Madrid is the capital and largest city of Spain. It is the third largest city in the European Union, after London and Berlin, and its metropolitan area is the third largest in the European Union after London and Paris.

The city is located on the Manzanares river in the centre of both the country and the Community of Madrid (which comprises the city of Madrid, its conurbation and extended suburbs and villages); this community is bordered by the autonomous communities of Castile and León and Castile-La Mancha. As the capital city of Spain, seat of government, and residence of the Spanish monarch, Madrid is also the political centre of Spain.

Although the site of modern-day Madrid has been occupied since prehistoric times, and there are archeological remains of a small Visigoth basilica near the church of Santa María de la Almudena and two visigoth necropolises near Casa de campo and Tetúan, the first historical certainty about the existence of an established settlement in Madrid dates from the Muslim age. At the second half of the 9th century, Emir Muhammad I of Córdoba built a fortress on a headland near the river Manzanares, as one of the many fortress he ordered to be built on the border between Al-Andalus and the kingdoms of León and Castile, with the objective of protecting Toledo from the Christian invasions and also as a starting point for Muslim offensives. After the disintegration of the Caliphate of Córdoba, Madrid was integrated in the Taifa of Toledo.

With the surrender of Toledo by Alfonso VI of León and Castile, the city was conquered by Christians in 1085, and it was integrated into the kingdom of Castile as a property of the Crown. Christians replaced Muslims in the occupation of the center of the city, while Arabs and Jews settled in the suburbs. The city was thriving and was given the title of "villa", whose administrative district extended from the Jarama in the east to the river Guadarrama in the west. The government of the town was vested to the neighboring of Madrid since 1346, when king Alfonso XI of Castile implements the regiment, for which only the local oligarchy was taking sides in city decisions. Since 1188, Madrid won the right to be a city with representation in the courts of Castile. In 1202, King Alfonso VIII of Castile gave Madrid its first charter to regulate the municipal council, which was expanded in 1222 by Fernando III of Castile.

In June 1561, when the town had 30,000 inhabitants, Philip II of Spain moved his court from Toledo to Madrid, installing it in the old castle. Thanks to this, the city of Madrid became the political center of the monarchy, being the capital of Spain except for a short period between 1601 to 1606 (Philip III of Spain government), in which the Court translates to Valladolid. This fact was decisive for the evolution of the city and influenced its fate. 

Royal Palace
The death of Charles II of Spain resulted in the War of the Spanish succession. The city supported the claim of Philip of Anjou as Philip V. While the city was occupied in 1706 by Anglo-Portuguese army, who proclaimed king the Archduke Charles of Austria under the name of Charles III, and again in 1710, remained loyal to Philip V.

Philip V built the Royal Palace and the main Royal Academies. But the most important Bourbon was King Charles III of Spain, who was known as "the best major of Madrid". Charles III proposed himself the feat to transforms Madrid into a capital worthy of this category. He ordered the construction of sewers, electric lighting, cemeteries outside the city, and many monuments (Puerta de Alcalá, Cibeles Fountain), and cultural institutions (El Prado Museum, Royal Botanic Gardens, Royal Observatory, etc.).

Madrid was one of the most heavily affected cities of Spain in the Civil War (1936–1939). The city was a stronghold of the Republicans from July 1936. Its western suburbs were the scene of an all-out battle in November 1936 and it was during the Civil War that Madrid became the first European city to be bombed by airplanes.

After the death of Franco and the democratic regime, the 1978 constitution confirms Madrid as the capital of Spain. In 1979, the first municipal elections bring democracy to Madrid's first democratically elected mayor since the Second Republic. Madrid was the scene of some of the most important events of the time, as the mass demonstrations of support for democracy after the foiled coup on February 23, 1981. Benefiting from increasing prosperity in the 1980s and 1990s, the capital city of Spain has consolidated its position as an important economic, cultural, industrial, educational, and technological centre on the European continent. 

The nightlife in Madrid is undoubtedly one of the city's main attractions. Tapas bars, cocktail bars, clubs, jazz lounges, live music venues, flamenco theatres and establishments of all kinds cater for all tastes and ages. Every night, venues pertaining to the Live Music Venues Association La Noche en Vivo host a wide range of live music shows. Everything from acclaimed to up-and-coming artists, singer-songwriters to rock bands, jazz concerts or electronic music sessions to enjoy music at its best.

Some of the most popular night destinations include the neighbourhoods of: Bilbao, Tribunal, Atocha, Alonso Martinez or Moncloa, together with Puerta del Sol area (including Opera and Gran Via, both adjacent to the popular square) and Huertas (barrio de Las Letras), destinations which are also filled with tourists day and night.

What is also popular is the practice of meeting in parks or streets with friends and drinking alcohol together (this is called 'botellón', from 'botella', bottle), but in recent years, drinking in the street is punished with a fine and now young madrileños drink together all around the city instead of in better-known places.

Madrid hosts the largest Plaza de Toros (bullring) in Spain, Las Ventas. Madrid's bullfighting season begins in March and ends in October. Bullfights are held every day during the festivities of San Isidro (Madrid's patron saint) from mid May to early June, and every Sunday, and public holiday, the rest of the season. The style of the plaza is Neo-Mudéjar. Las Ventas also hosts music concerts and other events outside of the bullfighting season. 

You can find just about everything in Madrid. People have come to the city in search of the sophisticated, the unique or even the eccentric. Variety is the essence of shopping in the city: from the elegance and flair of the shops in the Salamanca district to the hip, alternative clothing of Fuencarral Street. Madrid transcends fashion; its style cannot be defined. It is said that the city is the sum of all trends, an amazing, living collage. The Tourism Information Centre at Casa de la Panadería on Plaza Mayor sells items related to the city under the brand ¡Madrid!. It features books on the history of the city, its architecture and museums as well as t-shirts and CD's with tunes inspired by the capital. 

City Hall

In Madrid, gastronomy is culture, leisure and business. There is a vast range of culinary variety on offer: in Madrid you can find everything, from traditional homemade dishes to the most innovative and creative cuisine. Enjoy international food from all over the globe, made with the best raw ingredients, and the stoves of the city offer some of the most surprising dishes of modern cuisine.

One of Madrid's most long-established traditions is going out for tapas. There are time-honoured and modern taverns, traditional venues and trendy restaurants,  they all serve the famous small delicatessen bites that go down perfectly with a glass of wine and excellent conversations.

In the centre of Madrid, the streets are dotted with establishments that have been here for over a century. Some are patisseries, others are chemists, but most are taverns that seem to have blended into the environment. They are still run traditionally, using methods that have allowed them to survive over several generations without altering their aspect. Walking into these taverns is like stepping one hundred years back in time. Most still have red façades, a trend that started in the 19th century to set them apart from other venues, and a decoration based on tiles with drawings. Inside, cold marble tables, wooden benches, zinc bars and an intense aroma of wine, mainly from Valdepeñas, stand the test of time.

Historical records reveal taverns were a flourishing business already in the Middle Ages. The establishments were preferred by the lower classes, who got together to chat over a glass of wine which was served in jugs that came covered with a slice of bread to avoid spilling the liquid they contained. That custom may have originated the ‘tapas' (covers), referring to the portion of food that is always served with a drink.

These taverns, located in the oldest part of the capital -Cava Baja, Cava Alta, Cava de San Miguel, Puerta de Sol orLa Latina- have been host to meetings of intellectuals, politicians, writers and commoners avid for a good debate over a tasty meal. They are now an absolute reference point for Madrid's gastronomy that no one, local or tourist, should miss.

Museo Del Prado

                                                        Madrid’s Top 5:
  1. Santa María la Real de La Almudena is a Catholic cathedral in Madrid. When the capital of Spain was transferred from Toledo to Madrid in 1561, the seat of the Church in Spain remained in Toledo; so the new capital – unusually for a Catholic country – had no cathedral. Plans were discussed as early as the 16th century to build a cathedral in Madrid dedicated to the Virgin of Almudena, but construction did not begin until 1879. The cathedral seems to have been built on the site of a medieval mosque that was destroyed in 1083 when Alfonso VI reconquered Madrid. The Neo-Gothic interior is uniquely modern, with chapels and statues of contemporary artists, in heretogeneous styles, from historical revivals to "pop-art" decor. The Neo-Romanesque crypt houses a 16th century image of the Virgen de la Almudena. Nearby along the Calle Mayor excavations have unearthed remains of Moorish and medieval city walls.
  2. City Hall.  The most prominent of the buildings at the Plaza de Cibeles is the Cibeles Palace (formerly named Communications Palace). The cathedral-like landmark was built in 1909 by Antonio Palacios as the headquarters of the postal service. This impressive building was home to the Postal and Telegraphic Museum until 2007 when the landmark building became the Madrid City Hall.
  3. The Royal Palace and Armoury. Home to the Kings of Spain from Carlos III to Alfonso XIII, Madrid's Royal Palace is now open to the public. Though it is no longer the royal family's home, it continues to be their official residence. Long before Madrid became the capital of Spain, Emir Mohamed I chose Magerit (the city's Arabic name) as the site for a fortress to protect Toledo from the advancing Christians. The building was eventually used by the Kings of Castille until finally becoming what would be known as the Antiguo Alcázar (Old Fortress) in the 14th century. Carlos I and his son Felipe II turned the building into a permanent residence for the Spanish royal family. However, in 1734 a fire burnt the Palace of the Austrias to the ground, and Felipe V ordered the construction of the palace that stands today. It was Carlos III (known as the "Mayor of Madrid" due to the large number of reforms and initiatives that he undertook in the city) who became the first monarch to occupy the new building. His successors Carlos IV (responsible for the creation of the Hall of Mirrors) and Fernando VII added many decorative details and furnishings, such as clocks, items of furniture and chandeliers.
  4. The Museo del Prado is the main Spanish national art museum, located in central Madrid. It features one of the world's finest collections of European art, from the 12th century to the early 19th century, based on the former Spanish Royal Collection, and unquestionably the best single collection of Spanish art. Founded as a museum of paintings and sculpture, it also contains important collections of other types of works. A new, recently opened wing enlarged the display area by about 400 paintings, and it is currently used mainly for temporary expositions. El Prado is one of the most visited sites in the world, and it is considered to be among the greatest museums of art. The large numbers of works by Velázquez and Francisco de Goya (the artist more extensively represented in the collection), Titian, Rubens and Bosch are among the highlights of the collection. The collection currently comprises around 7,600 paintings, 1,000 sculptures, 4,800 prints and 8,200 drawings, in addition to a large number of other works of art and historic documents.
  5. The Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas is a famous bullring in Madrid. Situated in the Guindalera quarter of the district of Salamanca, it was inaugurated on June 17, 1931. It has a seating capacity of 25,000 and is regarded as the home of bullfighting in Spain.
    This bullring was designed by the architect José Espeliú in the Neo-Mudéjar (Moorish) style with ceramic incrustations. The seats are situated in ten "tendidos". The price of the seats depends upon how close they are to the arena and whether they are in the sun or the shade (the latter being more expensive). The bullfighting season starts in March and ends in December; bullfights are held every day during the San Isidro Fiesta, and every Sunday or holiday during the season. Bullfights start at 6 or 7pm and last for two to three hours.


Malmö, in the southernmost province of Scania, is Sweden's third largest city by population after Gothenburg and Stockholm, and is one of the largest cities in Scandinavia. Malmö is the seat of Malmö Municipality and the capital of Skåne County.

Malmö is thought to have been founded in the year 1275, as a fortified quay or ferry berth of the Archbishop of Lund, some 20 km to the north-east. It was, for centuries, Denmark's second biggest city. Its original name was Malmhaug (with alternate spellings), meaning "Gravel pile".

In the 15th century, Malmö became one of Denmark's largest and most frequented cities, reaching a population of approximately 5,000 inhabitants. It became the most important city around the Sound, with the German Hanseatic League frequenting it as a marketplace, notable for its flourishing herring fishing. During that time, the city arms were granted in 1437 by King Eric of Pomerania. It was based on Eric's own arms from Pomerania: an argent with a griffin gules. It gave the griffin's head to Malmö, eventually this extended to the entire province of Scania.

In the 17th century, Malmö and the Scanian region (Skåneland) came into Swedish possession. This happened following the Treaty of Roskilde, signed in 1658. Fighting was not yet over, however; in June 1677, 14,000 Danish troops laid siege to Malmö for a month, but were unable to conquer the Swedish troops holding it.

The Town Hall
In 1840, the Kockums shipyard was founded and it eventually became one of the largest shipyards in the world. In 1870, Malmö overtook Norrköping to become Sweden's third most populous city and by 1900 Malmö had strengthened this position with 60,000 inhabitants. 

Malmö continued through the first half of the 20th century. The population had swiftly increased to 100,000 by 1915 and to 200,000 by 1952. By 1971, Malmö reached 265,000 inhabitants, but this was the peak which would stand for more than 30 years.

By the mid 1970s, Sweden experienced a recession that struck especially hard on the industrial sector; shipyards and manufacturing industries were hard hit, which led to high unemployment in many cities of Scania. Kockums shipyard had become a symbol of Malmö as its greatest employer and when the shipbuilding ceased in 1986 the reassurance for the future of Malmö plummeted among politicians and the public. Since the 1970's the Kockums Crane had been a landmark in Malmö and a symbol of the city's manufacturing industry, but in 2002 it was disassembled and moved to South Korea. In 2005 Malmö got a new landmark with completion of Turning Torso, the tallest skyscraper in Scandinavia. 

Malmö is unique in many ways. No matter where you are, you are near to almost everything since the city is built as a semicircle. Even in the outer areas there are good public transportations and closeness to nature and the beach.  Malmö has five popular bathing places, all located at the coast of Öresund. Two beaches have comfortable white sand, one a great green area and the other two spacious wooden decks. Common for every one of them is that the water quality is so good, that they can display Blue Flag. 
The beaches are also popular walking areas all year long, especially those evenings when the sky is coloured purple red in west.

Malmö is known for having a great number of restaurants and pubs. The style is very international. Here, you have the opportunity to try out virtually everything at reasonable prices, thanks to the tough competition. It's very easy to find a good restaurant because Malmö is a culinary stronghold. Traditional Swedish dishes, foreign specialties to gourmet dinners, cheap or expensive, there's a wide variety of food in Malmö. Look out for pepparkakor, literally pepper cookies, but flavoured with cinnamon, ginger, molasses and cloves. Traditional accompaniment to glögg (mulled wine). Have a seat outdoors or indoors and enjoy a good meal. 

Something from the latest Prada collection, or a cute, unique piece of art made by a local co-operative? An antique jewellery box, or a shiny coffee pot designed by a young promising Swedish designer? Malmö has it all, and shopping is conveniently conglomerated in the city centre, along the pedestrian streets Södergatan andSödra Förstadsgatan, and in surroundings blocks nearby, especially Lilla torg and Davidhallstorg.

