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Spanning Europe and Asia, exotic Istanbul is one of the world’s most fascinating cities. Domes and minarets enhance the skyline. In the old Stamboul area, traces remain of every city built since the community was established over 600 years before Christ. Once Rome’s eastern capital, Istanbul was also the center of the huge Ottoman Empire. Landmarks include Hagia Sophia, once Christendom’s greatest church; the Blue Mosque with its striking Iznik tiles; Topkapi Palace, containing a sultan’s ransom of treasures; Chora Church with its Byzantine mosaics; and the Grand Bazaar, the ultimate shopping experience.
Between 1865 and 1866, English explorer Frank Calvert and German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann began digging trenches through a hillock outside Canakkale and discovered layer upon layer of ancient cities. Ultimately nine cities that had thrived and fallen atop each other were identified with the legendary Greek city of Troy. The site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The magnificent Aegean coast features no shortage of appealing ports of call, and Izmir is a fine example thereof. The birthplace of Homer has grown into a thriving metropolis, filled with fine hotels along its sweeping bay. A fine Archaeology Museum and Ethnography Museum house a multitude of treasures and exhibits, while nearby resorts provide distractions of another sort. Earthquakes and fires over the centuries have obliterated most of ancient Smyrna, as it was once known, but remnants of the 4th-century fort atop Mt. Pagos still provide excellent views of the city and Gulf of Izmir.
Deserted for centuries because of constant raids by pirates and the Turks, this tiny arid island was first settled in 1088 when the Emperor of Constantinople made it a gift to the monk Christodoulos Latrnos so that he could establish a monastery in honor of St. John the Divine on the site. Patmos has been a place of scholarship and religious enlightenment ever since. Today this modern pilgrimage site is a quiet respite from the tourist havens many other Greek isles have become.
Best known of the Dodecanese Islands, Rhodes is a fascinating architectural patchwork of her past. Here the legacy of the ancient Greeks mingles with that of besieging Turks, crusading knights, and occupying Italians. Twin bronze deer, the symbol of Rhodes, guard the Mandraki Harbor where the 100-foot Colossus is said to have stood, a wonder of the ancient world. The medieval Crusader City is dominated by the Palace of the Grand Masters, while cobbled streets lead to the bustling bazaar and a lively harbor that is a center of the international yachting scene.
Nicknamed “The Isle of the Aromas”, Spetsai is a delight to all of the senses. The island’s historic old town is a yachtsman’s paradise, boasting a stunning harbor, quaint shops and some of the finest restaurants in the Saronic Gulf. The rest of the island is relatively unpopulated and is ringed by a single road, along which you can travel in a horse-drawn carriage. As you pass by quiet, rolling hills, be sure to pause at one of the many quiet coves along the way to refresh yourself with a dip into the cerulean waters.
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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