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Thursday, February 9, 2012

21 UNKNOWN WONDERS OF THE WORLD


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My previous post list the 10 wonders of the world which are not actually wonders but reminders of men’s notoriety. Here’s a list of other real wonders of the worlds that are largely unknown or overlooked. Even if they are known to a few people, they are generally not as well known as the famous 7 wonders or other renowned ones. The list is not ordered by rank, and I’ve added my own choice at the end.

1. Library of Celsus (Turkey)

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The library of Celsus (in Turkey) was built to store 12,000 scrolls and to serve as a monumental tomb for Celsus (who had been consul in 92 AD, governor of Asia in 115 AD, and a wealthy and popular local citizen). The building is important as one of few remaining examples of an ancient Roman-influenced library. It also shows that public libraries were built not only in Rome itself but throughout the Roman Empire. In a massive restoration which is considered to be very true to the historic building, the front façade was rebuilt and now serves as a prime example of Roman public architecture.

2. Fossil Hominid Sites of Sterkfontein (South Africa)


The Cradle of Humankind, this site is a complex of over 36 limestone caves in South Africa, not far from Johannesburg. Within these caves scientists have found a huge number of hominid fossils dating back over 3.5 million years, with one cave alone containing over a third of all hominid fossils ever found. The caves also show signs of occupation as well, including the first ever in-situ hominid stone tools, and the oldest controlled fire dated to over 1 million years ago. Some of the better known finds include Mrs Ples, the most intact skull of an Australopithecus Africanus ever found, although the sex is not definitely female, x-rays of the teeth seem to show that this was a sub-adult. Another famous find is Little Foot, an amazingly complete hominin skeleton which is believed to be between 2.5 to 3.3 million years old.

3. Leptis Magna (Libya)

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Leptis Magna was a prominent city of the Roman Empire. Its ruins are located in Al Khums, Libya, 130 km east of Tripoli, on the coast where the Wadi Lebda meets the sea. The site is one of the most spectacular and unspoiled Roman ruins in the Mediterranean. The city appears to have been founded by Phoenician colonists sometime around 1100 BC, although it did not achieve prominence until Carthage became a major power in the Mediterranean Sea in the 4th century BC. It nominally remained part of Carthage’s dominions until the end of the Third Punic War in 146 BC and then became part of the Roman Republic, although from about 200 BC onward, it was for all intents and purposes an independent city.

4. Takht-e Jamshid (Iran)


Persepolis is located in the south of Iran and was the capital of the Achaemenid Empire. Construction was started around 515 BC by Cyrus the Great, but the most impressive works were completed by Darius the Great and Xerxes the Great (yes the bad guy from the movie 300) in around 470 BC. One of the most awe inspiring structures on this site is the Apadana palace which was the main hall of the kings, where the tributes from nations within his Empire would have been received. The building was supported by columns 20m high, topped with a brace carved to the shape of lions or bulls. I have seen an example of these braces in the Louvre and it gives you an amazing idea of the size and scale of Persepolis. The place also contains the gate of nations, the hall of 100 columns, the imperial treasury, council halls, military quarters, reception halls, cisterns, drainage, sepulchers, royal tombs, royal stables, chariot houses and a number of palaces and royal residences, all covered in engravings and mosaics. The city was destroyed in 330 BC by Alexander.

5. Bagan (Myanmar)

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Bagan is an ancient city in the Mandalay Division of Burma. Formally titled Arimaddanapura or Arimaddana (the City of the Enemy Crusher) and also known as Tambadipa (the Land of Copper) or Tassadessa (the Parched Land), it was the ancient capital of several ancient kingdoms in Burma. Bagan was submitted to become a UNESCO heritage site but many speculate of politics as partly the reason for the exclusion. UNESCO does not designate Bagan as a World Heritage Site. The main reason given is that the military junta (SPDC) has haphazardly restored ancient stupas, temples and buildings, ignoring original architectural styles and using modern materials which bear little or no resemblance to the original designs. Nevertheless, this is still a must-see wonder of the world.