The pedestrian street stretches from Stortorget along Södergatan, via Gustav Adolfs Torg, continuing along Södra Förstadsgatan across the square to the shopping centre Triangeln. Even if the whole route is almost 2 km/1.2 mi long, you will have plenty of possibilities to rest in one of the many cafés or restaurants on your way.  From Triangeln one can keep on south, towards Möllevången, Malmö's bohemian quarter, where exotic food boutiques and markets can bring some flavour to this shopping round, which also turns out to be a delightful sight-seeing tour.

Malmö also has a large variety of shopping malls in the city centre as well as in the outskirts of the city. Every mall has its own style and assortment. Some are very exclusive, others offer a wide selection of shops and international and national chain of shops. You find almost everything is under the same roof: clothes, electronics, provisions, restaurants, jewellery, toys, books and more. The malls have extended opening hours and most of them are open on Sundays as well. 
Malmö Castle

Malmö has a vibrant night life, but prices are for the most part substantially higher than they are across the bridge in Copenhagen. Lille Torg is the epicentre but prices are high, you could also try Möllevångstorget where any of the many bars, cafés and restaurants in this bustling part of town are good value. Like in Copenhagen, and indeed most of Scandinavia, expect most of the drinking to be limited to Friday and Saturday except at the height of summer when many Swedes are on vacation. 

                                                        Malmo’s Top 5:
  1. The Church of Saint Peter.  Malmö's oldest building is St Peter's Church. It was built in the early 14th century in Baltic Brick Gothic probably after St Mary's Church in Lübeck. Construction was started in 1319. It is built in the Gothic style and has a 105-metre (344 ft) tall tower.  The church is built with a nave, two aisles, a transept and a tower. Its exterior is characterized above all by the flying buttresses spanning its airy arches over the aisles and ambulatory. The tower, which fell down twice during the 15th century, got its current look in 1890.
  2. Malmö Castle. The first castle was founded in 1434 by King Eric of Pomerania. This structure was demolished in early 16th century, and a new one was built in its place in the 1530s by King Christian III of Denmark. Historically, this fortress was one of the most important strongholds of Denmark. The castle was for five years (1568–1573) the prison of James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, third husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. The earl was taken into custody on the orders of the Protestant Danish king Frederick II of Denmark when his ship ran aground in Bergen, Norway during a storm. 
  3. HSB Turning Torso is the tallest skyscraper in Sweden and the Nordic countries,  located on the Swedish side of the Öresund strait. Upon completion, it was the tallest building in Scandinavia, the tallest residential building in the EU and the second tallest residential building in Europe. It was designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and officially opened on 27 August 2005. The tower reaches a height of 190 metres (623 feet) with 54 stories
  4. Rådhuset (The Town Hall) It was originally built in 1546, but has been altered several times. The facade got its today's appearance - in Dutch Renaissance style - in 1864-69. It is home to the seat of the Malmö Municipality in Skåne County. When the first Swedish local government acts were implemented in 1863 the old City of Malmö was made one of the country's 88 city municipalities and the first city council was elected.
  5. The Öresund Bridge (called also Øresund Link) opened for traffic in 2000. The bridge is one of the biggest constructions in Europe and consists of an 8 kilometres (5 miles) long bridge, a 4 kilometres artificially made island called Pepparholmen, and a 4 kilometres long tunnel. The Öresund Region is today one of Europe's most important areas in terms of growth and environment, and the bridge has been a important factor here. A city tunnel - a railway tunnel that connects stations: Malmö Central, Malmö Triangeln, and Malmö Hyllie with the Öresund link - makes it easier and quicker to travel in the region. The bridge is unique because it connects two countries. And a travel between Malmö and Danish Copenhagen takes only approx. 20 minutes.


Maribor is the second largest city in Slovenia with 95,200 inhabitants as of 2011. Maribor is also the largest city of the traditional region of Lower Styria and the seat of the City Municipality of Maribor.  Maribor is situated among the Pohorje Mountain, the Slovenske gorice Hills and the Kozjak Hills on the gravel terrace of the Drava Valley. The river Drava divides the city on the left (north) and the right (south) bank. The city`s old town core is situated on the left bank of the river Drava. To the north, Maribor is embraced with the town (wine-growing) hills, and on the south-western part of the city, the foothills of the Pohorje Mountain start to rise.

In 1164, a castle known as the Marchburch (Middle High German for "March Castle") was documented in Styria. It was first built on Piramida Hill, which is located just above the city. Maribor was first mentioned as a market near the castle in 1204, and received town privileges in 1254. 

It began to grow rapidly after the victory of Rudolf I of Habsburg over Otakar II of Bohemia in 1278. Maribor withstood sieges by Matthias Corvinus in 1480 and 1481 and by the Ottoman Empire in 1532 and 1683, and the city remained under the control of the Habsburg Monarchy until 1918.During World War I, many Slovenes in Carinthia and Styria were detained on suspicion of being enemies of the Austrian Empire. This led to distrust between Austrian Germans and Slovenes. After the collapse of Austria-Hungary in 1918, Maribor was claimed by both the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs and German Austria. On 1 November 1918, a meeting was held by Colonel Anton Holik in Melje's barracks, where it was decided that the German speaking city should be part of German Austria. 

On 27 January 1919, Austrian Germans gathered to await the United States peace delegation at the city's marketplace were fired on by Slovenian troops, who apparently feared the crowd of thousands of ethnic German citizens. Nine citizens were killed and more than eighteen were seriously wounded; who ordered the shooting has never been conclusively established. German sources accused Maister's troops of shooting without cause. Conversely, Slovene witnesses such as Maks Pohar claimed that the Austrian Germans attacked the Slovenian soldiers guarding the Maribor city hall. Regardless of who was responsible, the Austrian German victims had all been unarmed. The German-language media called the incident Marburg's Bloody Sunday.

Maribor Castle
As Maribor was now firmly in the hands of the Slovenian forces and encircled completely by Slovenian territory, the city was recognized as part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes without a plebiscite in the Treaty of Saint-Germain of September 1919 between the victors and German Austria.

After 1918, most of Maribor's Austrian Germans left the Kingdom of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs for Austria. This included the German-speaking officials who did not originate from the region. Austrian German schools, clubs, and organisations were ordered closed by the new state of Yugoslavia, even though ethnic Germans still made up more than 25% of the city's total population as late as the 1930s. A policy of cultural assimilation was pursued in Yugoslavia against the Austrian German minority similar to the Germanization policy followed by Austria against its Slovene minority in Carinthia. However, in the late 1930s the policy was abandoned and the Austrian German minority's position improved significantly in an attempt to gain better diplomatic relations with Nazi Germany.

In 1941, Lower Styria, the Yugoslav part of Styria, was annexed by Nazi Germany. German troops marched into the town at about 9 pm on April 8, 1941. The city, a major industrial center with an extensive armaments industry, was systematically bombed by the Allies in the closing years of World War II. A total of 29 bombing raids completely destroyed and devastated around 47% of the city area, killing 483 civilians and leaving over 4,200 people homeless. By the end of the war Maribor was the most destroyed and devastated larger town in Yugoslavia. The remaining German-speaking population, except those who had actively collaborated with the resistance during the war, was summarily expelled following the end of the war in 1945.

After the liberation, Maribor capitalized on its proximity to Austria as well as its skilled workforce, and developed into a major transit and cultural center of Northern Slovenia, enabled by Tito's decision not to build an Iron Curtain at the borders with Austria and Italy and to provide passports to Yugoslav citizens.

When Slovenia seceded from Yugoslavia in 1991, the loss of the Yugoslav market severely strained the city's economy which was based on heavy industry. This resulted in a record unemployment rate of nearly 25%. The economic situation has improved since the mid-1990s. Through the development of small- and medium-sized businesses and industry, Maribor was able to overcome the industrial crisis. Slovenia entered the European Union in 2004. Moreover, Slovenia introduced the Euro currency in 2007 and joined the Schengen treaty; accordingly all border controls between Slovenia and Austria ceased on 25 December 2007.

With one of the country's best ski resorts only a few minutes' drive from the city centre, Maribor is a top destination for both foreign visitors and Slovenes alike during the winter season. In mid-January the city hosts the prestigious Zlata Lisica (or Golden Fox) Audi FIS Women's World Ski Championship, which draws competitors and spectators from around the world, and engulfs Maribor in a citywide party atmosphere. Thanks in part to its 48 years of experience hosting such a major sports event, Maribor has also been chosen as the site of the 26th Winter Universiade in 2013. 

Wine and food form an important part of the Slovene tradition. Mariborians appreciate their wine and swear by it - just as they do the tasty specialties of their cuisine. Tourist farms and wine shops on the three wine roads are choice places to visit during a stay or trip to Maribor and at the same time a pleasant way to end a tiring day. Here you can sit and relax with a glass or two of excellent vintage wine. Likewise in the city and suburb restaurants, inns and pubs you will be pampered with culinary delights.

Maribor's medieval Water Tower
The delights of Slovenian cooking, hidden in old recipes, are now available at almost every turn. Food with tradition can be seen in family inns, special events called osmice and rural experiences. Its faithful companions are the excellent Slovenian wines. Almost everywhere you go in Slovenia you can find tasty and varied dishes, and Slovenian wines can enthuse even the most demanding wine connoisseur. Slovenia's varied cuisine developed with influences from the cuisines of the Mediterranean, the Pannonian plain, the Alps and the Balkans. One special feature of Slovenian cuisine is the osmice in the Karst. At these social events, for eight days farmers serve home-made wine at extremely low prices. Cheeses and dried meat products, particularly the outstanding kraški pršut (air-dried ham), are always available.

While shopping is not the primary motivation for most trips to Maribor, you shouldn't have any trouble finding what you need, be it local crafts, a replacement MP3 player, fresh flowers to brighten up your hotel room or some faded Yugoslav relics from the country's not-too-distant past. In general, souvenir shops are of the specialist variety, with dedicated stores for wine, honey, chocolate and ceramics among others, and there are also some great outdoor markets (ortržnica) that are worth visiting even if you're not interested in actually buying anything. Keep in mind that aside from the modern Europark shopping centre and various markets, only the rarest of exceptions are open on Sunday.

Town Hall
In Maribor the term 'nightlife' is a slight misnomer, since the drinking usually begins well before the sun goes down and can continue until the morning light reminds you that it might be time for bed. With university students accounting for over twenty per cent of its population, the city definitely has a carefree time-to-party vibe to it - although the weekends can be comparatively quiet, as that's when a lot of students return to their parents' houses to stock up on home-made food and have mother do their laundry. In absolute terms, there may not be an overwhelming number of options, but most places do seem to draw quite a crowd and everyone should be able to find something to suit their tastes.

                                                        Maribor’s Top 5:
  1. Maribor Cathedral  The Gothic building dates to the 12th century, and is dedicated to John the Baptist. It is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Maribor.  The construction of the cathedral and its further development brought Maribor additional cultural impetus and enforcement. It was originally built as a Romanesque building, but today it shows a Gothic style with a long chancel dating from the 14th century and a central church nave from the 15th century. Climb to the top of the bell tower and you will have a view over the city and far beyond.
  2. Maribor Town Hall  Built in 1515, it was remodeled in Renaissance style between 1563 and 1565. In the mid-19th century, it was again renovated in the late Classical style, but was later restored to its original 16th century appearance. Adolf Hitler addressed local Germans from the building's main balcony, overlooking the square during his brief 1941 visit to the city. In addition to city offices, the hall also houses a Slovene national cuisine restaurant, Toti Rotovž. In the square outside the hall there stands the Plague Memorial, which commemorates the “black death” that devastated the city in 1680.
  3. Maribor castle (Mariborski grad). Built by Emperor Frederick III in the 15th century to fortify the northwestern part of the town wall. The castle is located right in the centre of Maribor, surrounded by the Castle square (Grajski trg) and the Trg svobode square (Trg svobode). In the castle, you can visit the Maribor Regional Museum.
  4. The Water Tower is a medieval fortified tower. The tower directly abuts the river Drava, and dates from 1555. A late-renaissance fortification, it consists of massive stone blocks interspersed with embrasures. It was built to secure the southeast part of the city walls from the direction of the river.  At present, the Water Tower houses a wine shop which specializes in top-quality Slovenian wines. It is Slovenia's oldest wine cellar, and is situated in what is now the centre of Maribor. The shop is on the ground floor. The top floor of the tower contains a large, round hall with a high ceiling, reminiscent of a medieval banquet hall, which is dedicated entirely to wine tasting.
  5. Franciscan church The current church with a monastery was built between 1892 and 1900 and replaced an older Capuchin church from 17th century but the vault itself has been preserved.The church has been ordered by the Franciscan monk Kalist Heric, deisgned by Viennese architect Richard Jordan and built by a Viennese builder Josef Schmalzhofer. It's major architectural symbol are the two 58m tall bell towers.  The church interior is decorated with various magnificent details of which the main altar made of 17 different types of marble is the most prominent. In addition there are also 6 side altars.
Franciscan Church



Marseille is the second largest city in France, after Paris. Located on the southeast coast of France, Marseille is France's largest city on the Mediterranean coast and largest commercial port. Marseille is the capital of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region, as well as the capital of the Bouches-du-Rhône department.

Humans have inhabited Marseille and its environs for almost 30,000 years: palaeolithic cave paintings in the underwater Cosquer cave near the calanque of Morgiou date back to between 27,000 and 19,000 BC; and very recent excavations near the railway station have unearthed neolithic brick habitations from around 6000 BC.

Marseille, which can be called the oldest city in France, was founded in 600 BC by Greeks from Phocaea as a trading port under the name Massalia. The connection between Μassalia and the Phoceans is mentioned in Book I, 13 of the History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides. The precise circumstances and date of founding remain obscure, but nevertheless a legend survives. Protis, while exploring for a new trading outpost or emporion for Phocaea, discovered the Mediterranean cove of the Lacydon, fed by a freshwater stream and protected by two rocky promontories. Protis was invited inland to a banquet held by the chief of the local Ligurian tribe for suitors seeking the hand of his daughter Gyptis in marriage. At the end of the banquet, Gyptis presented the ceremonial cup of wine to Protis, indicating her unequivocal choice. Following their marriage, they moved to the hill just to the north of the Lacydon; and from this settlement grew Massalia. 

Palais Longchamp
Massalia was one of the first Greek ports in Western Europe, growing to a population of over 1000. It was the first settlement given city status in France. Facing an opposing alliance of the Etruscans, Carthage and the Celts, the Greek colony allied itself with the expanding Roman Republic for protection. This protectionist association brought aid in the event of future attacks, and perhaps equally important, it also brought the people of Massalia into the complex Roman market. The city thrived by acting as a link between inland Gaul, hungry for Roman goods and wine (which Massalia was steadily exporting by 500 BC), and Rome's insatiable need for new products and slaves. Under this arrangement the city maintained its independence until the rise of Julius Caesar, when it joined the losing side (Pompey and the optimates) in civil war, and lost its independence in 49 BC.

