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The landmark hill of the Acropolis looms over Greece's busy metropolis. This age-old symbol of Athens was built by the Athenians during the 5th century BC in honor of the goddess Athena, patroness of the city. The temple complex was regarded as a citadel of the gods, with the Parthenon standing out as the most architecturally sophisticated temple of that period.
In 1834, Athens became the capital of modern Greece with a population of fewer than 10,000. Today, about a third of the country's more than four million people live in the city. The central area of modern Athens is relatively small, stretching from the Acropolis to Mount Lycabettus. Its layout is simple: three main streets - Stadiou, Venizelou and Akademias - link the two main squares, Syntagma and Omonia. A stroll around the main squares or in areas off the beaten path can provide a feel of the unique character of Athens. Observe the activities at the central market or simply enjoy a cool beverage in one of Athens' many sidewalk cafés.
Of all the Cyclades Islands, Santorini is often considered the most dramatic. Once an active volcano, in approximately 1620 BC, the volcano erupted with such force that the center of the island literally exploded, leaving a submerged crater. The island's small villages were preserved in the ashes giving a fascinating view of everyday life from 3,600 years ago. Santorini's landscape offsets its simple buildings, which shine in the brilliant sunlight. The rich volcanic soil is ideal for grapes and the local vines produce a crop known for its "special volcanic taste." Thíra, or Firá Town, is laid out along the edge of a cliff that forms a portion of the rim of the now extinct caldera. This picturesque site has a charm and atmosphere that can be attributed to the easy-going Greek lifestyle.
Taormina (Sicily), Italy
Snow-capped Mt. Etna looms in the distance, while terraces overlook the dramatic coastline. The winding medieval streets of the storybook village of Taormina may lead you into quiet gardens or inviting squares lined with trattorias and shops. Nestled some 660 feet or so above the sparkling sea, this beguiling town has attracted a varied group of visitors, from Ovid to Goethe to D.H. Lawrence, Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote. Film stars wooed by Taormina’s charms include Marlene Dietrich, Rita Hayworth, Burton and Taylor, Cary Grant, Sophia Loren, even the elusive Garbo. Far earlier, Greeks and Romans left their marks, still visible today in the ruins of temples, fortresses and amphitheaters.
Amalfi / Positano, Italy
Located roughly between Salerno and Sorrento, Amalfi was already an important maritime republic in the Middle Ages. In fact, the Amalfi Tables represent the oldest maritime code in the world, which were observed throughout the Mediterranean until the late 16th century.
Sprawled across seven legendary hills, romantic and beautiful Rome was one of the great centers of the ancient world. Although its beginning is shrouded in legend and its development is full of intrigue and struggle, Rome has always been and remains the “Eternal City.” Its greatest splendor was experienced during the 1st and 2nd centuries when art flourished, monumental works of architecture were erected, and the mighty Roman legions swept outward, conquering much of the known world.
Today’s Rome, with its splendid churches, ancient monuments and palaces, spacious parks, tree-lined boulevards, fountains, outdoor cafés and elegant shops, is one of the world’s most attractive and exciting cities. Among the most famous monuments is the Coliseum. As you walk its cool, dark passageways, imagine the voices that once filled the arena as 50,000 spectators watched combat between muscled gladiators and ferocious animals. Stop to see the remains of the Forum, once the city’s political and commercial center. In later times, Rome’s squares were enhanced with such imposing structures as the Vittorio Emanuele Monument, the monumental Trevi fountain and Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers, to name just a few.
Florence / Pisa / Tuscany, Italy
Livorno is Italy’s second largest port after Genoa. It also serves as a gateway to the Tuscany region and the great cultural centers of Florence, Lucca, Pisa and Siena. Tuscany delights visitors with its picturesque small towns and classic landscapes. The gently rounded hills, accented by clumps of slender cypresses, have been immortalized in numerous paintings. Lush vineyards are the source of the famous dry, dark-red Chianti wines.
In a tiny cove, out of sight and almost inaccessible, is hidden an ancient fishing village, that has become an internationally renowned symbol. Until the 19th century, Portofino was a fishing village, the bay was a well-known safe haven for ships, and the promontory served as an outpost for coastal sightings. At the end of the 19th century, all over Europe, the middle classes and aristocracy began to choose this beautiful place to build their summer residences, attracting the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Sophia Loren, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Princess Grace. Now, since the 1950s, Portofino has welcomed big Hollywood names, great artists, and entrepreneurs, making it famous all over the world.
Monte Carlo, Monaco
The independent principality of Monaco is famous as the playground of the Côte d’Azur. With nice beaches, elegant hotels and a vibrant nightlife, this tiny domain is a favorite haunt of the jet set. In the possession of the Grimaldi family for more than 700 years, a treaty with France guarantees Monaco’s independence as long as the principality is governed by the Grimaldis.
The fashionable enclave numbers only about 32,000 inhabitants and is smaller than New York’s Central Park, but it boasts some of the most expensive real estate in the world. In addition to its luxury hotels and beautiful beaches, Monaco is noted for its mild climate and magnificent scenery. Once an exclusive wintering stop for Europe’s aristocracy, today there are more than five million visitors annually. Of the principality’s four sections - La Condamine, Fontvieille, Monaco-Ville and Monte Carlo, the latter two rank highest on every visitor’s must-see list.