29 April 2014: Batumi

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Dear readers: an update on our visit to Batumi.

Although guests who booked this cruise thought we were going to be making a call in the Republic of Georgia, I am sorry to tell you that is not correct.[whohit]-Batumi 29Apr-[/whohit]

We actually arrived in the Autonomous Republic of Adjara.

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Old Batumi includes an impressive–and gaudy theater, set on a grand square with a gilded statue. Photos by Corey Sandler

Batumi is the regional capital of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara.

So it’s not Georgia?

No, except when it is Georgia.

The Autonomous Republic of Adjara is an autonomous Republic of Georgia.

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Scenes of Batumi. Photos by Corey Sandler

Adjara has its own constitution, and its own Parliament.

Adjara is in southwestern Georgia, extending from the Black Sea to the wooded foothills and mountains of the Lesser Caucasus. The highest mountains rise more than 3,000 meters (9,840 feet) above sea level.

The ancient Greek colony of Colchis had a settlement called Bathus, from the Greek phrase bathus limen meaning “deep harbor.”

Under Hadrian, it was converted into a fortified Roman port. Roman-Byzantine forces held it for most of the next eight centuries.

At the end of the 10th century, Batumi came under the unified kingdom of Georgia.

In the 15th century, the Ottoman Turks briefly conquered the town. The Ottomans returned and took the region in 1614.

Under the Ottomans most of the people of Adjara converted to Islam. And then in 1878, the Ottomans were forced to cede Adjara to the expanding Russian Empire, part of Russia’s push into the eastern end of the Black Sea.

Russia installed a railway in 1900 from Batumi to Tilibilisi and on to Baku, the capital and port city of Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea.

Soon afterwards, an oil pipeline was completed from Baku to Batumi. Oil and politics and lots of money; little has changed in the past century.

As Russia fell apart during its Civil War, Adjara was occupied by Turkish and British troops from 1918 to 1920.

In 1921, the Turkish government ceded Adjara to the newborn Democratic Republic of Georgia on condition that autonomy be guaranteed for its Muslim population.

And then under the rising Soviet Union came the establishment of the Adjar Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.

For the next 70 years, it was an autonomous part of the autonomous Republic of Georgia, which was in turn a puppet state of the Soviet Union with only limited autonomy.

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Gonio Fortress near Batumi. Photos by Corey Sandler

Gonio-Apsaros Fortress is about 15 kilometers or 10 miles south of Batumi, very close to the border with Turkey. The settlement of Gonio was a fortified Roman city within Colchis, dating from the 1st century or earlier.

The walls are younger, dating from the Byzantine era, and the parapets or merlons were added during Turkish occupation.

Modern Adjara has encouraged foreign investment. Batumi has a coastline punctuated with modern tall buildings:

Skyscraper City, some call it.

Kazakh investors reportedly invested $100 million to purchase more than 20 hotels in Adjara. Other money comes from the Middle East.

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They love extravagant, unusual, sometimes gaudy, and often downright odd architecture in modern Batumi. Think of Las Vegas and Disneyworld, without the high culture. And yes, that is a Ferris wheel of sorts, built into the side of a technical institute along the seafront. Photos by Corey Sandler

For an outsider, the easiest thing about the Georgian language is its name: Kartuli. Other than that, speaking for myself at least, all is lost.

Their alphabet looks to me like a mashup of Farsi, Sanskrit, and an explosion at a noodle factory.

The Georgian language is not related to any major language.

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The Alphabet Tower celebrates the abstruse Georgian alphabet. Photo by Corey Sandler

All photos and text copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a copy of a photo, please contact me.

 

28 April 2014: Trabzon, Turkey

Finding Trabzon

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Trabzon has been a major trading port for millennia. Modern Trabzon has a population of more than 230,000 in the city.[whohit]-Trabzon 28Apr-[/whohit]

The Republic of Genoa had an important merchant colony within the city that was similar to Galata near Constantinople (north across the Golden Horn) in present-day Istanbul. Trabzon formed the basis of several states in its long history and was the capital city of the Empire of Trebizond between 1204 and 1461.

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The astounding Sumela Monastery, completed in 386, was somehow carved into the cliffside about 1,200 meters or 3,900 feet above sea level in the Pontic Mountains near Trabzon. We don’t know much about how they were built, and even today it is a difficult task to get to them: car or coach for an hour into the hills, transfer to a small dolmus minivan up a switchback road, and then hike up a path better suited for goats than people. Photos by Corey Sandler

During the late Ottoman period, the city became an important Christian center. One of the former treasures of the region is the Trebizond Gospel, a Byzantine illuminated manuscript with the text of Gospel Lectionary, dating from the 11th century and 10th century.

The book was richly decorated with gold and jewels by the Trapezuntine Emperor Andronicus. In 1858, the Trebizond Gospel was presented by the Orthodox Metropolitan of Trebizond to the Emperor Alexander II of Russia, who donated it to the Russian National Library, where is held to the present day. Good luck getting it back.

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Some of the ancient frescoes at Sumela. Photos by Corey Sandler

As Turkey has developed, Trabzon has grown with it.

The coastal highway and a new harbor increased commercial relations with Central Anatolia and the outside world. Nevertheless, Trabzon is by no means as developed or Westernized as Istanbul or port cities like Kusadasi on the Aegean.

The current ethnic background of the people of Trabzon is mostly Turkish. There is still a small community of Greek or Pontic-speaking Muslims and some Armenians.

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The Agia Sophia Church was built in the 13th century, converted to a mosque during the Ottoman Era in the 16th century, made a museum in modern Turkey in 1957, and returned to its role as a mosque about a year ago. Its Christian icons and frescoes are covered by curtains during Islamic prayer times. Photos by Corey Sandler

Since the end of the Soviet Union, there has been immigration from Russia, Ukraine, and the Caucasus—mostly Georgia.

Some of the original people of the region, the Laz, are also found in Trabzon and in small villages outside of the city. The Laz are descendants of one of the chief tribes of ancient kingdom of Colchis.

They were initially early adopters of Christianity in the region.

However, most of them converted to Sunni Islam during Ottoman rule in the 16th century.

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The Ortahisar Buyuk Fatih Mosque in Trabzon dates from 1316, although its earliest use was as a Christian church used for the coronation of Byzantine Emperors. Photo by Corey Sandler

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In Trabzon, on a hilltop overlooking the harbor, is a much-loved ornate home known as the Attaturk Country House. Turks come on pilgrimage, some making multiple visits, which is more than Attaturk did: he stayed only two nights.

All photos copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a copy, please contact me.

 

27 April 2014: Sinope, Turkey

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Anatolia, which the Greeks called Asia Minor—is the westernmost protrusion of Asia. Modern Turkey, famed for spanning Europe and Asia at Istanbul, has the majority of its territory in Anatolia.One theory is the Black and Caspian Seas were vast freshwater lakes until a massive flood about 5600 BC.[whohit]-SINOPE 27Apr-[/whohit]

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Regional elections were conducted recently in Turkey; some of the political flags still fly after the politicians have gone. Photo by Corey Sandler

The flood came from the West: the Mediterranean spilled over a rocky sill at the Bosphorus, creating the strait that now connects the Black and Mediterranean Seas.

Sinope is one of the high holy places of self-interest and cynicism. The town, on the most northern point of the Turkish side of the Black Sea coast, was the birthplace of Diogenes.

Diogenes was born about 412 B.C. in the Greek colony Sinope, and died at Corinth about 323 B.C.

Diogenes was the man who walked about carrying a lantern in the daytime to help him in “looking for a good man.” He apparently could not find one.

Alexander the Great met the famous philosopher when he was in Corinth and wanted to reward him.

According to the story, Alexander asked, “What can I do for you?”

Diogenes was said to have replied, “Stand aside. You’re blocking my sunlight.”

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Scenes around Sinope, including a bakery where we stopped to pick up a fresh sesame bread right out of the oven. Photos by Corey Sandler

The modern city of Sinope has a population of about 37,000. Used as a port by the Hittites, the city was re-founded as a Greek colony in the 7th century B.C.

Sinope flourished as the Black Sea port of a caravan route that led from the upper Euphrates valley.

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The Archeological Museum of Sinope is like a graduate course in history: Colchis Greek, Roman, Ottoman, and trade objects that reach back to the other end of the Silk Road in Persia. Photos by Corey Sandler

By 1850, the Ottoman Empire was falling apart. Deeply in debt, it relied heavily on British and French loans. And it drastically reduced the size of its Army and Navy.

By 1853, Tsar Nicholas I saw the reductions as an opportunity to press Russian claim in the Trans-Cacasus and along the Danube River.

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A simple but elegant mosque, from about 1361, in Sinope. The design in this part of Anatolia is closer to that of the Middle East, less influenced by European styles as you would see in Istanbul. Photos by Corey Sandler

Today there are many parallels in Crimea and the Ukraine and between Nicholas I and Vladimir Putin. Nicholas I pushed to recapture or expand Russian territory, and in the process brought pushback from European powers.

In July 1853, Russian forces occupied several Ottoman Principalities along the Danube.

In the Black Sea, Sultan Mejd ordered a squadron of frigates, steamers and transports to establish a supply corridor to the Ottoman Army in Georgia.

The Ottoman fleet was met by the onset of winter, and ended up at Sinope.

On November 30, 1853, the Imperial Russian Navy crossed the Black Sea to Sinop, attacked and destroyed the Ottoman fleet in port there.

The Russian bombardment went on long past when it was clear the Ottomans were defeated, killing many Ottoman sailors who were no longer combatants.