It was the site of a siege and naval battle, after which the fleet was confiscated by the Roman authorities. During Roman times the city was called Massilia. It was the home port of Pytheas. Most of the archaeological remnants of the original Greek settlement were replaced by later Roman additions.

Marseille adapted well to its new status under Rome. During the Roman era, the city was controlled by a directory of 15 selected "first" among 600 senators. Three of them had the preeminence and the essence of the executive power. The city's laws amongst other things forbade the drinking of wine by women and allowed, by a vote of the senators, assistance to a person to commit suicide.

It was during this time that Christianity first appeared in Marseille, as evidenced by catacombs above the harbour and records of Roman martyrs. According to provencal tradition, Mary Magdalen evangelised Marseille with her brother Lazarus. The diocese of Marseille was set up in the 1st century (it became the Archdiocese of Marseille in 1948).

With the decline of the Roman Empire the town fell into the hands of the Visigoths. Eventually Frankish kings succeeded in taking the town in the mid 6th century. Emperor Charlemagne and the Carolingian dynasty granted civic power to Marseille, which remained a major French trading port until the medieval period. The city regained much of its wealth and trading power when it was revived in the 10th century by the counts of Provence. 

in 1437, the Count of Provence, René of Anjou, who succeeded his father Louis II of Anjou as King of Sicily and Duke of Anjou, arrived in Marseille and established it as France's most fortified settlement outside of Paris. He helped raise the status of the town to a city and allowed certain privileges to be granted to it. Marseille was then used by the Duke of Anjou as a strategic maritime base to reconquer his kingdom of Sicily. King René, who wished to equip the entrance of the port with a solid defense, decided to build on the ruins of the old Maubert tower and to establish a series of ramparts guarding the harbour. Jean Pardo, engineer, conceived the plans and Jehan Robert, mason of Tarascon, carried out the work. The construction of the new city defenses took place between 1447 and 1453.

During the Second World War, Marseille was bombed by the German and the Italian forces in 1940. The city was occupied by Germans from November 1942 to August 1944. On 22 January 1943, over 4,000 Jews were seized in Marseilles as part of "Action Tiger." They were held in detention camps before being deported to Poland to be murdered. The Old Port was bombed in 1944 by the Allies to prepare for liberation of France. After the war much of the city was rebuilt during the 1950s. The governments of East Germany, West Germany and Italy paid massive reparations, plus compound interest, to compensate civilians killed, injured or left homeless or destitute as a result of the war.

From the 1950s onward, the city served as an entrance port for over a million immigrants to France. In 1962 there was a large influx from the newly independent Algeria, including around 150,000 returned Algerian settlers (pieds-noirs). Many immigrants have stayed and given the city a French-African quarter with a large market.

Le Panier
The City Centre of modern day Marseille offers a wide range of shops with big brands sitting alongside small arts and crafts boutiques, department stores or shops selling Provencal gifts and souvenirs - something for everyone. The pedestrianised streets: Rue Saint-Ferréol, Rue de la Tour (often referred to as "Fashion Street") and the Cours d’Estienne d’Orves with its Italian-style square which offers the pleasure of combining shopping with eating out. In the surrounding streets, between the opera house and the Prefecture, you will find kitchen and dining ware, home furnishing, confectioners and traditional shops, jewellers, bookshops, fashion stores and accessories…

Rue Paradis and Rue Grignan are home to luxury goods stores and independent boutiques with all the major brands. The Centre Bourse with its department stores is a haven for shopaholics with more than 200 shops, offering a range of chic or more casual ready-to-wear fashion. The souvenir and gift shops (soaps, olive oil, etc.) are to be found between the Old Port and Le Panier, popular tourist areas. There are also regional gourmet and craft products on sale in the department stores (Galeries Lafayette, etc.) as well as at the Tourist Office shop (where you can find some unique “Marseilles-themed” items).

Over the last few years the old town district of Le Panier has become a popular location for artist studios (painting, sculpture), crafts (ceramics, santons, wood), galleries, gastronomic produce (chocolates, olive oil, navette cakes), etc. There are a myriad of places to visit as you stroll through Marseille’s oldest quarter.

The friendly atmosphere is the main flavour of meals in Marseille where the typical daily fare includes olive oil and garlic. At the crossroads of the Mediterranean, Marseille is no stranger to foreign cuisine and has even adopted some recipes as its own. The result? Spicy dishes with a sunny touch, not to mention fish, shellfish and other seafood delicacies that make up the local fare. There are many restaurants in Marseille, ranging from traditional cuisine to world food, not to mention oriental fare and Mediterranean food with a strong Italian influence, and of course the seafood specialties. Establishments tend to be well decorated and the popular "city" style is a sign of these contemporary times.

                                                        Marseille’s Top 5:
  1. Marseille Cathedral (Cathédrale Sainte-Marie-Majeure de Marseille or Cathédrale de la Major) is a Roman Catholic cathedral, and a national monument of France. It has been a basilica minor since 1896. It is the seat of the Archdiocese of Marseille (formerly the Diocese of Marseille until its elevation in 1948). Some modest structures remaining from the largely demolished earlier cathedral, the "Vieille Major", still stand alongside, dwarfed by the huge scale of the later construction. The present cathedral, the "Nouvelle Major", was built on an enormous scale in Byzantine-Roman style from 1852 to 1896 on the site used for the cathedrals of Marseille since the fifth century, principally by the architects Léon Vaudoyer and Henri-Jacques Espérendieu (1829-1874). 
  2. The Palais Longchamp is a monument in the 4th arrondisement of Marseille. It houses the city's museum of fine arts and natural history museum. The surrounding park (the Parc Longchamp) is listed by the French Ministry of Culture as one of the Notable Gardens of France. The Palais Longchamp was created to celebrate the construction of the Canal de Marseille, which was built to bring water from the Durance River to Marseille. Although the foundation stone was laid by the Duke of Orleans on 15 November 1839, the building took 30 years to complete, partly because of the enormous expense and partly because of difficulties with local regulations. Designed by the architect Henry Esperandieu, the building was centered on the structure and elaborate fountain known as the chateau d'eau ("water castle").
  3. La Vieille Charité is a former almshouse, now functioning as a museum and cultural centre, situated in the heart of the old Panier quarter. Constructed between 1671 and 1749 in the Baroque style to the designs of the architect Pierre Puget, it comprises four ranges of arcaded galleries in three storeys surrounding a space with a central chapel surmounted by an ovoid dome. The idea of an almshouse for the poor, dedicated to Notre-Dame, mère de Charité (Our Lady, Mother of Charity), was originally conceived in 1622; but it was not until 1640 that a suitable plot of land was acquired, with the first pensioners admitted in the following year. Although the foundation stone was laid in that year, construction commenced only in 1671, following a grand plan of the architect Pierre Puget. It was not completed until 1749, construction being prolonged as the result of reductions to the project imposed by the aldermen of Marseille. The central chapel was erected between 1679 and 1704, although Puget died before its completion.
  4. The Abbey of St. Victor is a late Roman former monastic foundation named after the local soldier saint and martyr, Victor of Marseilles. The Abbey is one of the oldest places of Christian worship in Europe. In about 415, John Cassian founded two monasteries of St. Victor at Marseille, one for men (the later Abbey of St. Victor), the other for women. In the eighth or ninth centuries both monasteries were destroyed by the Saracens, either in 731 or in 838, when the then abbess Saint Eusebia was martyred with 39 nuns. The nunnery was never re-established. No rebuilding took place until the first half of the eleventh century when through the efforts of the then abbot, Saint Wiffred, the men's monastery was at last rebuilt. It soon recovered, and from the middle of the eleventh century its renown was such that from all points of the south appeals were sent to the abbots of this church to restore the religious life in decadent monasteries. The remains of Saint John Cassian were formerly in the crypt, with those of Saints Maurice, Marcellinus and Peter, the body of one of the Holy Innocents, and Bishop Saint Maurontius. All that now remains of the abbey is the church of St. Victor, dedicated by Pope Benedict IX in 1040 and rebuilt in 1200. It was made into a minor basilica in 1934 by Pope Pius XI. 
  5. Notre-Dame de la Garde This ornate Neo-Byzantine church is situated at the highest natural point in Marseille, a 162 m (532 ft) limestone outcrop on the south side of the Old Port. As well as being a major local landmark, it is the site of a popular annual pilgrimage every Assumption Day (August 15). Local inhabitants commonly refer to it as la bonne mère ("the good mother"). A minor basilica of the Catholic church, it is situated on a limestone peak of 149m (490 feet), on the walls and foundations of an old fort. Built by architect Henri-Jacques Espérandieu, the basilica was consecrated on 5 June 1864. It replaced a church of the same name built in 1214 and reconstructed in the 15th century. The basilica was built on the foundations of a 16th-century fort constructed by Francis I of France to resist the 1536 siege of the city by the Emperor Charles V. The basilica is made up of two parts: a lower church, or crypt, dug out of the rock and in the Romanesque style, and an upper church of Neo-Byzantine style decorated with mosaics. A square bell-tower of 41m (135 feet) is surmounted by a belfry of 12.5m (42 feet) which itself supports a monumental, 11.2m (27 feet) tall statue of the Madonna and Child made out of copper gilded with gold leaf.

    Notre-Dame de la Garde


Messina is the third largest city on the island of Sicily, Italy and the capital of the province of Messina. It has a population of about 250,000 inhabitants in the city proper and about 650,000 in the province. It is located near the northeast corner of Sicily, at the Strait of Messina, just opposite Villa San Giovanni on the mainland.

Founded by Greek colonists in the 8th century BC, Messina was originally called Zancle, from the Greek: ζάγκλον meaning "scythe" because of the shape of its natural harbour (though a legend attributes the name to King Zanclus). A comune of its province, located at the southern entrance of the Strait of Messina, is to this day called 'Scaletta Zanclea'. In the early 5th century BC, Anaxilas of Rhegium renamed it Messene in honour of the Greek city of the same name. The city was sacked in 397 BC by the Carthaginians and then reconquered by Dionysius I of Syracuse.

In 288 BC the Mamertines seized the city by treachery, killing all the men and taking the women as their wives. The city became a base from which they ravaged the countryside, leading to a conflict with the expanding regional empire of Syracuse. Hiero II, tyrant of Syracuse, defeated the Mamertines near Mylae on the Longanus River and besieged Messina. Carthage assisted the Mamertines because of a long-standing conflict with Syracuse over dominance in Sicily. When Hiero attacked a second time in 264 BC, the Mamertines petitioned the Roman Republic for an alliance, hoping for more reliable protection. Although initially reluctant to assist lest it encourage other mercenary groups to mutiny, Rome was unwilling to see Carthaginian power spread further over Sicily and encroach on Italy. Rome therefore entered into an alliance with the Mamertines. In 264 BC, Roman troops were deployed to Sicily, the first time a Roman army acted outside the Italian Peninsula.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the city was successively ruled by Goths from 476, then by the Byzantine Empire in 535, by the Arabs in 842, and in 1061 by the Norman brothers Robert and Roger Guiscard (later count Roger I of Sicily). In 1189 the English King Richard I, ("The Lionheart") stopped at Messina en route to the Holy Land and briefly occupied the city after a dispute over the dowry of his sister, who had been married to William the Good, King of Sicily

Messina was most likely the harbour at which the Black Death entered Europe: the plague was brought by Genoese ships coming from Caffa in the Crimea.

The city reached the peak of its splendour in the early 17th century, under Spanish domination: at the time it was one of the ten greatest cities in Europe. In 1674 the city rebelled against the foreign garrison. It managed to remain independent for some time, thanks to the help of the French king Louis XIV, but in 1678, with the Peace of Nijmegen, it was reconquered by the Spaniards and sacked: the university, the senate and all the privileges of autonomy it had enjoyed since the Roman times were abolished. A massive fortress was built by the occupants and Messina decayed steadily. In 1743, 48,000 died of plague in Messina. In 1783, an earthquake devastated much of the city, and it took decades to rebuild and rekindle the cultural life of Messina.

In 1847 it was one of the first cities in Italy where Risorgimento riots broke out. In 1848 it rebelled openly against the reigning Bourbons, but was heavily suppressed again. Only in 1860, after the Battle of Milazzo, the Garibaldine troops occupied the city. One of the main figures of the unification of Italy, Giuseppe Mazzini, was elected deputy at Messina in the general elections of 1866.

The city was almost entirely destroyed by an earthquake and associated tsunami on the morning of December 28, 1908, killing about 60,000 people and destroying most of the ancient architecture. The city was largely rebuilt in the following year, according to a more modern and rational plan. It incurred further damage from the massive Allied air bombardments of 1943, which caused thousands of deaths. Later, the city gained a Gold Medal for Military Valour and one for Civil Valour in memory of the event and the subsequent effort of reconstruction.

Despite its somewhat explosive history, Messina is a thriving town with characteristic annual festivals and celebrations of its long history. On the 13th and 14th of every August the Ride of the Giants takes place, with two enormous statues, one black and one white, known as Grifone and Mata are paraded through the city on horseback in celebration of the mythical founder of the city. The following day, a feast is held in which are placed large wagon withPapier Mache figures, and driven by more than a thousand people. In more recent times this festival has been given a more religious aspect, but originally it was simply a celebration of the origins of the city. 

Palazzo Zanca
There's no doubt about it. Food and wine are among Sicily's main attractions, and you may have sampled something of both long before arriving in Sicily. When most people think of Italian food, pasta and pizza come to mind. But Sicilian cuisine, and the Mediterranean Diet, transcends these ubiquitous culinary delights. 

Caponata is a tasty salad made with eggplant (aubergines), olives, capers and celery, it makes a great appetizer. There is also an artichoke-based version of this traditional dish, though you're less likely to find it in most restaurants. Sfincione is a local form of pizza made with tomatoes, onions and (sometimes) anchovies. Prepared on a thick bread and more likely found in a bakery than in a pizzeria, sfincione is good as a snack or appetizer. Panella is a thin paste made of crushed or powdered ceci (garbanzo) beans and served fried. Maccu is a creamy soup made from the same bean. Crocché(croquet) are fried potato dumplings made with cheese, parsley and eggs. Arancine are fried rice balls stuffed with meat or cheese.

Sicily is renowned for its seafood. Grilled swordfish is popular. Smaller fish, especially snapper, is sometimes prepared in a vinegar and sugar sauce. Seppia (cuttlefish) is served in its own black sauce with pasta. Another Sicilian seafood dish made with pasta is finnochio con sarde (fennel with sardines). Meat dishes are always popular. Many are traditionally made with lamb or goat. Best known outside Sicily is vitello alla marsala (veal marsala), one of many regional meat specialties. Chicken "alla marsala" can be prepared using a similar recipe and method. Milza (veal spleen) sandwiches are a bit "native" for most tastes, and loaded with cholesterol, but delicious anyway.

