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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.
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