The “massacre of Sinope” was one of the events precipitating the Crimean War (1853-1854) in which Great Britain and France joined with the Ottoman Empire against the Russian Empire.

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The monument to the fallen Ottoman sailors in Sinope. Photo by Corey Sandler

All photos copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a copy, please contact me.

 

24-26 April 2014: Istanbul, Turkey

The Bridge Across Time and Continents

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Istanbul, one of the great cities of the world, is a place where ancient history comes alive.

Across its long history, Istanbul served as the capital of the Roman Empire (330–395), the Eastern Roman (or Byzantine) Empire from 395 to 1204, the Latin Empire (1204–1261), again the Byzantine Empire from 1261 to 1453, and the Ottoman Empire (1453–1922).[whohit]-Istanbul 24-26Apr-[/whohit]

It is the place where East meets West,

Where Asia meets Europe.

Where Islam meets the Judeo-Christian world.

Where ancient culture meets—and sometimes intermingles—with modernity.

Here in Istanbul we wish safe travels to many guests who have been with us since Monte Carlo and before, and welcome new friends who will sail with us through the Bosporus Strait and into the Black Sea.

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Our voyage from Istanbul into the Black Sea. Because of the unrest in Ukraine, we have had to rework our itinerary, removing Yalta and Sevastopol in the Crimea; we have added Sinop in Turkey.

Istanbul is on the European side of Turkey, straddling the Golden Horn and fronting the Bosporus Strait that runs from the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea.

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The 6th century cisterns of Istanbul, near the Blue Mosque and the 5th century Valens Aqueduct built by the Romans. Photo by Corey Sandler

Kapalıçarşı, the Grand Bazaar, is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, encompassing more than 58 streets and 4,000 shops. As many as half a million people visit daily.

It opened in 1461.

Three decades before Columbus.

Nearby is the smaller but very colorful and flavorful Spice Market, at the western side of the Galata Bridge.

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Scenes from in and around the Spice Market and across the Golden Horn along Istaklal Avenue near Taksim Square. Photos by Corey Sandler

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, the Sultanahmet, is known to the outside world as the Blue Mosque, named for the colorful tiles within. It was completed in 1616.

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Inside the Blue Mosque. Photos by Corey Sandler

The Blue Mosque melds two centuries of Ottoman mosque and Byzantine church building. Only the sultan was allowed to enter the court of the mosque on horseback.

On the western side, a heavy iron chain spans the entrance, so that even the sultan had to lower his head in religious acknowledgment.

Within, the walls and columns are lined with more than 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles in more than 50 designs. Those at lower levels are traditional in design, while at gallery level they become flamboyant with representations of flowers, fruit, and cypresses.

Süleymaniye is Istanbul’s second largest mosque. It is actually a bit older than the Blue Mosque, completed in 1558.

Again, it combines Islamic and Byzantine architecture. The design of the Süleymaniye also plays on Suleyman’s representation of himself as a ‘second Solomon.’ It references the Dome of the Rock, which was built on the site of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem.

Here are some scenes of Süleymaniye. All photos by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.

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Topkapı Palace was the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans from 1465 to 1856. The name means “Cannon gate Palace”.

Construction began in 1459. The palace complex consists of four main courtyards and many smaller buildings. At its peak, the palace was home to as many as 4,000 people.

The palace functioned almost as a city within a city, encompassing dormitories, gardens, libraries, schools, and mosques.

Within the palace, the sultan and his family could enjoy privacy, making use of secret passageways and grilled windows.

After the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1921, Topkapı Palace was transformed into a museum of the imperial era. Only the most significant of the hundreds of rooms are open to the public today.

Hagia Sophia began as an Orthodox Christian basilica, converted to a mosque, and now a museum.

The Emperor Justinian had materials brought from all over the empire: Hellenistic columns from the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, large porphyry stones from quarries in Egypt, green marble from Thessaly, black stone from the Bosporus region, and yellow stone from Syria.

Hagia Sophia’s massive dome is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture.

It was the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years, until the Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520.

The Greek name for the original cathedral was “Church of the Holy Wisdom of God.” From its dedication in 360 until 1453, it served as the Greek Patriarchal cathedral of Constantinople, except for the period between 1204 and 1261 when it was a Roman Catholic cathedral in the Latin Empire.

And then under the Ottomans, the cathedral was made a mosque in 1453, a role it continued until 1931.

In 1935, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey and first President, determined to separate Islam from politics, transformed Hagia Sofia into a museum.

The Istanbul Archaeology Museums has three collections in the Eminönü district, near Topkapı Palace: The Archaeological Museum, the Museum of the Ancient Orient, and the Museum of Islamic Art.

One of the great sights of Istanbul is relatively young, Dolmabahçe Palace. This was the last of the Ottoman Palaces, heavily influence by European designs and customs in the mid-19th century.

Here is an album of photos from inside and outside of Dolmabahçe. Photos by Corey Sandler

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All photos copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a copy, please contact me.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Now available, the revised Second Edition of “Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession” by Corey Sandler, for the Amazon Kindle. You can read the book on a Kindle device, or in a Kindle App on your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Here’s where to order a copy for immediate delivery:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IA9QTBM

Henry Hudson Dreams cover

Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession: The Tragic Legacy of the New World’s Least Understood Explorer  (Kindle Edition)

 

23 April 2014: Kusadasi and Ephesus, Turkey

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Kusadasi is a place that has been bystander to history for eons.

It has seen the likes of Alexander the Great, Croesus, King Midas, and thousands of travelers and merchants who came to the city on the ancient Silk Road that reached back to Persia and the Middle East.[whohit]-Kusadasi 23Apr-[/whohit]

And a short distance away is the spectacular city of Ephesus, once a great Greek and then Roman city with a population of several hundred thousand and then one of the most important early cities of Christendom.

Today, the invaders arrive by cruise ship and airliner.

Here’s an album of photos from Ephesus and nearby sites.

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The Library of Celsus, the Greek theater and other sites at Ephesus. Photos by Corey Sandler.

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The Basilica of Saint John near Ephesus. Photos by Corey Sandler

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Storks atop a former minaret, a street scene in Selcuk. Photos by Corey Sandler

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Bonjuks to ward off the evil eye, and an honest merchant’s stall near Ephesus. Photos by Corey Sandler

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The ancient Isa Bey mosque. In a row in Selcuk is the pagan Temple of Artemis, the Christian Basilica of Saint John, and this Muslim mosque designed by an architect from Damascus. Photos by Corey Sandler

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The Temple of Claros, an unreconstructed site once home to an oracle. Photos by Corey Sandler

22 April 2014: Santorini, Greece

A Legend of Fire and Water

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Santorini is a picture-postcard Greek Island, one of the more spectacular sights in the Aegean, a half-circle of steep cliffs topped with two horizontal towns of white and blue.

Oh, and one more thing: It’s a picture-perfect Greek island that also sits atop a ticking time bomb. The cliffs are actually the rim of a huge volcano.[whohit]-Santorini 22Apr-[/whohit]

A huge dormant—not dead, just sleeping—volcano.

Santorini and a few surrounding fragments are essentially the remains of an enormous volcanic explosion that destroyed the earliest settlements on a single island.

The homeland of the Minoan culture was on the island of Crete, and the famed palace complex of Knossos is one of the wonders of the Aegean.

This Bronze Age civilization thrived between 3000 to 2000 BC, and reached its peak in the period 2000 to 1580 BC.

What happened about 1500 BC? The big boom on Thera; the volcano on Santorini.

Excavations begun in 1967 on Santorini have established its importance as one of the outlying centers of the Minoan culture.

A SANTORINI ALBUM. All photos by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.

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SCENES OF AKROTIRI ON SANTORINI. All photos by Corey Sandler, all rights reserved.

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– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Now available, the revised Second Edition of “Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession” by Corey Sandler, for the Amazon Kindle. You can read the book on a Kindle device, or in a Kindle App on your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Here’s where to order a copy for immediate delivery:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IA9QTBM

Henry Hudson Dreams cover

Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession: The Tragic Legacy of the New World’s Least Understood Explorer  (Kindle Edition)

 

 

20 April 2014: Valletta, Malta

Easter Sunday on the Crossroads of the Med

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

The two-and-a-half island nation of Malta is not quite like anywhere else. Especially on Easter Sunday.[whohit]-Valletta 20Apr-[/whohit]

Once I figured out we would be visiting the island nation on Easter, I knew exactly what we would be doing: a pilgrimage to Vittorioso to see the parade and procession. More about that a bit later.

Malta is pretty much right in the middle of the Mediterranean. 93 kilometers or 55 miles south of Sicily and Europe, 288 kilometers or 180 miles north of Tunisia and Africa. East of Gibraltar, and west of Alexandria and Jerusalem.

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Our sister ship Silver Cloud at the dock in Valletta on a previous visit. Photo by Corey Sandler

And, of course, that location made it so very important as a crossroads and rest stop for invaders, crusaders, pilgrims, and traders.

It is heavily Catholic and has a long tradition of Christianity, and yet it was greatly influenced by the Middle East and the British Empire.

They also speak (along with English) a language of their own: Maltese.

The Republic of Malta covers just 300 square kilometers, 116 square miles. It is one of the smallest and most-densely populated countries in Europe.

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The major cathedrals in Valletta and Mdina are among the most spectacular in Europe. They hold fabulous art, much of it imported (along with the artists) by the Knights of Malta who held the island during the Crusades. Photos by Corey Sandler

Malta is actually about twenty islands, islets, and rocks. Only three are inhabited: the principal island of Malta, and the secondary island of Gozo.

In between them is the tiny isle of Comino (Kemmuna): just over one square mile and home at last count to less than a dozen people.

Over the centuries, Malta has been ruled by Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, the Fatimid Caliphate of Egypt, Sicilians, the Knights of St John, the French and the British.

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Doorways and balconies in Valletta, above, and Mostar below. Photos by Corey Sandler

The last colonial power was the British, and for that the Maltese suffered greatly, and stood up bravely, during World War II as the Axis powers pummeled Valletta.

Malta has a long Christian legacy and, depending on who is making the call, it can claim to be—with Rome—an Apostolic See. That term is applied to a church or a community founded directly by one of the Apostles.

The fine print is that there were some gaps in the leadership and ownership of Malta over the past two thousand years.

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A mysterious alleyway in the Alice-in-Wonderland town of Mdina. Photo by Corey Sandler

But in any case, according to the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Paul was shipwrecked and ministered on the island.

Along with its Christian sites, several Megalithic Temples may be the oldest free-standing structures in Europe.

According to Catholic belief, Christianity arrived in 60 A.D., in the personal hands of the Apostle Paul who—according to a detailed account in the Acts of the Apostles—was being taken by ship to Rome under arrest for a religious infringement.

Paul had asked to be judged before Caesar, his right as a Roman Citizen. Another prisoner on the same ship was Saint Luke, who made his own record of the voyage.

The vessel wrecked just off Malta.

According to the accounts, the men who washed ashore were taken to the villa of Publius, a leader on the island. Paul cured Publius’ father of a fever, and that was sufficient to convince Publius to convert to Christianity.

Malta went from the Romans to the Byzantines who ruled from Constantinople for four centuries, which brings us up to the year 870.

Next up were Arabs and Moslems, who took control of Malta as part of the Emirate of Sicily, and later the Caliphate of the Fatamids in 909.

The Arabs advanced the island’s irrigation and farming, and also brought the Siculo-Arabic language which would eventually become Maltese.

Maltese is a Semitic language using 30 characters based on the Latin alphabet.

The Muslims allowed Christians to continue to practice their religion, although they had to pay a tax as a sign of subjugation.

Today, Malta is among the most Catholic nations on the planet. There are something like 360 churches. And on Easter Sunday, well, they sure know how to celebrate.

We were early off the ship and traveled with some friends to the town of Vittorioso, on the less-visited other side of the harbor from Valletta. There were thousands and people there to see the marching bands, procession, and a most unusual race.

What was quite lacking, thankfully, were very many other tourists. Here’s a bit of what we saw.

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High Mass was celebrated at the Saint Lawrence Church in Vittorioso, which dates from about 1660. It was used for just a few decades by the Knights of Malta before they relocated across the harbor to Valletta. It has to be one of most impressive parish churches anywhere. Photos by Corey Sandler

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After the services, a marching band proceeded through the crowded square, followed–at first by a solemn procession of men and boys holding aloft a statue from the church. Photos by Corey Sandler

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And then the race was on, as the bearers ran up the hill from the church to the central square of the Three Cities of Malta, where processions from other towns met them. After catching their breath, the bands and the bearers returned to their home churches. Photos by Corey Sandler

All photos copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a copy, please contact me.

 

 

 

19 April 2014: Messina, Taormina, Etna

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Early Saturday morning we sailed south from Sorrento through the Tyrrhenian Sea into the funnel-shaped Strait of Messina.[whohit]-Messina 19Apr-[/whohit]

On our left was the bottom of the mainland of Italy. To our right was the large island of Sicily, the football being kicked by the toe of Italy’s boot.

At the northern entrance to the strait, the passage narrows to less than two miles, or three kilometers.

At its exit to the south, the strait is nearly 10 miles of 16 kilometers wide.

Almost anywhere the sea funnels into a strait, mariners expect strong and sometime treacherous currents.

That’s only one problem.

The Eurasian plate is moving down—south, if you will—toward the African plate. And one of the hotspots, where the plates grind against each other, is southern Italy.

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Mount Etna, letting off a bit of steam, as seen from the hilltop village of Taormina. Photo by Corey Sandler

And so we have Mount Etna: the tallest active volcano in Europe, nearly constantly bubbling over like a bowl of Arrabiata sauce left on the burner.

We docked in the once-handsome classic Sicilian city of Messina.

I say Messina was once-handsome.

In 1783, an earthquake devastated much of the city, and it took decades to rebuild and rekindle cultural life.

On December 28, 1908 Messina was all but leveled by a terrible earthquake that killed between 80 and 100 thousand people.

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Scenes of classic and ancient Messina. Most of the city was severely damaged in the earthquake of 1908 and World War II bombing, but has been lovingly rebuilt. Photos by Corey Sandler

And then during World War II Messina was subject to massive aerial bombardment by Allied forces.

So, between the earthquakes and the wartime bombing, what you see in Messina today is almost entirely rebuilt.

Oh and one other thing: on our way into the Strait, we sailed between Scylla and Charybdis.

A quick reminder from Greek mythology:

Charybdis was a horrific sea monster whose face was all mouth. (Sounds like an entire class of politicians to me.)

Apparently she ran afoul of Zeus, who turned her into a creature who swallows a huge amount of water three times a day and then belches it out again: a treacherous whirlpool.

Scylla is described as a creature with four eyes, six long necks each topped by grisly heads filled somehow with three rows of sharp teeth.

Oh, and twelve tentacles and a cat’s tail.

Yes, I think I’ve met her type as well.

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The Orion Fountain, near the Duomo of Messina. Photos by Corey Sandler

Near Mount Etna, today it is Taormina that is the jewel of the region, a lovely little town with a spectacular Greek Theater and an even-more spectacular view of the volcano.

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The church at Tindari, home of the Black Madonna. Photo by Corey Sandler

17-18 April 2014: Naples, Sorrento, Capri, and Pompeii

The Caves, the Road, and the Elephant in the Room

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Sorrento is a gem of one of the most beautiful, dramatic, and dangerous regions in all of coastal Italy: Campania. On the mainland, it stretches from the Amalfi Coast and then Sorrento north to Naples. In between are Pompeii and Herculaneum.

And from almost everywhere you can see the hulking threat of Mount Vesuvius: one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.[whohit]-Naples 17Apr-[/whohit]

As we sailed toward our planned anchorage at Sorrento, the Master of our ship read the tea leaves (and the meteorological charts) and decided to change our itinerary so that we could avoid possibly rough seas at Sorrento. Instead, we docked at Naples.

The wide Gulf of Naples is framed by three major islands: the most famous is Capri just west of Sorrento. West of Naples is Procida and further out Ischia.

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The best real estate value in Amalfi: a miniature village at the top end of town. Photo by Corey Sandler

Capri has been a resort since Roman times. Actually the Greeks were there earlier, and are believed to have given the island the name Kapros, meaning wild boar.

Natural wonders include limestone masses called Sea Stacks (Faraglioni) and the famed Blue Grotto.

Now, let’s consider the mainland of Campania: Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Naples.

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Positano from above, midway through our drive of two thousand turns from Sorrento. (I counted them.) Photo by Corey Sandler

Positano was a relatively poor fishing village during the first half of the 20th century. It began to attract large numbers of tourists in the 1950s.

John Steinbeck may have helped.

In an essay in Harper’s Bazaar, Steinbeck wrote: “Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.”

Positano was featured in the film, “Under the Tuscan Sun” in 2003. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones somehow used the solace of the cafés of Positano to write the song “Midnight Rambler.”

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Huge lemons of the Amalfi Coast. Granita (real Italian ice) for lunch, Limoncello after dinner. Photo by Corey Sandler

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Fruits for passion? Red peppers at a roadside stand along the Amalfi Coast. Photo by Corey Sandler

Naples was founded in the 8th century BC, as a Greek colony, first called Parthenope and later Neápolis (New City). Neápolis became Naples.

The city was at its peak as the capital of the Kingdom of Naples, from 1282 until Italian unification in 1816.

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Inside the spectacular Naples Cathedral (parts dating from the 13th century), and the shadow of the church on the street outside. Photos by Corey Sandler

By the 1st century, Pompeii was one of a number of towns located around the base of Vesuvius. The area had a substantial population which grew prosperous farming the rich volcanic soil.

The 79 eruption, which is thought to have lasted about 19 hours, released about 1 cubic mile (4 cubic kilometers) of ash and rock over a wide area to the south and south-east of the crater, with about 10 feet (3 meters) falling on Pompeii.

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More treasures of Herculaneum at the Archeological Museum. Photo by Corey Sandler

It is not known how many people were killed, but the remains of about 1,150 bodies–or casts made of their impressions in the ash deposits–have been recovered in and around Pompeii. The total number could be between 10,000 and 25,000.

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The greatest treasures of Pompeii and Herculaneum are on display not at the ancient cities, but instead safely and handsomely displayed at the Naples National Archeological Museum. Photos by Corey Sandler

Most of those killed at Pompeii died from a combination of blast and debris, and suffocation through ash inhalation. About a third were found inside buildings, probably killed by the collapse of roofs.

By contrast, Herculaneum, which was much closer to the crater, was saved from tephra falls by the wind direction, but was buried under 75 feet (23 meters) of hot material deposited by pyroclastic surges.

The last major eruption took place in March 1944, in one of the almost-forgotten moments of World War II.

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Scenes of the town of Amalfi. It’s not easy, but it is possible to find back alleys free of tourist throngs. Photos by Corey Sandler

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All photos copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a copy, please contact me.

 

16 April 2014 Olbia, Sardinia

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

In Sardinia, the traditionalists are partial to Sardinian, although in Olbia many old-timers speak a dialect of Catalan Spanish.[whohit]-Olbia 16Apr-[/whohit]

But these days the old-timers are much outnumbered by an influx of international persons of great wealth and portability.

We used to call them “jet-setters.”

I think of them as sometimes interchangeable denizens of places like Saint Bart’s, Monte Carlo, and other playgrounds of the party people.

In Olbia itself, much of the older architecture and a bit of the culture is still heavily influenced by the Spanish and the Habsburgs who ruled here for many centuries.

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Ancient Nuraghi are scattered throughout Sardinia, most about three to four thousand years old. Archeologists are at work on examining and restoring a major site near Olbia. Photos by Corey Sandler

The newer construction in Olbia and in nearby modern gathering places like Porto Cervo are a little bit Las Vegas, a little bit San Tropez.

The lingua franca is Euros, American Express, MasterCard, and Visa.

And they call the region the Costa Smeralda: The Emerald Coast.

Sardinia is about 23,821 square kilometers or 9,200 square miles, the second-largest island in the Mediterranean. Only Sicily is larger.

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Archeologists and workers restore an ancient nuraghe. Photo by Corey Sandler

Olbia is at the northeast corner of Sardinia. On the other side of the north end of the island is Alghero, about 136 kilometers or 85 miles away. Cagliari, the capital, is at the south end about 277 kilometers or 172 miles away.

The Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, Popes, Aragonese, the Dorias, the Italians, and a few others remade the settlements of Sardinia over the millennia.

There’s one other who had an impact in the northeast corner of the island.

Prince Shah Karim Al Hussaini Aga Khan IV has lived far from his family’s historic roots in Persia and Iran for all of his life.

Born in Geneva in 1936 and now a British citizen, the Aga Khan is the 49th and current Imam of Nizari Ismailism, a denomination of Ismailism within Shia Islam. He has an estimated 15 million followers in more than 25 countries.

Most Nizari Ismailis live in African and Asian countries, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Iran. There are also sizeable communities in the United States, Canada, and Britain.

The imam part of his job description accompanies other roles as a business magnate, real estate developer, and racehorse owner and breeder.

His name was regularly found in close proximity to the phrase “international playboy”.

Not to matter: the Aga Khan IV is considered by his followers to be the proof of God on earth as well as infallible and immune from sin.

The Aga Khan claims to be a direct descendant of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad through Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali, considered the first Imam in Shia Islam, and Ali’s wife Fatima az-Zahra, Muhammad’s daughter from his first marriage.

According to Forbes Magazine, the Aga Khan is one of the world’s ten richest royals with an estimated net worth of US$800 million, although some think he has a lot more than that.

He is unique among the richest royals in that he does not rule over a geographic territory.

Which brings us to Sardinia.

In 1962, the Aga Khan began development of Porto Cervo and by extension the Costa Smeralda. It grew quickly from a hangout for the Aga Khan and his crowd to become an international destination.

All sorts of characters, including former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, bought villas there. A large home up on the hill is said to be owned by–or in the possession of–Vladimir Putin. That falls under the category of “interesting if true.”

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Lifestyles of the rich and infamous at Porto Cervo on the Costa Smeralda of Sardinia. Photos by Corey Sandler

The Aga Khan sold off most of his Sardinian holdings in 2003 to an American real estate baron.

And in 2012, the Smeralda property was sold again, this time to the Qatari royal family (Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani) through the Middle Eastern state’s sovereign fund, Qatar Holding.

Today the Costa Smeralda and Porto Cervo is known for summer events like the Rolex Cup sailing race,

The Rally Costa Smeralda off-road driving competition, a very high-end food festival, and a new event, Fashion Week.

There are also white sand beaches, a much-celebrated golf club, private jet and helicopter service, and hotels costing several thousand dollars per  night in the peak season.

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A modern evocation of things ancient, at Porto Cervo. Photo by Corey Sandler

And if you’re looking to buy a little pied-a-terre, consider that luxury real estate brokerage Engel & Völkers ranked Costa Smeralda as the most expensive location in Europe.

All photos copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler, and all rights reserved. If you would like to purchase a copy, please contact me.

 

 

15 April 2014: Livorno, Pisa, Florence

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Silver Wind began her turn south and eventually east toward Istanbul with a return visit to Livorno.

An extra day in Tuscany is never a bad thing. I wrote about our visit there in my post for 11-12 April, which you can find below.

 

13-14 April 2014: Monte Carlo, Monaco

Monte Carlo: Playground of the Côte d’Azur

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

Monaco has all the ingredients for adult fantasy.

A seven-hundred-year monarchy in a country smaller than New York City’s Central Park.

The romance and heartbreak of Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly.[whohit]-Monac 13Apr-[/whohit]

Also the other royal wedding of 2011, between the playboy prince and a lovely and nervous Olympian bride.

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Monte Carlo morning. Photos by Corey Sandler

Here in Monaco we also bid safe travels to many friends who have sailed with us from Barcelona and beyond, and welcome new guests for our journey to southern Italy, Sicily, Malta, and Turkey.

Silversea Map 2410

Our journey ahead, from Monte Carlo to Istanbul

A prestigious Formula One automobile race through its winding streets. A major tennis tournament. A major jewel heist by the Pink Panther gang, still unsolved.

Sandy beaches, spectacular yachts, don’t-ask-the-price shops, don’t-look-at-the-bill restaurants, and a fabled casino where—in our mind’s eye, at least, the men are all dressed in tuxedos and the women are dressed to kill.

Speaking of James Bond, although author Ian Fleming never actually set any of his books in Monaco, he clearly had the place in mind. The first James Bond novel, “Casino Royale”, mostly takes place in the fictional French seaside resort of “Royale-Les-Eaux.”

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A gallery of views of the Casino de Monte-Carlo, on the morning after the night before…without gamblers or gambling. The casino opens in the afternoon and high stakes continue until dawn. Photos by Corey Sandler

But without doubt, the most famous and glamorous actress associated with Monte Carlo was Grace Kelly. After her debut she became a favorite of the great director Alfred Hitchcock and he starred her in three consecutive films: “Dial M for Murder”, “Rear Window” and “To Catch a Thief.”

It was “To Catch a Thief”, filmed in 1955 in the south of France, that changed her life and the history of Monaco.

When filming was completed, she returned to the United States to accept her Oscar for Best Actress for “The Country Girl.” Then she flew to Cannes to attend the film festival, and there she was invited to meet Prince Rainier of Monaco.

By early 1956, she was engaged to be married.

The Principality of Monaco has been ruled by the Grimaldi family for more than 700 years, since 1297 to be exact. The oldest Royal Family is that of Denmark, from about the year 900. England’s royal house is so intermarried that by some measures it could make the same claim.

What was once absolute rule is now a constitutional monarchy, in a very close relationship with France.

Each year, about 5 million visitors invade.

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Inside the Cathedrale of Monte Carlo, on Palm Sunday before Mass. Photos by Corey Sandler

The entire principality is about three-quarters of a square mile or just under two square kilometers.

In this tiny land are about 32,000 residents, but native Monegasques are a minority in their own country.

About 47 percent of residents are French nationals), followed by 16 percent Monegasque), and 16 percent Italians.

In 1861, after a period of back-and-forth with France and the Kingdom of Sardinia, Prince Charles III of Monaco relinquished half the country’s territory to France in exchange for cash and independence.

By giving up land to France, Monaco had gained some measure of independence but lost most of its natural resources.

Something had to be done to reestablish an economy. Charles decided the answer was tourism…and gambling, or the other way around.

By early 20th century, Monaco began to promote itself as the playground of the rich.

Over the years, Monaco expanded its reliance on attracting visitors in search of a tax haven and playground. There is no personal income tax.

Luxury hotels, marinas, and shops now hug Monaco’s coastline. Gambling accounts for only 3 percent of the revenues of the principality.

But they do have a famous little casino.

The Grand Casino and Opera greatly resembles the Paris Opera House, which is no coincidence since both were designed by the same architect, Charles Garnier in 1878.

You can wear a tuxedo or a killer cocktail gown if you want. But no military or religious uniforms are allowed, and ordinary citizens of Monaco are not allowed in the gaming rooms, which says something about something.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Now available, the revised Second Edition of “Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession” by Corey Sandler, for the Amazon Kindle. You can read the book on a Kindle device, or in a Kindle App on your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Here’s where to order a copy for immediate delivery:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IA9QTBM

Henry Hudson Dreams cover

Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession: The Tragic Legacy of the New World’s Least Understood Explorer  (Kindle Edition)

 

 

11-12 April 2014. Livorno, Florence, Pisa, Lucca

The Glories of Florence, a Tower in Pisa, and the Rooftops of Lucca

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

Livorno is Italy’s second-largest port, after Genoa. It’s a city of some interest itself, although most visitors use it as a gateway to inland gems.[whohit]-Livorno 11Apr-[/whohit]

From Livorno you can easily reach the great city of Florence (Firenze) or see one of the world’s iconic sites, a certain tower in the town of Pisa. Or you can head to beautiful Tuscany, Siena, and Lucca.

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The Terrazza Mascagni along the waterfront in Livorno honors the hometown composer. Photo by Corey Sandler

Livorno, home to about 160,000, is on the Ligurian Sea on the western edge of Tuscany.

Livorno was considered an ideal, or model town during the Italian Renaissance; it is among a relative few Italian towns that was actually planned.

