Have you ever stood, enveloped in the cool, morning mists of the Andean foothills, and watched the first rays of sun strike the ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu? Have you ever felt the modern world melt away as you wander amongst the Pyramids of Giza, dwarfed by their audacious size? Or wondered why the people of Easter Island carved gigantic stone heads to stand on the shores of their remote and windswept island? Have ever stopped in your tracks, your world arrested for a moment, as you experienced one of the wonders of our world for the first time?
Not all places are created equal. There are a mere handful of spectacular natural wonders and awe-inspiring man-made structures scattered across the planet that truly stand out above the rest. These iconic artefacts and remarkable feats of human ingenuity stretch our imaginations in the best possible way.
Through the stories in Part I of this theme, we are sending you on a vicarious and colourful journey to experience 10 goliaths of human creation—via the diverse perspectives of our founding storytellers.
At the end of this post you’ll find all the exciting details for our next Storytelling Theme—‘Urban Explorations’. Contribute your story on Maptia by November 25th for the chance to be featured here on our blog.
Keep an eye out in the next couple of days for Part II of our Wonders of the World theme—in which we will be sharing stories from 6 amazing natural wonders of the world. In the meantime, if the stories from our first wonder of the world—Machu Picchu—make you feel tipsy with intrigue, then we guarantee that by the time you’ve explored the rest of the stories in Part I, you will be roaring drunk with wonderment.
1 | Machu Picchu
The name derives from the Native South American ‘Quechua’ language meaning old person (machu) and pyramid or mountain (picchu)—it is a place of sacred geography and probably the most familiar icon of the Inca civilisation.
A gripping tale of exploration from 1911—how adventurer Hiram Bingham, expecting nothing more than a few agricultural terraces, scaled precipitous slopes and struggled through dense jungle to first come upon the magnificent ruins of Machu Picchu.
From the foot of a hulking great glacier, along barren and rocky mountain trails, skimming the fringes of lush, green Peruvian jungle, and up giant Inca staircases—this is the story of our trek to the atmospheric and misty ruins of Machu Picchu.
Rising from obscurity to the heights of power, a succession of Andean rulers subdued kingdoms, sculpted mountains, and forged a mighty empire.
Machu Picchu far surpassed our expectations. The city is so vast and so complete it defies imagination. Trekking the holiest segment of the ‘Inca Trail’ to reach the city at sunrise on the fourth day, we explored many impressive ruins along the way.
To get to Machu Picchu there are two ways: the first one is to take a train at Ollantaytambo. The other one is the adventurous way. The Inca Trail is the track the Incas themselves built and it is a four day walk to arrive in Machu Picchu. Of course we chose the adventurous way!
2 | Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat means ‘City of Temples’ in Khmer. The largest religious monument in the world, it has become somewhat symbolic of Cambodia.
Deep in the jungles of Cambodia I discovered secret caves and forgotten shrines, enshrouded in roots. There are hundreds of tiny nooks, old broken stone doors, lost hallways, and mysterious carvings peeking out of the overgrowth.
Sharing the experience of Angkor Wat aglow at sunrise with elbow-jutting, neck-craning crowds was somehow a communal testament to its wonder. Later, as I sketch the temple, birdsong fills the air and there is barely a cloud in sight.
It would seem impossible to see something different from the millions of tourists, something untouched. Yet despite the fact that Angkor Wat is Cambodia’s most famous tourism destination and as such, receives well over a million visits a year—it can be done.
Angkor Wat is the single largest religious complex on Earth and it would take weeks to fully explore its endless ruins. This is the story of how I watched the sunrise, all alone, amongst the temples of Angkor Wat.
3 | Petra
Writing over a century ago, the poet John William Burgon described Petra as, ‘a rose-red city half as old as time’. The newest member of the Wonders of the World family is truly a testament to the ingenuity of the Nabataean people.
When I think back to my trip to Jordan, some of it seems like a dream. Did I really get a chance to see the Lost City of Petra, the newest member of the family of Wonders of the World? Good thing I had a camera with me to prove it, as Petra is one of the most spectacular places on Earth.
Strawberry stone columns nestled between a tear of jagged darkness, clouds of purple-pink dust thrown into spirals, hanging in the heat-soaked air. Petra was both overwhelming and atmospheric, and I felt as though I was uncovering an ancient legend.
A journey through the passageways and open spaces of Petra, with a close look at the myth and history of the Nabataen civilization and the rise and fall of this ancient city.
Located deep in the mountains of southern Jordan, Petra is an awe-inspiring monument to mankind’s ingenuity and craftsmanship. By night Petra transforms into what must be one of the most magical and romantic places in the world.
Deep in the desert of Jordan we roamed, In a rose tinted city named Petra, borne from stone. Three hundred years before Christ it was built, The Nabataeans mastered carving, the heat did nought but wilt.
4 | Taj Mahal
Commonly referred to as the ‘Jewel of India’, the Taj Mahal is an indescribably beautiful and immense mausoleum of white marble built in the 17th century by order of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife.
Surrounded by hordes of frantic travelers, baffled by bureaucratic idiosyncrasies, I attempt to purchase a train ticket to Agra. On the journey, I discover that Indians tend to take pity on clueless Westerners. The next day, at the Taj Mahal, I am entranced by the sunrise and a beautiful woman.
