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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.
Limnos is an arid, volcanic island located near the mouth of the Dardenelles. The volcano and sulphurous springs on the island inspired many legends in ancient times. Limnos was the mythological home of Hephaistos (Vulcan), who was cast off Mount Olympus by his father Zeus and landed on Limnos, breaking his leg in the process. Lame ever since, the God of Fire lived on the island and toiled at his forges, the volcanoes of the island, teaching the people of the island the art of metalworking. Jason and the Argonauts stopped here during their quest for the Golden Fleece and during the Trojan War, Hercules’ companion, Philoctetes was cured of a gangrenous wound by the magical earth of the island.
A popular holiday and resort destination, Cesme is located on a promontory on the tip of a peninsula that carries the same name. The town itself is dominated by the medieval Cesme Castle, while the back streets invite a casual stroll with their old Ottoman and Greek houses that charm passers-by. South of the castle there is an Ottoman caravanserai built in 1528 that has since been transformed into a lovely boutique hotel, and check the Greek Orthodox church of Ayios Haralambos to see the current art exhibition. Along with the historical attractions, visitors will enjoy local pleasures, such as a dip in the thermal baths followed by the culinary delights of native fruits, artisan cheeses and local wines.
Today Bodrum is a picturesque yacht harbor filled with traditional wood-varnished sailboats, charming outdoor cafes and streets bursting with small shops selling carpets, leatherwear, jewelry and local artwork. In antiquity, it was the site of ancient Halicarnassus. Under King Mausolus, the city prospered, and in death, the king left the city its most enduring legacy, his majestic tomb, from which we derive the term “mausoleum.” Only its massive foundations remain today but it was the largest tomb ever built by the Greeks and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Models on the site recreate its form for visitors. Alexander the Great attacked the city in 334 BC, leveling all but the Mausoleum, which was later destroyed by an earthquake.
When the Knights of St. John lost their castle in Smyrna in 1402, they came here. Finding the mausoleum in ruins, they used the stone to construct the Castle of St. Peter, which proudly stood sentinel to the city. Together with their fortifications on Kos and Rhodes, the Knights dominated the southeastern Aegean, running a hospital for passing pilgrims and ruling the seas as privateers in swift vessels. They remained until 1523, when Ottoman ruler, Suleyman the Magnificent, conquered Rhodes and the Knights’ position became untenable. The castle still dominates the harbor and houses an archeological museum.
Symi belongs to the Dodecanese islands and lies across the Asia Minor coast and just a few nautical miles NW of Rhodes. Aristocratic and far off the model of mass tourism, Symi pleasantly surprises its visitors with its plain, aristocratic yet wild beauty.
As you glimpse the perfectly formed harbor of Symi, Gialos, you are confronted with a beautiful picture-postcard Venetian village. Wonderfully well-preserved two and three story mansions with their facades painted in bright and vivid colors reflect the island’s rich past since Symi was once one of the richest islands with a tradition in sponge diving, ship building and wood carving.
The history of Symi goes back to ancient times. Aigli, Metapontis and Kariki are some of Symi’s ancient names where according to mythology the Graces were born. Symi got its current name from the nymph Symi, who according to the myth mated with Poseidon, God of the Seas, and brought to life Hthonios who became the leader of the island’s first inhabitants.
“Thira, the Wild Island” and “Kalliste, the Fairest One” – all terms of endearment for this seductive, volcanic Greek island in the Sea of Crete. Extraordinary for its black sand beaches and sheer limestone cliffs, Santorini also showcases remnants of the Phoenician, Spartan and Minoan cultures, which fell under the island’s spell – an unvarying, irresistible lure that continues to this day. Fira, the picturesque, pedestrian-only capital, is reached from the seaport via a short cable car ride that offers thrilling views as you ascend.
Syros is an important island in the Cyclades, but rather off the tourist map. Just the sort of place we like. The town (named for Hermes) is the capital of the island group, and its airy Miaouli Plaza is a wonderful, palm-lined place to sit in a cafe and have a drink. The medieval Venetian village of Ano Syros crowns a hilltop nearby. Wander the narrow, cobblestone streets to the impressive 13th-century Agios Georgios church. Back in town, the Eastern Orthodox Church of the Assumption holds an icon by the Greek painter known as El Greco. A small archeological museum has some very fine Cycladic figures, and the Ermoupolis Industrial Museum recounts the island legacy of shipbuilding and other occupations.
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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