arches, its ceilings with repetitive, geometrical ornamental bands, the painted tiles on the walls and the fragile transparency of its stucco decorations. The wind blows through the rooms and sunshine streams in -- the whole effect is one of very airy lightness and grace. Blue, red, and a golden yellow, all now a little faded from time and exposure, are the colors used most.

[03] Angkor, Cambodia
Angkor, Cambodia

Angkor is the most important monument of the south-east Asian Khmer Empire and the world's largest sacred temple complex, famous for its complex ornamentation and striking beauty. The temples at Angkor are spread out over around 64 km (40 miles) around the village of Siem Reap, about 308 km (192 miles) from the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. They were built between the 8th and 13th centuries, and range from simple brick towers to huge stone temple complexes. There are two main sites where the Khmer temples are located. The first, smaller and older place is at Roluos, the first Khmer capital in the Angkor area, south-east of the village of Siem Reap. In the late 9th century, Yasovarman I moved the capital to around Siem Reap. This is a much larger site, where the majority of the Khmer temples are located. It is officially known as the City of Angkor. There are other temples located in the area and Khmer temples can also be found in many other parts of Cambodia, as well as China, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.

The most famous temple in Angkor is Angkor Wat, a huge pyramid temple built by Suryavarman II between 1113 and 1150, generally seen as the masterpiece of Khmer architecture. It is surrounded by a moat 173 m (570 ft) wide and about 6.4 km (4 miles) long. The bas-relief carving is of the highest quality and the most beautifully executed in Angkor. With its water moats, concentric walls and great temple mountain in the center, Angkor Wat symbolizes the Hindu cosmos, with its oceans at the periphery and the Meru mountain at the center of its universe. Some of the many other impressive temples include Ta Prohm, a very large temple complex built by Jayavarman VII in the later 12th century, enclosed by a moat -- one of the most beautiful of the Khmer temples, as it is still surrounded by jungle; and the Bayon, a massive temple complex built by Jayavarman VII between 1181 and 1220 that features 1,199 m (3,936 ft) of beautiful bas-relief carving and mysterious Buddha faces carved on the third-level towers.

Like many other aspects of their culture, the Cambodians adapted Indian architectural methods and styles. Once the Indian influence on Cambodia weakened, by the 7th to 8th centuries A.D., Khmerarchitecture began to develop independently. It flourished under ambitious kings who ruled an empire rich in manpower and wealth. The Hindu religion played an important part in the Khmer temples. Jayavarman II (800 to 850 A.D.) introduced the cult of devaraja into Cambodia, which saw the king as a representative of the Hindu god Shiva. From then on, the temples were built to honor both the god and the king. It then became normal for each new king to build his own temple, which became his tomb after his death.

[04] The Pyramid at Chichen Itza, Mexico
The Pyramid at Chichen Itza, Mexico

The Mayan name "Chich'en Itza" means "at the mouth of the well of the Itza (people)." This famous temple city was the political and economic center of Mayan civilization. The pyramid of Kukulcan itself was the last, and arguably the greatest, of all Mayan temples.

Since the Yucatán Peninsula has no rivers, the three natural sinkholes (cenotes) at Chichén Itzá made it a good place for a city, providing plenty of water all year. Two of these cenotes still exist -- the most famous is the "Cenote of Sacrifice," sacred to the Maya rain god Chaac. Offerings of jade, pottery and incense were thrown into the well, and occasionally, during times of bad drought, a human sacrifice. However, there is no proof to the legend that many beautiful, young women were sacrificed.

About 987, a Toltec king named Quetzalcóatl (there is a wonderful legend about him, who became the Maya plumed serpent god Kukulcan) arrived with an army from central Mexico, and, with local Mayan allies, made Chichén Itzá his capital. The art and architecture from this period are a mix of Maya and Toltec styles, such as the "Temple of the Warriors," which features an altar statue known as a chac mool.

In the center of Chichén Itzá is the Temple of Kukulcan, often called "El Castillo" (the castle). It is a step pyramid, with square terraces and staircases up each of the four sides to the temple on top. Great sculptures of plumed serpents run down the northern staircase and, because of how the shadows fall, seem to move on the spring and fall equinoxes. Inside, visitors can enter an older pyramid and climb up to the high room with King Kukulcan's stone Jaguar Throne, painted red with jade-green spots.

There is also a large court at Chichén Itzá for playing a game called "pok ta pok," which we think involved throwing a ball through a ring on the wall seven meters (around 23 ft) above the ground. The captain of the team that first scored was beheaded as a sacrifice to the gods and thought to rise directly to heaven.

In 1221, a revolt and civil war broke out and the wooden roofs of the great market and the Temple of the Warriors were burnt at that time. Chichén Itzá lost power, as rulership over Yucatán shifted to Mayapan.

[05] Christ Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Christ Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

This Art Deco-style statue of Jesus, which was inaugurated in 1931, stands some 38 meters (125 ft) tall, atop the Corcovado ("hunchback") mountain overlooking Rio de Janeiro. As well as being a potent symbol of Christianity, the statue has become an icon of the city and a symbol of the great warmth of the Brazilian people.