The story of eternal love and everlasting despair gave an otherworldly color and whole new perspective to my experience at one of the world’s greatest architectural wonders.
The day after a trip to India’s most famous tourist destination—what’s right and what’s wrong and what it is that fills the space in between. Later, I will be ashamed that I didn’t just pay the extra money and have the boy sew up the tear in my sandal.
Suzanne is the author of ‘Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days on the John Muir Trail’, as well as four collections of poetry. Explore more of her writing over at www.suzanneroberts.net.
Barefoot on cool marble, I watched as the faithful coiled in long lines and snaked their way around the complex, waiting patiently in the 95 degree heat. Later, away from the huddled masses, I wandered into the wilds and outskirts of the Taj Mahal.
5 | Great Wall of China
British antiquary William Stukeley describes the Great Wall in a letter written in 1754 as ‘a considerable figure upon the terrestrial globe’ and is partly responsible for perpetuating the myth that the great wall 'may be discerned at the Moon’—what can we say, blame the British! Nevertheless, the Great Wall is an impressive architectural feat extending over thirteen thousand miles in total.
Blue skies and beauty on a crisp December morning, while exploring the incredible feat of engineering that is the Great Wall of China.
Dave and Deb of theplanetd.com have explored all seven continents and over 80 countries. Living by their motto ‘Adventure is For Everyone’, they aim to prove that you don’t have to be an uber-athlete, adrenaline junkie or a member of the ultra rich to be an adventurer. Say hi to them on Twitter @theplanetd.
Walking from tower to tower, looking at the sinuous wall as it snakes over the mountains, I finally found an extremely remote section that is far enough away from civilisation to stay pure. Overgrown with vegetation, the wall has crumbled away in the past thousand years.
6 | The Acropolis
An ancient citadel located on a high rocky outcrop above Athens in Greece. The Parthenon and the other ancient buildings there remain a glorious testimony to the Greek gods and their civilisation—they have stood the test of time for over a millennium.
Up the steep slippery marble stairs you climb, the weight of years of expectation heavy upon you. Then the beauty of the Acropolis finally reveals itself. Up here you feel displaced from the minutiae of everyday life. There is a spirituality here that neither time nor cynicism can destroy.
7 | Easter Island
Located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, Easter Island is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. It is famous for its 887 monolithic statues, called ‘Moai’, which were created by the early Rapa Nui people.
This dot of tranquility, with soft rolling grassy hills, and rugged coasts rising in isolation from turquoise seas left us much to ponder. I need only to close my eyes to be carried on gentle tropical breezes back to the beautiful people of Rapa Nui and the indelible grandeur of the moai.
8 | Hagia Sophia
This beautiful dome has hosted both Ottoman and Byzantium Empires and there is an incredibly rich history in this architectural masterpiece. Yet sometimes being present and appreciating the beauty in front of your eyes is enough.
Golden light reaches into the archways and corridors of this architectural, historical wonder—streaming through windows and from chandeliers. Sometimes things are just beautiful—and you don’t have to know why.
9 | Colosseum
Aside from being the largest amphitheatre of the Roman Empire, the word ‘Colosseum’ has an almost gravitational pull on the imagination.
Exploring behind the scenes at the Colosseum, down in the dungeons, you can imagine how the waiting gladiators would have heard the other fighters thumping overhead and the blood-crazed roar of the crowd.
10 | The Pyramids
The only structure still left standing from the original ‘Ancient Wonders of the World’ list is the Great Pyramid at Giza. It seems that Pharaoh Khufu didn’t like to take any chances—he ordered the construction of the 460 foot pyramid to protect his tomb and ensure a safe journey to the afterlife. Amazingly, it remained the tallest man-made structure on the planet for about 3,800 years.
No trip to Egypt would be complete without seeing the Pyramids. They are absolutely the one “must see” if you visit the country.
If these stories have left you drunk on wonderment—go ahead and tweet this post, @mentioning any friends who you think would be equally delighted by the stories from this week’s theme.
Remember to keep an eye out in the next couple of days for Part II of our Wonders of the World theme—in which we will be sharing stories from 6 amazing natural wonders of the world.
Maptia Storytelling Theme 4
The French have a wonderful word—flâneur—for someone who seeks to explore and understand the nature of a city’s landscape, usually by taking spontaneous adventures amidst the ebb and flow of life going on around them. In this next theme we’re asking you to share your own flâneur-esque adventures. We hope that many of you will be inspired to tell a story about a city, whether it is one you know and love well, with its hidden alleyways and side streets, or one that made a deep impression on you, despite a fleeting visit.
The top stories for this theme will be featured on the Maptia Blog in the next few weeks’—be sure to complete your stories on Maptia by November 25th for a chance to be featured.
For now, just a small group of founding storytellers are contributing to Maptia and we are only able to send a limited number of new invites each week. We don’t yet have the resources to cope with more, and are still working on the coding and design. However, if you have a story about a city in mind, and absolutely can’t wait to get started, then send a 200-word snippet and photo to firstname.lastname@example.org and we would love to shuffle your invite right to the front of the queue.
If you have made it through this collection of wondrous stories why not take a look at a couple more of our most popular posts below: