Europe’s great ruins and cities are mighty testament to the ancient and modern world. These are cities of legendary proportions, each with its unique charm, history and works of classical and modern art. Europe is on your doorstep: take a journey through its wondrous history.
Ancient history, modern wonders
Two of the most widely recognised relics of the civilised world can be found in Athens, Greece. Perched on a hilltop high above Athens, the birthplace of democracy, the acropolis is architecture’s undisputed champion of classicalism. The majestic Parthenon is the country’s most famous temple and was built between 447 and 437BC.
The Roman ruins extend far and wide, to places such as Ephesus in Turkey, once the Roman capital of Asia Minor. Here you’ll find an impressive array of temples, agoras – areas of political activity where citizens used to do business – and fountains, as well as such ancient marvels as the Great Theatre and the Celsus Library.
In Rome stands the grandest of all Roman ruins, the Colosseum, where gladiators once drew crowds of up to 50,000 spectators. Alongside are the ruins of the forum – the elite residential address in ancient Rome – and the ancient Palatine Hill, the mythical site where the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, were supposed to have been raised by a she-wolf.
Italy’s legendary Pompeii is another captivating destination. Buried under 6m of ash and pumice when Mt Vesuvius erupted in 79AD, the excavation of this advanced ancient city revealed life perfectly preserved as it was on the fateful day of the eruption. Also visit Herculaneum, the second city in the Bay of Naples to be destroyed in the same catastrophe.
Italy’s marble monuments
Rome’s Vatican Square is home to St Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in the world. Built on the site where St Peter is said to have been martyred and buried, this holy emblem of high Renaissance style is adjacent to the Sistine Chapel, which boasts the world’s most renowned ceiling fresco, painted by Michelangelo.
When in Rome, you can follow the fictional trail of the secret society of the Illuminati, mapped in Dan Brown’s bestseller Angels & Demons. Do Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s sculptures really point to the Illuminati’s secret lair?
The northerly city of Pisa has one of the most photographed monuments in Italy, the gravity-defying, 180 foot Leaning Tower. In Venice, Gothic palazzos line the Grand Canal, while St Mark’s Basilica beckons with its intricate gold mosaic arches and carved marble entrance.
Classically modern Paris
In Paris, the architectural wonders extend far beyond the shadow of the city’s iconic Eiffel Tower. The City of Light is awash in the Gothic style, most notably the Cathedral de Notre Dame with its famous flying buttresses.
The commanding Louvre museum, built in the classical style, gained even more prominence in 1989 with the addition of IM Pei’s controversial, ultramodern glass pyramid entrance.
Most prominent of all is Versailles Palace, near Paris, which is the largest and most sumptuous royal residence ever built.
Two of Spain’s most famous landmarks hail from opposite ends of the 20th century. Barcelona’s La Sagrada Familia, an early modernist church designed by revolutionary artist Antoni Gaudi. Much more recently, Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum, with its limestone and titanium curved shapes and blocks, has earned a spot on the list of Europe’s most intriguing structures.