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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.
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.
Monte Carlo, MonacoThe 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.
Marseilles (Provence), France
Marseille is a vibrant, cosmopolitan port and the most populated city in the country after Paris. The craggy, mountainous interland of the Provence provides Marseille with a spectacular backdrop. It is the country's most important seaport and the largest one in the Mediterranean. The city is divided into 16 arrondissements fanning out from the Old Port. The large industrial port area virtually rubs shoulders with the intimate, picturesque old harbor, the Vieux Port. Packed with fishing boats and pleasure crafts, this is the heart of Marseille. Two fortresses guard the entrance to the harbor.
Several vantage points offer spectacular views, including the striking Basilica Notre Dame de la Garde. This prominent landmark, overlooking the city, is crowned by a monumental gilded statue of the Virgin Mary. Marseille boasts numerous fine museums that are well worth a visit. Relaxing at one of the many outside cafés or strolling through the Old Port area allows you to enjoy the unpretentious charm of this city.
Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia as well as Spain’s second largest city. Dominated by Montjuic, Vallvidrera and the Tibidabo Hills, sophisticated Barcelona is rich in ancient and modern architectural and artistic treasures. Many talented artists, sculptors and architects lived here, including Picasso, Miró, Mares and Barcelona’s best-known architect, Antonio Gaudí.
Barcelona’s beginnings as a major port can be found already in Roman times. However, the most significant period was during the Middle Ages when the city's wealth equaled that of the whole Catalunya province. Splendid buildings from the Middle Ages and a unique ambiance still make Barcelona one of the most attractive cities in Europe, drawing scores of visitors to see and enjoy the sights. In addition to its medieval setting and narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter, there are magnificent avenues through the modern part of the city, which are particularly noted for their landmark buildings of Gaudí’s design.