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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.
Monemvasia was once on the Peloponnese mainland. Then an earthquake turned it into an island. It is now joined to the mainland by a narrow causeway that limits access, originally for reasons of defense. The tall, flat isle is completely honeycombed with nooks and grottoes, narrow alleys and rock-carved rooms. Clearly it was a formidable redoubt in times of attack, and earned its nickname the Gibraltar of the East. The upper town, long uninhabited, has narrow pathways leading to the Byzantine Aghia Sophia church, and remains of the medieval fortress and walls. In the lower town, look for the bell tower that leads you to Elkomenos Square, with its namesake medieval Elkomenos Christos church and a small museum.
The small commercial port of Katakolon serves the inland town of Pyrgos as chief export center for grapes, raisins, regional fruits and vegetables that grow in the fertile hinterland. Fifteen miles in the distance lies Olympia, the sacred ancient site where the Olympic Games had their beginnings.
Set on a peninsula between two arms of the Adriatic Sea, Brindisi was an important port of the Roman Empire, and later for the East India Company. In the 2nd century BC the Appian Way was built, linking the port to Rome, and a column near the harbor marks the end of that famous route. It is here that in 71 BC, the gladiator Spartacus led thousands of rebel slaves in an unsuccessful escape. Today visitors find Romanesque churches, a 13th-century castle and, in the surrounding Apulia region, remains of ancient Messapian culture.
Founded in the 7th century, Dubrovnik rose to greatness as a merchant state, independent republic and cultural crossroads. The traffic-free Old Town has been called a Croatian Athens. This UNESCO designated World Heritage Site is a living museum of the ages with fortifications, chapels, monastic cloisters and Europe’s second-oldest synagogue crowded into its ancient walls. Relax at a sidewalk café, listen to the chimes of the 14th-century bell tower or join the promenade down the palace-lined avenue known as the Stradun.
Located in central Dalmatia Zadar is one of the Adriatic’s most historically interesting towns with a wealth of sightseeing and exciting nightlife. Zadar was founded by the Romans, attacked by the Turks, ruled by the Austrians and made part of Italy until 1943 when the Germans moved in. Allied bombing destroyed much of the historic centre which was rebuilt after the war only to suffer more attacks by Yugoslav forces in 1991. In recent years Zadar has undergone a startling revival. Cafes and bars are filled, museums and churches have been restored and tourists pour in to take boats to nearby islands.
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.
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