The Mediterranean is the ultimate holiday spot for culture creatures - remnants of ancient civilisations abound, buzzing urban hotspots offer modern architectural delights, and historic cities provide glimpses into the history of eons-old peoples. Taking a luxury Med cruise is a great way to experience the region’s remarkable history and culture. Most cruise ship itineraries will include hotspots like Rome, Venice and Barcelona but there are plenty of other less-visited places that offer heaps to keep culture fans happy. Here are three of our favourites:
Architectural Artistry: Valencia
Nestling on Spain’s Mediterranean coast, Spain’s third largest city has a bit of just about everything. There’s an atmospheric old quarter (Barrio del Carmen) full of narrow streets, tiny bars and unexpected squares. Then there are the historic buildings; in particular the massive Gothic cathedral – a forest of vast columns inside and swooping buttresses outside and the beautifully ornate old Silk Exchange and Central Market – which is packed with stalls selling clashingly bright local produce. But it’s the modern architecture that really sets Valencia apart. The amazing City of Arts and Sciences complex is built on the course of the old dry river bed that once flowed through the city. Designed by Santiago Calatrava, one of Spain’s foremost modern architects, it features starkly white, spiky and curvaceous edifices of concrete and sparkling glass. Housed inside them are a truly world class aquarium – Europe’s largest, an incredibly flamboyant opera house and a funky modern science museum. The City is regularly used as a backdrop for adverts and it’s not hard to see why – for many it’s the exterior that is its true delight. It’s rumoured that the project virtually bankrupted the city, but the remarkable results will be visible for generations to come.
Roman Remains: Ephesus
Turkey isn’t short of historic remains – its territories were conquered and reconquered myriad times down the ages. If you’re a fan of Greek and Roman remains, then Ephesus will be a feast for your imagination. In Grecian times it was home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Little of that particular building remains now, but there’s plenty that does. A huge library building – the Library of Celsus - has had its ornate two storey façade rebuilt. The scale of it is immense and it’s a great backdrop for a photo. What adds greater semblance of solidity and permanence to the ruins here is the long paved colonnade that leads down the hillside to the Library. Its marble flagstones have been worn smooth by generations of feet and dotted on either side are the crumbling walls and pillars of ancient villas and shops. It’s easy to imagine toga-bedecked locals strolling down past the houses and public baths to the library at the foot of the hill. A little further on you come to the vast amphitheatre where over 20,000 citizens would watch gladiators in combat and actors reciting verse.
Urban Contrasts: Istanbul
Istanbul is a city of contrasts. Europe and Asia thrown together and scattered over 20 square kilometres and 12 million people. Some quarters are strictly Muslim, others brash celebrations of Mammon. At its centre are the undulating domes and stark minarets of the Blue Mosque which unlike many important mosques is open to non-Muslims. Inside, the shadowy expanses of its vast dome are set a-twinkle by myriad suspended lights drifting down from the heights. Nearby there’s the other great dome of the Aya Sofya glittering with gold leaf and one of the world’s great museums, the spectacular Topkapi palace. Here you can gawp at the ridiculous wealth of the Sultans - diamonds the size of hen’s eggs, gem and gold-encrusted thrones so gaudy they look like kids’ toys. Istanbul’s grand bazaar or Kapali Carsi as it’s known locally, has over 4000 shops, 66 streets, a mosque, a post office and a police station. The bazaar these days caters a great deal to tourists but it’s a must-visit for culture fans too. An atmospheric collection of shady domed corridors full of tiny stalls overflowing with clothes and trinkets, it’s ridiculously easy to get lost here – and that’s all part of the fun of it.
This post was written on behalf of Cunard cruises which offers cruise itineraries in the Mediterranean to all of these destinations.
Article by Jeremy Head