Tag Archives: New Wonders of the World

New Wonder of the World Runner-Up: Neuschwanstein


The fairy tale castle of Neuschwanstein was a Runner-Up for New Wonders of the World. It is a Romanesque Revival palace built in the 19th century by King Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886) near the village of Hohenschwangau in Bavaria, Germany.

King Ludwig II

When Ludwig came to power in 1864, the construction of a new palace in place of the two ruined castles became the first in his series of palace building projects. Ludwig himself called the new palace New Hohenschwangau Castle– after the original castle located there.  The king saw both buildings as representatives of a romantic interpretation of the Middle Ages as well as the musical mythology of his friend Richard Wagner.

The Castle in Winter

The castle was intended to give Ludwig a home away from the capital of Munich where he could live in his concept of a castle of medieval knight of the Middle Ages. The cost of Neuschwanstein and his other palaces, however, put him deeply in debt.  When the government decided to depose him, he and the man sent to hold him were discovered dead in a nearby lake.   He lived in his castle only 172 days.

The Grotto

After Ludwig’s death it was renamed Neuschwanstein and opened to the paying public. The palace survived two World Wars and  served until 1944 as a depot for Nazi plunder from France. At the end of the war the German Reichbank deposited gold in the palace, which in the last days of the war was taken to an unknown place. Today, it is one of the most popular castles in Europe with more than a million visitors each year.  It was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Disneyland Castle for Sleeping Beauty.

The Throne Room

Tomorrow, Red Square   Rita Bay


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New Wonder of the World Runner-Up: The Moai

The Moai of Easter Island in Polynesia are New Wonders of the World Runners-Up and a World Heritage Site.  These monolithic human figures of carved rock (tuff and basalt) were carved in the 13th – 16th centuries. The tallest is 10 meters high and weighs 82 tons.  The Moai are faces of ancestors. The proud-faced statues still gazed inland when Europeans first visited the island, but most were cast down during later conflicts between clans. 

The quarries in Rano Raraku appear to have been abandoned abruptly, with a litter of stone tools, many completed moai outside the quarry awaiting transport and almost as many incomplete statues still in situ as were installed on ahu. 

Tomorrow, Neuschwanstein  Rita Bay

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New Wonder of the World Runner-Up: Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia, an Orthodox basilica turned mosque turned museum located in Istanbul, Turkey is a Runner-Up for New Wonders of the World.  The current building is the third church built on the site.  The first church was dedicated in 360.  It and the second church were destroyed by fire.  In 532, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I began construction of a new church.  He commissioned  Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles as architects to build the “Church of the Holy Wisdom.” 

The Original Church

The Hagia Sofia which for a thousand years the largest cathedral in the world is famous for its dome and the magnificent mosaics which were completed after the church was dedicated.  The dome was damaged by several earthquakes and fires which required extensive restorations.  Materials were brought from all over the Byzantine empire. 

Interior Mosaic

Prior to 1453, the Hagia Sophia served as the Greek Patriarchal cathedral of Constantinople (the old name for Istanbul) or a Roman Catholic Cathedral (from 1204 – 1261). When Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the building was desecrated and Sultan Mehmed II ordered the church converted into a mosque. The mosaics were plastered over and the bells, altar, iconostasis, and sacrificial vessels were removed and with replaced with Islamic items. Over the centuries, the Sultans maintained the structure and constructed to the exterior and interior architecture and decoration.  In 1935, it was converted to a museum by the founder and first president of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Extensive renovations continue as the building is assaulted by water from above (roof leaks) and below (ground water incursion) and general age.

Tomorrow, Kiyomizu-dera   Rita Bay

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New Wonder of the World Runner-up: Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat, a temple complex at Angkor in Cambodia, is a Runner-up for the New Wonders of the World.  It served first as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu, then as a  Buddist temple. Built in the Khmer style, it is the world’s largest religious building.

It is located three miles north of Siem Reap and near the old capital of Baphuon. Angkor Wat which means “City Temple” was built for the King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and capital city. In 1177, Angkor was sacked by the Chams, the traditional enemies of the Khmer.  The new king, Jayavarman VII, built a new capital and state temple to the north.  Henri Mouhot introduced the temple to the West in the mid 19th-century. Restorations were begun in the 1980s and the site has become a popular tourist attraction.

Tomorrow, The Eiffel Tower   Rita Bay

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New Wonder of the World Runner-Up: The Alhambra

The Alhambra which is located in Granada, Spain is one of the Runners-Up for the New Wonders of the World and a World Heritage Site.  The Alhambra (Arabic for “red fortress”) contains a castle, a palace and a residential annex for subordinates, resembling medieval Christian strongholds. In 711 AD Arabic Muslims (known as Moors) crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and entered Spain, conquering it almost entirely. In 718, the Moors crossed the Pyrenees Mountains, reaching central France but were eventually defeated by the Franks at Tours in 732.

