While it’s the phenomenal feats of mere mortals that comprise our list of man-made wonders, actually seeing them in person is nothing short of divine. Little surprise, given that many of our favorite creations were designed with a heavenly audience in mind, whether in the depths of a Cambodian jungle, on an Athenian or Peruvian hilltop, or deep in a Mexican peninsula. While a list of this sort could easily cover just ancient wonders like these, we've left room for modern and contemporary marvels, too, picking a good dose of both, on homegrown soil and as far away as Asia, while also looking to the future – and pegging a cutting-edge city with the promise of wonders still to come.
This fantastic collection of temples and palaces located in the depths of a Cambodian jungle reveal a glimpse into the apex of an ancient world, where Hindi and Buddhist mysticism reigned supreme, as manifested by some of the most astonishing art and architecture ever produced in human history. Built between the 9th and 13th centuries to serve as different capitals of the powerful Khmer Empire, the breathtaking Angkor complex’s most fabled site of all is Angkor Wat, a three-leveled sandstone pyramid, measuring 699 feet from base to tip, and exemplifying the zenith of Khmer architecture. The sight leaves no visitor unstirred – and we urge you to climb the near-vertical stone stairway to the third level for incredible panoramic views of the complex below.
The Acropolis, the prominent hilltop that harbored Athens’ first settlers as early as 5000 BC, is today an archaeological gold mine, particularly venerated for the white-marble Parthenon (constructed from 447–432 BC) that stands on its flanks. This awe-inspiring Greek temple, a sublime 46-column shrine to the Goddess Athena (the city’s namesake and patron), is a commanding monument that always enthralls spectators, but those that make the pilgrimage to the Acropolis’ summit will also encounter a slew of ancient theaters, temples, and tombs dedicated to various heroes of Greek mythology. Should the city’s renowned smog be absent during your visit, the sublime views over Athens are another monumental draw.
Ancient Mayans were known for their supremacy in many fields – mathematics, astronomy, and architecture among them – evidence of which is best demonstrated at Chichén Itzá, about 117 miles west of Cancun, on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. Occupied by the Mayans from the 7th to early 13th centuries, the superb complex consists of two primary zones influenced by Toltec and Puuc architecture, complete with massive stone platforms, towering pyramids and temples, and mysterious ball courts – and, of course, the famous Chac Mool statue that frequently graces Mexico tourism brochures. The star attraction, however, is the central pyramid, El Castillo – the massive monument is the centerpiece of a shadow-play festival each equinox.
We may be getting ahead of ourselves by naming Dubai – considering that most of its wonders have yet to be built by man – but this United Arab Emirate is already causing an international stir with its epic list of in-the-works architectural projects. Must-see attractions that are nearing completion include the Palm Islands, a collection of manmade isles shaped like palm trees which will accommodate apartments, spas, diving sites, and more; Hydropolis, an underwater luxury hotel that’s 66 feet below the Persian Gulf’s surface (due to open in 2007); Burj Dubai, the world's newest tallest skyscraper (due in 2009); and Dubailand, a sort of Disney World in the Middle East, that will be divided into six themed "worlds" (some are set to open in 2008). Once all is said and built, don't be surprised if this desert city reaches superstar tourism status.
The Great Pyramids of Giza
The Great Pyramids of Giza are the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World to remain in existence today – and, as such, are a must on any list of this kind. Travelers in search of the ultimate testament to one of the world’s most ancient civilizations are guaranteed a profound sensory impact when confronted with the pyramids’ epic scale: The Pyramid of Cheops – or the Great Pyramid – is the most mammoth of the Pharaoic monuments to dominate the Giza Plateau, where a trio of king’s pyramids, several smaller queens’ pyramids, and mastabas speckle the plain in the shadow of the spectacular Sphinx.
Las Vegas Strip
You needn’t leave the country to see many of the world’s man-made wonders – just visit this desert oasis in Nevada instead, where, in a roughly four-mile stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard South, aka The Strip, you can see an Egyptian pyramid, Arthurian castle, Arabian Kasbah, the Statue of Liberty, St. Mark’s Square, the Eiffel Tower, and more, as part of its celebrated skyline. Aside from the sheer superficial splendor of it all, Vegas' core existence is a downright miracle, given its harsh desert climate and terrain. Thanks to the engineering genius that went into the 1936 damming of the Colorado River, some 30 miles southeast of the city – resulting in the famous Hoover Dam (itself a man-made marvel of sorts) – an energy jackpot was born to keep this pulsating desert anomaly alit in neon lights.
Rediscovered in 1911 and believed to be the legendary “lost city of the Incas”, the dramatic ruins of Machu Picchu, set high in Peru’s Andes Mountains, are the only significant Incan site to remain unharmed by the 16th-century Spanish conquistadors. Theories about the site's role in the Inca Empire continue to inspire intellectual curiosity, but its stunning landscape – the way the limestone temples, steep terraces, and aqueducts complement the land, in keeping with the Incan veneration of nature, and the way daybreak slowly creeps over the majestic peaks, unveiling the ruins stone by stone – is what makes Machu Picchu one of the most spectacular sights in South America – and the world over.
Ever since 1885, when the first skyscraper was introduced in Chicago (the no-longer-extant Home Insurance Building), cities around the globe have been building up to claim the tallest laurels. For the time being, those bragging rights belong to Taiwan, for its record-breaking Taipei 101, the first building ever to exceed 500m (1/3 of a mile) in height. Taipei 101’s architecture and design is as impressive as its height, inspired as it is by traditional pagodas and bamboo, and incorporating a layout approved by a Feng Shui master. You can reach Zen-like heights here by zipping up to the 89th-floor indoor observation deck, or by going higher still, to the outdoor platform on 91st (the highest of its kind in the world). But get there fast – the Burj Dubai, in Dubai (see above) is expected to best Taipei 101 in 2009.
The sheer magnificence of India’s Taj Mahal is a dream-like vision your eyes won’t soon forget. Built entirely of white marble and inlaid with semi-precious stones like jade, crystal, coral, and turquoise, this ethereal temple took 20,000 workers and 22 years to complete, in 1643, as a mausoleum for Emperor Shah Jahan’s wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Rising above a river and framed by four minarets, the Taj, with its perfect symmetry, intricate mosaic details, and utter refinement, is not only one of the world’s most beautiful buildings, it’s also considered a testament to undying love and a symbol of lasting beauty.
Three Gorges Dam
The Great Wall was once China's claim to fame in the man-made-marvel department, but its new Three Gorges Dam along the Yangtze River is not only said to be the country's largest construction project since the Wall, but also its future source of energy, commerce, and defense against the Yangtze’s treacherous floods. One-and-a-half-miles wide and more than 600 feet high, the dam’s colossal reservoir allows 10,000-ton ocean freighters to sail some 1500 miles inland and, perhaps more impressive, its hydropower turbines will create as much electricity as 18 nuclear-power plants. While controversy has shrouded the project, advocates promise the environmental benefits will outweigh the environmental damages. Whichever side you take, one thing is certain: the modern world will marvel at the engineering muscle behind the Three Gorges Dam for years to come.