Letter from Thessaloniki

Standing in front of the Parthenon, Sigmund Freud was overcome by a feeling of strangeness, of a sense that «this is too good to be true.» Freud had climbed the Acropolis accompanied by his brother Alexander, who was 10 years his junior and he relates a personal experience dating from his first visit to Athens, in 1904. The Parthenon, built atop what is known to Greeks as the «Sacred Rock» of Athens – the symbol which appears in the UNESCO logo, representing culture and education – was not included in the list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. This time, although it was among the top 10 candidates, the Parthenon was sadly not among the winners of a recent competition to name the modern seven wonders of the world, whose results were announced on Saturday night in Lisbon. The event took place at Portugal’s largest venue, the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon. Months ago people were invited to choose their favorites via Internet and SMS messages. And, according to organizers, some 100 million people cast their vote. Of course it is doubtful our ancient forefathers made quite as much effort to arrive at a list of the world’s seven wonders. The monuments, from the Colossus of Rhodes to the ancient Lighthouse of Alexandria, were all huddled around the Mediterranean Sea, in the vicinity of the Greek-speaking world. And the list was compiled by a handful of scholars at the Museum of Alexandria. Most people have at least heard of the existence of a list of the Seven Wonders of the World. Yet few can name them. The list of the Ancient World was originally compiled around the second century BC. The first reference to the idea is found in Herodotus’ «History» as long ago as the 5th century BC. Now, along with the Kremlin, Hagia Sophia – the church of Holy Wisdom built in Constantinople in 537 BC under the direction of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I – and Britain’s Stonehenge, our Acropolis has lost out. The only European building to make the list of seven was the 50,000-seat Colosseum in Rome, the site of barbaric contests between gladiators and wild beasts. The ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico made the list, as well as Brazil’s marble statue of Christ the Redeemer, which gazes out over Rio de Janeiro. The Great Wall of China, the longest man-made structure in the world, a 4,160-mile barricade running from east to west in northern China was also among the winners. Another successful contender was Machu Picchu – the remains of an Inca city in Peru, perched 2,430 meters (8,000 feet) up a mountain. Featured most prominently in the blockbuster Indiana Jones movies, Jordan’s Petra – the famed Rose City – also made the list. Voters did not neglect one of the world’s best-known sites – India’s magnificent Taj Mahal, a tomb built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his favorite wife. The initiative first got under way in 2001. A privately sponsored campaign, it was the brainchild of Swiss filmmaker and museum curator Bernard Weber. Weber’s aim was to create a list as imposing and impressive as the original wonders, compiled over 2,000 years ago. However since every monument on the original list – except for the pyramids – no longer exists, Weber reasoned it was time for an update. And, initially at least, he financed the search himself. But growing worldwide interest in the project led to the establishment of the New 7 Wonders Foundation, and a long list of candidates. The modern contest, which kicked off at the beginning of this decade, included a search that started with 200 nominations and has involved a team of researchers traveling around the world to narrow down the list of candidates. At least 90 million people cast their ballots for the final seven, a figure that represents well over half of the entire world’s population when the first list was compiled in 140 BC. It is only natural that some people were displeased with the idea of the contest. The first to voice concern was Egypt, home to the only one of the original wonders that still exists. Cairo was concerned that its pyramids had to compete to be on the new list despite its privileged place on the old. Organizers responded by placing the Pyramids of Giza above the competition. Not needing a vote, the Great Pyramids in Giza will retain their status as one of the original seven wonders of the world. Also the Vatican had its nose out of joint over the exclusion of Christian monuments like the Sistine Chapel and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Archbishop Mauro Piacenza, head of the Vatican’s pontifical commission for culture and archaeology, told the Times of London that the exclusions were «surprising, inexplicable, even suspicious.» The Italian daily La Republica reported on Thursday that Vatican officials suspected the organizers of the new seven wonders campaign of harboring an anti-Christian bias. And as far as «our» Acropolis goes, it may only prove positive for us, the lesser descendants of our illustrious forefathers, that the Temple of Athena was not finally included among the modern seven wonders. For as Sigmund Freud relates in his essay «A Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis:» «It must be that a sense of guilt was attached to the satisfaction in having gone such a long way: There was something to do with a child’s criticism of his father, with the undervaluation which took the place of the overvaluation of earlier childhood.» And, to quote Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis at his party’s recent conference, «The biggest problem that we inherited is the state and its complex mechanism.» Can this be interpreted in a Freudian manner? Could it be that the essence of success is to have got further than one’s father, but that to excel one’s father (or uncle perhaps) is still something taboo? Now, I am joking to cover my distress about the Acropolis…

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