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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.
Near the fishing village of Katakolon sits Olympia, one of the most important religious centers of ancient Greece. This fascinating destination is the site of the original Olympic games and the Temple of Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Since the modern Games were revived in 1896, the Olympic torchbearers return to Olympia every two years to ignite the flame, which is then carried to the site of the next Olympic games. More than 40,000 spectators could fill the stadium to witness contests ranging from foot races to the pentathlon. But, it was also a place of neutrality where people of neighboring independent states could meet, compete, worship and honor one another for their accomplishments. Other Olympia landmarks include the Prytaneion, a complex where winners were feted and where the eternal flame for the original Olympic games once burned.
Shaped like a scythe, the island of Corfu is considered one of the Mediterranean's best-kept secrets. Its lush interior is covered in cypress and olive trees while the main downtown area has elegant Venetian architecture and a serene atmosphere. Strategically important due to its location, this island has managed to maintain its uniqueness despite numerous invasions by outside forces. Today, the culture of Corfu reflects its turbulent past as well as its origins.
Located along one of Montenegro's most beautiful bays is Kotor, a city of traders and famous sailors, with many stories to tell. The Old City of Kotor is a well-preserved urbanization typical of the Middle Ages, built between the 12th and 14th century. Medieval architecture and numerous monuments of cultural heritage have made Kotor an UNESCO listed “World Natural and Historical Heritage Site". Through the entire city the buildings are criss-crossed with narrow streets and squares. At one of them there is the Cathedral of Sveti Tripun , a monument of Roman culture and one of the most recognizable symbols of the city. The Church of Sveti Luka (13th century), Church Sveta Ana (12th century) Church Sveta Marija (13th century), Church Gospe od Zdravlja (15th century), the Prince’s Palace (17th century) and the Napoleon Theatre (19th century) are all treasures that are part of the rich heritage of Kotor.
Croatia's second largest city, Split is busy and big but it remains one of the Adriatic's most vibrant port cities stunningly located between mountains and sea. It was the Romans who put Split on the map with the building of Diocletian's Palace, the sprawling 4th century residence that now encloses a welter of Roman ruins within its walls and recently became a filming location for the TV series Game of Thrones. It's fascinating to wander the cobblestoned streets within the palace where fashionable boutiques and trendy clubs alternate with crumbling pillars and medieval churches. Stroll the harbourside promenade or people-watch from one of its cafes. Climb up woodsy Marjan hill for great views over the city or plunge into the sparkling waters from one of Split's beaches. There are so many sights to see and so many day trips from Split; the nightlife and restaurants offer such quality and variety it's impossible to be bored.
Lord Byron called Venice (Venezia) "a fairy city of the heart." La Serenissima, "The Most Serene," is an improbable cityscape of stone palaces that seem to float on water, a place where cats nap in Oriental marble windowsills set in colorful plaster walls. Candy-stripe pylons stand sentry outside the tiny stone docks of palazzi whose front steps descend into the gently lapping waters of the canals that lace the city.
A whimsical stroll through the city can lead one to a hidden world of ornately decorated piazzas and shops. As you explore colorful marketplaces and busy town squares, marvel at a priceless legacy of Baroque architecture. Admire the richness of St. Mark's Basilica and the lavishness of the Palazzo Ducale. Getting lost in Venice can be a truly delightful experience. The place of dreams, this romantic city will live long in your memory.
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.
Naples / Pompeii, Italy
The city of Naples is located directly under Mount Vesuvius, at Southern Italy’s west coast, at the Gulf of Naples. With one million inhabitants (called Neapolitans), it is one of the third largest and one of the oldest cities in Italy. Naples is the gateway to the Amalfi coast, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Capri and Sorrento. You’ll find more monuments, churches and convents in Naples than you would in any other city on earth. From ancient excavations, to world famous scenery, to the old city of Naples, there is always something to do in this busy port of call.
Italy’s most famous dishes—pizza and spaghetti were born in this region. Pizzas here are made with mozzarella di bufala and available in eateries all over the city. The rich volcanic soil and temperate climate make the lands that surround Naples a favorite of the farmer. This is the winemaking region of Campania, which produces very good red, white, and rose wines. One of the most popular regional grapes, the Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio, is grown on the terraced slopes of Mt. Vesuvius itself.
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.