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Not Venice, but the Venice District of Livrorno. Photo by Corey Sandler

At the end of the 17th century it was within fortified town walls—a few still stand—and crossed by navigable canals. The remnants are in Livorno’s Venice district.

This region, and especially Florence and Tuscany were advanced places for language, art, and music. The Italian Renaissance was centered around Florence from the 1400s to the 1700s.

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The Central Market in Livorno. Photo by Corey Sandler

Not coincidentally, it was the home of the Medici family, patrons of many of the great artists of the time.

In Florence, the Basillica di Santa Maria dei Fiori was begun in 1296 and completed in 1436.

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Il Duomo in Florence. Photo by Corey Sandler

Alongside is Giotto’s Tower. And it is topped with Filippo Brunelleschi’s dome, one of the world’s largest.

The Medici Chapels are the private sanctuaries of Florence’s most influential family of the Renaissance period.

Michelangelo’s David is the centerpiece of the Florence Academy, the Accademia.

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Deeper within the Accademia, past David, is a storehouse of antiquities that would be the star of most other museums anywhere in the world. Photo by Corey Sandler

David is certainly quite a man, but my favorite part of the Academy lies deep within, kind of like an art museum’s attic. There are shelves of busts and vases, any of which would be a treasure at a lesser museum.

The largest collection of art in Florence, worth a trip all by itself, is the Uffizi Gallery. Built as the offices—the Uffizi—for Florentine magistrates, it became a museum in the 17th century.

By most appraisals, the world’s greatest collection of Italian masterpieces.

And there’s this old bridge, the Ponte Vecchio (which means, old bridge). It’s lined with shops and tourists.

It’s also an easy way to cross over the River Arno to the Oltrarno, (Beyond the Arno) the Left Bank of Florence, the south side of the Arno.

On the Oltrarno is the fabulous Pitti Palace which includes three major museums. The Galleria Palatina is known for its collection of Raphaels. The Museo degli Argenti (The Silver Museum) for its applied art objects. And Boboli Gardens a handsome landscaped garden with a café.

The Pitti Palace is mostly Renaissance in design. The core dates from 1458 and was originally the little town residence of Luca Pitti, an ambitious Florentine banker.

The palace was bought by the Medici family in 1549 and became the chief residence of the ruling families of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

It’s almost like a private gallery in a great home, featuring Raphael, Caravaggio, Titian, Correggio, Rubens, and Pietro da Cortona.

Another of my favorites is Santa Croce, near the Duomo but off the regular tourist beat. It appeals to my preference for unusual mixtures.

The Basilica is the largest Franciscan church in the world, with sixteen chapels.

Construction replacing an older building was begun in 1294 and completed in 1442. The floorplan is an Egyptian or Tau cross (a symbol of Saint Francis).

And from 1857 to 1863, a neo-Gothic marble façade was added.

The architect was Niccolo Matas from Ancona. He worked a prominent Star of David into the composition.

Presumably he had permission from the Franciscans, and presumably they also knew he was Jewish.

Matas had wanted to be buried at the church, but they couldn’t bend that much. Instead he is buried under the porch and not within the walls.

Inside are crypts for some of the most illustrious Italians, including Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Gentile and Rossini.

Okay, so there is this city with a tower. Pisa is on the right bank of the junction of two rivers, the Arno and the Serchio, a city of about 87,500.

There is more to Pisa than just the Leaning Tower: at least 20 other historic churches, palaces, and other sights.

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The Tower and the Baptistry in Pisa. Photos by Corey Sandler

In 1063 admiral Giovanni Orlando, coming to the aid of the Norman king Roger I, took Palermo from the Saracen pirates. The gold treasure he took from the Saracens allowed the Pisans to start the building of their cathedral, campanile or bell tower, and baptistry.

Construction began in 1173. Almost immediately, the tower began leaning to the southeast.

The reason was quickly apparent: an insubstantial foundation on loose and wet soil. It took five years, until 1178, for the tower to reach the third floor.

Then construction was halted for almost a century. The Pisans were unsure how to proceed, and they were distracted by wars with Genoa, Lucca, and Florence.

This was actually a stroke of good luck, since it allowed time for the underlying soil to settle. Otherwise, the tower would almost certainly have toppled.

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The Arno at Pisa.Photo by Corey Sandler

In 1272, construction resumed. To try to compensate for the tilt, engineers built upper floors with one side taller than the other.

The tower began to lean in the other direction. Because of this, the tower is actually curved, banana-like.

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Within the Baptistry at Pisa. Photos by Corey Sandler

In 1990, after several heart-stopping incidents in which modern instruments showed a sudden shift, the tower was closed to the public. The bells were removed to take some weight off the top, and cables were fastened around the third level and anchored several hundred yards away.

The tower was straightened by 18 inches (45 centimetres), returned to the angle it had held in 1838.

Prior to the restoration, the tower leaned at an angle of 5.5 degrees. Today the tower tilts 3.99 degrees southwest.

The medieval walled city of Lucca dates from the time of Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus.

Major sights include the Romanesque Duomo, built in the 13th century;  the Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Mansi; and San Michele in Foro.

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Other gems of Pisa including the Piazza Cavalieri. Photos by Corey Sandler

Or you can go to the former Roman forum and sit at a sidewalk café in the circular piazza and feel like a Lucchesian.

While you’re there, listen for the echoes of favorite son Giacomo Puccini, born in Lucca in 1858.

 

10 April 2014: Civitavecchia, the Port of Rome

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with Civitavecchia, but most people make it their goal to get out of town.

It’s actually an interesting small city with an old fortress, an impoverished but rich cathedral, and a history that includes the Emperor Trajan and a sculptor and designer named Michelangelo.[whohit]-10APR2014 CIVITAVECCHIA ROME-[/whohit]

Civitavecchia—the name means ancient town—is the port of Rome, about 50 miles away.

The modern city of Civitavecchia was built over an ancient Etruscan settlement. The port was developed by the Emperor Trajan at the beginning of the 2nd century.

The original town was called Centum Cellae, which may have been a reference to the centum (“hundred”) cellae (cells or halls) of the villa of the emperor.

Centum Callae was a Byzantine stronghold in the Middle Ages, then captured by the Saracens in 828. Later it came under control of the Papal States.

In 1696 it became a free port under Pope Innocent XII and soon the main port of Rome.

In the modern era, an event of great importance was the inauguration of the Rome and Civitavecchia Railroad in 1859; today’s track pretty much follows the same route.

During World War II, Civitavecchia was heavily bombed by the Allies to hinder use of the port for supplies and military purposes.

Civitavecchia’s massive Forte Michelangelo is impossible to miss. The designer Donato Bramante was commissioned by Pope Julius II about 1500.

Bramante also produced the original designs for the rebuilding of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. That job was ultimately completed by Michelangelo.

In Civitavecchia, the same thing happened. The maschio or “male” tower was begun by Bramante, but the upper part was finished by Michelangelo and he’s the one who gets the credit.

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The Pines of Rome, near the Vatican. Photo by Corey Sandler

The fortress was built over an ancient Roman structure, probably the barracks for the Imperial Fleet.  The old bronze chain to raise the drawbridge is still there; on the side jamb the carved words “LEAVE YOUR WEAPONS” are still visible.

The small Cathedral of Civitavecchia, dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi, was built at the site of a seventeenth century Franciscan church.

Less than an hour away is Tarquinia, an ancient city even by Italian, Greek, or Etruscan standards, dating back at least 1,500 years B.C.

Many of the great families and royalty of ancient Rome came from there.

Etruscan necropolises hold some 6,000 tombs and 200 of wall paintings.

Venimus, vidimus, vicimus: Rome

We came, we saw, we conquered…and shopped, toured, and ate in Rome: one of the most stirring, culturally grand, and chaotic cities in the world.

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Castel Sant Angelo, also known as Hadrian’s Tomb in Rome. Photo By Corey Sandler

A grandiose name for Rome is The Eternal City. Another nickname, Caput Mundi (Latin for “Capital of the World”) has a history of about 2,500 years.

Neither goes back to the dawn of time, but this is nevertheless a place of great antiquity.

Rome was one of the few major European cities not heavily damaged during World War II, with most of its ancient, Renaissance, and Baroque structures surviving. Allied raids avoided Vatican City and most of the great treasures of Rome, concentrating on the San Lorenzo steelyards, military installations, and outlying areas.

As ground troops advanced toward Rome in June 1944, the Germans declared it an “open city” and there was no significant further fighting as the Allies came in and the Germans retreated.

The Roman Colosseum is near the center of Rome, just east of the Roman Forum. One of the greatest works of ancient Roman architecture, construction began between 70 and 72 AD under Emperor Vespasian, completed in 80 AD under Titus.

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Inside Saint Peter’s Basilica, dominated by Bernini’s altar. Photos by Corey Sandler

 

The Colosseum was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles, although not all of the images we have in our mind of these events have been verified.

There were hunts of captured wild animals, re-enactments of famous land and sea battles, dramas based on classical mythology, and more than a few executions.

The elliptical amphitheater could seat at least 50,000 spectators. Today’s huge football or baseball stadiums are not much different in concept.

It even had a retractable roof—a bit of canvas awning to shield the most favored from the sun and the elements.

The sovereign city-state of Vatican City is a walled enclave within the city of Rome. It occupies 110 acres, less than half a square kilometer, across the Tiber from the ancient city of Rome.

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The Vatican Museum is one of the most spectacula (and crowded) museums in the world, receiving 25,000 visitors on an ordinary day. Photos by Corey Sandler

The only way to be a citizen of the Vatican is to get yourself elected Pope or be one of the 800 or so people (and their families) who work for him or the church.