The idea for erecting a large statue on Corcovado started in the mid-1850s, when a Catholic priest, Dom Pedro Maria Boss, asked for financing for a large religious monument from Princess Isabel of Portugal. She was not interested and the idea died completely in 1889, when Brazil became a republic with laws about separating church and state.

The second proposal for a large landmark statue on the mountain came in 1921 from the Archdiocese of Rio de Janiero, which organized an event called Semana do Monumento ("Monument Week") to collect donations from people all over Brazil.

Designed by the local engineer Heitor da Silva Costa and created by French sculptor Paul Landowski, Christ Redeemer is one of the world's best-known monuments. The statue, which took five years to build, is made out of reinforced concrete, with the outer layers made from soapstone because of this stone being easy to work with and resistant to extreme weather. The Corcovado Rack Railway played an important part in the building effort, as the only way to get the large pieces of the statue to the top of the mountain was by train.

One of the highlights of the inauguration ceremony on October 12, 1931 was supposed to be the activation of the lighting system by the Italian radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi from his yacht far away in Naples, Italy. Bad weather, however, affected the strength of the signal and the lights had to be switched on manually by workers at Corcovado. On January 20, 2003, technology brought another change to the monument -- panoramic elevators and escalators were inaugurated, so it is no longer necessary to climb up 220 steps to see the statue up close.

[06] Colosseum, Rome, Italy
Colosseum, Rome, Italy

The design concept of this great amphitheater in the center of Rome is still relevant, having influenced almost every modern sports stadium. Today, through films and history books, we are even more aware of the cruel fights and games that took place in this arena, all for the joy of the spectators.

The Colosseum's name is believed to come from a colossus (a 40-meter or 130-ft statue) of Nero nearby, which was changed by Nero's successors into a statue of Sol or Apollo, the sun god. At some time during the Middle Ages, the statue disappeared.

The Colosseum is 48 meters (157.5 ft) high, 188 meters (617 ft.) long, and 156 meters (512 ft) wide. There are 80 arches on each of the first three levels, and the wooden arena floor was covered with sand. Its elliptical shape kept the players from retreating to a corner, and let the spectators be closer to the action than in a circle. More than 100,000 cubic meters (3,531,466.62 cubic ft) of travertine stone was used in its construction. The Colosseum was cleverly designed, and most modern stadiums have important features first seen here. Seating was divided into sections: the podium, or first level, was for the Roman senators, and the emperor's cushioned box was also here. Above the podium was the area for other Roman aristocrats. The third level was divided into three sections: a lower part for wealthy citizens and an upper part for poor ones. A wooden area at the very top of the building was standing room only, for lower-class women. Today, the arena floor no longer exists, though the walls and corridors are visible in the ruins. There are also tunnels, still in existence, made to flood and evacuate water from the Colosseum floor so naval battles could be staged. Another innovative feature of was the cooling system, known as the velarium: a canvas-covered, net-like structure made of ropes, with a hole in the center. This roof covered two-thirds of the arena and sloped down toward the center to catch the wind and provide a breeze for the audience. Sailors on special platforms moved the ropes on command.

The Colosseum was in use until 217, when it was damaged by fire from lightning. Four earthquakes between 442 and 1349 severely hurt the building, which was then converted into a fortress with a Christian church built into one small area.

[07] Easter Island Statues, Chile
Easter Island Statues, Chile

Discovered on Easter Sunday, 1722 by Dutch explorer Jakob Roggeveen, these 25 meter-high (82-ft- high) stone sculptures still puzzles the world. It is believed that Polynesians settled here in the 4th century and built a unique tradition of monumental sculpture. Enormous and mysterious stone figures, known as the Moai, have long fascinated the entire world and given this island a mythical atmosphere.

Easter Island, or Rapa Nui ("Big Rapa"), is a triangle-shaped island in the south Pacific Ocean that belongs to Chile. Around 3,600 km (2,237 miles) west of continental Chile, it is the most isolated inhabited island in the world. The original name for Rapa Nui was Te pito o te henua ("the navel of the world").

The Moai were carved during a short, intense creative period, probably between 1100 and 1600. Now, 887 Moai have been found on the island and in museums, but new fragments continue to be found and more unfinished statues are thought to be buried. Most Moai were carved out of a compressed volcanic ash found in a place called Rano Raraku. The most popular theory is that the statues were carved by the ancestors of the modern Polynesian inhabitants, called the Rapanui, when the island still had many trees and resources were plentiful. Although some Moai have become buried to their necks by shifting soils, the statues actually are heads and complete torsos. Some statues have a large cylindrical topknot (pukao) carved from the reddish stone of Puna Pau. Eyes of cut coral were fitted into the faces of the standing Moai. While Captain James Cook saw many standing statues when he landed on the island in 1774, By the mid-19th century, all the statues had been toppled, presumably in wars. Another Easter Island mystery: tablets found on the island have a mysterious script known as Rongorongo written on them, which has never been deciphered despite many efforts.