Sicilian desserts are superlative. Cannoli are tubular crusts with creamy ricotta and sugar filling. If they taste a little different from the ones you've had outside Italy, that's because the ricotta here is made from sheep's milk. Cassata is a rich, sugary cake filled with the same delicious filling. Frutta di Martorana (or pasta reale) are almond marzipan pastries colored and shaped to resemble real fruit. Sicilian gelato (ice cream) is excellent. In fact, it is possible that ice cream was invented in Sicily during Roman times, when a relay of runners would bring snow down from Mount Etna to be flavored and served to wealthy patricians. You'll find flavors ranging from pistachio and hazelnut (nocciola) to jasmine (gelsomino) to mulberry (gelsi) to strawberry (fragala) and rum (zuppa inglese). Granita is sweetened crushed ice made in Summer and flavored with lemons or strawberries.

Many visitors to Messina use the city as a base to explore the larger area. Taormina is a medieval village perched alongside the steep terrain jutting out of the ocean and is the main attraction in the greater Messina area. While it has kept its Medieval character, it is now a shopper's paradise. The main pedestrian shopping street is loaded with shops, boutiques and specialty stores selling everything under the sun. Near the top of Taormina Village is a wonderfully preserved Roman Theater. This pretty much sums up Taormina's charm. There is something for everyone. Great shopping, wonderful restaurants, Roman Ruins, Medieval pedestrian streets and even stairs to a great beach. What more could anyone want? Plus it is all connected by one simple street and stairway.

Likewise, Mt. Etna the most active volcano in Europe is close by. How active? It has erupted almost every year for the past ten years. A tour of Mt. Etna is an interesting look at how current volcanic action affects today's European culture.

Messina shopping is an opportunity to learn more about the city's art, culture, and historic legacy. Among the best souvenirs you can get here, local pottery and ceramics are the main highlights. Art comes in second, followed by leather goods, fresh produce from the farmer's market (including vegetables, fish and olive oils), as well as fashion inspired by traditional costumes. Sicily may be a small island, but it's still Italy, so you can shop for international fashion brands if local genuine artifacts are not for you. 

                                                       Messina’s Top 5:
  1. Messina Cathedral (originally 12th century), containing the remains of king Conrad, ruler of Germany and Sicily in the 13th century. The building had to be almost entirely rebuilt in 1919-1920, following the devastating 1908 earthquake, and again in 1943, after a fire triggered by Allied bombings. The original Norman structure can be recognised in the apsidal area. The façade has three late Gothic portals, the central of which probably dates back to the early 15th century. The architrave is decorated with a sculpture of Christ Among the Evangelists and various representations of men, animals and plants. Some decorative elements belong the original building, whereas the mosaics in the apse are reconstructions. Tombs of illustrious men besides Conrad IV, include those of Archbishops Palmer (died in 1195), Guidotto de Abbiate (14th century) and Antonio La Legname (16th century). The bell tower holds one of the largest astronomical clocks in the world, built in 1933 by the Ungerer Company of Strasbourg. The belfry mechanically animated statues, which illustrate events from the civil and religious history of the city every day at noon, are a popular touristic attraction. 
  2. Monte di Pieta. The work of Natale Masuccio, Monte di Pieta is an impressive construction dating back from 1616. During the 18th century, extensive reconstruction works included the first floor, the bell tower and the staircase. What remains today from the original building is the beautiful facade, a large balcony and baroque style windows. It is used now for exhibitions and theater performances.
  3. Teatro Vittorio Emanuele II Built in the late 19th century by the order of Ferdinand II of Bourbon, Teatro Vittorio Emanuele II is a neoclassical project of architect Pietro Valente. Damaged in 1908, the theatre was subject of an extensive restoration project, being almost rebuilt from ground up. The theatre was expanded considerably and the belated reopening in 1985 was marked by a performance of Aida, which was also the last show before the damaging events eight decades earlier.
  4. Palazzo Zanca. The City Hall of Messina was severely damaged by the earthquakes in 1783 and 1908 and was rebuilt son after the 1908 events under the supervision of Antonia Zanca. With a beautiful neoclassical style, the city hall covers more than 12,000 square meters, with the facade dedicated to statues and tombstones that recreate the troublesome history of the city.
  5. San Ranieri lighthouse. Built in 1555, The lighthouse is situated on the southern tip of the peninsula at Porto di Messina. The light can be seen for more than 21 miles.

    Monte Di Pieta


Milan is the second-largest city in Italy and the capital of Lombardy as well as of the province of Milan.  Milan is the main industrial, commercial and financial centre of Italy. Its business district hosts the Italian Stock Exchange and the headquarters of the largest national banks and multinational companies. The city is recognized as a major world fashion and design capital. Thanks to its important museums, theatres and landmarks (including Santa Maria delle Grazie, decorated with Leonardo da Vinci paintings, a UNESCO World Heritage Site) Milan attracts 2 million annual visitors.

Castello Sforzesco
Around 400 BC, the Celtic Insubres settled Milan and the surrounding region. In 222 BC, the Romans conquered this settlement, which was then renamed Mediolanum. After several centuries of Roman control, Milan was declared the capital of the Western Roman Empire by Emperor Diocletian in 293 AD. Diocletian chose to stay in the Eastern Roman Empire (capital Nicomedia) and his colleague Maximianus ruled the Western one. Immediately Maximian built several gigantic monuments, like a large circus 470 × 85 m (1,540 ft × 279 ft), the Thermae Herculeae, a large complex of imperial palaces and several other services and buildings.

With the Edict of Milan of 313, Emperor Constantine I guaranteed freedom of religion for Christians. The city was besieged by the Visigoths in 402, so the imperial residence was moved to Ravenna. In 452, the Huns overran the city. In 539, the Ostrogoths conquered and destroyed Milan in the course of the so-called Gothic War against Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. In the summer of 569, the Longobards (from which the name of the Italian region Lombardy derives), a Teutoic tribe conquered Milan (Which is one of the reasons why a high percentage of Milanese are Nordic gened), overpowering the small Byzantine army left for its defence. Some Roman structures remained in use in Milan under Lombard rule. Milan surrendered to the Franks in 774 when Charlemagne, in an utterly novel decision, took the title "King of the Lombards" as well (before then the Germanic kingdoms had frequently conquered each other, but none had adopted the title of King of another people). The Iron Crown of Lombardy dates from this period. Subsequently Milan become part of the Holy Roman Empire.

La Scala
Milan became one of the most prosperous Italian cities during the High Middle Ages, playing a primary role in the Lombard League. Later Milan became the capital of the Duchy of Milan, being ruled by the Visconti, the Sforza, the Spanish and the Austrians. In 1796, Milan was conquered by the French troops of Napoleon, only to be given again to the Austrian Empire at the Congress of Vienna of 1815. In 1859 the city was eventually annexed to the House of Savoy, and soon started to lead the industrialization process of the new Kingdom of Italy. During World War II, the city was badly affected by Allied bombings, and after German occupation in 1943, Milan became the main centre of the Italian resistance movement. In post-war years, Milan enjoyed a prolonged economic boom, attracting large flows of immigrants from Southern Italy.  During the past three decades, the city has seen a dramatic rise in the number of international migrants, and today 15.2% of Milan's population is foreign born. 

There are few remains of the ancient Roman colony that later became a capital of the Western Roman Empire. During the second half of the 4th century, Saint Ambrose, as bishop of Milan, had a strong influence on the layout of the city, redesigning the centre (although the cathedral and baptistery built at this time are now lost) and building the great basilicas at the city gates: Sant'Ambrogio, San Nazaro in Brolo, San Simpliciano and Sant'Eustorgio, which still stand, refurbished over the centuries, as some of the finest and most important churches in Milan. 

Most of the major Italian fashion brands, such as ValentinoGucciVersacePradaArmani and Dolce & Gabbana, are currently headquartered in the city. Numerous international fashion labels also operate shops in Milan, including an Abercrombie & Fitch flagship store, which has become a main consumer attraction. Furthermore, the city hosts the Milan Fashion Week twice a year, just like other international centres such as Paris, London, Tokyo, and New York. Milan's main upscale fashion district is the quadrilatero della moda (literally, "fashion quadrilateral"), where the city's most prestigious shopping streets (Via Monte NapoleoneVia della SpigaVia Sant'AndreaVia Manzoni and Corso Venezia) are held. The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the Piazza del DuomoVia Dante and Corso Buenos Aires are other important shopping streets and squares. Mario Prada, founder of Prada was born here, helping to cultivate its position as a world fashion capital.

Like most cities in Italy, Milan and its surrounding area has its own regional cuisine, which, as it is typical for Lombard cuisines, uses more frequently rice than pasta, and features almost no tomato. Milanese cuisine includes "cotoletta alla milanese", a breaded veal (pork and turkey can be used) cutlet pan-fried in butter (which some claim to be of Austrian origin, as it is similar to Viennese "Wienerschnitzel", while others claim that the "Wienerschnitzel" derived from the "cotoletta alla milanese"). Other typical dishes are cassoeula (stewed pork rib chops and sausage with Savoy cabbage), ossobuco (stewed veal shank with a sauce called gremolata), risotto alla milanese (with saffron and beef marrow), busecca (stewed tripe with beans), and brasato (stewed beef or pork with wine and potatoes). Season-related pastries include chiacchiere (flat fritters dusted with sugar) and tortelli (fried spherical cookies) for Carnival, colomba (glazed cake shaped as a dove) for Easter, pane dei morti("Deads' Day bread", cookies aromatized with cinnamon) for All Soul's Day and panettone for Christmas. The salame milano, a salami with a very fine grain, is widespread throughout Italy. The best known Milanese cheese is gorgonzola from the namesake town nearby, although today the major gorgonzola producers operate in Piedmont. 

The main two areas to go out in Milan are around the Brera gallery and the Navigli area. Milan offers lively bars, restaurants and nightclubs, moreover some of them include live music, especially jazz music and some local bands. Clubbing starts at about 11.00 pm running to about 4 am, but if you want to be ready, start your nightlife with with the happy hour aperitifs, from about 18.00 on in one of the most famous bars and cafés. Often, clubs in Milan will offer you dinner too, before the nightlife starts. This is an oppurtunity to join together food and live jazz music which is often played during dinner.  However if you want to have an alternative scene and less expensive, you should try the Centri Sociali with cheap or sometimes free entertainment as concerts and film showings. They also contain bars and vegetarian restaurants.

                                                        Milan’s Top 5:
  1. Milan Cathedral  is the cathedral church of Milan, dedicated to Santa Maria Nascente (Saint Mary Nascent), it is the seat of the Archbishop of Milan, currently Cardinal Angelo Scola. The Gothic cathedral took nearly six centuries to complete. It is the fourth largest cathedral in the world and the largest in the Italian state territory.  In 1386, Archbishop Antonio da Saluzzo began construction in a rayonnant Late Gothic style more typically French than Italian. Construction coincided with the accession to power in Milan of the archbishop's cousin Gian Galeazzo Visconti, and was meant as a reward to the noble and working classes, who had suffered under his tyrannical Visconti predecessor Barnabò.  On May 20, 1805, Napoleon Bonaparte, about to be crowned King of Italy, ordered the façade to be finished. In his enthusiasm, he assured that all expenses would fall to the French treasurer, who would reimburse the Fabbrica for the real estate it had to sell.  The last details of the cathedral were finished only in the 20th century: the last gate was inaugurated on January 6, 1965. This date is considered the very end of a process which had proceeded for generations, although even now, some uncarved blocks remain to be completed as statues.
  2. Palazzo Marino is a 16th century palace located in Piazza della Scala. It has been Milan's city hall since 9 September 1861. It borders on Piazza San Fedele, Piazza della Scala, Via Case Rotte and Via Tommaso Marino. The palace was built for, and is named after, the Genoan trader and banker Tommaso Marino. It became a property of the State in 1781. The palace was built from 1557 to 1563 for Tommaso Marino. It was designed by architect Galeazzo Alessi from Perugia. Its main facade was originally that facing Piazza San Fedele, as Piazza della Scala didn't yet exist; the corresponding area was occupied by buildings. The construction was occasionally slowed down by the opposition of the population, that had a very conservative attitude towards the architecture of the centre of Milan.
  3. Castello Sforzesco  is a castle that used to be the seat and residence of the Duchy of Milan and one of the biggest citadels in Europe and now houses several of the city's museums and art collections. The original construction on the site began in the 14th century. In 1450, Francesco Sforza began reconstruction of the castle, and it was further modified by later generations. A number of these rooms originally had elaborate internal decoration - the best known of these being the Sala Delle Asse with surviving ceiling paintings by Leonardo da Vinci. Under the Spanish domination, the castle was developed and, between 15th and 16th century, was protected by 1000 to 3000 men, and was one of the biggest citadels in Europe.
  4. La Scala  is a world renowned opera house in Milan. The theatre was inaugurated on 3 August 1778 and was originally known as the New Royal-Ducal Theatre at La Scala. The premiere performance was Antonio Salieri's Europa riconosciuta. Most of Italy's greatest operatic artists, and many of the finest singers from around the world, have appeared at La Scala during the past 200 years. Today, the theatre is still recognised as one of the leading opera and ballet theatres in the world and is home to the La Scala Theatre Chorus, La Scala Theatre Ballet and La Scala Theatre Orchestra. The theatre also has an associate school, known as the La Scala Theatre Academy, which offers professional training in music, dance, stage craft and stage management.
  5. Santa Maria delle Grazie and The Last Supper. This church was built between 1466 and 1490 by Giuniforte Solari and later partly modified by Bramante who re-designed the apse, the Tribuna, the Cloister and the Old Sacristy. In the Refectory there is one of the most famous paintings of Leonardo da Vinci: the “Last Supper”. The works of the fresco started in 1495 and finished in 1498. Unfortunately it started to deteriorate only 20 years after completion, so it had four restorations: in 1908, 1924, 1953 (after the bombings of Second World War) and in 1977. Inside the church there is also the Crucifixion of Donato Montorfano (1495).



Minsk is the capital and largest city in Belarus, situated on the Svislach and Niamiha rivers. Minsk is also a headquarters of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). As the national capital, Minsk has a special administrative status in Belarus and is also the administrative centre of Minsk Region (voblast) and Minsk raion (district).

The area of today's Minsk was settled by the Early East Slavs by the 9th century. The Svislach River valley was the settlement boundary between two Early East Slav tribes – the Krivichs and Dregovichs. By 980, the area was incorporated into the early mediaeval Principality of Polatsk, one of the earliest East Slav states. Minsk was first mentioned in the name form Měneskъ  in the Primary Chronicle for the year 1067 in association with the Battle on the river Nemiga. City authorities consider the date of 2 September 1067, to be the exact founding date of the city, though the town (by then fortified by wooden walls) had certainly existed for some time by then. The origin of the name is unknown but there are several theories.