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Inside the Vatican Museum, and outside on Saint Peter’s Square where the chairs were already in place for Palm Sunday. Photos by Corey Sandler

 

9 April, 2014: Alghero, Sardinia

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

“Sardinia, which is like nowhere. Sardinia, which has no history, no date, no race, no offering.

“They say neither Romans nor Phoenicians, Greeks nor Arabs ever subdued Sardinia. It lies outside; outside the circuit of civilization.”

Those were the words of D. H. Lawrence in his book, Sea and Sardinia.[whohit]-9APR2014 ALGHERO-[/whohit]

Very evocative.

Not fully true, although it certainly is an unusual place.

Sardinia is part of Italy, while its neighbor Corsica is part of France.

Although: French Corsica is closer to Italy than France. While Italian Sardinia is closer to France (at Corsica) or Tunisia than it is to Italy.

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Preparing for Holy Week in Alghero. Photo by Corey Sandler

Much of the architecture and a bit of the culture is still heavily influenced by the Spanish and the Habsburgs who ruled here for many centuries.

Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean. Only Sicily is larger.

Scattered around Sardinia are thousands of megalithic ruins known as nuraghes in Sardinian or nuraghi in Italian. The name is believed to come from an old word meaning heap of stones, or confusingly, a cavity in the earth.

In any case, they are usually located in panoramic or strategic locations; about eight thousand have been cataloged, but perhaps 30,000 once stood.

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The Nurgaghes at Primavera. We know very little about the people who built them, or their purpose. Somehow, though, thousands of them have remained standing, without benefit of cement or mortar. Photos by Corey Sandler

They date from the middle of the Bronze Age (18th-15th centuries BC). Many were in continuous use when Rome entered in the 2nd century BC.

We don’t know much more. They may been used for religious purposes or as military posts, or both. And we know little about what are known as the Nuragic people.

Outside of Alghero is the fortified town of Castelsardo, founded in the 12th century by the Doria family.

The original castle is still there, although modern structures crowd around the base of the hill.

About 20 minutes by car is the limestone headland of Capo Caccia.

The name literally translates as “head hunting”; in context, it’s the hunting lands at the cape.

At its base is one of the local sights-to-see near Alghero, at least for the tourists. Neptune’s Grotto: the Grotta di Nettuno.

The cave was discovered by local fishermen in the 18th century, and named for the Roman god of the sea. Somewhat like the Blue Grotto on the island of Capri, the entrance to Neputne’s Grotto lies only around a meter or three feet above sea level at the foot of the Capo Caccia cliffs.

And for those of you who are fans of bad horror movies, you might want to make a pilgrimage to Neptune’s Grotto to honor a renowned work of cinema.

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Above Neptune’s Grotto at Capo Caccio. Photo by Corey Sandler

In the summer of 1978, the decidedly unclassic film Island of Mutations, was filmed there. The Italian title for the movie was L’isola degli uomini pesce. The Island of the Fish Men. A combination of a horror film, a Western, and a wet t-shirt contest.

The movie’s stars included the American actress Barbara Bach, whose first claim to fame was being the Bond girl in the 1977 James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me.

But her other, enduring claim to fame is her marriage to former Beatle Ringo Starr, at last report still ongoing after 33 years.

 

8 April 2014: Porto Mahon, Menorca

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

For geographers and travelers, here’s one of those relatively unusual cases where a place name has some logic:

Grand Canyon I get.

Long Island I get.[whohit]-6APR2014 MENORCA-[/whohit]

Nova Scotia is New Scotland. Understood.

Puntarenas means Sandy Point—Gotcha.

Los Angeles: I sorta understand the concept.

In the Balearic Islands we have Mallorca—the major island. Good name.

And so we also have Menorca, from the Latin phrase Insula Minor, the minor island. Menorca is smaller than Mallorca.

So far so good, except that Menorca is not the smallest of the Balearic islands. Ibiza is in second place, ahead of Menorca. But Menorca lies near Mallorca, and therefore it is the minor of the two islands.

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As Holy Week approaches, cathedrals and churches throughout Menorca were bringing out icons to be paraded through the streets and in a circuit of the island, Photos by Corey Sandler

Porto Mahon’s name is believed to come from the Carthaginian general Mago Barca, brother to Hannibal, thought to have taken refuge here in 205 BC.

Menorca is known for its megalithic stone monuments: navetes, taulas, and talaiots, which speak of a very early prehistoric human activity.

They were built by what is known as the Talayotic culture between about 1800 and 1000 BC. There are at least 274 talaiots, or talayots in or near the sites of ancient settlements.

A naveta is a chamber tomb unique to Menorca. It has two vertical and two corbelled walls giving it the form of an upturned boat, the source of its name. While some certainly had a defensive purpose, others may have served as lookout or signaling towers.

And then there are the taulas, which are usually found nearby. A taula (the word means ‘table’ in Catalan) is a T-shaped stone monument. Taulas can be as much as 3.7 meters or 12 feet in height. They consist of a vertical pillar (a monolith or several smaller stones on top of each other) with a horizontal stone lying on it. A U-shaped wall often encloses the structure.

Similar but not necessarily related are the “nuraghes” of Sardinia, the “torre” of Corsica, and the “sesi” of Pantelleria, an island off Sicily.

It is, though, believed there was a connection—or at least an influence—on Menorca from other Mediterranean cultures, including the Minoans of ancient Crete. Some of the same features found at Knossos on Crete are seen on Menorca.

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The Carmelite Church, from about 1770, is still in use. Alongside it, the former cloister has been converted into the municipal market. Photos by Corey Sandler

The two official languages are Catalan (including a dialect called Menorqui), and Spanish. Without getting too deep into the weeds here, Menorqui has some unusual components that are closer to Sardinian than Spanish or Italian.

Many civilizations have been through the Balearic Islands. Some left bad tastes, some good ones.

Lingering British influence is seen in the Menorcan taste for gin. At most of the many festes held on the island, gin is mixed with bitter lemon to make a drink known as a Pomada. Actually, it usually does not require a festival for a bit of Pomada.

And here is more important news for gourmands: it appears that a celebrated recipe was brought back to France from Mahon, Menorca, after Louis-François-Armand du Plessis de Richelieu’s victory over the British at the city’s port in 1756.

The sauce was originally known as “salsa mahonesa” in Spanish and “maonesa” in Catalan (as it is still known in Menorca), later becoming mayonnaise as it was popularized by the French.

Did anyone happen to pack a tin of tuna in their suitcase?

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Sausages at the Mercat, and an oasis of a courtyard in the heart of Mahon. Photos by Corey Sandler

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Now available, the revised Second Edition of “Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession” by Corey Sandler, for the Amazon Kindle. You can read the book on a Kindle device, or in a Kindle App on your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Here’s where to order a copy for immediate delivery:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IA9QTBM

Henry Hudson Dreams cover

Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession: The Tragic Legacy of the New World’s Least Understood Explorer  (Kindle Edition)

 

7 April 2014: Palma de Mallorca

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

Mallorca is Spain’s largest island possession, and its second-most populated island (after Tenerife in the Canary Islands.) Palma is the capital of the autonomous community of the Balearic Islands.[whohit]-7APR2014 PALMA MALLORCA-[/whohit]

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On the streets of Mallorca. Photos by Corey Sandler

Spain was officially non-belligerent during World War II; in reality General Francisco Franco leaned heavily toward the Axis powers. In any case, Mallorca was a backwater through the war.

Since the 1950s, tourism has transformed the island.

In 1960, Majorca received 500,000 visitors; today about 10 million tourists come to Majorca or the other Balearic islands each per year. Most come by air, but about 1.5 million come in by cruise ship or ferry.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma, more commonly referred to as La Seu, is a Gothic Roman Catholic cathedral built on the site of a pre-existing Islamic mosque…atop the former citadel of the Roman city.

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Palma below and above ground. Photos by Corey Sandler

Just to boot, it overlooks the Mediterranean sea. You can’t miss the Cathedral; it dominates the waterfront.

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The Cathedral of Palma de Mallorca. Photos by Corey Sandler

Begun by King James I of Aragon in 1229, it was not finished until 1601. It was designed in the Catalan Gothic style with Northern European influences.

In 1901, fifty years after a restoration of the Cathedral had started, the great Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí was invited to take over the project.

While some of Gaudí’s ideas were adopted, he abandoned his work in 1914 after an argument with the contractor. The planned changes were essentially cosmetic rather than structural, and the project was cancelled soon after.

Es una lástima. That’s a shame.

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Not by Gaudi. but the Catalan’s influence is everywhere in Mallorca. Photo by Corey Sandler

Sóller is one of the most beautiful towns on the island, thick with palatial homes built in the 19th and early 20th centuries by the owners of agricultural estates and the merchants who thrived on the export of oranges, lemons, and almonds.

Some of the buildings were designed by associates and students of Antoni Gaudí.

The focus of the town is the Plaça Constitució which is surrounded by cafés and has plane trees and a fountain in its centre.

You can drive to Sóller from Palma by car, taxi, or bus, passing through the hills and a long tunnel.

But my favorite way to get across the island is a ride on the historic railway, the Ferrocarril de Sóller. The Ferrocaril was completed in 1911 with profits from the orange and lemon trade.

The narrow-gauge train is an attraction of its own, passing through some beautiful countryside and towns, through a dozen or so tunnels and several significant bridges including a spectacular viaduct in the mountains.

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Street artists hanging around and ready to pose (for a tip). Photos by Corey Sandler

And finally, a bit of Chopin.

