This is Faith Lapidus.
And this is Steve Ember with EXPLORATIONS in VOA Special English. Today, we finish our series of programs about the Wonders of the World. In earlier programs, we told about ancient structures and beautiful natural places. Today we tell about modern structures that are Wonders of the World.
Any list of modern wonders should include some of the buildings in the great cities of the world. An example in New York City is the Empire State Building. For many years, it was the tallest building in the world. Today, the Sears Tower in Chicago, Illinois and the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia are taller.
These buildings are important to any list. However, the modern wonders we have selected have changed history. They are important because they made life safer or easier or were useful to a great number of people. We begin with two similar structures in two very different parts of the world.
|The Suez Canal|
More than three thousand years ago, an ancient king of Egypt ordered that a river be built to connect the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. This kind of man-made river is called a canal.
Ancient evidence shows the work was done and a canal was built. Experts believe it was possible for small boats of that time to travel from the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea. Some evidence shows the Nile River may have been used for part of the canal. However, the ancient people of Egypt did not keep this canal in use. As years passed, the sands of the great deserts of Egypt closed the small canal.
As the centuries passed, many people thought it would be a good idea to rebuild the canal. The problem was the huge cost. But the cost could not be compared to the cost of a ship that had to sail from ports on the Atlantic Ocean to ports in Asia. Ships had to sail around the Cape of Good Hope, the most southern part of the continent of Africa.
A French engineer planned and directed the modern canal connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. His name was Ferdinand de Lesseps. Egyptian workers began building the canal in eighteen fifty-nine.
It was opened and named the Suez Canal during a ceremony on November seventeenth, eighteen sixty-nine. The Suez Canal is about one hundred sixty-three kilometers long and about sixty meters wide.
The Suez Canal has been closed several times because of war or political problems. Today, the Suez Canal is still important. Ships pay money to use the canal. That money is important to the economy of Egypt. The canal saves shipping companies a great deal of time and money because it is the fastest crossing from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean.
|The Panama Canal|
Our next Modern Wonder of the World is also a canal -- the Panama Canal. It connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean. Before it was built, ships often had to spend several weeks traveling around Cape Horn at the end of South America. Many ships were lost in great storms in that dangerous area.
Spanish explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa and his men were the first Europeans to travel through the thick jungles in Panama from the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific Coast. That was in fifteen thirteen. Panama quickly became a major shipping area for the Spanish. Their ships from the colonies in the Western Hemisphere and from Asia brought treasure to the Pacific Coast. The treasure was taken overland to the city of Portobelo on the Atlantic Side.
The idea of building a way to connect the two great oceans began with the Spanish explorers. They saw the need for a canal to speed up delivery of their cargo. However, it was impossible to build. The machines needed to build something as big as a canal did not exist.
In eighteen seventy-nine, a French Company tried to build a canal across Panama. It failed. The company did not have enough money to complete the project. Also, thousands of men working on the project died of the disease Yellow Fever.
In nineteen hundred, an American army doctor, Walter Reed, and his research team discovered that mosquito insects carried the virus that caused Yellow Fever. They worked on methods to destroy the mosquito population.
This development helped make possible an American effort to build the Panama Canal. Panama and the United States signed treaties in nineteen-oh-three and work began on the canal. More than eighty thousand men worked on the huge effort. They made a canal about eighty kilometers long from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
On August fifteenth, nineteen fourteen, the ship S.S. Ancon became the first ship to sail through the new canal. Today, about thirteen thousand ships pass through the canal each year. That number represents about five percent of the world’s trade. Both the Suez and the Panama Canals are truly modern Wonders of the World. Both make it possible to safely move from one great ocean to another. And, both save huge amounts of time and money.
The two great canals we have discussed connect oceans. Our next great Wonder of the World connects land.
|A train enters the Eurotunnel on the French side|
This connecting device is called the Channel Tunnel, or “Chunnel.” It connects the island that is Britain with France. It was one of the largest and most difficult construction projects ever attempted. It is a three-tunnel railroad from Calais, France to Folkestone, England. The tunnels are fifty kilometers long. They were built about forty-five meters below the earth under the English Channel. Two of the tunnels carry trains and one is used for repair work and emergencies.
The idea of a tunnel connecting Britain with other nations of Europe was first proposed to the French Emperor Napoleon in the early eighteen hundreds. However it was never a serious idea. The technology to make such a tunnel did not exist. But people dreamed of such a tunnel. Crossing the English Channel by ship was often a terrible trip because of storms.
Three serious attempts were made to build the tunnel. The first two failed. Political differences between France and Britain stopped the first attempt. Financial problems stopped the second.
The third and successful attempt to build the Chunnel began in nineteen eighty-seven after France and Britain signed an agreement. It took seven years to finish the work. To complete the tunnels, construction workers had to move more than seventeen million tons of earth. The cost was more than thirteen thousand million dollars. The Chunnel opened in nineteen ninety-four.
Today, the Chunnel is very busy. High-speed trains carry cars, trucks and passengers from Britain to France and back again. The trains are famous for their smooth, quiet ride. The money paid for the trip is slowly paying for the huge cost.
Our last modern Wonder of the World has not yet been completed. It is perhaps the largest construction project ever attempted. It is the Three Gorges Dam Project in China’s Hubei Province. Some experts say it is the largest attempted construction project since the ancient Chinese built the Great Wall of China.
|The Three Gorges Dam in December 2004|
The Three Gorges Dam is being built to produce power and control China’s Yangtze River. The Yangtze is the third longest river in the world. It is famous for the terrible floods it has caused. Some reports say more than one million people have been killed in Yangtze floods in the past one hundred years.
The Three Gorges Dam will not be finished until two thousand nine. Work began in nineteen ninety-three. About two hundred fifty thousand workers are involved in the project. Experts say the huge dam will cost about twenty-five thousand million dollars. When finished it will be about one hundred eighty-one meters high.
The dam will create a huge lake about six hundred thirty-two square kilometers. Some critics say the dam will harm the environment and damage historical areas. More than one million people will have to be resettled before the dam is finished. The completed dam will produce large amounts of electric power. Chinese government officials say it will lead to increased economic development in cities near the dam. And China says the terrible floods caused by the Yangtze will be memories of the past.
This program was written by Paul Thompson. It was produced by Mario Ritter. This is Faith Lapidus.
And this is Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another EXPLORATIONS program in VOA Special English.