This story was created for the Google Expeditions project by ePublishing Partners and AirPano, now available on Google Arts & Culture
A list of “7 Wonders of the Modern World,” for instance, includes iconic structures built in modern times, such as the Empire State Building and the Panama Canal. Created in 2006, the “7 New Wonders of the World” is a list of sites that includes the ancient and the new.
The sites were selected through an online vote with over 100 million participants.
The Taj Mahal
This UNESCO World Heritage site in Agra, India, is a jewel of Indo-Islamic architecture, an exquisite work of art, and a symbol of romance. The Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal as a tomb for his beloved 3rd wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth in 1631.
More than 20,000 skilled workers labored over 20 years to immortalize her memory. The Taj Mahal and its surrounding structures are brilliantly designed to harmoniously echo and reflect each other.
Built of sandstone and white marble, the ornate main gate, is a pishtaq—an Islamic architectural feature in which a rectangular frame surrounds an arched opening. It lies directly opposite the mausoleum, at the end of a long reflecting pool.
The white marble mausoleum where Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan are buried is a huge, domed structure whose outer and inner walls are decorated with intricate designs made with inlaid gemstones. Carved inscriptions also adorn the walls and doors.
Influenced by Persian design, the formal, Mughal-style garden covers 17 hectares and is a square divided into 4 sections by long reflecting pools. The garden is crossed by walking paths and decorated with ornamental trees and fountains.
The Mughal dynasty followed the Islamic faith. The mosque at the Taj Mahal has a large vaulted chamber under 3 domes and is still used today. Worshippers enter through an ornate doorway that is centered under the largest, middle dome.
This red sandstone building is the Jawab—literally “the answer”—to the mosque on the opposite side of the mausoleum. The building was originally used as a guesthouse for visitors who wished to honor the anniversary of Mumtaz Mahal’s death.
The Great Wall of China
Over 20,000 kilometers long, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a massive barrier that stretches across northern China. In ancient times, the Great Wall defended China against invasion from the north.
Jinshanling Great Wall
The expansion and fortification of the 10.5-kilometer Jinshanling section in Hebei Province were completed in the 1300s and represent the wall’s overall state. Parts have been updated for modern tourists (complete with souvenir shops), while others remain untouched.
The fortifications consist of many smaller walls that were built and connected over a period of more than 2,000 years. Some sections of the Great Wall go back to the 7th century B.C., though the connection process didn’t begin until the 3rd century B.C.
Large Jinshan Tower
This is 1 of 67 watchtowers along this section of the Great Wall. From its upper platform, there are stunning views across mountain ridges and down into the valleys. The lower section of the tower contains barracks and storage rooms.
Small Jinshan Tower
The Great Wall is built atop mountain ridges, and the watchtowers are set at the highest points. The towers here are set only about 150 meters apart because the mountains have relatively gentle gradients, making them more vulnerable to invaders.
The Colosseum of Rome
Rome’s Colosseum is an enormous amphitheater made of stone and concrete that was built to satisfy the ancient Roman taste for violent public spectacles. Contests between gladiators took place here, as did public executions.
In other spectacles, trained hunters stalked and killed wild beasts. Work began on the Colosseum around 70–72 A.D., under the emperor Vespasian. His successor, Titus, dedicated the building in 80 A.D., and the emperor Domitian added the 4th story in 82 A.D.
The outer wall of the Colosseum has 3 stories of arched walkways, each featuring a different kind of column. Moving from bottom to top, you’ll see simple Doric columns, then Ionic columns with characteristic scrolls, and finally ornate Corinthian columns.
Ramps led down into the dungeons at street level and below. These chambers held criminals, wild animals, hunters, and gladiators waiting for their turn to fight. Mechanical elevators to lifted elephants and other heavy objects up to the arena.
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Fights and other spectacles took place on the arena floor, which was usually covered with sand. Occasionally, however, the floor was flooded and the bottom level was filled with water, so that naval battles could be reenacted.
Historic Center of Rome
UNESCO’s Historic Center of Rome site encompasses the Colosseum and many other important buildings in Roman history. The row of columns and the foundation stones in the space next to the Colosseum are the remains of a Roman temple complex.
The Colosseum held about 50,000 spectators and was often packed for days on end. In ancient times, the Colosseum had a giant, retractable awning so that spectators could sit in the shade.
Chichén Itzá in Yucatán State, Mexico, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was a pre-Columbian city built by the Mayans. It became a ceremonial and trade center for the Mayan and Toltec peoples in the 6th century and remained so for nearly 1,000 years.