In the early 12th century, the Principality of Polatsk disintegrated into smaller fiefs. The Principality of Minsk was established by one of the Polatsk dynasty princes. In 1129, the Principality of Minsk was annexed by Kiev, the dominant principality of Kievan Rus; however in 1146 the Polatsk dynasty regained control of the principality. By 1150, Minsk rivalled Polatsk as the major city in the former Principality of Polatsk. The princes of Minsk and Polatsk were engaged in years of struggle trying to unite all lands previously under the rule of Polatsk.

In 1242, Minsk became a part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and it received its town privileges in 1499. From 1569, it was a capital of the Minsk Voivodship in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Minsk was annexed by Russia in 1793 as a consequence of the Second Partition of Poland. In 1796, it became the centre of the Minsk Governorate. All of the initial street names were replaced by Russian names, though the spelling of the city's name remained unchanged.

Throughout the 19th century, the city continued to grow and significantly improve. In the 1830s, major streets and squares of Minsk were cobbled and paved. A first public library was opened in 1836, and a fire brigade was put into operation in 1837. In 1838, the first local newspaper, Minskiye gubernskiye vedomosti (“Minsk province news”) went into circulation. The first theatre was established in 1844. By 1860, Minsk was an important trading city with a population of 27,000. There was a construction boom that led to the building of 2 and 3-story brick and stone houses in Upper Town.

Before World War II, Minsk had had a population of 300,000 people. After Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, as part of Operation Barbarossa, Minsk immediately came under attack. The city was bombed on the first day of the invasion and came under Wehrmacht control four days later. However, some factories, museums and tens of thousands of civilians had been evacuated to the east. The Germans designated Minsk the administrative centre of Reichskomissariat Ostland. Communists and sympathisers were killed or imprisoned; both locally and after being transported to Germany. Homes were requisitioned to house invading German forces. Thousands starved as food was seized by the German Army and paid work was scarce. Some anti-soviet residents of Minsk, who hoped that Belarus could regain independence, did support the Germans, especially at the beginning of the occupation, but by 1942, Minsk had become a major centre of the Soviet partisan resistance movement against the invasion, in what is known as the German-Soviet War. For this role, Minsk was awarded the title Hero City in 1974.

Minsk was recaptured by Soviet troops on 3 July 1944, during Operation Bagration. The city was the centre of German resistance to the Soviet advance and saw heavy fighting during the first half of 1944. Factories, municipal buildings, power stations, bridges, most roads and 80% of the houses were reduced to rubble. In 1944, Minsk's population was reduced to a mere 50,000. After World War II, Minsk was rebuilt, but not reconstructed. The historical centre was replaced in the 1940s and 1950s by Stalinist architecture, which favoured grand buildings, broad avenues and wide squares. Subsequently, the city grew rapidly as a result of massive industrialisation.

City Hall
Despite claiming a few outstanding historical sights representing the city’s rich and illustrious past, Minsk is best known as a living monument to the grandiose aspirations of Soviet architecture and urban planning. Famously destroyed during the Great Patriotic War, the Belarusian capital grew out of the ashes of conflict to become a Socialist Realist masterpiece complete with spacious avenues, lush green parks and a battalion of buildings dating from the 1940s and 1950s that simply have to be seen to be believed. Minsk really is a city like no other. Yet beneath its clean and regimented exterior lies an underbelly of exuberance in the guise of exceptional restaurants, world-class bars, clubs to rival those in any major city around the world and a cultural life offering everything from theatre to opera to experimental dance. 

There are essentially two types of Belarusian restaurant in Belarus. The first and most obvious variety features pigtailed waitresses in national dress serving plates of potatoes and beetroot soup in an atmosphere reminiscent of an old barn. The second is less easy to pin down, and is perhaps best described as a restaurant or café serving predominantly but not exclusively Belarusian favourites in an atmosphere you won’t find anywhere other than in Belarus. Eating out in Minsk continues to improve on an almost daily basis. There’s still a handful of places that fail to impress with either food or service, but these are thankfully few and far between. The diversity of cuisine in Minsk is far from all-encompasing, with what international food there is thankfully getting better all the time. Be aware that many restaurants list garnishes such as French fries, vegetables, rice and, butter and tomato ketchup as separate items.

Contrary to popular opinion, Belarus has plenty of fantastic indigenous products that serve well as both gifts and souvenirs. Classic folk-related things include nesting matryoshka dolls, hand-painted wooden spoons, plus a wealth of bits and pieces fashioned from straw and flax, among them dolls in national costumes plus straw horses and chickens popular with children. If you look around you can also pick up some nice inlaid wooden boxes which make great little jewellery boxes. Linen is a favourite, and is represented predominantly as tablecloths and napkins, usually for a very good price. Or why not some chocolate? Two well established brands making a range of chocolates of exceptional quality are Kommunarka and Spartak. Locally-produced glass and ceramics are both good value and can be really very nice indeed, and, last but not least, Milavitsa has been making quality ladies underwear since Soviet times. As well as the Gifts & Souvenirs section on p. 45, keep an eye out for other shops and the markets listed in this guide, several of which provide perfect gift and souvenir solutions.

Nightlife options in Minsk are diverse, friendly and at times refreshingly odd, making the city an excellent option for all manner of adventures after dark. Borders blur a bit, with bars being a bit like clubs and cafés turning into cabaret venues and live music striking up in the most unlikely places. The streets are safe and the taxis are cheap. There’s really no excuse for not having a good night out.

St Elizabeth's Monastery

                                                        Minsk’s Top 5:
  1. Cathedral of Saint Virgin Mary is a Roman Catholic baroque cathedral in Minsk.
    The cathedral was built in 1710 as a church of the Jesuit monastery. In 1793, after Russia's taking over Belarus, the Jesuit order was banned and the church got a local status. Soon, after creation of the Minsk diocese, the church became the local cathedral. The Cathedral was heavily damaged in a fire in 1797, but was later fully renewed. In 1869, the Minsk diocese was liquidated and the church got a parafial status. In November 1917, the diocese was restored; Zygmunt Lazinski was appointed as a bishop. In 1920, Lazinski was arrested by Soviet authorities, the cathedral was closed down in 1934. During the Second World War, the Germans allowed the cathedral to function again, but after the war it was again closed down by the Soviets. In 1951, the cathedral's bell towers were intentionally destroyed by Soviet artillery and the building itself was given to the Spartak sports society. In the beginning of the 1990s, religious services started again. In 1993, the building was given back to the Roman Catholics; by 1997 it was renewed.
  2. Minsk City Hall. was built in 1600 in High Market, located in the central part of the City. In times of Grand Duchy of Lithuania and The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth the building performed primarily administrative functions - local authorities such as city council, the council and the court sat there. It’s notable that large clock was installed on the tower, which in those days was a miracle of engineering. In 1851 was decided to demolish City Hall, as its existence reminded residents about the customs of the past. It’s noteworthy that the inhabitants of the city did not want to participate in the destruction of the building and City hall was dismantled by local jail inmates. In the period from 2002 to 2003 City Hall has been restored and renovated by "Stary Mensk." experts. Specialists were able to restore the main elements of the building, using old survived drawings and paintings. Every hour chimes beats the 19 second chorus of Igor Luchenok creation "Song of Minsk". Today the restored building of City Hall is used for honored guests’ reception and the organization of important meetings, cultural evenings and presentations.
  3. Church of Sts. Simon & Helena. Known in the local vernacular as the Red Church, the city’s best-known Catholic building was constructed between 1908 and 1910 on the orders of a rich Belarusian family upon the premature death of their two children after whom the church is dedicated. The two smaller towers are named after the offspring, while the larger one represents the grief of the parents. Under the Soviets the church was turned into a cinema then a film studio. Now once again used for its original purpose, the building adds a nice splash of history to an otherwise modern square. The bronze statue in front of the church represents Archangel Michael slaying the Devil, represented as a dragon.
  4. Great Patriotic War Museum. Opened barely three months after Minsk was liberated by the Red Army, the city’s must-see Great Patriotic War Museum has come a long way over the last six decades and is currently based inside a building where it’s been since 1966. Presenting the full horrors of World War II from the perspective of the Soviet Union, you won’t find much mention of the Allied efforts, but you will get insight into the suffering of the Belarusians and the immense sacrifices made by the Red Army to liberate their territory from the ‘facist-German’ occupiers. After passing a magnificent statue of Lenin, you can visit some original tanks and planes in the back yard of the museum. All texts are in Russian, and it’s highly recommended to telephone or drop by in advance to arrange a guided tour in English to get the full benefit of the experience.
  5. The Trinity Hill or Trayetskaye Pradmestsye, is the oldest surviving district of Minsk, although it's not part of the downtown, rather a suburb, hence another name,Trinity Banlieu (Trojeckaje Pradmiescie). The historic neighbourhood sprawls along the left bank of the Svislach River in the southeastern part of the modern city. The Belarusian 5-ruble bill features an image of Trayetskaye Pradmestsye. The district takes its name from the Trinity Convent, of which little remains. The first Roman Catholic church in Minsk, the Ascension Monastery, the church of Sts. Boris and Gleb, and a synagogue have also disappeared. This is an area of 19th-century housing, mostly restored after the ravages of World War II. Modern buildings include the national opera and ballet theatre and the Island of Tears memorial.

    Trinity Hill

Monte Carlo/Monaco

Monte Carlo, famous for her hotels, casinos, glamour and celebrity sightings, is not the capital of Monaco. If this surprises you, you are not alone. Although Monte Carlo is located in Monaco, Monaco does not have a capital. 
Monte Carlo is an administrative area of the Principality of Monaco.  The permanent population is about 15,000 in Quarter. Monte Carlo quarter includes not only Monte Carlo proper where the Le Grand Casino is located, it also includes the neighbourhoods of Saint-Michel, Saint-Roman/Tenao, and the beach community of Larvotto. It is also one of Monaco's 10 wards, with a population of 3,500. It borders the French town of Beausoleil.

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Monte Carlo is famous throughout the world as a host of many top sporting events, the highest profile of which is, of course, the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix . It also hosts world championship boxing bouts, the European Poker Tour Grand Final and the World Backgammon Championship as well as fashion shows and other events. Although the Monte Carlo Masters tennis tournament is billed as taking place in the community, its actual location is in the adjacent French commune of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. The Monte Carlo Rally is one of the longest running and most respected car rallies; from 1973 to 2008, it marked the start of each rally season as the first event on the World Rally Championship calendar, but is now part of the second-tier Intercontinental Rally Challenge. However, the rally takes place outside the Monte Carlo quarter.

Monte Carlo is one of Europe's leading tourist resorts, although many of the key tourist destinations are located in other parts of Monaco, including such attractions as Monaco Cathedral, the Napoleon Museum, the Oceanographic Museum and aquarium, and the Prince's Palace, all of which are located in Monaco-Ville. 
Tourism is Monaco's main source of income and is one of the most expensive places to visit. Real estate in Monaco and Monte Carlo is also some of the most expensive in the world.

Monaco is the world's most densely populated country at nearly 34,000 residents in only a square mile. It is also the second-smallest independent nation in the world. Monaco is the world's smallest French speaking nation.

The pier on the harbour was extended in 2001 to accommodate large cruise ships. Cruise ships bring a vast number of tourists to Monte Carlo every year. 

Despite its small size, Monaco has the longest ruling royal family in Europe. The House of Grimaldi has ruled Monaco for over 700 years, beginning in 1297, when Francois Grimaldi seized the fortress protecting Monaco. Legend has it that he dressed as a monk, and because of his disguise, he was able to overcome the opposing troops. This event is so important in Monaco's history that it is depicted on their coat of arms. After the French Revolution of the 1700's, the Grimaldi family was exiled for over 20 years. They returned following the Treaty of Paris.
During the 20th century, Monaco was ruled first by Prince Albert I then, starting in 1922, by his son Prince Louis II. Unsuccessful in his attempts to keep Monaco neutral during World War II, the country was occupied first by the Italians, and later by the Germans. Eventually Monaco was liberated by the Allied forces.

Prince Rainier III became ruler of Monaco in 1949, succeeding his grandfather, Prince Louis II, after his mother, Crown Princess Charlotte, renounced her right to succession in favour of her son. Prince Rainier worked diligently to repair the war-torn country and expand her interests beyond gambling. Indeed, Prince Rainier succeeded in making Monaco a leader in banking, financial services, and other business.

Hotel de Paris and Casino

In 1956, Prince Rainier brought international interest to the tiny country when he married American actress Grace Kelly. Fascination with Monaco only increased as three children were born to the couple: Princess Caroline in 1957, followed by Prince Albert II in 1958, and Princess Stephanie in 1965.

Tragically, Princess Grace died in a car accident in 1982 at the age of 52. Princess Stephanie was seriously injured in the same crash. Physically recovered, she has admitted that the crash still haunts her.

Prince Rainier died in 2005 at the age of 81, after 50 years as the country's well-loved ruler.
Internationally known for their independent thinking and perseverance in the face of adversity, the Grimaldi family is as much a part of Monaco as the rock on which the country is built. For over 700 years, they have enjoyed a close relationship with the people they rule, and this unique and fascinating relationship will undoubtedly continue for generations to come.

Monte Carlo’s Top 5:
Note: For the purposes of this blog, Monte Carlo and Monaco attractions have been included
Casino Square & Gardens
  1. Salle Garnier.   The Opéra de Monte-Carlo or Salle Garnier was built by the architect Charles Garnier as an exact replica in miniature of the Paris Opera House. The auditorium of the opera house is decorated in red and gold and has frescoes and sculptures all around the auditorium. It was inaugurated on January 25, 1879 with a performance by Sarah Bernhardt dressed as a nymph. The first opera performed there was Robert Planquette's Le Chevalier Gaston on 8 February 1879, and that was followed by three more in the first season.
  2. The Hôtel de Paris. Opened in 1863 as part of the development of Monte Carlo by the Société des Bains de Mer (SBM) under the auspices of Charles III of Monaco. It is a luxury hotel at the heart of Monte Carlo and is owned and operated by SBM, along with the Hotel Hermitage, the Monte-Carlo Beach Hotel and the Monte-Carlo Bay Hotel & Resort. It has notable restaurants, including the Michelin 3-star Louis XV and Michelin-starred Le Grill, as well as the Le Bar Americain.  The hotel has 106 rooms divided into four groups based on type of view, decoration and luxury. The Exclusive City View offers 20 rooms, the Superior Courtyard has 29 large rooms, the Exclusive Sea View has 59 and the Exclusive Casino has six. Additionally there are 74 suites and junior suites which are grouped similarly, offering more luxury than the regular rooms. There are single and double suites as well as Courtyard Junior suites and Sea/Casino Junior suites. There is also a Presidential suite.
  3. Monte Carlo Casino More than just an internationally renowned casino, the building also includes  the Grand Théâtre de Monte Carlo, and the office of Les Ballets de Monte Carlo. The Monte Carlo Casino is owned and operated by the Société des bains de mer de Monaco, a public company in which the Monaco government and the ruling family have a majority interest. The company also owns the principal hotels, sports clubs, foodservice establishments, and nightclubs throughout Monaco.
  4. The Cathedral of Monaco.  Built with white stones from La turbie, this Roman-Byzantine cathedral is the burial site former Princes. The cathedral houses a magnificent altarpiece by Louis Bréa, a painter from Nice, along with a wonderful altar and episcopal throne in white Carrara marble.
  5. Exotic Garden of Monaco.  The Exotic Garden of Monaco has been a unique site since it was opened to the public in 1933. In its prestigious, open-air setting, it brings together a wide variety of “succulent” plants. The plant species represented in this Garden come from several faraway arid zones (hence the name “Exotic”): cacti and agaves come from the south-western United States, Mexico, and Central and South America; the other succulent plants are from southern and eastern Africa and the Arabian peninsula.
    Monaco Cathedral


Montpellier is a city in southern France. It is the capital of the Languedoc-Roussillon region, as well as the Hérault department. Montpellier is the 8th largest city of the country, and is also the fastest growing city in France over the past 25 years.

