What makes a wonder of the world really wonderful?
I was lucky enough over my Christmas holidays to be able to travel, explore Mexico, and to see places in real life that I had only ever studied or read about in books. One of these places even made it onto the list of the seven new wonders of the world in 2007. Chichen Itza is a large pre-Columbian Maya city in the state of Yucatán in South East Mexico.
On arrival the place was impressive but compared to other similar ruined cities in Mexico it seemed kind of sterilised, too tidy, organised and clean. The polishing process it seems to have undergone stripped the place of its magic, the feeling that you get elsewhere that you could be among the first explorers to discover this wondrous place, among the first human eyes in centuries to see what has been left untouched for many years. I suspect this has a lot to do with its intense surge in popularity since being declared one of the seven modern wonders of the world. Improving accessibility and efficiency but, at the same time removing what I consider to be the most wonderful aspects of visiting ancient places.
We arrived early enough not to be completely overwhelmed by the masses of visitors for at least the first hour, but instead were blocked at every turn by stalls being set up and little carts full of souvenirs being pulled along and unloaded. Eventually ever path was flanked both sides by tarpaulin sheets, tables and people selling everything from tiny pyramid models to t-shirts printed with funky prints, to table cloths and statuettes portraying different iconic catholic scenes. With everyone wanting to take advantage of their huge base of tourist customers arriving by the busload every five minutes and cramming themselves through the entrance gates into the site. Sometimes it felt like people were more eager to tick off another modern monument from their list, than to enjoy and savour the experience.
I am fascinated by history and I love visiting historical sites where you can imagine how life was for the people who lived there hundreds of years ago. When the modern visiting presence becomes overwhelming I feel that the ability to do this and the historical magic about a place is lost. I can’t help but think that being voted a wonder of the modern world is exactly what has prevented Chichen Itza from continuing to be so incredibly wonderful now.