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The first settlement of the marshy islands in the lagoon was for protection from barbarian tribes that terrorized mainland farms and villages. Island living quickly led to the development of skills in handling boats, then ships. Maritime trade conducted by shrewd merchants brought great wealth, which permitted the building of palaces, churches and monuments. The city became the center of the vast Venetian empire, its name forever summoning visions of grandeur, magnificence, richness, graciousness and beauty. Although later linked to the mainland, first by a railway bridge built in 1848 and then by a motor causeway in 1930, this island city will always be considered the “Queen of the Sea.” There are no cars in Venice; all transportation is by boat or on foot along the time-worn, cobblestone streets and across some 400 bridges that span the city’s 177 canals. Enchanting Venice truly offers an atmosphere that exists nowhere else.
Sibenik lies in the middle of the Croatian Adriatic Coast, at the mouth of the Krka River, one of the most beautiful karst rivers in Croatia. Limestone mountain crests, small valleys and striking plateaus characterize this scenic region. A picturesque town, Sibenik was originally built on a small island, surrounded by a high wall and towers. The historic old town of Sibenik is rich in cultural and historical monuments. The most representative among them is the famous Cathedral of Sibenik, an important architectural Renaissance building listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, Sibenik is the administrative, political, economic, social and cultural center of a county, which stretches 62 miles along the Croatian Riviera between the Zadar and Split.
One of the best preserved medieval towns of the Adriatic, Kotor is protected by UNESCO. Between 1420 and 1797, the area was under the rule of the Republic of Venice and the Venetian influence can be seen in its architecture. The Gulf of Kotor is sometimes called the southernmost fjord in Europe, although it is actually a submerged river canyon. The overhanging limestone cliffs of Orjen and Lovcen complete one of the Mediterranean’s most beautiful landscapes.
A scant few miles off the Albanian coast lies the island of Corfu, one of the most richly endowed of all the Greek Isles. Praised by Homer in “The Odyssey” and selected by Shakespeare as the setting for “The Tempest,” the island retains evidence of cultural heritage from each of its past rulers – Byzantium, Venice, France, Russia and Great Britain. Rolling acres of olive groves, small orchards of lemon and orange trees, tall cypress, oleander, and myrtle bushes lend a lush, verdant look to the island. While the oldest part of Corfu Town has cobblestone lanes so narrow only pedestrian travel is possible, the modern sector has wide avenues. Residents boast that its “Spianada” is the largest and most beautiful square in all Greece.
Located on the east coast of Kefalonia, Sami is home to beautiful beaches and pleasant cafés and tavernas around the harbor that provide an ideal setting to soak up the traditional Greek atmosphere. Situated on a hill to the south of town are the ruins of ancient Sami, where visitors will find a fascinating site consisting of artifacts spanning several different civilizations over thousands of years.
Pylos occupies a superb and dominant position on one of the best natural harbors in Greece. Your gaze is inevitably drawn to the bay that is almost landlocked due to the position of the offshore island of Sfaktira. The Battle of Navarino, which took place here one night in 1827, effectively sealed Greek independence. An unusually stylish town with a pair of medieval castles, Pylos is an excellent base for exploring the Peloponnese.
Enjoy time at leisure to explore this town, which spreads across the slopes of the hill, its picturesque cobbled lanes lined with two-story houses. Opposite the harbor, in the Square of the Three Admirals, a three-sided column rises between two canons – one Turkish and the other Venetian. The figures of the admirals of the three fleets, English, French and Russian that defeated the Turko-Egyptian navy in the Battle of Navarino are represented. A visit to Niokastro, one of the two castles guarding the harbor, affords wonderful views out over the bay.
Held to be one of the loveliest small towns in all the islands, Navplion has a tradition and culture all its own. The sheltered location, below a rocky headland crowned by a Venetian fortress is perhaps unrivaled in Greece. After the Greek revolution of the early 19th century, Navplion served as the first modern capital. The neoclassical houses, large official buildings and carefully planned seafront streets all date from this period.
Piraeus has been the port for Athens since 482 BC. The busy harbor is filled with ferries and cruise ships making their way to the Greek Islands and other Mediterranean cities. The busy metropolis of Athens and its treasure trove of antiquities lie just a few miles from the port. Even as the reality of the modern city took hold, with its high-rise apartments, crowded sidewalks and bustling traffic, the beauty of the Acropolis, the outstanding museums, charming cafés, sidewalk markets and startling views come together in a cultural mosaic for all to enjoy.
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