New seven wonders inspire derision

Vote early, vote often: that is the message from the New7-Wonders Foundation, which chose this weekend to reveal the 21st-century world's choice of the seven finest works of man.

But the polling arrangements are so flawed they make even Eurovision Song Contest judges look objective.

Of the original Seven Wonders of the ancient world, only one remains - the Pyramids at Giza, near Cairo.

So to make up for the disappearance of the one-time wonders, self-styled Swiss "adventurer" named Bernard Weber founded and funded a project to fill the void.

Weber launched the project, which appropriately enough has cost about £7 million ($18 million), in 2000. He "long-listed" 77 sites, then recruited an impressive panel - led by a former Unesco Director-General - to short-list 21 structures that are "human-built and in an acceptable state of preservation".

The finalists range from Stonehenge to the Sydney Opera House, and can best be summed up as an impressive, if motley, selection of tourist attractions. "Kremlin/St Basil's", for example, looks like a thinly disguised attempt to include a plausible "wonder" in the world's largest country in the form of a walled palace complex and a nearby place of worship. The Great Wall of China is another dubious contender, since several barriers (now in various states of disrepair) were built in various locations along the shifting frontier with Mongolia.

To find the ludicrous folly of Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria slotted alphabetically between the majestic sites of Machu Picchu in Peru and Petra in Jordan is, frankly, puzzling. And the Sydney Opera House could be seen as an over-ambitious white elephant were it not for its position on one of the world's greatest harbours.

The Egyptian Government, custodian of the only surviving ancient wonder, refused to cooperate with the New7Wonders project - some say because of fears of debasing a wondrous currency. That did not stop Herr Weber burying a certificate in the sand near the Pyramids of Giza.

Next, the founder organised "the first-ever global vote" to pick the final seven. Any world citizen could vote up to midnight last night by dialling a phone number in Britain or, strangely, Liechtenstein; by sending a text message; or by voting online.

Unlike most polls, however, there was no limit to the number of times one could express a preference. One "free" round of voting was allowed from a single email address, with the opportunity to buy an extra vote for $2 - but multiple web-based email addresses are available free from companies such as google, Hotmail and yahoo.

Predictably, tourism promotion bodies and even entire governments soon began lobbying campaigns.

The two most populous nations in Latin America, Mexico and Brazil, have been energetically urging their citizens to cast multiple votes for the Mayan city of Chichen Itza and the ruined Inca palace complex of Machu Picchu, respectively. But the Government of China has apparently found it difficult to stir patriotic feelings and get the vote out.

Modest population - or lack of local interest - means that some of the most deserving candidates are likely to find themselves eliminated in this heritage version of Fame Academy: they include the Alhambra in Granada, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and the Moai statues of Easter Island.

The top seven - which will not be graded - are to be announced today at a ceremony in Lisbon, in the Stadium of Light (which is not one of the shortlisted structures).

Bookmaker William Hill was last night quoting odds of 1/2 for the Acropolis being included in the septet, and evens for the Taj Mahal - where a vigorous campaign by the Times of India may propel this monument to love into the premier league. Odds of a generous 3/1 were offered for Christ the Redeemer.


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