23 January 2010

Christmas Cruise - Itinerary

Day 1: 20/12/2009, Bus leaves Nice at 11:30, Cruise departs at 17:00
Nice (France) to Savona (Italy)

Day 2: 21/12/2009

Day 3: 22/12/2009, 8:00 - 17:00
Tunis (Tunisia)

Day 4: 23/12/2009, 8:00 - 14:00
La Valletta (Malta)

Day 5: 24/12/209, 12:00 - 19:00
Katakolon/Olympia (Greece)

Day 6: 25/12/2009, 8:00 - 18:00
Corfu (Greece)

Day 7: 26/12/2009

Day 8: 27/12/2009, 8:00 - 19:00
Civitavecchia/Rome (Italy)

Day 9: 28/12/2009, Arrives at 8:00


Savona (Italy) to Nice (France)

Day 1: 20/12/2009
Nice (France) to Savon (Italy)

Day 2: 21/12/2009

Day 3: 22/12/2009
Tunis (Tunisia)
8:00 - 17:00

Tunis, with 700,000 inhabitants is the capital of the Tunisian Republic and the political and economic centre of the country. The port and shipyard centre are among the most active in Africa. The city centre is curiously situated in the internal part of the coast, approximately 10 kilometres from the sea at the east end side of a lagoon one- to two-metre deep.

The lagoon, hardly navigable and prohibited to large coasters, represented a logistic difficulty resolved last century when in 1890 a canal was opened connecting the city and La Goulette. The canal is 10-kilometres long and ships with draught lower than 6,5 metres can reach the docks of Tunis port. Two dykes along the canal make the canal safer.

Tunis's origins are very ancient. Historians consider that it is more ancient than the legendary Carthage. Almost certainly it was one of the first inhabited centres in the Mediterranean. It took an active part in the three Punic wars on Carthage side in its unfortunate war against Rome. By the end of the 7th century AD, after the final destruction of Carthage by the Arabs, it gathered the survivors chased by the invaders. In 894 it became the capital for the first time and remained as such for a short period.

In 1270 the king of France Louis IX tried to conquer it in vain. The city reached its height between the 13th and 14th centuries under the Hafsidy rule. The creation of the majority of souks dates from this period. At that time, approximately 100,000 people inhabited Tunis and since then it has remained the country's capital. French influence in Tunis is strong and it appears a city with two personalities, Arab and European. Islam culture is evident at every corner but the percentage of Catholics in the internal part of the country is relevant.

The double characteristic is evident everywhere in the city with contrasting elements which have become a unique style. The most important religious centre is the Olive Mosque, the largest and most venerated Islamic sanctuary in Tunis. It was first erected in 732 and the present building was certainly reconstructed by the Hafsidi between the 13th and 14th centuries. In the prayers' room it is possible to admire the ancient Byzantine columns and the mihrab, decorated with stucco. Outside, the 44-metre high minaret built in 1894 is the reference point at prayer time for all Muslims. Tunis history is full of personalities which have become authentic legends. Among them, Princess Aziza, whose true name was Fatima, daughter of Othman Dey, was renown for her generosity and at the end of her life she freed all her slaves and gave all her money to the poor. Aziza tomb, together with her father's and her servants' are finely carved in marble and the central part is decorated with ceramics.

The Belvedere park is very nice, even though the true core of the city is the Kasbah with market stalls, alleys and small shops where negotiation is obligatory and a sort of performance. The Bard Museum, after Cairo Egyptian Museum, is the most important in North Africa. There is the most important collection of Roman mosaics in the world. The museum is divided into six sections on three floors: prehistory, Punic, Roman, Pagan, Paleochristian and Arab-Muslim. Carthage ruins, the city that competed with Rome for hegemony in the Mediterranean, are not far from Tunis.

Unfortunately there are few remains of Punic Carthage: the necropolis, the foundations of a quarter, evidence of ancient ports. The legend tells that Queen Dido founded the city and sacrificed herself at the stake. The second Carthage revived by Roman emperors left important evidence: the Odeon, the Theatre, basements of villas and baths. The archaeological relevance of these places can only be compared with the temples of ancient Greece.

The village of Sidi Bou Said is very typical, with chalk-white houses, blue doors, balconies and terraces full of flowers, one of the most oriental corners in North Africa. Its alleys are narrow and steep, the houses hide bright gardens with domes stretching in the green vegetation and on the changing blue of the sea.

