In the bid to have their iconic statue recognized as one of the new "Seven Wonders of the World," Brazilians have embraced a global competition with open arms.
The statue of Christ the Redeemer, which overlooks Rio de Janeiro, is one of the favorites to become a modern wonder in an international contest that has already attracted 70 million votes.
The competition, which is organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Bernard Weber, a Swiss-Canadian filmmaker and author, allows people from across the world to choose from 21 monuments, narrowed down from an original list of 177 in 2005.
The goal of the vote is to redefine the original seven wonders, which were established more than 2,000 years ago by Greek scholars. In the intervening millennia, more than just the field of candidates has changed. The race to be in the top seven has taken on a decidedly democratic twist with a worldwide constituency.
"The first ever global vote has taken place," says Tia Viering, head of communications for the New Seven Wonders Foundation. "The fact that people are participating in such numbers shows that there's this desire to come together."
The field of contenders include ancient buildings like the Colosseum in Rome, modern architectural gems like the Sydney Opera House, iconic statues like the Statue of Liberty, and even whole cities like Timbuktu in Mali.
In India, a popular singer is touring the country singing an original song about the Taj Mahal to generate votes. In Peru, the government has set up computer terminals in public areas to enable citizens to vote for Machu Picchu. In Mexico, bus companies have put ads for Chichen Itza on the side of their vehicles.
The original Seven Wonders of the World were chosen from a host of spectacular monuments in and around the Mediterranean more than 2000 years ago. Only one, the Great Pyramids of Giza outside Cairo, still stands.
Its status of possessing the only surviving wonder may be why Egypt has been so reluctant to defend its title. Some Egyptian scholars have protested that the world's greatest historical structures should be chosen by experts and academics. After formal protests from Egypt's Ministry of Culture and Supreme Council of Antiquities, Mr. Weber withdrew the pyramids from his competition, instead making them an Honorary New7Wonders Candidate.
Few nations have embraced the contest like Brazil. Here, the country's telephone companies waived the cost of votes cast by text message, the country's soccer players held up a banner appealing for votes before this month's match with England in London, and the media in Rio de Janeiro, the city that plays host to Christ's imperious presence on a hill overlooking the city, have enthusiastically led the cheer leading. Even the country's president pitched in.
"I hope [Brazilians] vote fervently and enthusiastically because we can win this and because Christ the Redeemer is an extraordinary thing for Brazilians and for tourists," President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said in his weekly radio address before giving instructions on how to cast a ballot.
Brazilians appear to have heeded the pleas. After trailing badly since the voting began in 2000, the statue atop Corcovado Mountain is emerging as one of the favorites for a coveted Top 7 finish, due to an energetic national campaign ahead of the July 7 decision.
Votes can be cast online at www.new7wonders.com or via cellphones. Millions more votes are expected to be cast before the seven winners are announced at a ceremony in Lisbon.
Weber decided to organize the international competition in 1999 to choose successors to the ancient wonders. To support the competition, Weber founded the New7Wonders Foundation in Zurich, Switzerland, in 2001. When UNESCO offered its assistance as an adviser, Weber promised to give half the proceeds from merchandising sales to restoring and preserving the sites, and in 2000 the first votes were cast.
Weber says developing nations have emerged as the most enthusiastic participants in the contest. Poor countries, he says, want their monuments on the list because of national pride.
"This is an opportunity for them to speak to the world," says Viering. "Looking at Machu Picchu and putting it in the same category as the Eiffel Tower and the Colosseum – this is very exciting and it shows the world coming together in an extraordinary way."
One country that stands out for its lack of enthusiasm has been the United States. The Statue of Liberty has failed to rouse the passions of American voters, says Viering.
But on some level, say competition organizers, that statue's lack of stature is an indication that the contest has transcended nationalist tendencies.
"If we look at participation of the United States, which is voting very strongly ... the Statue of Liberty is not at the top," Viering says. "That's great. This is not about politics, this is about what moves people.