The civilization of Easter Island is thought to have declined drastically during the 100 years before Roggeveen's arrival -- from overpopulation, deforestation and using too many limited natural resources. Supporting this, the oral traditions of the islanders are obsessed with cannibalism. The great insult: "Your mother's flesh sticks between my teeth" suggests that the food supply ran out. The island once had a forest of palms, but it trees were probably cut down to make wooden frames to pull the Moai to where they were put up. Rapanui tradition, however, refers to spiritual powers "walking" the Moai to their spots.

[08] The Eiffel Tower, Paris, France
The Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

The creation of French engineer Gustave Eiffel, this magnificent steel tower has come to serve as a symbol of Paris and of France. Built as the entrance arch for the 1889 World Fair in Paris celebrating the centenary of the French Revolution, it is probably the best-known architectural achievement in the Western world and is also famous for being one of the few tall structures in the world that is perfectly vertical. The tallest man-made structure in the world until New York's Chrysler Building was built, which was quickly followed by the Empire State Building, the tower is visited by six million people every year.

The Eiffel Tower is 300 meters (986 ft) or some 75 stories high, has 1665 steps, and took over two years to build. Its metal structure weighs 7,300 tons, with the total weight an impressive 10,100 tons. Three hundred workers joined 18,038 pieces of puddle iron (a pure kind of structural iron), using two and a half million rivets. Despite the high risk of accident, since the tower is an open frame without any intermediate floors except the two platforms, Eiffel's care with his workers led to only one man dying -- as the elevators were being installed. Depending on the outside air temperature, the top of the tower can shift away from the sun by up to 8 cm (3.25 inches) because the metal on the side facing the sun expands. Every seven year, 50 tons of paint are applied to protect the tower from rust, and the color changes occasionally -- right now, the Eiffel Tower is brown. On the first floor, interactive screens let visitors give their opinion as to what color it should be painted in the future.

Originally, Eiffel had a permit for the tower to stand for 20 years. After this, it became the property of the City of Paris, which had originally planned to tear it down. However, the high structure had become valuable for communications, both for military and other purposes, and the city let it stand after the permit expired. When the tower played an important role in capturing the infamous spy Mata Hari during World War I, it gained such importance to the French people that there was no more thought of demolishing it. During its lifetime, the Eiffel Tower has witnessed a few odd scenes, including being scaled by a mountaineer in 1954 and parachuted off of in 1984 by two Englishmen -- the most spectacular was in 1923, when a journalist even rode a bicycle down from the first level, with some accounts saying he rode down the stairs, others that he sped down the outside of one of the tower's legs, which curve outward.

[09] The Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall was built to link existing fortifications into a united defense system and keep invading nomadic Mongol tribes out of China. It is the largest man-made monument ever built and is the only one often said (and sometimes disputed!) to be visible from space.

Like a huge dragon, the Great Wall winds across plateaus, deserts, grasslands and mountains, stretching some 6,700 km (4,163 miles) from East to West. Over the more than 2,000 years that the wall has been standing, some areas have fallen apart or even disappeared. Yet, the remarkable architectural grandeur and historical significance still attract hundreds of thousands of tourists to the Great Wall every year.

The Great Wall was built as a defensive fortification by three states: Yan, Zhao and Qin. The Great Wall went through constant extensions and repairs in later dynasties. Construction on the first section began between the 7th and 6th century BC, and the last work on the wall was done between the 14th and 17th centuries. In fact, it began as independent walls for different states when it was first built, and did not become the "Great" wall until the Qin Dynasty. Emperor Qin Shihuang succeeded in his effort to have the walls joined together to fend off invasions from in the north after China's unification. However, the advantages of the enormous barrier faded with the arrival of gunpowder and other weaponry. In any case, the Great Wall has served as a monument of the Chinese nation throughout history.

The wall was originally built of stone, wood, grass and earth. Later, in the Ming Dynasty, bricks were produced in kilns set up along the wall. The bricks were transported by men carrying them on their backs, donkeys, mules and even by goats with a brick tied to their head being driven up a mountain.

Many legends exist about the Great Wall, such as the famous story of Meng Jiangnu, set during the Qin Dynasty (221-206 B.C.). Meng Jiangnu's husband, Fan Qiliang, was sent by federal officials to work on the Great Wall. Having heard nothing from him for months, she went to look for him. By the time she reached the wall, her husband had already died. She began to cry desperately and her howls caused part of the Great Wall to collapse. This story is said in China to show how the Great Wall was built by tens of thousands of Chinese commoners, many of whom died -- and were buried in the wall.

