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Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, is said to have been founded by the Phoenicians, and was once the rival of the powerful states of Venice and Genoa for control of the Mediterranean trade. Today, it is Spain’s second largest city and has long rivaled, even surpassed Madrid in industry and commerce. The medieval atmosphere of the Gothic Quarter and the elegant boulevards combine to make the city one of Europe’s most beautiful. Barcelona’s active cultural life and heritage brought forth such greats as the architect Antonio Gaudi, the painter Joan Miro, and Pablo Picasso, who spent his formative years here. Other famous native Catalan artists include cellist Pau Casals, surrealist Salvador Dali, and opera singers Montserrat Caballe and Josep Carreras. Barcelona accomplished a long-cherished goal with the opportunity to host the Olympics in 1992. This big event prompted a massive building program and created a focal point of the world’s attention.
Menorca’s original capital is on the opposite side of the island from Mahon, which the British chose as a capital in the 18th century. The city, situated at the head of a long channel from the sea, has had its share of disputes over sovereignty. Its character reflects the influence of Moorish, Turkish and Spanish rule. Stroll the narrow cobbled streets and find a café in which to sit and pass the time slowly, Menorcan-style. Or take a sortie to look at prehistoric megalithic tombs or the fishing village of Fornells.
There is saying among the Italians, “See Naples and Die,” meaning that this city’s splendor and magnificent vistas are so grand that life is not complete without visiting it. Whether you want to explore in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius, experience the scenic wonders and hairpin curves of the Amalfi Drive, cruise across the bay to the fabled Isle of Capri, or shop for coral and cameos along Via Santa Lucia and in the Galleria Umberto, the passionate city of Naples has an attraction for every taste.
Lipari is the largest of the seven major islands making up the Aeolian Islands. They were originally named after Aeolus, the mythical god of wind who the ancients believed made his home in a cave here. Recently renamed the Lipari Islands, they were created by volcanic eruptions thousands of years ago and have a primitive rocky beauty accented by Mediterranean greenery. Their natural beauty and easy lifestyle have made the islands increasingly popular for those who wish to escape the modern world and its stresses. The crystal clear aqua-blue waters and the volcanic beaches are some of the most inviting in Italy. Many are inaccessible except by fishermens’ boats. An abundance of fish and shell fish makes for some very good restaurants specializing in seafood.
This harbor on the eastern shore of Sicily near Messina gives us close access to the fabulous Greco-Roman ruins of Taormina, as well as the active volcano Mt. Etna. The temples, streets and large amphitheater of Taormina make it one of Italy’s premier ancient sites. Its location overlooking the sea and with the backdrop of snow-capped Etna complete the package and make it among the most famous attractions in the Mediterranean region. Giardini Naxos itself boasts a lovely beach at Lido Europa, and intrepid visitors can climb Mt. Etna to see a volcano close up
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.
Rab is a Croatian island in the Adriatic Sea. It’s known for the old town of the same name, encircled by ancient walls. The town’s 4 prominent church bell towers include the Romanesque tower at the Cathedral Svete Marije (St. Mary) and the tower at the ruins of Sveti Ivan Church (St. John the Evangelist). The monastery at the 16th-century Church of St. Justine (Crkva Svete Justine) is now a museum of sacral objects.
From walled Piran, visit a medieval church with a fresco of the Danse Macabre, the UNESCO-cited caves of Skocjan, or Lipica stud farms, the home of the famed Lippizaner horses.
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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