The great Polish composer, who spent much of his time in France, also dallied—and composed—for a short while in Mallorca.

In Valldemossa, the Reial Cartuja (Royal Carthusian Monastery) was founded in 1339, but when the monks were expelled in 1835, it was privatized, and the cells became apartments for travelers.

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Food for thought. Photos by Corey Sandler

Undoubtedly the most famous lodgers were Frédéric Chopin and his lover, the Baroness Amandine Dupin—better known by her nom de plume, George Sand—who spent three difficult months here in the winter of 1838-39.

Chopin and Sand were not very happy here, for different reasons.

Sand, well, she was just unhappy.

Chopin had to rent a not-very-good local piano. Still he managed to compose the memorable “Raindrop” prelude.

 

6 April 2014: Ibiza

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

Silversea Silver Wind is making a grand tour of the Balearics: three of the five major islands. We start with Ibiza, the principal town on the island of the same name.

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Approaching Ibiza at sunrise. Photos by Corey Sandler

The Balearic Islands sit offshore of Spain, very attractive in many ways:

Rich and fertile land.[whohit]-6APR2014 IBIZA-[/whohit]

Safe harbors, on the ancient trading routes for long-vanished peoples, as well as for wave upon wave of empire builders including the Carthaginians, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Vikings, the Spanish, and the English.

And then right along the watery highway for incoming Islamic tribes, and then for outgoing Crusaders.

And today, close enough for invading holiday makers to hop on a ferry or a flight from the mainland to the beach.

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They party hearty in Ibiza, deep into the night. We arrived on Sunday, the morning after the night before. Photo by Corey Sandler

In the 16th and 17th centuries—under the Habsburg Dynasty—the Spanish Empire was the world’s greatest power. It held dominion over Spain, the Low Countries of Europe, as well as parts of France, Germany, and Italy.

In Northern Africa, Spain held Morocco and the surrounding area. In the New World, Spain held Louisiana. The Viceroyalty of New Spain included Alta California and all of Mexico and Central America. Plus South America from Venezuela to Peru on the western half of the continent and the Falkland Islands on the eastern side.

In the Caribbean it held the significant islands of Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, and Cuba.

Oh, and Florida.

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Fortifications of Ibiza. Photo by Corey Sandler

From 1580 to 1640, in dynastic union with Portugal, it included territories in Malta, Africa, India, the Middle East, Ceylon, and Brazil. A bit later on, the Spanish were as far north as Vancouver and the panhandle of Alaska.

To modern Spain, the Balaeric islands today new gold: from tourists.

From the mainland of Spain at Porto Denia to Ibiza, it is about 75 miles or 120km. On some summer weekends the Balearics seem like a suburb of Valencia…mixed in with jet-setters from around the world.

Ibiza is one of the two western “Pityuses” or “Pine Islands”, along with Formentera. The island’s largest cities are Ibiza Town; in Catalan called Vila d’Eivissa, or simply Vila, as well as Santa Eulària des Riu and Sant Antoni de Portmany.

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The morning light casts a shadow just outside the city walls. Photo by Corey Sandler

Modern Ibiza is very much a party town for the young. But it does have an ancient past.

In 654 BC, Phoenician settlers founded a port they called Ibossim. The Phoenicians—great traders and travelers—had adopted an Egyptian deity, the god of music and dance Bes. The Romans later adjusted the name to “Ebusus.” Ibiza next came under control of Carthage. By 400 BC, Ibiza was a major trader in the Mediterranean with outposts on the nearby, larger Balearic island of Majorca.

Ibiza produced dye, salt, wool, and the very popular fermented fish sauce known as garum, a very, very distant relative of Worcestershire Sauce.

It also supplied some fierce mercenaries who fought for Carthage. Ibiza became part of the Roman Empire but was far enough away from Rome that it was mostly left alone. But after the fall of the Roman empire—and brief rule by the Vandals and then the Byzantines, the island was conquered by the oncoming Islamic tide.

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The view from above, with the walls. Silver Wind was at the dock at lower right. Photos by Corey Sandler

The Moors were on their way to taking Andalusia and much of the Iberian peninsula.

The pushback against the Muslims occurred in many places in many forms. Ibiza, Formentera, and Menorca were invaded by Norwegian king Sigurd I in the spring of 1110 on his crusade to Jerusalem.

Sigurd I was not a minor player: before clearing Ibiza he had conquered Lisbon and returned it to Christian rule.

The island was next conquered by the Roman Catholic King James I of Aragon in 1235.

This was still two-and-a-half centuries before the rise of Spain as a global power in 1492.

Ibiza has been a Spanish possession ever since.

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Within the Museum collection of artist Narcissa Puget Viñas in the old city. Born in Ibiza in 1874, he was an important though lesser-known impressionist. Among his favorite subjects the ancient alleys of the old city of Ibiza. Photos by Corey Sandler

As I said, today Ibiza is party central for many Spaniards and Europeans. The Spanish have been trying for years to make the claim that Ibiza is not just beaches, bars, and bikinis.

Not very successfully. Some call the place, “Gomorrah of the Med.”

If you ask someone about the principal attractions of Ibiza, you’re not likely to hear about great museums, cathedrals, and historical sites.

You are much more likely to hear about Paradis, Amnesia, Privilege, DC-10 and other clubs presenting live acts or DJs featuring techno or dance music.

The peak Gomorrah season runs from about June through September, so we’re a bit early.

In the late 1960s and 70s, Ibiza was considered at the forefront of high fashion.

Today, not so much, although shopping is still a major sporting activity.

Looming over the old city are the massive medieval stone walls of Dalt Vila—a UNESCO World Heritage site—and its Gothic cathedral.

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Inside the Cathedral of Ibiza. Photo by Corey Sandler

In Sant Antoni de Portmany on the Western coast you can visit a monument called “The Egg.” It was erected in the 1990s in honor of Christopher Columbus.

And thus Ibiza joins the non-exclusive club of places purporting to be his birthplace: Genoa, Corsica, and Sant Antoni among them.

But if he did come here, I’m sure there would be a party in his honor.

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Silver Wind at the dock in Ibiza. Photo by Corey Sandler.

ALL TEXT AND PHOTOS COPYRIGHT BY COREY SANDLER AND MAY NOT BE COPIED OR OTHERWISE USED WITHOUT PERMISSION. If you would like to purchase a copy of a photo, please contact the author.

 

 

5 April 2014: Barcelona, Spain. Hello and Goodbye.

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love Barcelona…except someone who hasn’t been there yet.

Great museums, spectacular architecture, fine food, good people.

Here we bid arrivederci until we meet again, to friends from previous cruises and welcome aboard new friends as we proceed deeper into the Mediterranean.

Silversea Map 2409

Our next voyage, from Barcelona to the Balaeric Islands, Sardinia, Rome, Livorno, and Monte Carlo.

Barcelona is Spain’s second largest city, after Madrid, the capital. The metropolitan area is home to about 3.2 million.[whohit]-5APR2014 BARCELONA-[/whohit]

Founded by the Romans, Barcelona became the capital of the Counts of Barcelona, and then one of the most important cities of the Kingdom of Aragon. The town was well established by 15BC when the Romans re-cast the town as a castrum or military camp.

The center of the settlement was on a small hill near the current city hall at Plaça de Sant Jaume. In the Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter), the Roman grid-plan is still apparent in the street layout and some fragments of the Roman walls have been incorporated into the cathedral.

The city was conquered by the Visigoths in the early fifth century and by the Moors in the early eighth century. Then it was reconquered in 801 by Charlemagne’s son Louis, who made Barcelona the seat of the “Spanish Marches”, (Marca_Hispanica) a buffer zone ruled by the Count of Barcelona.

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Street scenes in resplendent Barcelona. Photos by Corey Sandler

The most famous street in Barcelona is Las Ramblas, or the Promenade. It runs up from the harbor through its historic districts and toward the Cathedral and Sagrada Familia.

The street signs call it La Rambla, the Promenade. But it’s actually a series of linked streets, so it is commonly referred to in the plural, Las Ramblas. The name rambla refers to an ebbing and flowing waterway, derived from the Arabic ‘ramla’ which means ‘sandy riverbed’.

At the base of Las Ramblas, is the Museu Maritim (Maritime Museum) in the drassanes or shipyards where the great Catalonian fleet was constructed. The Columbus Monument, which stands nearly 200 feet tall, is located near the site where Columbus returned to Spain after his first voyage to the Americas.

The statue is said to depict Columbus pointing toward the New World with his right hand, a scroll in the left. However, his hand actually points east, which could be a mistake or it could show the direction toward Genoa, where Columbus may or may not have been born.

Each section of La Rambla has a specialty for the street vendors and some of the shops. La Rambla de les Flors is devoted to flower stands. Another section sells birds, monkeys, and pets.

The beautiful Gothic Quarter was the location of the ancient Roman village. It lies to the right of Las Ramblas as you go up from the harbor. Narrow, winding streets are like a labyrinth. El Barri Gòtic is home to the Cathedral of Barcelona, the Catalan government hall, the and l’Ajuntament (the Barcelona city hall).

One of the jewels of Barcelona is its old cathedral, in the Gothic Quarter. The oldest known religious structure on this site was a basilica with three naves built about 343. There may have been a Roman temple on the site even before then. The basilica was destroyed by Moorish invaders about 985.

And then we come to the modern building, Santa Església Catedral Basílica de Barcelona. Begun in 1298, it is certainly has a place on the list of lengthy construction projects: the façade was completed in 1898 and the final spire in 1913.