[10] The Hagla Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey
The Hagla Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

The Church of Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya in Turkish) was built during the reign of Emperor Justinian (532- 537), when the Byzantine Empire was at the height of its power and influence. It was the Cathedral of the Patriarchate of Constantinople for more than 1,000 years. Originally known as the Great Church because of its size, it was later called Hagia Sophia -- not dedicated to St. Sophia, as is often thought, but to the "Holy Wisdom" of Christ. It was converted to a mosque after Constantinople (now Istanbul) fell to the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmed II (The Conqueror) in 1453. In 1935, Turkish president Kemal Atatürk ordered Hagia Sophia to be turned into the Ayasofya Museum.

Justinian's architects, Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles, a physicist and a mathematician, created a spectacular and revolutionarily domed church -- the greatest cathedral ever built up to that time, and the largest one in the world for 1,000 years -- until the completion of the cathedral in Seville. Today, it is the fourth-largest cathedral in the world. Old records list 600 persons working in Hagia Sophia: 80 priests, 150 deacons, 40 deaconesses, 70 subdeacons, 160 readers, 25 chanters and 75 door keepers.

Hagia Sophia measures 77 x 72 meters (252 x 236 ft), and the dome, with a diameter of 33 meters (108 ft), soars 62 meters (203 ft) high. The huge dome is the most remarkable part of the building, supported by four massive piers. Four arches swing across, linked by four pendentives -- a structural element which had never been used before. The pendentives let the round dome transition gracefully into the square shape of the piers below, for beauty, but also allow the weight of the dome to push downward. This gives the light inside Hagia Sophia its famous, mystical quality, making the dome seem to float above the nave, or main aisle -- possible because the dome is shaped like a scalloped shell or the inside of an umbrella, with the ribs or arches extending from the top down to the base. The temple itself was richly decorated.

In the 15th century, since conservative factions of Islam consider pictures of the human form to be blasphemous, Hagia Sophia's mosaics were covered with plaster. However, thanks to the foresightedness and tolerance of the Ottoman Sultans, the plaster was periodically removed, the mosaics maintained, and replastered -- so they have survived and many can now be seen in the museum.

[11] Klyomizu Temple, Kyoto, Japan
Klyomizu Temple, Kyoto, Japan

The palaces and temples of Kyoto have been important to Japan for more than 1,000 years. The Japanese Emperor is enthroned at the Imperial Palace of Gosho, and other important sites here are the Higashi Nonganji and Nishi Hoganji temple complexes, Kinkakuji Temple with its Golden Pavilion, and Kiyomizu Temple. The Kyoto sites have been destroyed and rebuilt many times throughout history and are today among Asia's greatest cultural heritage sites.

Kiyomizu-dera ("The Clear Water Temple") refers to the Buddhist temple in Eastern Kyoto, one of the best-known sights of Japan's imperial city, but the present buildings were constructed in 1633. The temple is said to have been built in honor of the Kannon Bosatsu (Bodhisattva, or enlightened person, of Mercy and Compassion) around 794 by Enchin, a Buddhist priest who had a vision that he would find clear water near the source of the Yodo river. The temple takes its name from the waterfall within the complex, which runs off the nearby hills. It is the main temple of the Hosso sect of Buddhism and has been destroyed and rebuilt many times in its twelve centuries of history. In 794, the emperor Kammu moved his capital to Kyoto and gave Sakanoue Tamuramaro, a top general, the throne hall as a reward for military service. Since Tamuramaro was a devout worshipper of Kannon, he donated the building to Enchin as a new main temple hall. The building stood until 1629, when it was destroyed by fire. Today's Main Hall has a roof made of cypress wood, not the traditional tile, in remembrance of originally having been part of the emperor's palace. Most of the buildings today were rebuilt by Iemitsu Tokugawa, the 3rd shogun (a military title, like general) of the Tokugawa Shogunate, in 1633. Kiyomizu Temple's main hall is famous for its great veranda, supported by hundreds of pillars, which sticks out over the hillside, looking over Kyoto. Beneath it is the waterfall Otowa-no-taki, where three streams of water fall into a pond. Visitors collect the water, which is thought to have healing properties, from the waterfall in metal cups -- drinking it is said to give health, a long life and success with studies.

The temple complex contains several other shrines, notably Jishu-jinja, decidated to Okuninushino- Mikoto, a god of love. There is a pair of "love stones" placed 18 meters (59 ft) apart here, which lonely visitors try to walk between with their eyes closed. If they reach the other stone, they will find love.

[12] The Kremlin and St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow, Russia
The Kremlin and St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow, Russia

The Kremlin has a long history, first built in 1156 as a residence for Ivan I. Since then, it has been the center of Russian statehood, the residence of the czars and hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1367-1368, the white stone walls and towers of the Kremlin were erected and Moscow began to be called "white-stone." In 1485-1495, the Kremlin was totally rebuilt, with brick buildings, and it gained its present appearance and dimensions. At the beginning of the 18th century, Czar Peter I transferred the capital of Russian to St.Petersburg -- however, according to tradition, the tsars were still coronated in Moscow and the Kremlin remained their official residence until the 1917 Russian Revolution.

