The Piraeus is the ancient port of Athens and still functions as the chief exit point from the city by sea for destinations amongst the Aegean Islands and elsewhere in the east Mediterranean. Domestic destinations include all of the Aegean islands except the Sporades and some smaller Cyclades and Dodecanese isles that require a connection. International destinations (apart from cruise ships) include Cyprus and the Middle East.
Monemvasia is located on a small peninsula off the east coast of the Peloponnese in the Greek prefecture of Laconia. The peninsula is linked to the mainland by a short causeway 650 feet in length. Its area consists mostly of a large plateau some 325 feet above sea level, up to 950 feet wide, the site of a powerful medieval fortress. The town walls and many Byzantine churches remain from the medieval period.
The town's name derives from two Greek words, mone and emvasia, meaning "single entrance". Its Italian form, Malvasia, gave its name to Malmsey wine. Monemvasia's nickname is the Gibraltar of the East or The Rock.
Truly one of the world’s original great urban centers, the port city of Gythion was founded by the ancient Phoenicians prior to 400 B.C. Gracing the isolated southern edge of the Peloponnese, the city has a rich political and cultural heritage which is still in evidence today. The castle of Mistras, with its elaborate Byzantine frescos, carved throne and majestic cathedrals will impress even the most seasoned traveler. Or visit the beautiful Caves of Diros, with their incredible underground lakes and fossils dating back 2 million years.
Gythion is a small coastal town on the Gulf of Laconia known as Cranae in antiquity, the port of Sparta. This was the first refuge of lovers Paris and Helen; they eloped here over the Taygetos Mountains from her home in Sparta and set off by ship to Troy. Gythion has been inhabited since early history, serving as a trading station to the Phoenicians. During the Peloponnesian War, it was a Spartan naval base, destroyed by Athenians in 455 BC. Later it was fortified becoming such a powerful port that when seized in 195 BC it possessed the entire necessary infrastructure for use as an important export harbor.
The modern town has an island touch with its neo classical buildings. To the north of its entrance lies the ancient city with ruins of its acropolis on an adjacent hill and the theatre of the Roman era. Today, people from all over the world come to enjoy Gythion's soft golden beaches and its laid back atmosphere.
Messina, Sicily, Italy (optional tour Etna or Taormina)
This ancient city of cobblestone streets and friendly people is the gateway to the sunny island of Sicily, a mountainous and rugged place which remains in the shadow of its still-active volcano, Mt. Etna. In addition to its own enchanting landscape, Messina is the launching point for visits to the classical ruins at Taormina and the Church of the Black Madonna in Tindari.
Known to the ancient Greeks as Zankle (Sickle) for its beautiful curved harbor, Messina was inhabited by Greek colonies, Roman conquerors, Byzantine and Norman rulers. Since the 18th century, Messina has suffered from plague, cholera and earthquakes. The city had just been rebuilt when it was flattened by bombing raids during WWII. Fortunately, through all of this adversity, the city eventually grew into one of Sicily’s greatest seaside communities.
Mt Etna has had a long history of eruptions, the last being December 2015. They are quite spectacular despite the devastation caused.
Taormina is a hilltop town on the east coast of Sicily and close to Mt. Etna. The town is known for an ancient Greco-Roman theater still used today.
Sorrento's city walls rise straight out of the sea, and they hold many charms within. Sorrento has been depicted described and immortalised in song by artists, poets and travellers from every period of history. Along the coast, rugged and inaccessible cliffs soar upwards between beautiful beaches, hidden caves, enchanting bays and sheltered coves. Whereas inland, the high plains, rolling hills and lofty mountains are seared by deep valleys to create a truly unique landscape in which man has also left a clear sign of his remarkable work: the more impervious areas have been modelled into the now-famous terraces, those huge steps descending into the sea on which man has planted vinyards and groves of orange, lemon and olive trees. There are the gardens of delight which excude an inebriating perfume of blossom in spring. The mild climate and predominantly fine weather year-round make the Sorrentine Peninsula an ideal destination in any season.