6. Lascaux Cave (France)


Lascaux is group of caves in southwest France which were decorated over 17,300 years ago, with Paleolithic cave paintings. The public were allowed to view the caves in 1948, but by 1955 the carbon dioxide exhaled by the visitors had damaged the paintings causing the cave to be closed, the art was restored and is now monitored on a daily basis. The images are mostly of animals known to have lived in the area at the time, but images of humans and abstract signs are also present. Some of the images have been carved into the cave but the majority of art has been painted on using mineral pigments. A large portion of the paintings are of horses, but stags, cattle, aurochs, felines, birds, bears and rhinoceros’s are also represented. There are many theories on why this cave was decorated in this manor: it is thought that some of the art may represent star charts, as the constellations of Taurus and Pleiades can be found within the cave. There are also theories that this would have been a scared space to communicate with deities, a gathering place to plan a hunt together or even a record to celebrate the success of a hunt. We will probably never know but these images give us a fascinating look into our past.

7. Metéora (Greece)

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The Metéora (“suspended rocks”) is one of the largest and most important complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries in Greece, second only to Mount Athos. The six monasteries are built on natural sandstone rock pillars, at the northwestern edge of the Plain of Thessaly near the Pineios river and Pindus Mountains, in central Greece. Access to the monasteries was originally (and deliberately) difficult, requiring either long ladders lashed together or large nets used to haul up both goods and people. This required quite a leap of faith – the ropes were replaced, so the story goes, only “when the Lord let them break”.

8. Tropical Rainforest Sumatra (Indonesia)


The Tropical Rainforest of Sumatra is made up of three national parks on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, and was chosen due to its outstanding scenic beauty and natural habitats for in-situ conservation. The three parks all contain different habitats, allowing for a large diversity in both flora and fauna. The parks are home to Rafflesia Arnoldi, the world’s largest flower, and Amorphophallus Titanum, the worlds tallest flower, as well as 174 species of mammals and 380 species of birds. Of these specimens, 16 are endemic and 73 are currently threatened. Species such as Orang-utans, Sumatran rhinoceros, bornean clouded leopards, Asian tapirs, Sumatran elephants and the leather back turtles are all found within this site, making it one of the most diverse and important conservation sites in the world. The sites main threat is residential expansion and encroaching human occupation, both of which is being battled by a number of different preservation groups.

9. Valley of Flowers in the Himalayas (India)

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The Valley of Flowers is an outstandingly beautiful high-altitude Himalayan valley that has been acknowledged as such by renowned mountaineers and botanists in literature for over a century and in Hindu mythology for much longer. Its ‘gentle’ landscape, breathtakingly beautiful meadows of alpine flowers and ease of access complement the rugged, mountain wilderness for which the inner basin of Nanda Devi National Park is renowned. Valley of flower is splashed with colour as it bloomed with hundreds different beautiful flowers, taking on various shades of colours as time progressed. Valley was declared a national park in 1982, and now it is a World Heritage Site. The locals, of course, always knew of the existence of the valley, and believed that it was inhabited by fairies.

10. Wadi Al-Hitan (Egypt)


The Whale Valley is found in a desert in Egypt, the site contains fossils showing the evolution of whales from land mammals to the ocean going creatures we are familiar with today. Fossils of the Archaeoceti suborder such as Basilosaurus and Dorudon are common, but the skeletons of sea cows Sirenia, elephants Moeritherium, crocodiles, sea turtles and sea snakes have also been found at the site. The sheer number and quality of these fossils found in such a high concentration make this site unique. The quality of preservation is so good that stomach contents have been found preserved, while the combination of other species found at the site make it possible to reconstruct the environmental and ecological conditions.

11. Ajanta Caves (India)

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The Ajanta Caves in Maharashtra, India are rock-cut cave monuments dating from the second century BC, containing paintings and sculpture considered to be masterpieces of both Buddhist religious art and universal pictorial art. By 480 AD the caves at Ajanta were abandoned. During the next 1300 years the jungle grew back and the caves were hidden, unvisited and undisturbed until the Spring of 1819 when a British officer in the Madras army entered the steep gorge on the trail of a tiger. Somehow, deep within the tangled undergrowth, he came across the almost hidden entrance to one of the caves. Exploring that first cave, long since a home to nothing more than birds and bats and a lair for other, larger, animals, Captain Smith wrote his name in pencil on one of the walls. Still faintly visible, it records his name and the date, April 1819.

