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Non-Selection Of Angkor Wat Undermines Credibility Of New Seven Wonders Of The World

Oct 7, 2007
I am saddened to announce that Angkor Wat did not make the new "Seven Wonders of the World" as determined by Bernard Weber's online campaign.

Just like previous attempts to name the world's seven wonders, this one is seriously flawed and arbitrary. The new method is based on electronic votes casted through the internet and cell phone text messages.

The New Seven Wonders were announced on July 7, 2007 in Lisbon, Portugal at a celebrity-studded ceremony televised in more than 170 countries to an estimated 1.6 billion viewers. The winners are:

* The Great Wall of China
* India's Taj Mahal
* Jordan's ancient city of Petra
* Incan ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru
* Brazil's Statue of Christ the Redeemer
* Mexico's Chichen Itza pyramid
* Italy's Colosseum

Of these, only the Great Wall, which stretches over 4,000 miles and is the only man-made structure visible from space, clearly belongs on the list.

Since many of the 100 million votes came from Latin America, it's hardly surprising that Machu Picchu of Peru, Brazil's Statue of Christ the Redeemer, and Mexico's Chichen Itza made the list.

However, it is hard to conceive how any of these sites could top Angkor Wat in a fair and objective selection process. For instance, Brazil's 100-foot Christ the Redeemer statue is only 75 years old and took just 10 years to erect. By contrast, Angkor Wat, the largest religious temple in the world, is more than 800 years old and covers more than 200 acres of ground.

The voting allowed one free vote to registered members and charged a fee for additional votes. In Brazil, there was a campaign Vote no Cristo (Vote for the Christ) which had the support of the country's telecommunications firms to allow Brazilians to cast text message votes at no charge. The "Vote for Christ" slogan, which can be seen on bumper stickers throughout North America, seems to call on people to vote on their religious faith rather than the statue's architectural merits. If you're Christian, I think you'd be hard pressed not to vote for Christ.

Previous attempts to name the Seven Wonders had favored Greco-Roman structures. The Great Pyramids of Giza was withdrawn from the voting but was honored anyway as "Honorary Candidate" to placate the Egyptians' indignation that their site should be included automatically rather than having to be voted on. As if the vote's credibility isn't already undermined by its own dubious methodology and outcome, there are actually eight wonders on the list of seven, counting the Great Pyramids' special honorary status.

Perhaps we Cambodians should demand a similar special honor for Angkor Wat as well because it clearly dwarfs many of the current selections in size, splendor and architectural sophistication. After all, if there are already eight "wonders" on the list of seven, what's wrong with having nine, ten, or even twenty?

I've had some misgivings about the voting from the beginning because Cambodia has a population of just 14 million, compared to 522 million in Latin America and over a billion each in China and India. Moreover, internet access is quite limited and expensive in Cambodia. For instance, unlimited broadband access costs almost $900 a month, not a trivial amount by any standards, but an astronomical figure in a country whose per capita income is less than $400 a year. Internet usage is largely restricted to foreigners and English-speaking Cambodians at internet cafes charging users hourly fees.

Despite Cambodia's small population and highly limited internet access, I figured that Angkor Wat would have no problem making the Seven Wonders list given the sheer number of Asian tourists who visit Angkor each year. As it turned out, while the world's two most populous countries, China and India, each had their sites, the Great Wall and Taj Mahal, respectively, selected, Asians tended not to vote as a unified bloc.

While the selection of the "New Seven Wonders" is trivial and worthless from a scientific standpoint, the huge sensationalism that surrounds this preposterous undertaking could lead to serious and far-reaching consequences. Cambodia, an impoverished country still reeling from decades of civil war and genocide, relies heavily on tourism revenues for its recovery. Apart from being an insult to Cambodians everywhere, the marginalization of Angkor could eat away at the desperately needed dollars generated by cultural tourism to the country.

Although the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the world body responsible for overseeing the restoration of World Heritage sites, has vehemently dismissed the Swiss-born Bernard Weber project and said it would reflect "only the opinions of those with access to the internet," the massive fanfare created by the campaign could lead to public confusion about who the true Seven Wonders of the World are, leading to deleterious reallocation of restoration funds from truly deserving sites to less deserving ones.

If there is such a thing as the Eighth Wonder of the World, it would not be Angkor Wat, but the mere fact that this magnificent monument was not selected among the Seven Wonders. Anyone who has visited Angkor Wat can attest to its grandeur, sublime beauty and architectural splendor. In fact, Angkor Wat is just one of the many temples in an archaeological area stretching over some 400 sq. km. The complex, collectively known as "Angkor" (which means "city" in Khmer), is home to Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple, many other magnificent remains of the once-mighty Khmer Empire which ruled from the 9th to the 15th century. Although Angkor Wat is the largest and most beautiful of them all, Angkor Thom and Bayon could have easily been nominated for the Seven Wonders as well.

But don't take my word for it-- go visit Angkor and judge for yourself whether or not Angkor Wat belongs to the World's Seven Wonders list.
About the Author
Oudam Em is a Cambodian-American blogger committed to using the internet to promote Khmer pride, unity and prosperity.
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