In 1917, the Soviet government moved the Russian capital back to Moscow. The Kremlin became the seat of the highest state bodies. In 1955, its unique museums were again open to the public. The Kremlin has been the residence of the President of the Russian Federation and his administration since 1992. The Kremlin remains a unique monument of Russian culture and a symbol of Russian statehood.

In front of the Kremlin is Red Square -- an impressive plaza which, for many people, is associated with the infamous May Day demonstrations. Rising from the southeast end of the square, across from the Kremlin's Spasskaya Tower, is the Cathedral of Intercession on the Mound (better known as the Cathedral of St. Basil the Blessed, or simply St. Basil's Cathedral), built in the 1550s to commemorate Ivan the Terrible's capture of the Mongol stronghold of Kazan. It is a multi-tented church with onion spires, traditionally perceived as symbolic of Russia's unique position between Europe and Asia. In 1588, Czar Fedor Ivanovich added a chapel on the eastern side, above the grave of Basil Fool for Christ, a Russian Orthodox saint after whom the cathedral was popularly named. Not very large, St. Basil's consists of nine chapels built on one foundation.

Red Square is often considered the central square of all Russia, since the major streets of Moscow radiate from here in all directions, turning into major highways outside the city. The name of Red Square does not come from the bricks or from the link between the color red and Communism -- rather, the Russian word [krasnaya] means either "red" or "beautiful" (an older meaning) and was originally used to express the beauty of St. Basil's Cathedral, then later used to refer to the nearby square.

[13] Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu, Peru

Around 1440, it is believed that the Pachacútec Yupanqui, the founder of the Inca Empire, built the city in the clouds known as Machu Picchu ("old mountain") in what is now Peru. This extraordinary settlement lies 2,350 m (7,710 ft) above sea level, deep in the Amazon jungle above the Urubamba River.

Forgotten for centuries by the outside world, Machu Picchu attracted international attention when it was rediscovered by the American archeologist Hiram Bingham in 1911. There are several different theories as to what Machu Picchu was: some believe it was the luxurious mausoleum (burial site) of Pachacútec, since there are remains of buildings that were covered with gold; others think that it was an Incan "llacta," a settlement built to both control the economy of the conquered regions and to protect the the top Incan aristocracy in the case of an attack. Another theory expands on this idea, seeing Machu Picchu as a country retreat for Inca nobility. It may also have been used as an observatory and for astrological ceremonies. A maximum of 750 people probably lived in the "Lost City of the Incas" at once. It is said that the silhouette of the mountain range behind Machu Picchu represents the face of the Inca looking upward towards the sky, with the largest peak, Huayna Picchu ("young mountain") representing his nose.

Machu Picchu had a large agricultural area -- with practical crops, such as corn and coca, and orchids and other decorative plants, as well as what were probably living and religious sections. In the upper urban area, there is the famous intihuatana ("the hitching post of the sun"), a stone column rising from a stone block the size of a grand piano. This solar clock exactly show the dates of the two equinoxes and other important celestial events. It is thought that, as the winter solstice neared, when the sun seemed to disappear more each day, priests would hold a ceremony to tie the sun to the stone to prevent the sun from disappearing completely.

Everything shows that Machu Picchu was quickly abandoned when the Spanish, fighting the rebellious Incas of Vilcabamba, went into Cuzco lands. But deadly smallpox was faster than the conquistadors, and 50 percent of the population had probably been killed by the disease by 1527. The Inca government began to fail, part of the empire seceded and it fell into civil war. So, by the time Pizarro, the Inca's conqueror, arrived in Cuzco in 1532, Machu Picchu was probably already a ghost town.

[14] Neuschwanstein Castle, Schwangau, Germany
Neuschwanstein Castle, Schwangau, Germany

Neuschwanstein Castle was built in a time when castles and fortresses were no longer strategically necessary. Instead, it was born of pure fantasy -- a beautiful, romantic composition of towers and walls in the perfect setting of mountains and lakes. The combination of various architectural styles and intrinsic craftwork has inspired generations of adults and children alike.

Schloß Neuschwanstein, which means "new swan stone castle" in German, is a late 19th century castle in southwestern Germany. It is said to be the most photographed building in the world. This is "Mad" King Ludwig II of Bavaria's most famous castle, which inspired the Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland in California, USA. The castle sits high at the top of a hill. A steep, narrow road leads to the front gate. The towers in the outside walls of the castle contain circular stairways. With over 360 rooms, it took 17 years to build. With its turrets, mock-medievalism and its interior styles ranging from Byzantine through Romanesque to Gothic, it is a real fairy-tale fantasy come true.

Neuschwanstein Castle was named after the Swan Knight, Lohengrin, who is an important figure in German medieval mythology and the hero of an opera by the German composer Richard Wagner. Because of Ludwig's eccentricities, and because he was believed to be wasting huge amounts of the Bavarian state's money on buildings and the arts (although Ludwig used his own money for Neuschwanstein), Ludwig was removed from power before the castle was completed.