12. Wudang Building Complex (China)


The Wudang Mountains are a small mountain range found in eastern China, which have been inhabited since at least 250 AD. Its called as Taoist monasteries, which were renowned as centers for meditation, martial arts, agriculture and medicines. People traveled to this area to research, learn and practice these skills. The palace and temple complex was constructed in the Ming Dynasty and within it are buildings dating from the 7th century. One of the more famous temples is the Golden Hall; built in 1416, the hall is constructed from gilded copper. It consists of 20 tons of copper and over 300kgs of gold, and was supposedly forged in Bejing, then moved to Wudang. The Nanyan Temple perches precariously on top of a cliff, in legend it is known as the place from which Emperor Zen Whu flew to heaven. The entire temple, including beams, gates and windows, is carved from rock and within the temple are gilded bronze statues of dozens of Taoist deities. Scattered across the cliffs are 500 gilded iron statues of heavenly officials. Another notable building, the Purple Cloud Temple is made up of several halls, the Dragon and Tiger Hall, the Purple Sky Hall, the East Hall, the West Hall and the Parent Hall.

13. Toruń (Poland)

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Toruń is a city in northern Poland, on the Vistula River. The medieval old town of Toruń is the birthplace of Nicolaus Copernicus. The first settlement in the vicinity is dated by archaeologists to 1100 BC. During medieval times, in the 7th-13th centuries, it was the location of an old Polish settlement, at a ford in the river. The Teutonic Knights built a castle in the vicinity of the Polish settlement in the years 1230-31. In 1263 Franciscan monks settled in the city, followed in 1239 by Dominicans. In 1264 the nearby New Town was founded. In 1280, the city (or as it was then, both cities) joined the mercantile Hanseatic League and was soon turned into an important medieval trade centre. As you can see from the photograph above, it is a beautiful medieval city and well worth visiting.

14. Ellora Caves (India)


Ellora is the site of monumental, rock cut, cave temples representing Buddhist, Hindu and Jain religions, built from 400 AD in close proximity to each other to show the religious harmony in the area. The structures are multi-level buildings, carved directly from caves within the mountain face, and include monasteries, shrines and places of worship. Many of the buildings have vaulted ceilings and are all intricately carved, with most of the shrines containing large carved deities. During construction, 200,000 tonnes of rock had to be removed from the site by generations of workers. Some notable caves are: the Buddhist shrine Vishvakarma, which features a multi-storied entrance, a large hall with vaulted ceilings and a 15ft carving of Buddha in a preaching pose; The Indra Sabha is a two level Jain cave with a monolithic shrine, like all of the Jain caves it once had richly painted ceilings, part of which are still visible today. It also has fine carvings of lotus flowers, Yaksha Matanga on an elephant and Ambika sitting on a lion under a mango tree. Kailasanatha is the centerpiece of Ellora, made to resemble mount Kailash, the home of lord Shiva, this Hindu shrine was built by Krishna I in around 760 AD.

15. Tower of Hercules (Spain)

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The Tower of Hercules is an ancient Roman lighthouse on a peninsula about 2.4 kilometres (1.5 miles) from the centre of A Coruña, Galicia, in north-western Spain. The name Corunna is said to be derived from the ancient column. The structure is 55 meters (180 ft) tall and overlooks the North Atlantic coast of Spain. It is almost 1900 years old, was rehabilitated in 1791, and is the oldest Roman lighthouse still used as a lighthouse.

