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.
Sailing into Portoferraio, you can see why Napoleon chose Elba for his exile; an island of pink granite, pine forests, and pristine beaches. The contrasts of the Elba countryside – from its typical fishing villages and high mountain passes to its stylish summer resorts on the coast – are enchanting. Elba’s restaurants feature excellent seafood, and small private vineyards produce local Moscato and Aleatico wines.
From his villa in Portoferraio, Napoleon, no longer Emperor of France, looked out over the waiting ships in the harbor and dreamed of returning to glory. Today you can enjoy a local vineyard tour, and near Portoferraio, discover the remains of an ancient Etruscan civilisation.
It's amazing in this day and age to find a Mediterranean city that looks like it stepped right out of the travel diary of a 19th century Grand Tour. Bastia's gracious Italianate buildings were created to house the administrative offices of the capital of Haute Corse. In the Musée Ethnographique in the massive stone Citadel, discover how Corsica's continuous wars for independence from Genoese invaders split families for generations and gave rise to the dreaded vendettas.
Napoleon once said that he could recognize his native island blindfolded because of the wonderful perfume of the maquis. Approaching by sea, it is the first thing you experience about Corsica. The second is its wild and mountainous landscape. Nearby are secluded beaches and the eerie Grottes des Veaux Marins, offering fantastic diving opportunities.
Mahon, Menorca, Balearic, Spain
You can see why Lord Nelson choose Mahon, Menorca as the base for the British Mediterranean fleet during the Napoleonic Wars. Imagine dozens of ships of the line, being fitted out for battle in this historic harbor. Reminders of those times can still be seen in the gracious Georgian buildings that climb the steep hills backing the Moll Ponent. Mahon's heritage also includes the invention of mayonnaise and the first distillation of gin from juniper berries.
Palma de Majorca, Spain
Majorca is an island of emerald mountains, turquoise seas, lemon and orange orchards, olive groves, and cedar-studded hills. In Palma, the capital, you’ll find a dramatic seafront cathedral to explore and leafy promenades to stroll. Visit the Arab Baths for a glimpse of the town’s Moorish past. Or simply enjoy the sun, sand, and sea that have beguiled celebrities, jet setters, and royal families for years.
Towering over the harbor, Palma's enormous Gothic cathedral is a powerful symbol of the religious fervor which gripped all of Spain shortly after the defeat of the Moors. Built by Jaumé I, its vast open nave and soaring Gothic columns have been added to over the centuries. Behind the Cathedral, a maze of twisting streets leads to designer boutiques and open-air markets.
Capital of proud Catalonia, Barcelona is a cosmopolitan city like no other. Old and new combine in Barcelona; narrow Gothic Quarter alleyways contrast with grand boulevards. Everywhere, the city celebrates the work of Gaudi, its surreal moderniste hometown architect. The city also boasts an incredible collection of Picasso’s work. Stroll down Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s wide tree-lined boulevard and enjoy the street carnival. Enjoy delectable tapas in the many restaurants and bars.