UNESCO slams seven 'new' wonders of the world list

( AFP ) - The UN body for culture on Sunday blasted a private initiative that drew nearly 100 million Internet and telephone voters to choose seven "new" wonders of the world.

"This campaign responds to other criteria and objectives than that of UNESCO in the field of heritage," said Sue Williams, the spokeswoman for UNESCO, the UN cultural body that designates world heritage sites.

"We have a much broader vision," she told AFP.

Voters chose the Great Wall of China; India's Taj Mahal; the centuries-old pink ruins of Petra in Jordan; the Colosseum in Rome; the statue of Christ overlooking Rio de Janeiro; the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru; and the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza in Mexico.

British actor Ben Kingsley and US actress Hillary Swank hosted a ceremony at Lisbon's Stadium of Light, broadcast in more than 170 countries to an estimated 1.6 billion viewers.

A private Swiss foundation launched the contest in January, allowing voters to choose from 21 sites short-listed out of 77. It said it had gathered nearly 100 million votes by the end of polling at midnight Friday.

According to its backers, the campaign aimed to update the original list of seven world wonders, drawn up in around 200 BC, of which only the pyramids of Giza remain today.

Short-listed sites that missed the final cut included the Acropolis in Athens; Paris' Eiffel Tower; the Easter Island statues; Britain's Stonehenge; Cambodia's Angkor Wat temples; New York's Statue of Liberty; and the Alhambra in Spain.

Christian Manhart, UNESCO's press officer, criticised the ballot, saying it sent out a "negative message to countries whose sites have not been retained."

"All of these wonders obviously deserve a place on the list, but what disturbs us is that the list is limited to just seven," he said, pointing out that "seven were adequate in Antiquity because the Antique world was much smaller than today," only comprising the area surrounding the Mediterranean.

The privately-sponsored campaign was the brainchild of a Swiss filmmaker and museum curator Bernard Weber, following the destruction of Afghanistan's giant Buddha statues at Bamiyan by the Taliban in 2001, and part of the money made on Saturday's ceremony was to go towards rebuilding the massive sculptures.

But Manhart said "UNESCO is not in favour of rebuilding the Buddahs," pointing out that valuable remains of the old statues remain in the rocky niches that make up the site.

"If you build new statues in these niches you destroy those remains," he said.

In light of the strong Islamist presence in Afghanistan, Manhart also insisted it would be difficult to rebuild another religion's "idols" in the country.

"Mr. Weber does not have a mandate from the Afghan government, and without a mandate you can't do anything," he argued.

Egypt, home of the Giza pyramids, was also critical, dismissing the new list of wonders as worthless.

"This contest will not detract from the value of the pyramids, which is the only real wonder of the world," Egypt's antiquities supremo Zahi Hawass told AFP.

"This competition has no value because it is not the masses who write history," he added.

China did not broadcast the event, leaving thousands of tourists at the Great Wall unaware of its new status.

"As usual there are a lot of tourists here today, but I don't think they came here because the Great Wall was chosen as one of the seven wonders of the world," Hu Yang, an official at the Badaling Great Wall near Beijing, told AFP.

"All the same it is a great honour for all of China."

Indians handed out sweets and set off fireworks outside the Taj Mahal, a 17th century marble mausoleum built by Mughal ruler in memory of his wife.

"It's a victory of love, the message which the Taj stands for," said Rakesh Chauhan, president of the Agra Hotel and Restaurant Association.

Faruq Hadidi, head of Jordan's tourism ministry, meanwhile said the flow of tourists to Petra would "double" from its current level of 400,000 visitors a year.

In Peru, hundreds gathered at 2,430 meters ( 7,970 feet) to greet the announcement that the ruins of Machu Picchu had made it on the new list.

"The selection of Machu Picchu is an example of what Peruvians can achieve when we unite" as they did by voting in favour of "the new marvel," Trade and Tourism Minister Mercedes Araoz told reporters after the announcement.

Thousands also cheered, waved flags and broke into Mayan dances at the archaeological ruins on Mexico's Yucatan, when Chichen Itza, which attracts more than one million tourists a year, made it to the final list.

In Rio de Janeiro, which hosted one of the Live Earth concerts, hundreds of thousands of singing and dancing revelers broke into huge applause as they were told that the city's landmark Christ the Redeemer statue was a new "wonder."

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