Soon after King Ludwig's mysterious drowning in 1886, the castle and its amazing, extravagant interior were opened to the public. Many tapestries and paintings show scenes from Wagner's operas, underlining Ludwig's love for Wagner's work. However, many of the interior rooms are undecorated, since only 14 rooms were finished before Ludwig's death. It is heated by a forced air, coal fired furnace in the basement. The throne room, which does not actually have a throne, is at the rear of the castle on the fourth floor. The castle reveals its splendor to visitors in the king's bedroom, with magnificent frescos, paintings, carvings, mosaics and ornaments. Many artists worked there: painters, sculptors, carvers, joiners, glass painters, art smiths, locksmiths, decorators, seamstresses and embroiderers. The bed in the King's bedroom features ornate carving that woodcarvers worked on for more than two years. The castle has a very large, cobblestone courtyard.

[15] Petra, Jordan
Petra, Jordan

On the edge of the Arabian Desert, nestled away in the mountains south of the Dead Sea, Petra was the glittering capital of the Nabataean empire of King Aretas IV (9 B.C. to 40 A.D.). Masters of water technology, the Nabataeans built their city with great tunnel constructions and water chambers that carried drinking water into the city and reduced the chance of flash floods. A theater held an audience of 4,000. Today, the Palace Tombs, with the 42-meter-high (137-ft-high) Hellenistic temple facade on the El- Deir Monastery, are impressive examples of Middle Eastern culture. Petra, which means "stone" in Greek, has survived through the ages because almost all of its "buildings" were carved out of solid rock walls. It is perhaps the most spectacular ancient city remaining in the modern world.

To the north, the remains of a 9,000-year-old city making Petra, like Jericho, one of the earliest known Middle Eastern settlements. First a fortress city, Petra became a rich commercial center. Control of key trade routes brought Petra its fortune and produced monumental temples, tombs and administrative buildings. After the Romans annexed Petra in 106, its position as a commercial hub slowly weakened. The city may have housed 20,000-30,000 people during its heyday under the Romans, but, by the end of the Byzantine Empire (ca. 700), the hydraulic system and once-gracious buildings were almost ruins. For the following centuries, Petra disappeared from most maps and became a legend. In 1812, Swiss traveler Johann Burckhardt snuck into the city disguised as a Muslim and shared his story with the world.

Much of Petra's fascination comes from its setting on the edge of Wadi Araba, part of the Great Rift Valley. The rugged sandstone hills form a deep canyon easily protected from all directions. The best access to Petra is through the Siq, a winding, often narrow valley which suddenly opens upon the most impressive of Petra's monuments, al-Khazneh ("the Treasury"). Carved out of the mountain and over 40 meters (131 ft) high, it was a royal tomb -- but legend says that pirates hid their treasure there, hence "the Treasury". The main god of ancient Petra was Dushara, who was worshipped in the form of a black, rectangular stone, along with Allat, the chief goddess of the ancient Arabs. Worshipping sites can be seen at various points in Petra, and there are many open places of sacrifice marked by altars.

[16] Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
Pyramids of Giza, Egypt

The Pyramids of Egypt were the phenomenal achievement of Egyptian construction and engineering. Built between 2600 and 2500 B.C., the three pyramids at Giza are made of more than 5 million limestone blocks which were painstakingly transported via timber sleds and by being rolled over the top of logs. As cranes did not yet exist, each block had to be dragged on ramps up to its designated place.

According to Herodot, the largest of the three pyramids, known as the Great Pyramid, (about 146 meters or 438 feet high) took 20 years to complete and served as the tomb for the Egyptian Pharoah Khufu (also known as the Pyramid of Cheops). The other two pyramids are the slightly smaller Pyramid of Khafre (or Chephren) and the more modest-sized Pyramid of Menkaure (or Mykerinus). There are also a number of smaller satellite buildings in the ancient Egyptian necropolis ("city of the dead"), called "queen's" pyramids, causeways and valley pyramids, as well as the Great Sphinx. Of the three pyramids, only the Pyramid of Khafre still shows off part of its original polished limestone coating, up near the top of the structure. It is interesting to see that this middle pyramid appears to be bigger than the Great Pyramid because it is on a slight hill, and because the angle of inclination is steeper. The pyramids represented the link between heaven and earth and were directed at Horus, who was the ancient Egyptian god of the world.

[17] The Statue of Liberty, New York City, USA
The Statue of Liberty, New York City, USA

"Liberty Enlightening the World," known more commonly as the Statue of Liberty, was a gift of the French government to the United States in the late 19th century to honor the ideals of freedom and independence. She became a symbol of hope and freedom for the millions of immigrants to the U.S. seeking a new life of peace and prosperity. It is the New7Wonders candidate that most closely resembles one of the Ancient 7 Wonders -- the Colossus of Rhodes.

