LISBON, Portugal (eTN) – In tourism terms, drawing up a fresh list of the Seven Wonders of the World is a bit like reinventing the wheel.
Three years ago on a hot summer’s night in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon – on the 7th day of the 7th month of the 7th year, to be precise – the New 7 Wonders of the modern world were announced amidst much pomp and ceremony. Jay-Lo sizzled and sang, Joaquim Cortés dazzled and danced, and MC Ben Kingsley waxed very lyrical about the importance such an initiative promises for the many future generations due to inherit the earth.
The new list did make interesting, if not surprising, reading as the Great Wall of China, Petra, Statue of Christ the Redeemer, Machu Picchu, Chichen Itza, Colosseum, and the Taj Mahal “officially” replaced Herodotus and his contempories’ original and mostly obsolete 2,500-year-old selection of the planet’s top sites, which consisted of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Great Pyramid of Giza, Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus, Colossus of Rhodes, and the Lighthouse of Alexandria.
Since then the New 7 Wonders vehicle has gained much momentum with voters the world over getting the chance to cast their ballots in categories ranging from the seven most beautiful cities and greatest museums to the world’s best beaches and castles.
And more recently, with the bandwagon further gathering speed, the proud people of Portugal were asked to select their top seven Maravilhas Naturais, or seven wonders of nature, the results of which were disclosed during a two-hour song-and-dance extravaganza performed live last Saturday night in the bay of Ponta Delgada, capital of São Miguel island in the Azores, in front of a television audience of millions.
No less han 656,000 votes were registered over a 7-month period (there’s that lucky number again) as the Portuguese pinpointed the country’s most impressive natural attractions, all of which are nicely accessible and of great tourist interest.
Arguably the most popular choice of all was the twin-lake fairytale setting of Sete Cidades on the west side of São Miguel island in the Azores. One is emerald green and the other sapphire blue, and much local legend adjoins the two, such as the story of the green-eyed princess crying for the forbidden love of a local peasant boy with the deepest blue eyes, and their respective tears promptly filled the lakes.
Also in the Azores, the power of Pico Island’s mountain (a dormant volcano that last rumbled in anger almost three centuries ago) likewise captured the full imagination of the Portuguese public, mostly for its imposing majestic beauty, but also for the little-known fact that its 2,319-meter-high peak is the top of the world’s largest mountain range that measures 16,100 km long and 805 km wide, albeit almost entirely covered by ocean, constituting a vast area known as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
A thousand or so kilometres south, the subtropical island of Madeira is also celebrating the New 7 Wonders listing of its much-lauded Laurisilva, a portion of forest that existed long before the island first became inhabited.
To complete the list, further accolades on the mainland went to the magnificent Mira D’Aire Caves, the idyllic beach setting of Portinho da Arrábida, Peneda-Gêres National Park in the extreme north of the country and Ria Formosa, a renowned nature reserve in the popular holiday region of the Algarve.
A footnote to all of this was provided by Portugal’s top-selling tabloid, Correia da Manhã, whose reporters were quick to pick up on comments made by key figures in the tourism industry, most notably Ceia da Silva, tourism chief of the Alentejo, Portugal’s biggest region, who complained about the absence of an award in his province. “Tourist destinations cannot be created by competitions. The absence of the Alentejo in the (New) 7 Wonders of Nature doesn’t affect tourism in my region one little bit. In fact, we are the only tourist region in the country to win the most important prize of all, that of an increase in annual visitor numbers,” he remarked.
Small wonder that other voices of discontent were heard, fueling criticism of the fact that only one of Portugal’s thirteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites, that of the aforementioned Laurisilva Forest in Madeira, made it onto the winners list, to the exclusion of other regions such as the picturesque Douro Valley, home of the famous Port wine.
When asked by the same newspaper if his region’s failure to be included on the list would affect in any way its popularity as a tourist destination, the boss of the Douro Tourist Board, António Martinho, replied: “To some extent, yes. Now people have a pretext to come here and see whether or not we should have won. I lament the fact that it’s still considered necessary to spend lots of money in order to attract people to visit a certain place. Here in the Douro, everything is pure and natural.”