In the Early Middle Ages, the nearby episcopal town of Maguelone was the major settlement in the area, but raids by pirates encouraged settlement a little further inland. Montpellier, first mentioned in a document of 985, was founded under a local feudal dynasty, the Guilhem, who joined together two hamlets and built a castle and walls around the united settlement. The two surviving towers of the city walls, the Tour des Pins and the Tour de la Babotte are later in date, they were built around the year 1200. Montpellier came to prominence in the 12th century as a trading centre, with trading links across the Mediterranean world and a rich Jewish cultural life and traditions of tolerance of its Muslims, Jews and Cathars—and later of its Protestants. 

The city became a possession of the kings of Aragon in 1204 by the marriage of Peter II of Aragon with Marie of Montpellier, who brought the city as her dowry. Montpellier gained a charter in 1204 when Peter and Marie confirmed the city's traditional freedoms and granted the city the right to choose twelve governing consuls annually. Under the Kings of Aragon Montpellier became a very important city, a major economic center and the main place for spice trade in the Kingdom of France. It has been the second or third more important city of France at that time, with some 40 000 inhabitants before the Black Death. 

Montpellier remained a possession of the crown of Aragon until it passed to James III of Majorca, who sold the city to the French king Philip VI in 1349, to raise funds for his ongoing struggle with Peter IV of Aragon. In the 14th century, Pope Urban VIII gave Montpellier a new monastery dedicated to Saint Peter, noteworthy for the very unusual porch of its chapel, supported by two high, somewhat rocket-like towers. With its importance steadily increasing, the city finally gained a bishop, who moved from Maguelone in 1536, and the huge monastery chapel became a cathedral. 

At the time of the Reformation in the sixteenth century, many of the inhabitants of Montpellier became Protestants (or Huguenots as they were known in France) and the city became a stronghold of Protestant resistance to the Catholic French crown. In 1622, King Louis XIII besieged the city which surrendered after a rude two months siege (Siege of Montpellier), afterwards building the Citadel of Montpellier to secure it. Louis XIV made Montpellier capital of Bas Languedoc, and the town started to embellish itself, by building the Promenade du Peyrou, the Esplanade and a large number of houses in the historic centre. After the French Revolution, the city became the capital of the much smaller Hérault. 

During the 19th century the city developed into an industrial centre. In the 1960s, its population grew dramatically after French settlers in Algeria were resettled in the city following Algeria's independence from France. In the 1980s and 1990s, the city drew attention with a number of major redevelopment projects, such as the Corum and especially the Antigone District. 

Montpellier really is special. What’s more – very few people outside France have understood just what a fantastic city this is. Broad boulevards lined with shady plane trees, a huge car-free central square laid out in the 1700s surrounded by elegant balustraded buildings, even a vast triumphal arch – you name it, Montpellier’s got it.

If you're in the market for chic boutiques, designer wine bars, electronic music and art house films, then Montpellier is the place for you. Languedoc-Roussillon’s capital city is arguably the chicest spot on France’s south coast, and it certainly pulls in the punters. An extra 18,000 folk make Montpellier their home every year, and the burgeoning student population  means that the nightlife, fashions and café culture tend to cater to Bright Young Things, with a reasonable helping of up-market wine bars, modern restaurants and smart stores targeting the sizeable community of lawyers and doctors.

Visitors tend to start their Montpellier sightseeing on the central expanse of Place de la Comédie, seduced by its café terraces and imposing, 19th century opera house. All well and good, but to escape the gawking tourists and Saturday afternoon out-of-towners, hot foot it up the pedestrian-only sweep of Montpellier's rue de la Loge into the ancient, most attractive part of town known as l’Ecusson. Halfway up on the right, the street widens out to form a square covered in café chairs and tables: welcome to Place Jean-Jaurès, home of Montpellier students and other twenty-somethings. 

Head up the street, hang a right just before the Préfecture (beside the post office) and you’ll hit Place Marché Aux Fleurs; on the other side of Montpellier's Préfecture lies petite but perfectly formed Place Chabaneau. A multitude of wine bars have recently sprung up in Montpellier and they are a great way to sample the region’s many excellent appellations and Vins de Pays. Among the best are Le Comptoir (rue du Puits-du-Temple), Mi Barrio (rue du Plan d’Agde) and the Times Café (rue des Teissiers), all within spitting distance of the church of Montpellier’s patron saint, St. Roch. Well-chosen wine lists, tasty platters (think fresh baguette paired with olive tapenade, sun-dried aubergines, paté, garlicky charcuterie and goats cheese) and a buzzy vibe make for value-for-money good times.

Shopaholics can indulge their habit in Montpellier's centre. Many shops in rural France are traditionally closed on Mondays, but most of Montpellier’s stores are open all week bar Sunday. Well-known names like Galeries Lafayette, Habitat, Zara, Benetton, FNAC and Gap can be found in the charisma-free zone that is the Polygone shopping mall (between Place de la Comédie and the Antigone quarter).

For more recherché labels, head back into the Ecusson and the side streets branching off rue de la Loge (rue de l’Argenterie and rue de l’Ancien Courrier offer rich pickings). A pedestrian zone, this shopper’s paradise is the place to snap up stylish menswear, womenswear, footwear, jewellery, leather goods, eyewear, fragrances and homewares.

Hunting for timeless French classics? Try the Lacoste store on rue Saint Guilhem; on rue de la Loge, French chain La Compagnie des Cotonniers stocks hip, understated womenswear, and for ultra-chic kids’ clothes, Petit Bateau is on the same street. The rue Saint Guilhem boasts a couple of fancy tableware outlets in the shape of Guy Degrenne and L’Emprin, as well as the excellent Puig fromagerie and the Maison Régionale des Vins et des Produits du Terroir (a long name for a fine wine and specialty foods emporium).

                                                        Montpellier’s Top 5:
  1. Montpellier Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Montpellier) is a Roman Catholic cathedral, and a national monument of France. It is the seat of the Archbishops, previously Bishops, of Montpellier. Originally a church attached to the monastery of Saint-Benoît (founded in 1364), the building was elevated to the status of cathedral in 1536, when the see of Maguelonne was transferred to Montpellier. It suffered extensive damage during the Wars of Religion between Catholics and Protestants in the 16th century, and was subsequently rebuilt in the 17th.
  2. The Musée Fabre The museum was founded by François-Xavier Fabre, a Montpellier painter, in 1825. Beginning in 2003, the museum underwent a 61.2 million euro renovation, which was completed in January 2007. It is one of the main sights of Montpellier and close to the city's main square, the Place de la Comédie. The museum's national importance is recognised by it being classified as a Musée de France by the French Ministry of Culture.  On display are ceramics from Greece and the rest of Europe. Furthermore, the museum has a large collection of paintings from the 17th until the 19th century, with a large representation of the luminophiles movement. There are also sculptures by Antoine Bourdelle, Jean-Antoine Houdon and
    René Iché.
  3. The Porte du Peyrou is a triumphal arch in Montpellier. It is situated at the eastern end of the Jardin de Peyrou, a park near the center of the city. The arch was designed by François Dorbay, after the model of the Porte Saint-Denis in Paris. Its construction was completed in 1693. Its rusticated surface is crowned by a Doric entablature, suitable to a martial monument. Its later panels in bas-relief and inscriptions glorifying King Louis XIV of France were added in 1715.
  4. Tour de la Babote. A large medieval corner tower. In occitan, babota means an insect larvae or a silk worm chrysalis. The name is deemed to have unappealing connotations which some people believe is in keeping with the tower's appearance. Was it considered somehow more impregnable and threatening than the others. In 1739 the Sociate Royale des Sciences constructed an observatory.
  5. The Place de la Comédie is the main focal point of the city of Montpellier. It is located at the south-east point of the city centre where in previous times the fortifications of the city were located. The square is first mentioned in 1755 and is named after the theatre located there, which burned down in 1785 and 1855. The Place became the main focal point of the city when, in the mid-19th century the main railway station was built some 200 metres south of it. At that time, a smaller train going to the nearby beach at Palavas-les-Flots also had its provenance on the Place.


Montreux is a municipality in the district of Riviera-Pays-d'Enhaut in the canton of Vaud in Switzerland. It is located on Lake Geneva at the foot of the Alps.

The earliest settlement was a Late Bronze Age village at Baugy. Montreux lies on the north east shore of Lake Geneva at the fork in the Roman road from Italy over the Simplon Pass, where the roads to the Roman capital of Aventicum and the road into Gaul through Besançon separated. This made it an important settlement in the Roman era. A Roman villa from the 2nd-4th centuries and a 6th-7th century cemetery have been discovered.

In the 12th century, viticulture was introduced to the region, and the sunny slopes of the lake from Lavaux to Montreux became an important wine-growing region. Montreux is first mentioned in 1215 as Mustruel. In 1295, the Bishop of Sion sold the parish of Montreux to Girard of Oron. In 1317, it was split between the Lords of Oron (Le Châtelard) and the Counts of Savoy (Les Planches). A Brotherhood of the Holy Spirit administered estates and a hospital in Montreux starting in about 1309.

The region was subject to various princes, most notably the princes of Savoy from the south side of the lake. They unified the territory which comprises the present canton of Vaud and were generally popular sovereigns.

After the Burgundian Wars in the 15th century, the Swiss in Bern occupied the region without resistance, an indication of the weakness of the princes of Savoy. Under Bernese rule (1536–1798) it belonged to the bailiwick of Chillon (renamed in 1735 into the bailiwick of Vevey).

The Reformation made the region around Montreux and Vevey an attractive haven for Huguenots from Italy, who brought their artisanal skills and set up workshops and businesses.

In 1798, Napoleon liberated the region from the Bernese. In the 19th century, the tourist industry became a major commercial outlet, with the grand hotels of Montreux attracting the rich and cultured from Europe and America.

Starting in the 19th Century there were three independent municipalities that shared a central authority. This county council was made up of four deputies from Le Châtelard, two from Les Planches and one from Veytaux. The church, the market hall of La Rouvenaz, the secondary school (the building was from 1872 and 1897) and the slaughter-house (1912) were all owned by the county council. Each municipality had its own taxes and a mayor. In 1962, the municipalities of Le Châtelard and Les Planches merged, while Veytaux remained independent.

Montreux boasts one of the most beautiful walks along the lake, stretching from Villeneuve all the way towards Vevey. The main square of the town, Place du Marché, features a statue of Freddie Mercury facing Lake Geneva. Some of the numerous small villages around Montreux include La Tour-de-Peilz, Clarens, Territet, and Villeneuve. The Château of Chillon provides a marvelous view of the entire Lake of Geneva and can be easily accessed via bus, walk or boat.

The Montreux Jazz Festival is held annually in early July on the Lake Geneva shoreline. It is the second largest annual music festival in the world after Canada's Montreal International Jazz Festival. Founded in 1967, the festival was first held at Montreux Casino. It lasted for three days and featured almost exclusively jazz artists. Originally a pure jazz festival, it opened up in the 1970s and today presents artists of nearly every imaginable music style. Jazz remains an important part of the festival. Today's festival lasts about two weeks and attracts an audience of more than 200,000 people.

Deep Purple's famous song "Smoke on the Water" tells of the events of 1971, when a Frank Zappa fan with a flare gun set the Montreux Casino on fire. The destroyed Casino was reopened in 1975.

The Dubliners song "Montreux Monto" on their album Live at Montreux was recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1976.

Montreux is the home of Mountain Studios, the recording studio used by several artists. "Bonzo's Montreux" by Led Zeppelin is named after the city where the drums session of John Bonham was recorded in 1976. In 1978, the band Queen bought the studio. It was then sold to Queen producer David Richards. In 2002, the Mountain Studios was converted into a bar as part of a complete renovation of the studio. David Richards has left Montreux to settle down somewhere else. 

Queen also appeared in 1984 and in 1986 at the Golden Rose Festival and Queen guitarist Brian May appeared in 2001 at the Jazz Festival. Montreux was also the subject of the 1995 Queen single "A Winter's Tale" on the album Made in Heaven, one of Freddie's last songs before his death on November 24, 1991. The album cover features the statue of Mercury beside the lake.

Every Christmas Montreux hosts an excellent Christmas market for several weeks over the holiday period. The main road through the town (Grand' Rue) and the lakeside path are lined with wooden chalets where you can find anything to buy from local wine (free tasting sometimes on offer) to chocolates (of course) and local crafts. The atmosphere is magical, your kids can visit Pere Noel (Father Christmas)and in 2006 they also had a ferris wheel and an ice skating rink to add to the fun. With all the regular shops also open you could do all your Christmas shopping in one trip and get some unique presents into the bargain. For the cheapest souvenirs in Montreux, check out the Kiosque Biblique, which is housed in a small wooden chalet next to the Eurotel. It's not always open because it's run by volunteers, but it always offers a friendly welcome to everyone and has lots of free Christian literature in many languages.