The first town on the peninsula is Vico Equense with its Giusso Castle on the coast and the austere Mont Faito (4,500 feet high). You can pass from the sea to the mountain in just a few minutes. Next we find Meta di Sorrento, a town hidden in a maze of alleyways whose small hamlets and sun-drenched beaches are a must for visitors. Piano di Sorrento is a bustling town which harmoniously blends its sea-faring vocation with its rural identity and its role as a major market center. The hill rising up behind the town is traversed by narrow roads flanked by high walls that enclose centuries-old orange and lemon groves. Optional excursions here might include a trip back in history in Pompeii, where the ashen remains of ancient Romans lie frozen in time.
Ponza, an island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, trims the island’s eastern coast, a vista of sheer tuff cliffs bleached white by the sun and eroded by water and wind.
Indeed, the best vantage from which to appreciate Ponza is from the sea. During the high summer season — particularly on weekends, when Romans journey two hours to dine on fish and escape the oppressive heat of the capital — waterfront spots accessible by land attract crowds, with hardly an inch to lay your towel on the rocks. But by boat, the island’s charms come to life.
Vessels dock in Ponza’s sheltered port, the largest settlement on the island, which locals refer to simply as Porto. Its boxy houses form a pastel mosaic that traces the volcanic terrain over the area’s two peaks. Restaurants, cafes, bakeries, fishmongers and produce stalls surround the port, which is generally filled with boats. Porto retains the beauty of its origins as a simple fishing village — a destination popular with people from the mainland, but still unspoiled for visitors from afar.
The glorious Roman civilization had its origins in small groups of farmers and shepherds who settled along the banks of the Tiber, on the Palatine hills and the surrounding areas.
The Roman republic was characterized by internal struggles that eventually led to the success of the plebeians (lower class Romans) and a new order of ruling class. The city expanded and gradually, the whole of Lazio, the Italic peninsula and the Mediterranean basin were conquered. For almost four centuries, Rome concentrated her energies on building a strong, solid empire. Mighty conquests came thick and fast: from Sannitic and Tarantine wars, to clashes with Carthage and Syracuse. Rome expanded over land and sea and managed to accomplish what no other civilization had managed i.e. the unification of the East and West.
In the first two centuries of the empire, Rome reached the height of her power, but the first signs of her downfall were already apparent towards the end of the second century.
The causes of Rome's decline are numerous: the empire was unable to control her many subjects, social and economic changes made for an unstable climate as did the forceful arrival of the Barbarians. Christianity also began to spread and emperors tried to unite the empire using religion. Emperors wanted to have their titles sanctified and became Holy Roman Emperors. Emperor Constantine sanctioned the freedom and tolerance of Christians in the empire in his edict of 313 but he unwisely decided to move the capital of the empire to Constantinople undermining the empire's power. The pontificate was re-established in Rome with Gregory XI in 1377. The power of the Popes increased, they were able to assign public offices, which led to clashes and schisms.
The centralizing of the papacy and the power absolute that the church had made a cultural impact. Rome became the centre of artistic life. The face of the city changed, as palaces, villas, piazzas and churches were built. New streets were created and the basilica of Saint Peter was restored. The sack of Rome occurred in 1527, and although the effects were disastrous (all the artists abandoned the city), the wounds were soon healed and a new spirit of rebirth and development enveloped the city. More new districts and streets were created and the population began to move back to the city.
In the 17th century, Rome also had a period of expansion and beautification, largely due to the work of two major artists, Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini. Clashes continued between the nobility and the populace. Rome's fortune waxed and waned under Napoleonic rule: the church's estates were confiscated and divided amongst French officials and Italian laymen. The city was subject to French rule until the fall of Napoleon III and the annexation of Italy.
Rome became the capital of Italy in 1870 and the city received a huge influx of immigrants; this led to the rapid, and disordered creation of new dwellings. The situation did not become any better with the advent of fascism. During WWII, the city was bombarded heavily by America, causing major damage, particularly in the areas of Verano and Porta Maggiore. The city was attacked during the period of German occupation until the end of the war. From June 2, 1946 Italy chose to be a republic, ousting its monarchy and Rome was chosen as the capital.