The copper statue on Liberty Island in New York Harbor, dedicated on October 28, 1886, commemorated the centennial of the United States and the friendship between the two nations established during the American Revolution. The sculptor was Frederic Auguste Bartholdi and Gustave Eiffel, the designer of the Eiffel Tower, engineered the internal supporting structure. The statue was a joint effort between America and France -- the American people built the pedestal and the French were responsible for the statue and its assembly. It was completed in France in July 1884 and arrived, as 350 individual pieces packed in 214 crates, in New York in June 1885 on board the French frigate "Isere." The Statue was re-assembled on her new pedestal in four months' time. On October 28, 1886, the dedication of the Statue of Liberty took place in front of thousands of spectators. She was a centennial gift ten years late.

"Lady Liberty" holds a torch in her right hand and a tablet in her left, marked July 4, 1776, the date of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. One of her feet stands on chains, symbolizing the acquired freedom, and the seven spikes in her crown represent the seven seas and seven continents. The height, to the top of the torch, is 93 meters (305 ft); including the foundation and pedestal. The statue, built of thin copper plates hammered into wooden forms through a process known as repoussé, with the plates then mounted onto a steel skeleton, weighs 204 tons and the pedestal 24,500 tons.

The poem "The New Colossus," by Emma Lazarus, was engraved in 1903 on a bronze plaque in the museum in the base of the statue. Its famous final lines read:

"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

[18] Stonehenge, Amesbury, UK
Stonehenge, Amesbury, UK

Stonehenge is a Neolithic and Bronze Age megalithic monument in southern England made up of shaped soil around a circular setting of huge standing stones. It is not clear who built the monument, nor why. Today, about half of the original monument remains -- some of the stones have fallen down, others carried away for building or repairing farm tracks and, over centuries, visitors have chipped souvenirs off, too.

Stonehenge was built in three phases, with the stones being rearranged many times during the last stage. It is estimated that millions of hours of work were needed to build it -- around 243 years of work for one person! The first monument, built around 3100 B.C., was a circular bank and ditch enclosure around 110 meters (360 feet) in diameter. The ditch was dug by hand using animal bones as shovels and deer antlers as pick-axes with 56 holes were around the edge of the bank to hold wooden posts. Around 2500 B.C.,

Stonehenge was rebuilt -- this time using bluestones, a kind of sandstone, from the Preseli Mountains in Wales 380 km (245 miles) away. They were probably dragged to the sea, floated on huge rafts to and up the River Avon and dragged to the site. Each stone weighs about five tons.

The final stage began about 2300 B.C. The bluestones were dug up and rearranged, and even bigger sandstones, or sarsen stones, were integrated -- hammered to size with balls of stone known as "mauls". Each pair of stones was heaved upright and linked on the top by a complicated technique using lintels. The images of a dagger and 14 axe-heads are carved on one of the sarsens and other axe-head carvings have been seen on the outer faces of stones, probably dating from the Bronze Age, before 2100 B.C. Monument building at Stonehenge seems to have stopped around 1600 B.C.

There is much mythology surrounding Stonehenge. Since it is aligned north-east/south-west, there is a theory that astronomical rituals involved the solstice and equinox points -- for example, on a midsummer's morning, the sun's first rays went directly into the center of the monument between the horseshoe arrangement. Other scholars argue that Stonehenge was the destination of a long, ritualized funerary procession, while old legends said that Merlin the wizard had a giant build Stonehenge for him, or that he had magically transported it from Ireland, while others said the Devil built it.

Stonehenge probably comes from Old English: from "staan" meaning "stone", and either "hencg" meaning "hinge" or "hanging," or "hen(c)en" meaning "gallows."

[19] Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia
Sydney Opera House, Sydney Australia

Sydney Opera House is located in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. It was formally opened by Queen Elizabeth II on October 20, 1973, and the televised opening included fireworks and a performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9. This completely abstract landmark building, which does not reflect what we generally imagine an opera house to look like, architecturally put the continent of Australia on the world map. The ability to create abstract art only developed after the invention of photography in the late 19th century, when painters first began to experiment with an abstract, cubist interpretation of reality.

Sydney Opera House is one of the most distinctive and famous 20th-century buildings, and one of the most famous performing arts venues in the world. Situated on Bennelong Point in Sydney Harbour, with parkland to its south and close to the huge Sydney Harbour Bridge, the building and its surroundings have come to be an icon of Australia. To some, the sail-shaped, sectioned shells seem to show the many sailboats usually seen in the harbor. Thousands of tourists, mostly with little or no interest in opera itself, visit the impressive building every week just to experience it.

The opera house covers 1.8 hectares of land. It is 183 meters (600 ft) tall and about 120 meters (388 ft) wide at its widest point. It is supported on 580 concrete piers sunk up to 25 meters below sea level. Its power supply would meet the needs of a town of 25,000 people, and the power is distributed by 645 kilometers of electrical cable. The roofs are made of 1,056,000 self-cleaning, glazed white granite tiles from Sweden.

Sydney Opera House has some 1,000 rooms, including five theaters, five rehearsal studios, two main halls, four restaurants, six bars and several souvenir shops. Its interior is made of pink granite and wood. The five performance rooms in the opera house are: the Concert Hall, with 2,679 seats and the Sydney Opera House Grand Organ, the largest mechanical tracker action organ in the world, with over 10,000 pipes; the Opera Theatre, with 1,547 seats; the Drama Theatre, with 544 seats; the Playhouse, which has 398 seats; and the Studio Theatre, with 364 seats.