Day 4: 23/12/2009
La Valletta (Malta)
8:00 - 14:00

The Mediterranean island of Malta, situated between the North African coast and Sicily, is a land of history and mystique. The ancient Greeks claimed the island had divine origins and was the province of the Calypso nymph who lived on nearby Gozo. In Homer's Odyssey, Ulysses landed on the island during his epic journey to Ithaca. In the Middle Ages, the Crusaders partially fortified the island during their expeditions to the Holy Land, giving rise to the powerful Maltese Knights of St John. Following the Crusades, Malta enjoyed a period of commercial prosperity generated by the maritime transport of profitable cargoes such as grain, oil, wine and spices. In the 16th Century, Malta's peaceful existence was violently interrupted when the Turks invaded and laid siege to the island, eventually fought off by the heroic knights. The battle prompted the Maltese substantially to improve the island's fortifications and it was now that the fortress of Valletta was built, named after the knight who led the battle. There are also several architectural remains from the period of the Maltese Knights. During the Napoleonic era the island suffered invasion again, this time at the hands of the French, and it was only with the help of the British that they were repelled. This led to an extended period of British colonial domination that lasted until 1964 when the island gained autonomy. Under the British the island became a major naval base and during World War II was subjected to months of blockade and bombing. Today, Malta is a centre of fishing, craftsmanship and tourism, and the busy, walled city of Valletta is its administrative, commercial and political capital.

Day 5: 24/12/209
Katakolon/Olympia (Greece)
12:00 - 19:00

Katakolon is a small port founded in the first half of the 19th century and linked to the legendary and nearby Olympia. According to the annals, which describe in detail and with some legend, the birth and history of Olympia, the city is a pastoral site chosen by the king of the gods Zeus to promote his culture among the Greeks.

Olympia, together with Delphi, the city dedicated to Apollo, and Athens represents the most important mythological places in traditional Greece. The Olympic Games originated here and, according to the Hellenic tradition described by the Greek poet Pindar, their origin is in honour of Pelope, a legendary character, after whom the Peloponnese was named. In the beginning the Games were composed of few disciplines, deriving from military arts characterised by loyalty and courage and lasted just one day often interrupted by religious ceremonies.

Subsequently the celebration of the Olympic Games, every four years at the summer solstice, lasted for a few weeks and at this time all conflicts had to be suspended to enable the performance of the games. The ceremony was strict. Women, except for Hera priestesses were not allowed, upon punishment of death. All competitors had to be Greek. The winners (at the time there were no sponsors or money compensation) were awarded by public triumph, they were included in a golden register engraved in stone and a life size statue was erected.

After over 1200 years of continued history, the Olympic Games were stopped in 393 AD by Theodosius I and started again in Athens in 1896 upon initiative of the French Baron Pierre de Coubertin. Life in Olympia takes place around the sacred walls of the Sanctuary where all the temples and religious buildings are situated. Olympia was discovered in 1776, but the most important excavations are recent. Zeus' temple for instance was entirely brought to light by German archaeologists who succeeded in reconstructing part of the front and side columns collecting the statues of Greek winners, votive offerings and small temples damaged by a series of earthquakes unfortunately frequent in the past.

The most ancient part of the Sanctuary is dedicated to Hera and it was destroyed and sacked after the prohibition of the pagan cult ordered by Theodosius. The stadium is very impressive, with an audience capacity of up to 45,000. Several votive offerings were found here, and among them Miltiades helmets after Athens victory in Marathon. It is still possible to see the starting and finishing lines of the races in the stadium. All archaeological finds are preserved in the Museum.

Day 6: 25/12/2009
Corfu (Greece)
8:00 - 18:00

Corfu is the northernmost of the Ionian Islands, located in the heart of the Mediterranean. The Greek place name Kerkira was renamed Corfu by the Venetians, who paraphrased the word "Korifi" which was used to indicate the towers of St. Mark's fortress.

Corfu is covered in lush vegetation, thriving in a climate that is tempered by the wind without being too dry. Its coastline is very long, seemingly never-ending: over 200 kilometres. The terrain is quite varied, at times sandy and at others rocky and broken up by Mediterranean bush, olive, cypress and citrus trees.