                                                        Montreux’s Top 5:
  1. Château de Chillon, A historic castle and the country's most visited place, on a small island in Lake Geneva only a few meters from the shore. It was built originally to allow the occupants to extract a toll from people and goods passing between Italy and the rest of Europe on the road north from the St. Bernard pass. The roadway here is wedged between the lake and the cliffs, so there was no way to get around Chillon. The Castle is more famous in modern times for having inspired Lord Byron's poem, The Prisoner of Chillon, based on the true story of François Bonivard, a political prisoner from Geneva who was released in 1536. Byron is said to have carved his name in one of the columns in the dungeon where Bonivard was detained during a few years. The castle is 45 minutes walk from Montreux along the lakeside, or 4 minutes by train.
  2. Casino Barrière  rolls out its red carpet, taking its visitors into a universe of escape, dreams and pleasure. As Switzerland’s first casino, it offers all the cards to spend an unforgettable evening: over 380 coin machines and 25 gaming tables for amusement, three restaurants to enjoy oneself in, two theme bars and some festive activities, and all in an enchanting atmosphere on the shores of Lake Geneva. The Casino also has three banquet and seminar rooms, able to welcome up to 1500 people, with an unbeatable view of the lake and Alps.
  3. Montreux Museum.  At the entrance of the old town, in the former village called Sâles, a group of winegrowers' houses dating from the 17th century accommodate the
    Musée de Montreux. Listed in the architectural inventory of the Lake Geneva Region, these adjacent buildings of the 17th century have preserved surprising architectural homogeneity. The Museum Society, founded in 1874, bought these buildings between 1914 and 1920 and presented the first collections of natural science and local farming implements. Today the rooms exhibit collections of numerous and varied objects: coins, cooper stamps, tools for planing and carpentry, traditional utensils, etc. Owing to a recent donation, a beautiful collection of over 2,100 thimbles, as well as countless objects in connection with lace and embroidery works have been incorporated into the museum collection. From the beginnings of history until the tourist age, the museum also proposes a presentation about four topics (history, farming, tourism and hotel business) showing the multiple aspects of the Montreux region.
  4. Marmots' Paradise. The mountains around Hauts-de-Montreux are threaded with forest trails, isolated villages, caves, grottos, and wildlife. Rochers-De-Naye itself is home to an odd little compound called "Marmots' Paradise" where marmots from all over the world live in an observable system of underground burrows.
  5. Lake Geneva Shoreline.  Taking advantage of the best part of the region’s micro climate, the city’s gardeners imbue the lake shore with colours and perfumes from the many types of exotic trees and flowers. A veritable Montreux speciality, their vegetal sculptures add a most original artistic touch to the whole lakeside area. These ephemeral works of art can be discovered from December to May along the seven-kilometre shoreline.



Moscow is the capital and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural and scientific center of Russia and the continent. Moscow is the northernmost megacity on Earth, the most populous city in Europe, and the 6th largest city proper in the world.

Moscow is situated on the Moskva River in the Central Federal District of European Russia. In the course of its history the city has served as the capital of a progression of states, from the medieval Grand Duchy of Moscow and the subsequent Tsardom of Russia to the Soviet Union. 

The Kremlin
The city is named after the river. The first reference to Moscow dates from 1147 when Yuri Dolgorukiy called upon the prince of the Novgorod-Severski to "come to me, brother, to Moscow". Nine years later, in 1156, Prince Yuri Dolgorukiy of Rostov ordered the construction of a wooden wall, the Kremlin, which had to be rebuilt multiple times, to surround the emerging city. After the sacking of 1237–1238, when the Mongols burned the city to the ground and killed its inhabitants, Moscow recovered and became the capital of the independent Vladimir-Suzdal principality in 1327. Its favorable position on the headwaters of the Volga River contributed to steady expansion. Moscow developed into a stable and prosperous principality, known as Grand Duchy of Moscow, for many years and attracted a large number of refugees from across Russia.

Under Ivan I of Moscow the city replaced Tver as a political center of Vladimir-Suzdal and became the sole collector of taxes for the Mongol-Tatar rulers. By paying high tribute, Ivan won an important concession from the Khan. Unlike other principalities, Moscow was not divided among his sons but was passed intact to his eldest. Moscow's opposition against foreign domination grew. In 1380, prince Dmitry Donskoy of Moscow led a united Russian army to an important victory over the Tatars in the Battle of Kulikovo. The battle, however, was not decisive and only two years later Moscow was sacked by khan Tokhtamysh. Ivan III, in 1480, finally broke the Russians free from Tatar control, allowing Moscow to become the center of power in Russia. Under Ivan III the city became the capital of an empire that would eventually encompass all of present-day Russia and other lands.

In January 1905, the institution of the City Governor, or Mayor, was officially introduced in Moscow, and Alexander Adrianov became Moscow’s first official mayor. Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, on 12 March 1918 Moscow became the capital of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and of the Soviet Union less than five years later. During World War II (the period from June 22, 1941, to May 9, 1945 known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War), after the German invasion of the USSR, the Soviet State Defense Committee and the General Staff of the Red Army was located in Moscow.

In 1941, sixteen divisions of the national volunteers (more than 160,000 people), twenty-five battalions (18,500 people) and four engineering regiments were formed among the Muscovites. That November, the German Army Group Center was stopped at the outskirts of the city and then driven off in the Battle of Moscow. Many factories were evacuated, together with much of the government, and from 20 October the city was declared to be under siege. Its remaining inhabitants built and manned anti-tank defenses, while the city was bombarded from the air. Joseph Stalin refused to leave the city, meaning the general staff and the council of people's commissars remained in the city as well. 

In 1991, Moscow was the scene of the failed coup attempt by the government members opposed to the reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev. When the USSR was dissolved in the same year, Moscow continued to be the capital of Russia. Since then, the emergence of a market economy in Moscow has produced an explosion of Western-style retailing, services, architecture, and lifestyles.

Tverskaya Street
There is a vibrant night life in Moscow. Nightlife in Moscow has moved on since Soviet times and today has many of the world's largest nightclubs.The city is full different kind of clubs, restaurants and bars. There is an opening every two weeks and the night life scene changes all the time. There are different levels of venues but certainly is worthy to check out the VIP nightlife. Moscow city center and Rublevka (richest area of the city) is full of luxury places where Russians new riches, oligarchs and many foreigners spend their night out until the morning. 

Tverskaya Street is also one of the busiest shopping streets in Moscow. The adjoining Tretyakovsky Proyezd, also south of Tverskaya Street, in Kitai-gorod, is host to upscale boutique stores such as Bulgari, Tiffany & Co., Armani, Prada and Bentley. 

A huge and quickly growing range of restaurants, with a matching range of prices, has developed in Moscow.  Lately a lot of new "middle-class" restaurants have opened, filled with families on weekends. Non-chain restaurants and cafes promising "European and Caucasus cuisine" are equally bad in either one most of the time; seek a specialist single-region venue instead (Georgian, Russian, Italian, French etc). Lifetime of an average restaurant or cafe in Moscow is 2 years -- in 2 years the quality decreases, or it changes ownership, name and/or format.

Many small restaurants within the Sadovoye ring are now offering prix-fixe "business lunches" at around RUB200-250, for the teeming hordes of white-collars populating the neighborhood during the day. These deals are valid in the middle of the day (12-3 PM) and include a cup of soup or an appetizer, the main dish of the day (a smaller portion than if you order a la carte; sometimes there's even a limited choice), bread (no Russian eats anything without a slice) and a beverage (soda or coffee/tea; beer costs extra); it is a reasonably priced, freshly cooked quick meal in the middle of your wanderings which will tide you through to the evening.
Red Square

                                                        Moscow’s Top 5:
  1. St Basil's Cathedral Or The Cathedral of the Protection of Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat - also known as Pokrovsky Cathedral and the Cathedral of St. Vasily the Blessed but popularly as Saint Basil's Cathedral, is a Russian Orthodox church erected on Red Square in Moscow in 1555–61 on orders from Ivan the Terrible. It commemorates the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan. St. Basil's marks the geometric center of Moscow. It has been the hub of the city's growth since the 14th century and was the city's tallest building until the completion of the Ivan the Great Bell Tower in 1600. The original building, known as "Trinity Church" and later "Trinity Cathedral", contained eight side churches arranged around the ninth, central church of Intercession; the tenth church was erected in 1588 over the grave of venerated local saint Vasily (Basil). In the 16th and 17th centuries the church, perceived as the earthly symbol of the Heavenly City, as happens to all churches in Byzantine Christianity, was popularly known as the "Jerusalem" and served as an allegory of the Jerusalem Temple in the annual Palm Sunday parade attended by the Patriarch of Moscow and the tsar.
  2. The Moscow Kremlin, sometimes referred to as simply the Kremlin, is a historic fortified complex at the heart of Moscow, overlooking the Moskva River (to the south), Saint Basil's Cathedral and Red Square (to the east) and the Alexander Garden (to the west). It is the best known of kremlins (Russian citadels) and includes four palaces, four cathedrals and the enclosing Kremlin Wall with Kremlin towers. The complex serves as the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation. The site has been continuously inhabited since the 2nd century BC, and originates from a Vyatich fortified structure (or "grad") on Borovitsky Hill where the Neglinnaya River flowed into the Moskva River. The Slavs occupied the south-western portion of the hill as early as the 11th century, as evidenced by a metropolitan seal from the 1090s, which was unearthed by Soviet archaeologists in the area. Up to the 14th century, the site was known as the 'grad of Moscow'. The word "kremlin" was first recorded in 1331 and its etymology is disputed. The grad was greatly extended by Prince Yuri Dolgorukiy in 1156, destroyed by the Mongols in 1237 and rebuilt in oak in 1339.  The Kremlin walls as they now appear were built between 1485 and 1495. 
  3. Lenin's Mausoleum also known as Lenin's Tomb, situated in Red Square, is the mausoleum that serves as the current resting place of Vladimir Lenin. His embalmed body has been on public display there since shortly after his death in 1924 (with rare exceptions in wartime). The Mausoleum is open every day from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm, except holidays, Mondays and Fridays. Visitors still wait in lines to see Lenin's body although they are not as long as they once were. Entrance is free of charge. All items capable of recording video or audio as well as taking a picture are strictly forbidden inside the mausoleum. All electronic items must be checked in a nearby building containing lockers. Before visitors are allowed to enter the mausoleum, armed police or military guards search each visitor.
  4. Novodevichy Convent, also known as Bogoroditse-Smolensky Monastery is probably the best-known cloister of Moscow. Its name, sometimes translated as the New Maidens' Monastery, was devised to differ from an ancient maidens' convent within the Moscow Kremlin. Unlike other Moscow cloisters, it has remained virtually intact since the 17th century. In 2004, it was proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The convent was founded in 1524 by Grand Prince Vasili III in commemoration of the conquest of Smolensk in 1514. It was built as a fortress at a curve of the Moskva River and became an important part of the southern defensive belt of the capital, which had already included a number of other monasteries. Upon its founding, the Novodevichy Convent was granted 3,000 rubles and the villages of Akhabinevo and Troparevo. Ivan the Terrible would later grant a number of other villages to the convent.
  5. The Bolshoi Theatre is a historic theatre, designed by architect Joseph Bové, which holds performances of ballet and opera. The Bolshoi Ballet and Bolshoi Opera are amongst the oldest and most renowned ballet and opera companies in the world. The theatre is the parent company of The Bolshoi Ballet Academy, a world-leading school of ballet. The main building of the theatre, rebuilt and renovated several times during its history, is a landmark of Moscow and Russia (its iconic neoclassical facade is depicted on the Russian 100-ruble banknote). On 28 October 2011, the Bolshoi was re-opened after an extensive six year renovation costing about 21 billion rubles (about $680 million). The renovation included restoring acoustics to the original quality (which had been lost during the Soviet Era), as well as restoring the original Imperial decor of the Bolshoi.
    Bolshoi Theatre


Munich is the capital and the largest city of the German state of Bavaria. It is located on the River Isar north of the Bavarian Alps. Munich is the third largest city in Germany, behind Berlin and Hamburg.

The year 1158 is the earliest date the city is mentioned in a document. The document was signed in Augsburg. By that time the Guelph Henry the Lion, Duke of Saxony and Bavaria, had built a bridge over the river Isar next to a settlement of Benedictine monks—this was on the Salt Route and a toll bridge.

In 1175, Munich was officially granted city status and received fortification. In 1180, with the trial of Henry the Lion, Otto I Wittelsbach became Duke of Bavaria and Munich was handed over to the Bishop of Freising. (Wittelsbach's heirs, the Wittelsbach dynasty, would rule Bavaria until 1918.) In 1240, Munich was transferred to Otto II Wittelsbach and in 1255, when the Duchy of Bavaria was split in two, Munich became the ducal residence of Upper Bavaria.

Duke Louis IV was elected German king in 1314 and crowned as Holy Roman Emperor in 1328. He strengthened the city's position by granting it the salt monopoly, thus assuring it of additional income. In the late 15th century Munich underwent a revival of gothic arts—the Old Town Hall was enlarged, and a Munich's largest gothic church, now a cathedral—the Frauenkirche—constructed in only twenty years, starting in 1468.

When Bavaria was reunited in 1506, Munich became its capital.  In 1623 during the Thirty Years' War Munich became electoral residence when Maximilian I, Duke of Bavaria was invested with the electoral dignity but in 1632 the city was occupied by Gustav II Adolph of Sweden. When the bubonic plague broke out in 1634 and 1635 about one third of the population died. 

Under the regency of the Bavarian electors Munich was an important centre of baroque life but also had to suffer under Habsburg occupations in 1704 and 1742. In 1806, the city became the capital of the new Kingdom of Bavaria, with the state's parliament (the Landtag) and the new archdiocese of Munich and Freising being located in the city. Twenty years later Landshut University was moved to Munich. Many of the city's finest buildings belong to this period and were built under the first three Bavarian kings. Later Prince Regent Luitpold's years as regent were marked by tremendous artistic and cultural activity in Munich.

Marienplatz and the 'new' Town Hall
The city became a Nazi stronghold when the National Socialists took power in Germany in 1933. The National Socialist Workers Party created the first concentration camp at Dachau, 10 miles (16 km) north-west of the city. 

Because of its importance to the rise of National Socialism, Munich was referred to as the Hauptstadt der Bewegung ("Capital of the Movement"). The NSDAP headquarters was in Munich and many Führerbauten ("Führer-buildings") were built around the Königsplatz, some of which have survived to this day. The city is known as the site of the culmination of the policy of appeasement employed by Britain and France leading up to World War II. It was in Munich that British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain assented to the annexation of Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland region into Greater Germany in the hopes of sating the desires of Hitler's Third Reich. 

The city was heavily damaged by allied bombing during World War II—the city was hit by 71 air raids over a period of six years. After US occupation in 1945, Munich was completely rebuilt following a meticulous and – by comparison to other war-ravaged West German cities – rather conservative plan which preserved its pre-war street grid.

Today, the city is an inspiring mix of historic buildings and impressive architecture, since Munich reconstructed the ruins of their historic buildings but also created new landmarks of architecture. A survey, conducted by the Society's Center for Sustainable Destinations for the National Geographic Traveler, chose over 100 historic places around the world and ranked Munich as the 30th best destination.

At the centre of the city is the Marienplatz—a large open square named after the Mariensäule, a Marian column in its centre—with the Old and the New Town Hall. Its tower contains the Rathaus-Glockenspiel. Three gates of the demolished medieval fortification have survived to this day—the Isartor in the east, the Sendlinger Tor in the south and the Karlstorin the west of the inner city. The Karlstor leads up to the Stachus, a grand square dominated by the Justizpalast (Palace of Justice) and a fountain.