Barcelona Cathedral (also known as La Seu) is a triumph of Catalan Gothic architecture. Especially notable is the Cappella de Sant Benet behind the altar, with a magnificent 15th-century interpretation of the crucifixion by Bernat Matorell.

The crypt beneath the high altar contains the alabaster sarcophagus of Santa Eulalia, patroness of the cathedral and co-patroness of the city. The virgin daughter of an upper-class Barcelona family, Eulalia was said to have been burned at the stake in 304 by the Romans.

The cathedral’s 14th-century cloister is known as “the loveliest oasis in Barcelona.” Its vaulted galleries overlook a lush garden filled with orange, medlar_(apple-like_fruit), and palm trees surrounding a pond.

The cloister is also home to a gaggle of white geese whose ancestors have lived here for five centuries, a bit unusual for a cathedral. One legend says they represent the virginity of Saint Eulalia or the former splendor of Rome.

Few cities are more imbued with the artistic vision of one man than is Barcelona. The visions, and some of them are a bit strange—were those of Antoni Gaudi, one of the masters of the Modernist or Art Nouveau style.

There are works by Gaudi throughout the city. Most begin with elements of Spanish Gothic, mix in Modernism, and finish off with phantasmagorical flights of fancy.

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La Sagrada Familia, still under construction, one of the wonders of the world. Photos by Corey Sandler

Gaudi was born in Reus in 1852, the son of a coppersmith. Over his career, Gaudi developed a sensuous, curving, almost surreal design style. With little regard for formal order, he juxtaposed unrelated elements at every turn. It is Gothic architecture, warped by modernism, if you will.

In his youth, Gaudí was sickly and spent much time in isolation. Gaudí was inspired by nature, he says, because: “Those who look for the laws of Nature as a support for their new works collaborate with the creator.”

He studied architecture in Barcelona from 1873 to 1877. When he was given his diploma, a school official is said to have wondered if Gaudi was a nut or a genius.

Time will tell, he said.    And it did.

His first major commission was in 1878 for a private residence in Barcelona for the industrialist Manuel Vicens. The basic structure of Casa Vicens is Gothic Revival, but quite unlike the somber black and gray buildings you may associate with that style.

He mixed in Art Nouveau and Moorish elements, and some very flashy ceramic tiles from the factory owned by Vicens. The home—today a private residence—is in the Gràcia district of Barcelona.

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Silver Wind at the dock in Barcelona; nearby the old port of Barcelona terminal. Photos by Corey Sandler

Parc Güell is a magical mystery tour of a municipal park, another Gaudi wonder. Disneyland for adults, but much more fulfilling. The park, on the hill of el Carmel in the Gràcia district, was built from 1900 to 1914, originally intended to be a housing subdivision, the idea of Count Eusebi Güell­.

The buildings flanking the entrance have fantastical roofs with unusual pinnacles and curves. The focal point of the park is the main terrace, surrounded by a long bench in the form of a sea serpent.

To get just the right curve for the bench surface, Gaudí sat a naked workman in the wet clay.

Casa Milà  was completed in 1912 in the Eixample district as a private house. Nevertheless, it is a wondrously wavy and whimsical creation. One of our favorite places in Barcelona is up on the roof of La Pedrera.The building, the roof and an apartment within are open daily for tours.

I highly recommend it as a way to really get close to the mind and hands of Gaudi. This was a man who could not stand the thought of an undecorated wall or a straight line. Even the arch supports for the roof are works of art.

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Along the waterfront north of the city is the Maremagnum and Barceloneta beach and entertainment district. It’s just another facet of the marvelous city of Barcelona. Photos by Corey Sandler

Casa Milà was mockingly nicknamed La Pedrera (Castalan for “the quarry”), a name it now bears with pride.

Gaudí began his work as a secular architect and artist, but in his later years he devoted his life to the Catholic church. His crowning achievement was—or will be—La Sagrada Família, the Holy Family.

Technically, it is not a cathedral—home to a bishop. Its full name is the Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family.

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Details of La Sagrada Familia. Construction is scheduled to be completed, perhaps, in 2026. Photos by Corey Sandler

Gaudi designed it to have 18 towers: 12 for the apostles, 4 for the evangelists, one for Mary and one for Jesus.

As he began work, his closest family and friends began to die. Gaudi’s pace of work slowed, and he fell on hard times economically.

Work on La Sagrada Familia came to a halt. In 1918, Eusebi Güell, his principal patron, died.

Gaudi became a recluse, concentrating entirely on the church.

He spent the last few years of his life living in its uncompleted crypt. On June 7, 1926 Gaudí was run over by a tram. Because of his ragged clothing and empty pockets, he was taken to a paupers’ hospital in Barcelona. Nobody recognized the injured artist until friends found him the next day.

When they tried to move him to a nicer hospital, Gaudí refused, reportedly saying “I belong here among the poor.” He died three days later at age 73. He is buried at La Sagrada Família.

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More art in Barcelona. At left a contemporary salute that echoes a bit of Gaudi. At right, a sculpture from the Franco time of order. Photos by Corey Sandler

Gaudí was constantly changing his design, and the only existing copy of his last known blueprints was destroyed by anarchists in 1938 during the Spanish Civil War. This has made it very difficult to fully complete the church in the fashion Gaudí intended.

Like many of you I have visited hundreds of cathedrals all over the world, many of them many centuries years old.

Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia may well be the last monumental cathederal to be built, and it is amazing to watch the work underway.

 

3 April 2014: Cartagena and Murcia, Spain

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

Cartagena is on the Costa Cálida, the Warm Coast of Spain’s Murcia region.

Cartagena is one of Spain’s more historically significant places because of its superb and easily defended naval port.

But Cartagena is less-known than many other coastal cities of Spain. In fact, its distant namesake, Cartagena de Indias, in Colombia, may be much better known.[whohit]-3APR2014 CARTAGENA SPAIN-[/whohit]

Cartagena, Colombia grew as one of the principal Spanish fortresses to hold the treasure taken from South America, the Caribbean, and Asia.

I spent the day about 50 kilometers or 30 miles inland, in the much larger and historically wealthier city of Murcia.

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The Fuensanta Monastery is on a hill overlooking the city of Murcia. Photos by Corey Sandler

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Fuensanta (Holy Spring or Holy Fountain) today serves mostly as the home of the icon of the Virgin Mary that is the patroness of Murcia. As Holy Week approaches, the icon is moved to the Cathedral of Murcia, where we saw it. Photos by Corey Sandler

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The Cathedral of Murcia holds pride of place in this city of 450,000. In the principal chapel, we found the icon from the Monastery, preparing for Holy Week. Photos by Corey Sandler

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Near the Cathedral is the Murcia Casino. No slot machines or games of chance: this is an opulent men’s club from the 19th century whose rooms offer a tour around the world. Women have been allowed to join since the 1920s. Photos by Corey Sandler

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If you’re looking to join the Casino, you’ll have to pay an initiation fee and a monthly membership but you won’t get into the club with the recommendation of two elder members–and that is the most difficult credential to obtain. Photos by Corey Sandler

Cartagena, Spain has long been a crossroads of civilizations and navies. It has a fine collection of early 20th century Art Nouveau buildings, intermixed with a spectacular Roman Theatre and remains of Phoenician, Byzantine and Moorish structures.

As far back as the 16th century Cartagena was one of Spain’s most important naval ports. Today it has a contingent of minesweepers and submarines, and a large naval shipyard. The original settlement was called Mastia. About 227 BC, Hasdrubal the Fair established a town at the great harbor. Hasdrubal used the port as launching point for the conquest of Spain.

Roman general Scipio Africanus conquered it in 209 BC. The Romans, from Julius Caesar to Octavian and beyond used Carthago in their conquest of the Iberian Peninsula. When the first wave of Islamic tribes came to Hispania—the Umayyad invasion—the port was one of the landing places they used, along with Gibraltar.

With the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the city went into decline.

All the usual suspects tried their hand here. The Vandals (409–425), the Visigoths (425–551 and 624–714), and then the Eastern Romans (551–624), who made it the capital of Spania, the Byzantine Empire’s westernmost province.

The Visigoths returned, but they were displaced by the Muslims in 714. Various Caliphates and Taifas held Cartagena from then until 1245.

It was in that year that King Alfonso X of Castile (Alfonso the Wise) conquered Cartagena, re-establishing Christian rule. In 1296 Cartagena was annexed to the Kingdom of Aragon as the Reconquista focused on the remaining Muslim kingdom, Granada, which fell in 1492.

Cartagena entered a period of decay, because Spain’s colonial activities used ports to the west. It did not fully recover until the 18th century. The Spanish began to use Cartagena as the home of their navy. That also made it a target. In September 1643 the French defeated most of the Spain’s fleet here.

Although there are some ruins from the Carthaginian ages, like the remains of the Punic rampart (built in 227 BC with the foundation of the city) and visible at the Muralla Púnica or Punic Wall museum in town, most of its oldest monuments date from the Roman Empire.

The restored Roman theatre of Carthago Nova was built about 1 BC, and was in use for more than four centuries before being abandoned. The remains were rediscovered in 1988 during a construction project, and in 2008 reopened as a museum.

Other Roman remains include a colonnade, the House of Fortune, the decumanus and the Augusteum. Not far from the Roman Theater are the ruins of the Santa María la Vieja Cathedral, built sometime after the Reconquista—the expulsion of the Muslims, which took place here about 1243.

The cathedral had been built over the upper part of the Roman theatre, recyclying some materials. A decorated floor of a Roman house of the 1st century BC was found in the crypt of the Cathedral.