Corfu has suffered a long and bloody history. Corfu embarked on a long period of being colonised by others from 700 B.C. onwards, first by the Corinthians, then the Illyrians and the Athenians. Corfu suffered attacks from pirates while under Byzantine rule forcing the relocation of the city northward. This did little to halt the invasions of the Vandals and Visigoths, who repeatedly massacred the populations and razed their villages to the ground. The Venetians gave Corfu back its status as an important centre of trade and with it a very wealthy market. Venetian rule lasted for more than 400 years, during which time the island was governed by a system of aristocratic rule. The Venetians began the cultivation of olives and to this day, Corfu is one of the main olive oil producing centres in the region. Once the Venetian reign had come to an end, it was the Turks' turn, then the French and the English, and on 21st May 1864 it was annexed to the Kingdom of Greece.

During the Second World War, Corfu was again bombarded and suffered heavy damage. Most of its buildings were destroyed, such as the public theatre and the Ionian Academy. Just a few outstanding buildings remain, scattered along the coastline and in the main town and jealously guarded by the local population.

Kerkira is the capital, and accommodates around 60,000 of the 110,000 people who live on the island. The city has a splendid city centre with numerous Venetian fortresses and the English Royal Palace. The rest of the island is made up of small settlements, roads that stretch out high abovethe sea and splendid views of small bays and magnificent cliffs.

Day 7: 26/12/2009

Day 8: 27/12/2009
Civitavecchia/Rome (Italy)
8:00 - 19:00

The first evidence of settlement in the area of Civitavecchia relates to the ancient town of Centocelle, once the port for Ethruria and a rich market centre. Pliny the Younger refers in his writings to Centocelle as the venue of a peace council held by the emperor Trajan.

Centocelle takes its name from the style of village houses, which resembled hives with small cells, and the tiny bays along the coast that enabled ships to come and go. Due to its sheltered surroundings and easy access to the sea, Trajan built his most extravagant villa in the vicinity, mentioned by Pliny. The basic structure of the port first developed by Trajan still remains.

When the port of Ostia at the mouth of the River Tiber became insufficient to handle the maritime traffic to Rome, Civitavecchia took its place. The distinctive shape of the port is attributed to the architect Apollodoro who decorated the original structure with engravings and statues. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Civitavecchia maintained its maritime importance and in a few centuries had become the most important port in the Thyrrenian, competing for supremacy with Pisa and attracting the attention of Turkish pirates.

The port today manages light commercial and passenger traffic to the Thyerrenian islands, while the mediaeval centre of Civitavecchia is still well preserved.

Day 9: 28/12/2009
Savona (Italy)

One of the most celebrated former inhabitants of Savona was the navigator Christopher Columbus, who farmed land in the area while chronicling his journeys. 'Columbus's house', a cottage situated in the Savona hills, lay between vegetable crops and fruit trees. It is just one of many residences in Liguria associated with Columbus.

Several cities as well as Savona claim his birth and residency, such as Genoa and Terrarossa di Moconesi. Savona is the most important city on the west coast of Italy, within reach of the seaside resorts of Alassio, Loano and Varazze.

Savona is a city rich in history and enterprise, largely centering on its port. The most important monument in the city in this regard is the Priamar, a castle stronghold near the port and recently restored. This is the site of the city's first developed community, in 205BC, described by Roman historian Titus Livius as 'Savo Oppidum Alpinum' and evidently an ally of Carthage against Rome. The city fell under Roman rule in 200BC and, following the establishment of Vada Sabatia, presently called Vado, its importance rapidly declined. After the fall of the Roman Empire and the invasions of the Barbarians, Savona became an important Byzantine settlement. In 643AD, Savona was destroyed by the Rotarians and the Longobards, while during the 9th and 10th centuries it was the capital of Marca Aleramica. Eventually it became an independent municipality, developing considerable trade with France, Spain and North Africa. After a long period resisting Genoa, it finally relinquished power in 1528 and following the Napoleonic era was annexed by Savoy. Formerly a province of the kingdom of Sardinia, the province of Savona was recognised in 1927.

There are two versions surrounding the origin of the name of Savona's symbolic monument, the Priamar. According to the first, Priamar derives from 'Pietra Sul Mare' (rock on the sea), as the fortress is constructed on a promontory rock facing the Ligurian sea. According to the second version the name derives from 'Petra Mala', a reference to the rock underneath the castle being crumbly. Inside the fortress walls stood a school, two of whose pupils became the popes Julius II and Sixtus IV. It also hosted a ceremony to mark the independence of the municipality, in 1191, after the victory of Ghibelline. In the 19th Century the fortress was used as a prison, where in 1830-1831 Giuseppe Mazzini was jailed. During World War II, the fortress was used as an air-raid shelter and to control Savona's port.

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