Excavation of the ruins began in 1841. By then, over 100 years had passed since the city was abandoned, but the building materials and techniques used by the Mayans assured that much had survived.
Pyramid of Kukulcán
This imposing temple also serves as an astronomical observatory. It has 365 steps—evidence that the Maya and Toltec people understood the solar year. The building honors the serpent deity Kukulcán and carved serpents decorate the sides of the staircases.
Ball games were a religious ritual for the Maya and this is the largest known example of a ritual ball court. Players tried to hit a heavy rubber ball through stone hoops set high up on the walls.
Temple of the Warriors
The Temple of the Warriors was probably built between 900–1200 A.D. The temple is part of a complex that includes the High Priest’s Grave and the Thousand Columns, a huge colonnade.
Jordan’s city of Petra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that has been occupied for millennia. It was the capital city of Nabataea, an ancient Arabic kingdom, and flourished during Greek and Roman times.
Its location, between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea, made it an important trading center. More than 800 structures are carved out of the surrounding sandstone cliffs. These include Greek temples, a Roman theater, a Byzantine church, and tombs from several eras.
The Siq is a narrow natural tunnel that’s 1.2 kilometers long and is the main entrance into Petra. This entrance was an important element of the town’s defense in ancient times.
Though its name means “the Treasury,” the purpose of this building—one of Petra’s most elaborate structures—is largely unknown. It shows the influence of Greek design on Nabataean architecture and was probably built around the 1st century A.D.
Petra’s carved stone steps connected different levels of the city. Steep climbs yield rewarding views of the ancient ruins. Some steps also lead to residential areas. The city had about 30,000 people during Roman times.
Petra was a rich city because of the caravan trade between Arabia and the Roman Empire. A prime draw for caravans was water. Petra had aqueducts, cisterns, wells, and an extensive pipe system that carried water to houses and temples.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Explorers from Portugal first visited this site in Brazil in 1501, and Portuguese colonists founded the city in 1568. Today, this “Marvelous City,” with a total area of 1,260 square kilometers, is at the center of an urban area that includes over 12 million people.
The UNESCO World Heritage sections of Rio include several of its large mountain parks and open areas, as well as parts of its historic districts.
Rio de Janeiro’s location along the Atlantic Coast, as well as its natural harbors, have made it a major center for international shipping. Tourism is also a major industry. Rio has some of the world’s loveliest beaches, including Copacabana Beach.
The oldest sections of the city are located along Guanabara Bay, a beautiful natural harbor. French colonists were the first Europeans to settle along this bay. The Portuguese attacked and ejected the French in 1656 and 1657.
Christ the Redeemer
This gigantic, Art Deco-style statue is an iconic symbol of Rio de Janeiro. The 30-meters-tall statue stands at the summit of Mount Corcovado. Completed in 1931, the statue was the product of a collaborative, international effort by artists and engineers.
Another international symbol of Rio, this mountain, which is shaped like a traditional loaf of sugar, marks the entrance to Guanabara Bay. Sugar plantations in the surrounding region produced much of Rio de Janeiro’s wealth during the 1700s and 1800s.
The ancient Inca settlement of Machu Picchu—most likely a country retreat for Inca rulers—flourished from about the 1430s to the 1530s. The settlement’s ruins are surrounded by cloud forests and lie between 2 high peaks on the eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains.
At the base of the peaks flows the Urubamba River, a tributary of the Amazon. Tropical rainforests line the river’s banks. Notably, the architecture of this UNESCO World Heritage site blends organically into its spectacular natural setting.
Extensive palaces with inner courtyards are evidence that Machu Picchu had many royal inhabitants. Some royal family members were probably also priests, since the Inca, or ruler, claimed to be descended from the sun, and priests were of noble lineage.
Below the central square are houses for the city’s ordinary workers, who included stonemasons and other skilled artisans, as well as temple attendants and shopkeepers. Scholars think that the population of Machu Picchu was 500 to 1,000 people.
The agricultural sector of the Machu Picchu site consists of narrow terraces that descend in steps down steep slopes. The terraces were carefully constructed to conserve precious soil and water. The farmers worked the plots with only hand tools.
Downslope from the palaces, but close to the wall dividing the site’s urban and agricultural sectors, lie the houses of noble families. Like the royal palaces, these houses were arranged around private courtyards and supplied with running water.
The complex’s temples demonstrate that religious rituals were performed there. Inca religion was centered on the worship of the sun, and the temples and other structures at Machu Picchu are carefully aligned with the sun’s movements across the sky.