16. Aldabra Atoll (Seychelles)


Aldabra is the world’s second biggest coral atoll, it is uninhabited, isolated and virtually untouched by humans. The atoll is the home to the world’s largest population of giant tortoises, which makes it an extremely valuable conservation site. During the 1700s, the islands were used by the French to hunt giant tortoises, as they were considered a delicacy at the time, but by the 1900s they had been hunted to the brink of extinction. The tortoises also share this atoll with the Aldabra Rail, the endangered Malagasy Sacred Ibis, Green and Hawksbill turtles and two species of bats found only on Aldabra.

17. Sigiriya (Sri Lanka)

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Sigiriya (Lion’s rock) is an ancient rock fortress and palace ruin situated in the central Matale District of Sri Lanka, surrounded by the remains of an extensive network of gardens, reservoirs, and other structures. A popular tourist destination, Sigiriya is also renowned for its ancient paintings (frescos), which are reminiscent of the Ajanta Caves of India. The Sigiriya was built during the reign of King Kassapa I (477 – 495 AD), and it is one of the seven World Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka. Sigiriya may have been inhabited through prehistoric times. It was used as a rock-shelter mountain monastery from about the 5th century BC, with caves prepared and donated by devotees to the Buddhist Sangha.

18. Leshan Giant Buddha (China)


This Maitreya Buddha was carved from a cliff face where the Minjiang, Dadu and Qingyi rivers meet, in southern Sichuan, China. It was constructed by a Chinese monk named Haithong in 713 AD, his followers worked on and off for 90 years to complete it and, today, it is still the largest stone Buddha in the world, at 71m tall and 28m wide. Where the three rivers meet, the water currents were dangerous and would often sink shipping vessels, Haithong thought if he carved the Buddha there it would help to calm the waters. The stone removed to carve the Buddha was dumped into the river, unintentionally altering the currents and calming the waters. Today the Buddha is threatened by pollution, and the wear and tear caused by the thousands of tourists who come each year to visit the statue.

19. Banaue Rice Terraces (Philippines)

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The Banaue Rice Terraces are 2000-year old terraces that were carved into the mountains of Ifugao in the Philippines by ancestors of the indigenous people. The Rice Terraces are commonly referred to by Filipinos as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”. It is commonly thought that the terraces were built with minimal equipment, largely by hand. The terraces are located approximately 1500 meters (5000 ft) above sea level and cover 10,360 square kilometres (about 4000 square miles) of mountainside. They are fed by an ancient irrigation system from the rainforests above the terraces. It is said that if the steps are put end to end it would encircle half the globe. Locals to this day still plant rice and vegetables on the terraces. The result is the gradual erosion of the characteristic “steps”, which need constant reconstruction and care.

20. Hatra (Iraq)


Hatra is located to the northwest of Baghdad in Iraq, you may recognize it from the opening scenes in the film, The Exorcist. It was constructed during the 3rd century BC, by Arabs under the Iranian Parthian Empire. The city became the capital of the first Arab kingdom and became an important border fort against roman invasion. The city was ruled by Arabian princes who would have paid a yearly tribute to the rulers of the Iranian empire, until the Iranians took the city by force in 241 BC. Hatra is recognized as one of the best preserved Parthian cities, with many of its structures still standing, including the inner and outer defensive walls and towers, and a range of temples dedicated to a different Gods from many different cultures.

21. Taman Negara (Malaysia)


I’ve added this as my own choice, for reasons spelt out in my earlier post, Taman Negara: The Oldest Rainforest on Earth. It is also chosen for the same reason the Tropical Rainforest of Sumatra (No. 8) was selected, and much more.


It is reputed to be the oldest rainforest in the world, undisturbed for million of years, with 10,000 species of plants, 350 species of birds, 100 types of snakes, 1,000 varieties of butterflies, perhaps 150,000 kinds of insects and 140 types of animals.

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Artist impression of Taman Negara. Source here.

In fact, Taman Negara and the Tropical Rainforest of Sumatra were once part of one land mass – the drowned continent of Sundaland. That’s how old it is. And it is not often cited as a candidate for one of the unknown wonders of the world, although it is popular as a tourist spot.



1 comment:

  1. Nice article and great knowledge. Thanks for the share. I love this story and enjoy with your words!
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    ReplyDelete

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