The Moors who ruled Spain for almost 800 years were isolated from the rest of Islam which profoundly influenced their building styles.  The Alhambra was completed towards the end of Muslim rule of Spain during the reigns of Yusuf I and Muhammed V, Sultans of Granada in the 14th century.  Artists and intellectuals took refuge in and helped build Granada as the Reconquista (Reconquering of Spain) until it was conquered by Spanish Christians under King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile (as in Columbus discovering America) who took control of Granada in 1492.

After the conquest of the city, the Spanish began to modify theAlhambra. The open work was filled up with whitewash, the painting and gilding effaced, and the furniture soiled, torn, or removed. Later, Charles V (1516–1556) rebuilt portions in the Renaissance style of the period and destroyed the greater part of one palace to make room for a Renaissance-style structure which was never completed. Philip V (1700–1746) introduced the Italianized the rooms and completed his palace in the middle of what had been the Moorish building.

Over the centuries the Moorish art was further damaged, and the towers were destroyed by the French under Count Sebastiani. In 1821, an earthquake caused further damage. Restoration work was undertaken in 1828 by the architect José Contreras.  

Tomorrow, Angkor Wat   Rita Bay

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The New Wonders of the World: Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

 The Taj Mahal located south of Agra, India on the Jamuna River is one of the New Wonders of the World and a World Heritage Site.  It was built of white marble by Shah Jahan (1592-1666), the Emperor of the Mughal (Muslim) Empire in India (1628-1658) to honor his third wife, whom he married when she was 19 years old .  Jahan’s love for Mumtaz Mahal, to the exclusion of his other two wives, was legendary.   He was devastated when Mumtaz died in childbirth with their 14th child when she was only 31 years old.

Construction of the Taj Mahal which was Mumtaz’s tomb and a monument to his love for her began in 1632.  The Taj Mahal, built by architect Ustad ‘Iza, employed Persian and Mughal architectural elements using the extreme wealth of Jahan’s empire to create a wonder of the world. The mausoleum was completed in 1648 and the surrounding buildings and garden were finished five years later. 

The central dome is fifty-eight feet in diameter and rises to 213 feet. It is flanked by four subsidiary domed chambers. The four graceful, slender minarets are 162.5 feet each. The interior walls are about 82 feet high and the interior chamber of the Taj Mahal consists of a lapidary of precious and semiprecious gemstones.

Taj Mahal Mosque

Abstract forms, in keeping with the Muslim prohibition for using human/animal forms, are incorporated throughout the structure. Passages from the Qur’an are used as decorative elements. The calligraphy was made of jasper or black marble, inlaid in white marble panels. Mortared areas of the marble buildings were stained or painted in a contrasting color, creating geometric patterns of considerable complexity. Floors and walkways use contrasting tiles or blocks in patterns.  Since Muslim tradition forbids elaborate decoration of graves, the bodies of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan were placed in a plain crypt beneath the inner chamber with their faces turned right towards Mecca.

Jahan was deposed and imprisoned by one of his sons (Aurangzeb) soon after the building project was finished. When the Mughal Empire declined, the tending of the garden also declined.  When the British took over the management of the Taj Mahal during the time of the British Empire, they changed the landscaping to resemble that of traditional British lawns. In the late 19th century, British Viceroy Lord Curzon restored the monument that had been damaged by age and defaced by the British during the Indian rebellion of 1857. Today, the Taj Mahal has 2-4 million visitors each year.

Tomorrow,  The Runners-Up   Rita Bay

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The New Wonders of the World: Petra

The Treasury at Petra

Petra (or Rekem as its residents called it) is one of the New Wonders of the World and a World Heritage site.  The city is located in Jordan atop Mount Ho and is famous for its rock cut architecture and water conduits system. The city which was established in the 6th century BC is a symbol of Jordan.

Our chronicler Pliny the Elder (who BTW died during the eruption of Pompeii because of his curiosity) identified Petra which was a natural fortress as the capital of the Nabataeans and the center of their caravan trade. After the 2nd century BC, Greek, Egyptian and Syrian cultures influenced the culture of Petra.  In 106 AD, Petra was absorbed into the Roman Empire.  The city prospered under Roman rule for a century until abruptly coinage ceased and tomb building ended owing apparently to some sudden catastrophe.  An earthquake in 363 AD destroyed many buildings and crippled the water management system. 

A Tomb at Petra

Christianity came to Petrain in the 4th century AD.  At least one of the tombs was used as a church. After the Islamic conquest of 629–632, Petra became Islamic.  Later, Petra was occupied by Crusaders who held the town until 1189. The town fell into obscurity after it again became part of the Islamic Empire. In 1812 the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt introducedPetrato the Western world.

Tomorrow,  The Taj Mahal  RitaBay

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