The Hofbräuhaus am Platzl, arguably the most famous beer hall worldwide, is located in the city centre. It also operates the second largest tent at the Oktoberfest, one of Munich's most famous attractions. For two weeks, the Oktoberfest attracts millions of people visiting its beer tents ("Bierzelte") and fairground attractions. The Oktoberfest was first held on 12 October 1810 in honour of the marriage of crown prince Ludwig to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. The festivities were closed with a horse race and in the following years the horse races were continued and later developed into what is now known as the Oktoberfest. Despite its name, most of Oktoberfest occurs in September. It always finishes on the first Sunday in October unless the German national holiday on 3 October ("Tag der deutschen Einheit"-Day of German Unity) is a Monday or Tuesday-then the Oktoberfest remains open for these days. 

The Weißwurst ('white sausage') is a Munich speciality. Traditionally eaten only before 12:00 noon – a tradition dating to a time before refrigerators – these morsels are often served with sweet mustard and freshly baked pretzelsLeberkäs, Bavarian baked sausage loaf, often served with potato salad, is another delicacy of the region.

The most famous soup might be the Leberknödel Soup. Leberknödel is a bread dumpling seasoned with liver and onions. Schweinsbraten (pot roasted pork) with Knödel (dumplings made from potatoes and/or white bread) and Kraut (cabbage) or a Schweinshaxe (pork knuckle) are served as lunch or dinner. Beuscherl, a plate of lung, heart and spleen is also served with dumplings.

Popular as dessert is the Apfelstrudel (apple) strudel with vanilla sauce, the Millirahmstrudel a cream cheese strudel, Dampfnudeln (yeast dumplings served with custard) or Auszogene, a fried pastry shaped like a large donut but without a hole. And there is also the famous Prinzregententorte created in honour of the prince regent Luitpold.

Some specialities are typical cold dishes served in beergardens: Obatzda is a Bavarian cheese delicacy, a savoury blend of smashed mellow camembert prepared with cream cheese, cut onions and spicy paprika (and sometimes some butter). It's often served in the beer gardens along with Radi, white radish cut in thin slices and salted, and Münchner Wurstsalat, Munich's famous sausage salad with thinly sliced Knackwurst marinated in vinegar and oil with onions on a bed of lettuce. Popular grilled meals include Steckerlfisch which is usually Mackerel, but may also be a local fish, such as trout or whitefish, speared on a wooden stick, grilled and smoked on charcoal—the typical feature is the crispy skin. Another classic is A hoibs Hendl (half a grilled chicken). A Mass (die Maß) is a litre of beer, a Radler consists of half beer and half lemonade.

Munich is famous for its breweries and the Weissbier (or Weizenbier, wheat beer) is a speciality from Bavaria. Helles with its translucent gold colour is the most popular Munich beer today, although it’s not old (only introduced in 1895). Helles and Pils have almost ousted the Munich Dark Beer (Dunkles), which gets its dark colour from burnt malt, the most popular beer in Munich within the 19th century. Starkbier is the strongest Munich beer, containing 6–9 percent alcohol. It is dark amber and has a heavy malty taste. It is available and popular during the Lenten Starkbierzeit (strong beer season), which begins on or before St. Joseph’s Day (19 March). There are around 20 major beer gardens, with four of the most famous and popular being located in the Englischer Garten and the largest one in the Hirschgarten.

The Munich Residenz
                                                        Munich’s Top 5:
  1. The Frauenkirche (full name Dom zu Unserer Lieben Frau, "Cathedral of Our Dear Lady") is a church in the city that serves as the cathedral of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising and seat of its Archbishop. It is a landmark and is considered a symbol of the Bavarian capital city. The two towers were completed in 1488 and the church was consecrated in 1494. However, the building's famous domes atop each tower were not added until 1525. Their design was modelled on the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, which in turn took a lead from late Byzantine architecture. The cathedral suffered severe damage during World War II — the roof collapsed and one of the towers suffered severe damage. A major restoration effort began after the war and was carried out in several stages, the last of which coming to an end in 1994. The south tower is open to those wishing to climb the stairs and offers a unique view of Munich and the nearby Alps.
  2. Neues Rathaus. is the (new) town hall at the northern part of Marienplatz. It hosts the city government including the city council, offices of the mayors and part of the administration. In 1874 the municipality had left the Old Town Hall for its new domicile.
    It was built between 1867 and 1908 by Georg von Hauberrisser in a Gothic Revival architecture style. It covers an area of 9159 m² having 400 rooms. The main facade is placed toward the plaza, while the back side is adjacent to a small park (Marienhof). The basement is almost completely occupied by a large restaurant calledRatskeller. On the ground floor, some rooms are rented for small businesses. Also located in the ground floor is the major official tourist information.
  3. The Victuals Market. only a few steps from the Marienplatz, is Munich's most popular open air market. A walk across the Victuals Market can be a sensual revelation. Stalls not only offer the freshest fruits and vegetables in Munich, but traditional Bavarian Schweinshax 'n and Speck, sea food, delicious cheeses from all over Europe, herbs, honey products, sushi and hand-made straw puppets are also for sale. Or would you prefer a freshly squeezed apple-carrot-ginger juice? For all those who appreciate culinary seduction of the senses, this is the perfect place to spend your lunch break, get inspired for new creations, and buy those rare and special herbs and spices that can't be found anywhere else in the region. However, although this is its main purpose, the Victuals Market is not only a place for buying and selling : the market also hosts a number of traditional and folkloric events, such as the colorful Fasching festivities and the masked dance of the market women on Shrove Tuesday.
  4. The Munich Residenz (Münchner Residenz, Munich Palace) is the former royal palace of the Bavarian monarchs in the center of the city of Munich. The Residenz is the largest city palace in Germany and is today open to visitors for its architecture and room decorations, and displays from the former royal collections. The complex of buildings contains ten courtyards and the museum displays 130 rooms. The three main parts are the Königsbau (near the Max-Joseph-Platz), the Alte Residenz (towards the Residenzstraße) and the Festsaalbau(towards the Hofgarten). The first buildings at this site were erected in the year 1385. 
  5. The Maximilianeum. was built as the home of a gifted students' foundation and has  housed the Bavarian Landtag (state parliament) since 1949. The principal was King Maximilian II of Bavaria, who started the project in 1857. The leading architect was Friedrich Bürklein. The building is situated on the bank of river Isar before the Maximilian Bridge and marks the eastern end of the Maximilianstrasse, one of Munich's royal avenues which is framed by neo-Gothic palaces influenced by the English Perpendicular style. Due to statical problems the construction was only completed in 1874 and the facade of the Maximilianeum which was originally planned also in neo-Gothic style had to be altered in renaissance style under the influence of Gottfried Semper. The building was extended on its back for new parliament offices, several modern wings were added in 1958, 1964 and 1992.

    The Maximilianeum



Murcia, a major city in south-eastern Spain, is the capital and most populous city of the Autonomous Community of the Region of Murcia, and the seventh largest city in the country. It is located on the Segura River, in the Southeast of the Iberian Peninsula, noted by a mild climate with hot summers, tepid winters and scarce precipitation.  Murcia is located near the center of a low-lying fertile plain known as the huerta (orchard or vineyard) of Murcia. 

The city in its present location was founded with the name Medinat Mursiya (city of Murcia) in AD 825 by Abd ar-Rahman II, who was then the emir of Córdoba. Muslims planners, taking advantage of the course of the river Segura, created a complex network of irrigation channels that made the town's agricultural existence prosperous. In the 12th century the traveler and writer Muhammad al-Idrisi described the city of Murcia as populous and strongly fortified. After the fall of the Caliphate of Cordoba in 1031, Murcia passed under the successive rules of the powers seated variously at Almería, Toledo and Seville. After the fall of Almoravide empire, Muhammad Ibn Mardanis made Murcia capital of an independent kingdom. At this time, Murcia was a very prosperous city, famous for its ceramics, exported to Italian towns, as well as for silk and paper industries, the first in Europe. The coinage of Murcia was considered as model in all the continent.

In 1172 Murcia was taken by the Almohades, and from 1223 to 1243 it briefly served as the capital of an independent kingdom. By the treaty of Alcaraz, in 1243, Alfonso X of Castile made Murcia a protectorate, getting access to Mediterrannean sea while Murcia was protected against Granada and Aragon. But the town became rapidly colonized by Christians from almost all parts of the Iberian Peninsula. These Christian populations were brought to the area with the goal of establishing a Christian base here, one that would be loyal to the Crown of Castile and whose culture would supplant that of the subjugated Muslim peoples. During the process of Christianization, many of the city’s mosques were destroyed or converted into Catholic churches.. That is why a revolt spread in 1264-6. In 1296, James II of Aragon conquered the city. In 1304, it was finally incorporated into Castile under the Treaty of Torrellas.

Murcia lost then its prosperity but flourished again in the 18th century, benefiting greatly from a boom in the silk industry. Many of the modern city's landmark churches and monuments date from this period of nascent mercantilism. However, this was to be followed by nearly a century of mishap. In 1810, Murcia was looted by Napoleonic troops; it then suffered a major earthquake in 1829. According to contemporaneous accounts, an estimated 6,000 people died from the disaster's effects across the province. Plague and cholera followed.

The town and surrounding area suffered badly from floods in 1651, 1879, and 1907, though the construction of a levee helped to stave off the repeated floods from the Segura. A popular pedestrian walkway, the Malecon, runs along the top of the levee.

Murcia has been the capital of the province of Murcia since 1838 and, with its creation by the central government in 1982, capital of the autonomous community (which includes only the city and the province).

As a result of its intense historical tradition, the reiterative superposition of cultures, its strategic location as a Mediterranean enclave and its transitional character as a border territory mid-way between the Meseta and Andalusia, the Murcia Region retains innumerable vestiges of the past, making it an ideal meeting-point where History and tradition have been instilled with new life and placed at the visitor's disposal. The abundant remains and archaeological sites include rock-paintings in cave-shelters dating back to the Iberian period, the splendour of Roman antiquity with its urbanistic refinement and penchant for the theatrical, Visigothic cities, Arab medinas, Christian castles, watch-towers, churches and temples, civil and military constructions...

This ample historical, artistic, architectural and cultural heritage can be contemplated and admired in a diversity of natural settings, in the actual locations where the monuments themselves were erected, or within the thematic spaces provided by the region's complete network of museums. The Region of Murcia is thus likened to a rich printed fabric upon which history has been depicted for our contemplation.

Murcia is the perfect city for strolling around (and a terrible one to drive in, with very complicated one-way systems and crowded carparks). Everything worth seeing is within walking distance. The most famous commercial streets are Trapería, Platería and la Avda. Alfonso X el Sabio. The Paseo del Malecón near the River Segura is also a pleasant walk out of the city and then back again.

The Holy Week procession hosted by the city is among the most famous throughout Spain. This traditional festival portrays the events which lead up to and include the Crucifixion according to the New Testament. Life-sized, finely detailed sculptures by Francisco Salzillo (1707–1783) are removed from their museums and carried around the city in elegant processions amid flowers and, at night, candles, pausing at stations which are meant to re-enact the final moments before the crucifixion of Jesus. The most colorful festival in Murcia may come one week after Holy Week, when locals dress up in traditional huertano clothing to celebrate the Bando de la Huerta (Orchard parade) on Tuesday and fill the streets for the Entierro de la Sardina (Burial of the Sardine) parade the following Saturday.

The excellent produce of the huerta, a varied offer of meats and the prized treasures of the sea... a cuisine assimilating the products bequeathed by the peoples who settled here for centuries. The Romans brought the art of making preserves and salted fish; the Arabs, among a thousand other products, introduced rice and how to grow and cook it, together with spices, condiments and aromatic plants.

Murcia offers some of the most interesting tapas in the whole of Spain. There are a large number of bars and taverns with truly great tapas. The most popular are in the area around the Plaza de Flores (Flowers Square) and the University area called Santa Eulalia. Rice dishes such as arroz caldero, fish and seafood from the Mar Menor such as lobster are unique and an absolutely essential gastronomic experience. There are many other Murcian dishes that have become popular throughout Spain. The zarangollo, bean omelette, the michirones, the olla gitana and the arroz with habichuelas, rabbit, potatoes in garlic known as al ajo cabañil. For desserts try the exellent paparajotes - lemon leaves fried in crispy batter and dusted in sugar and cinammon.

                                                        Murcia’s Top 5:
  1. The Cathedral of Santa Maria. or The Cathedral of Murcia was built between 1394 and 1465 in the Castilian Gothic style. Its tower was completed in 1792 and shows a blend of architectural styles. The first two stories were built in the Renaissance style (1521–1546), while the third is Baroque. The bell pavilion exhibits both Rococo and Neoclassical influences. The main façade (1736–1754) is considered a masterpiece of the Spanish Baroque style.
  2. The Bishop's Palace. or the Episcopal Palace rises up next to the majestic front of the cathedral. It is said that bishop Mateo decided he wanted a residence from which he could contemplate the newly finished facade of the cathedral, leading to the construction of his square palace.It is another of the high points of the 18th century in Murcia. Several expert stone masons from other cathedrals collaborated in its construction.
  3. The Monastery of Santa Clara The museum comprises the Santa Clara enclosed convent and the archaeological and architectural remains of old royal palaces, both Moorish and Christian. Highlights include the courtyard and the decoration of the arches. Inside there is a section of art and archaeology from the time of Al-Andalus, and another of religious art. The first features an array of ceramics and utensils from different periods of Islam in Andalusia. The second has many examples of religious art and illustrates the history of the religious community of the Santa Clara convent.
  4. The Salzillo Museum.  Dedicated to the famous sculptor Francisco Salzillo, born in 1707, the museum has various different rooms where you can see large sculptures created by the artist for the Easter week processions.They are property of the the Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno brotherhood. The Salzillo Crib is also on display: this is an exquisitely delicate work, comprising more than 500 pieces, which evokes rural Murcia of the period.
  5. The Puente de los Peligros (Spanish for bridge of the hazards) or also known as the Puente Viejo (Spanish for old bridge) is an arched stone bridge, completed in 1742, that spans the River Segura. On 10 September 1718 the first stone of the bridge was laid. The construction stalled many times but resumed in 1739 and this time works would not stop until their completion in 1742. On September 12, 1742 a wooden statue of Our Lady of the hazards, from which the bridge is named after, was placed on the bridge. The neoclassicalniche would be built on the right bank later on. Statues of Saint Michael and Saint Raphael, works of Joaquín Laguna, were also placed on the bridge starlings. In 1850, the bridge was widened to make room for two sidewalks through a metal structure attached to the stalls. This meant the removal of the decorative elements placed on the starlings. This first extension was insufficient and in 1867 the bridge was further widened with a new metal structure, setting the layout of the bridge as it can be seen today.

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