The classical list of the Seven Wonders of the World, first conceived between the first and second centuries B.C., is comprised of sites that unfortunately no longer exist—save for the Pyramids of Giza. But, in 2007, a global contest was launched to create a new list of marvels and over 100 million votes were cast. Narrowed down from a list of 200 sites, the new Seven Wonders of the World are located on four continents and are mostly the work of ancient or medieval empires. Unsurprisingly, all seven that made the cut are UNESCO World Heritage sites and are some of the most recognizable places on the planet. Here are the seven historic and photo-ready wonders—as well as the O.A.T. or Grand Circle trips that will take you there.
7. Great Wall of China, China
Any conversation about the history of China would be incomplete without the Great Wall. At 13,171 miles long, it’s the largest man-made structure ever built. With construction spanning the reign of many emperors throughout China’s history, the Great Wall of China tells many different stories. The Great Wall we know today was largely built during the Ming Dynasty Period (AD 1368-1664) in an effort to keep out Mongolian invasions after the Mongols were expelled from China by the Ming Dynasty. The first emperor to construct any part of the wall was Emperor Shi Huangti, first emperor of the Qin Dynasty, starting in 220 BC. Subsequent emperors constructed other northern walls or continued previous efforts.
During the time of the Republic of China (1912-1949), the government found the wall useful for controlling emigration and immigration. Preservation efforts began in 1980, when the communist Chinese government saw potential as a tourist attraction. In 1987, the Great Wall of China was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, yet only about 600 miles of the wall are considered stable today.
Explore the Great Wall of China during…
Imperial China, Tibet & the Yangtze River—22-day O.A.T. Small Group Adventure
China & the Yangtze River—21-day Grand Circle Tour
6. Christ the Redeemer, Brazil
Looking out over Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the Christ the Redeemer statue is one of the world’s most recognizable symbols of Christianity. With widespread arms, the statue is often viewed as a symbol of welcoming and peace, bridging the gap between traditional depictions of Christ and more modern ones. The near 100-foot sculpture stands tall atop Corcovado Mountain in the Tijuca Forest National Park and is visited by more than 1,800,000 people each year.
Created by French sculptor Paul Landoswki, the monument was designed in individual clay pieces and then assembled and reinforced with concrete by engineers Heitor da Silva Costa and Albert Caquot. In order to best accentuate the contours of the figure, Landoswksi decided to cover the statue in six million soapstone tiles. It is believed that the workers who crafted the tiles often wrote notes on the back, meaning that the landmark is covered in hidden messages. Originally, the statue was conceived as Christ holding a large cross in one hand and a globe in the other, but after surveying the site from various points around the city, Costa decided on the iconic visual of Christ with open arms. It’s up to individual interpretation on whether it represents Christ on the cross or opening his arms for an embrace.
Explore Christ the Redeemer during…
Exploring South America: Rio, Buenos Aires, Patagonia & Chilean Fjord Cruise—19-day O.A.T. Small Ship Adventure
Discover South America: Chile, Argentina & Uruguay—16-day Grand Circle Tour
5. Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu was built by the Incas around 1450, and then abandoned in the wake of the Spanish Conquest in the 16th century. For hundreds of years, its existence was known only to local Quechua peasants until a 1911 expedition by the American archaeologist Hiram Bingham brought it to the attention of the world at large. Although it’s Peru’s most well-known attraction, it is still shrouded in an aura of mystery. Much of the site is claimed by the jungle, and archaeologists haven’t decided conclusively what the “lost city” was used for in its heyday. The two most common theories posit that it was either an estate for the Inca emperor or a sacred religious site for the nobility.
The site is located nearly 8,000 feet above sea level, set between two imposing Andean peaks. The ancient Inca who built it were master architects, fitting together granite stone without mortar to create structures which amazingly still stand today (with the help of vigilant conservationists). Visitors can walk among the ruins, discovering key sites like the Temple of the Sun, and the ritual stone of Intihuatana, and hike to the Sun Gate, for a panoramic view of the site as a whole.
Explore Machu Picchu during…
Machu Picchu & the Galápagos—17-day O.A.T. Small Ship Adventure
Real Affordable Peru—11-day O.A.T. Small Group Adventure
4. Chichén Itzá, Mexico
The ancient Mayan city of Chichén Itzá is one of the largest and best preserved archeological sites in the world. Once home to tens of thousands of Mayan people, the complex set of ruins was once the most populous city in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. The site is filled with sacred pyramids, temples, and stone structures, serving as the urban center for Central America’s Mayan empire from A.D. 750 to 1200. It was used as a hub for trade among the empire, but also for religious and ceremonial purposes—including human sacrifices.