In addition to many touring theater, ballet and musical productions, Sydney Opera House is the home of Opera Australia, the Sydney Theatre Company and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

[20] The Taj Mahal, Agra, India
The Taj mahal, Agra, India

The Taj Mahal is regarded as the most perfect jewel of Muslim art in India. This huge mausoleum mosque was built by Shah Jahan, the fifth Muslim Mogul emperor, in memory of his beloved wife, a Persian princess born as Arjuman Bano Begum but known as Mumtaz Mahal. She was a significant influence in his life and in his policies, but died at age thirty-nine while giving birth to their fourteenth child in 1631. The ruler went into deep mourning. Her last wish to her husband was "to build a tomb in her memory such as the world had never seen before." So Shah Jahan set about building this fairytale-like marvel of white marble, surrounded by formally laid-out walled gardens, The emperor, later buried in the Taj, was overthrown by his son and imprisoned in the nearby Great Red Fort for eight years, from which, it is said, he could see the Taj Mahal out of his small cell window.

The origin of the name "Taj Mahal" is not clear. Court histories from Shah Jehan's reign only call it the rauza (tomb) of Mumtaz Mahal. It is generally believed that "Taj Mahal" (usually translated as either "Crown Palace" or "Crown of the Palace") is an abbreviated version of her name.

The Taj Mahal was built between 1631 and 1648, with some 20,000 workmen employed on it daily, who lived in a specially built small town next to it called "Mumtazabad" for the dead empress, now known as Taj Ganj. The material was brought in from all over India and central Asia with the help of 1,000 elephants. The central dome is 57 meters, or 187 feet, high in the middle. A total of 28 beautiful stones were used: red sandstone was brought from Fatehpur Sikri, jasper from Punjab, jade and crystal from China, turquoise from Tibet, lapis lazuli and sapphire from Sri Lanka, coal and cornelian from Arabia and diamonds from Panna. The luminescent white marble was brought from far-off Makrana, Rajasthan. Nearly every surface of the entire complex has been decorated, and the exterior decorations are among the finest to be found in Mughal architecture of any period.

Unlike other Mughal tombs, the Taj Mahal gardens are all in front of the tomb and do not play any part in the background. Instead, the background is the sky. Since the tomb is set against a plain across a river, this background of eternal sky works its magic of colors that, through their reflection, subtly reflect on the white marble surface of the Taj Mahal, always changing its color and complexion. The composition of the forms and lines of the Taj Mahal is perfectly symmetrical. The colossal height of the tomb, along with its pyramidal appearance, fill it with grace and make it seem to float or soar.

[21] Timbuktu, Mali
Timbuktu, Mali

Founded in the 12th century, Timbuktu was one of the wealthiest places in the world, at the crossroads of four important caravan paths supplying the far-spread and powerful Arab world. One of world's the first universities was founded here -- the celebrated Islamic Sankore, where 20,000 students studied. Today, it remains a powerful myth and thus resembles an Ancient Wonder: the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

The name Timbuktu, "Buktu's well," may come from a Tuareg woman named Buktu who dug a well where the city grew. Tales of Timbuktu's wealth prompted European exploration of the west coast of Africa. "Timbuktu" is often used to describe a place very far away or that may not even exist. In reality, it is a city in Mali on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, about eight miles from the Niger River.

By the 14th century, Timbuktu had became a major trade center and a hub of Islamic scholarship and culture. When the emperor Mansa Musa went on a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324, he changed European and Arab perceptions about western Africa. Stopping in Cairo, Musa gave away so much gold that the local money market crashed. He built the Great Mosque and hired the Granada architect Abu Ishaq as Sahil to design the Sankore mosque, around which Sankore University grew.

By the 1450s, some 100,000 people lived here -- a quarter of whom were scholars, many having studied in Egypt or Mecca. The city reached its peak between 1403 and 1591, when North African merchants traded salt, cloth and horses for gold and slaves. Leo Africanus, a Muslim from Granada, wrote about his visit in 1526, fueling European interest in the "city of gold." In 1591, Morocco captured Timbuktu and soon arrested its scholars for being disloyal, killing some and exiling others. Even more devastating were the attacks by Bambara, Fulani, and Tuareg warriors, which the occupying Moroccan troops could not stop.

In 1788, a group of Englishmen formed the Association for Promoting the Discovery of the Interior Parts of Africa, primarily to discover the source of the Niger and reach Timbuktu. Most famous of the failures was Mungo Park, who was robbed, tortured, and then drowned. In 1824, the Geographical Society of Paris offered a reward to the first European to visit Timbuktu and return alive. The Scottish explorer Gordon Laing succeeded in 1826, but was murdered two days after leaving the city. Timbuktu was captured in 1894 by the French, who partly restored the city. In 1960, it became part of the independent Republic of Mali.