The city of Chichén Itzá is often confused with its most recognizable pyramid known as the Temple of Kukulka or El Castillo. With 365 total steps, the temple represents the 365-day calendar that was devised by the Mayans. During the spring and fall equinoxes, a shadow in the shape of a serpent is cast onto the pyramid. As the sun sets, the serpent shadow descends the steps and eventually meets a stone serpent head at the base of the pyramid. Experiencing the equinoxes at the temple has become a widely popular event at the site, adding to the mysterious and perplexing history of the ancient city.
Explore Chichén Itzá during…
The Yucatan Peninsula: Campeche & Merida post-trip extension to Cultural Capitals & Ancient Heritage: Mexico City to Oaxaca—12-day Grand Circle Travel Tour
3. The Roman Colosseum, Italy
Also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, the Roman Colosseum is a world-renowned landmark once home to brutal gladiatorial combats, wild animal fights, and naval ship battles for more than 50,000 spectators. Commissioned by Emperor Vespasian in AD 72, the structure was built with the man power of tens of thousands of slaves and actively used for four centuries during the Roman empire. The first games ever to be held in the structure ran for 100 days straight, hosted by Emperor Titus.
Unlike many other amphitheaters, the Colosseum is a free standing structure made of stone, concrete, and marble. It is the largest amphitheater in the world measuring 620 feet wide and 12 stories tall. Numerous rooms and underground passageways housed the animals and gladiators as they waited to meet their fate above. It also featured 36 trap doors used for special effects. Although about two thirds of the original site has been destroyed over time due to weather, vandalism, and neglect, it remains a fascinating symbol of Roman rule. Today, the Colosseum hosts more than seven million visitors annually.
Explore the Roman Colosseum during…
Italy’s Western Coast & Islands: A Voyage from Rome to Valletta—17-day O.A.T. Small Ship Adventure
Italian Coastal Odyssey: Hidden Italy, Sicily & Malta—28-day O.A.T. Small Ship Adventure
Rome, Italy post-trip extension to Undiscovered Adriatic: Eastern Italy, Venice, Puglia & Malta—17-day O.A.T. Small Ship Adventure
2. Taj Mahal, India
One of the world’s most famous structures—and arguably its most romantic—the Taj Mahal was built as a testament to Shah Jahan’s enduring love for his queen Mumtaz Mahal after her death. Made of the finest marble and inlaid with gemstones, it would be a masterwork alone simply based on the materials. But it is also famous for its symmetrical design, the depth of perspective created by the long pool approaching it, the way it is framed by its quartet of minarets. Mughal territory sprawled across 2.5 million miles at its peak, and the Shah brought in the best masons, stone-cutters, calligraphers, painters, sculptors, and dome-builders from across the entire empire and into Persia, so that his monument would be unparalleled in its perfection. Finished in 1653, the “Monument of Love” has become one of the greatest architectural treasures on Earth and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.
Explore the Taj Mahal during…
Heart of India—17-day O.A.T. Small Group Adventure
1. Petra, Jordan
Petra’s location—tucked behind a remote desert canyon—kept it hidden from the Western world for some 500 years. To enter Petra, one must journey through a narrow, mile-long cleft in the Earth called the Siq. Looming through the fissure at its end is a magnificent temple carved into the face of a mountain in the first century B.C.—just one of more than 800 structures carved into the sandstone cliffs by the skilled hands of ancient Nabateans. No one really knows what lured the Nabateans to this remote desert locale in the sixth-century B.C., but several hundred years later Petra became a flourishing stopover for trade caravans bearing silks and spices. A series of devastating earthquakes in AD 551 led to the city’s abandonment. Petra eventually faded from memory, until it was “rediscovered” in 1812 by a Swiss adventurer who disguised himself as an Arab pilgrim and persuaded local herdsmen to reveal its location once again to a grateful world.
Explore Petra during…
Suez Canal Crossing: Israel, Egypt, Jordan & the Red Sea—18-day O.A.T. Small Ship Adventure
Jordan, Amman & Petra pre-trip extension to Egypt & the Eternal Nile by Private, Classic River-Yacht—16-day O.A.T. Small Group Adventure