From ancient ruins to seaside fortresses, the Mediterranean offers an abundance of historic destinations. History buffs who wish to explore bygone civilizations alongside a sea of azure can follow their bliss in this part of the planet. However, where does one begin when there are so many Mediterranean cities to visit?
We’ve compiled a list of the top destinations for history buffs in the Mediterranean to inspire your next journey into the past. Although this is not an exhaustive list, it’s a great place to start. Some of these spots are well-known and can’t be missed, while other interesting historic locales are only reachable by small vessels. Let’s explore Mediterranean historical locations that share secrets of the past and haunt visitors with their beauty far into the future.
Imagine going about your day, baking bread or browsing the marketplace when suddenly, there is a loud explosion, and the world goes black. Many Pompeii residents had time to flee, but thousands chose to stay behind. Tragically, those who remained in the once sunny, bustling city were swallowed by tons of volcanic ash.
It’s understandable why history buffs flock to Pompeii. First, they get to imagine how it felt to live in Pompeii before and after Mount Vesuvius erupted in the summer of A.D. 79. Second, archeologists continue to excavate the hidden city revealing well-preserved artifacts that show valuable insights into Roman life. Pompeii is a thrilling history buff attraction and draws millions of visitors each year.
While in Pompeii, you can wander the ruins of ancient businesses and homes, or test the acoustics in Pompeii’s Anfiteatro — the oldest-known Roman amphitheater. Before you leave, make sure to view Mount Vesuvius and contemplate its power.
Rome is a history lover’s dream come true and one of the greatest Mediterranean cities to visit. Visitors could spend days spellbound in Italy’s capital city as they tour ancient ruins or stroll the Appian Way. Most of the sites are located in the historic center so that you can see a lot in one day. Must-sees include:
- The Colosseum: Visit the Colosseum, the largest amphitheater in the Roman world. The Colosseum featured seating for more than 50,000 spectators. It was where Romans watched gladiators combat wild animals or each other.
- The Pantheon: Gaze into the mesmerizing dome built for all the gods and lose yourself in the majesty of this well-preserved building.
- Roman Forum: Wander the enchanting ruins of ancient Rome’s center of activity and the site of many temples.
- Palatine Hill: On Palatine Hill, you can retrace the steps of Roman aristocrats and emperors as this is where many of them lived.
- The Capitoline Hill Museums: Visit the oldest public museums in the world and the ancient Roman sculptures and paintings they hold.
- Baths of Diocletian: Now part of the National Roman Museum, the Baths of Diocletian was the largest public bath in ancient Rome. It included not only pools of water for bathing, but also a central basilica hall, outdoor swimming pool and several meeting rooms.
Known as the birthplace of Western civilization, Athens is a historical location in the Mediterranean well worth exploring. In Athens, history buffs can visit the same spots where intellectual and artistic ideas sprouted from great minds. They can wander the streets where many revolutions and civil wars took place. Athens offers a fascinating mix of Eastern and Western culture and is a must-see destination for history buffs. Make sure to visit these top sites:
- The Acropolis: The Acropolis, which is a complex built on a high hill, was created in the 5th century B.C. after Athens established democracy. Here you can visit the Parthenon, the temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. The structure stands mainly intact, so you can see its sophisticated architectural details.
- Theater of Dionysus Eluethereus: History buffs who admire Greek plays can view the Theatre of Dionysus from the southern side of the Acropolis. Built in the 6th century B.C., it’s the oldest Greek theater and the site of some of the most famous play performances.
- The Odeum of Herodes Atticus: Visit the Odeum, or music hall, at the base of the Acropolis. This theater was built by Herodes Atticus in memory of his wife and is still used today.
- The Horologium: Also called the Tower of the Winds, this large marble structure was erected by Andronicus of Cyrrhus to measure time. Today, visitors can enjoy the decorative frieze on each side of its octagonal shape or perhaps see into the future based on the wind direction.
Ephesus, located on the Western Coast of Turkey, is a mesmerizing well-preserved city that transports visitors to an ancient world. Once a busy trading hub, this city offers an abundance of historical wonders. Here you’ll find a temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis, which was nearly four times larger than the Parthenon. You can also visit the ancient Library of Celsus which once housed more than 12,000 scrolls.
If you’re yearning to explore classical fountains, baths, temples and a magnificent theater, Ephesus is an outdoor museum you don’t want to miss. Ephesus is easy to visit from a cruise when docked in Kusadasi, Turkey.
As the first capital of the Algarve, Silves is a fascinating historical destination for those interested in Portugal’s past. It’s been inhabited since Paleolithic times and features stunning Moorish architecture. Silves is also home to one of the best-preserved castles in the Algarve. You can leisurely tour the Castelo de Silves and enjoy breathtaking views of the city below.
While in Silves, you might also visit the beautiful Misericordia Church as well as the grand Silves Cathedral. Silves offers many ways to spend the day navigating the past, and it’s not far from Portimao, another charming and historic port city.
6. Elba Island
The island of Elba has a lot to offer history buffs. In 1814 Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled to Elba after abdicating his throne. You can visit the house where Letizia Ramolino, Napoleon Bonaparte’s mother, lived in Portoferraio. You can also visit the De Laugier Cultural Center, a historic building that contains the most valuable pieces of the island’s history.
If you ache to explore Roman ruins while on the island, visit the Roman villa in Le Grotte, which dates back the 1st century B.C. At the end of the 18th century, the villa was a strategic spot for keeping the artillery battery. You may also visit the Roman villa in Linguella, which stayed intact longer than the villa in Le Grotte. In 1548, the area was changed to make room to build the Linguella Fortress.
There are many stories to be told on this quaint island, the largest of the Tuscan Archipelago. Besides its soothing blue waters and gorgeous beaches, Elba Island offers enough to keep visitors busy for days. From museums to impressive fortresses, Elba is a truly distinct Mediterranean historical location. To get to Elba, you can take a ferry or plane, or arrive in style on a luxury yacht.
The island of Crete is a historic location in the Eastern Mediterranean that deserves to be on any history buff’s bucket list. During the Bronze age, the Minoan civilization created unique art and architecture in Crete. Later, Crete became a significant member of the Roman empire, and it’s home to renowned archaeological sites. While in Crete, you can explore the following sites:
- Rethymnon Old Town: This small but amazing area invites visitors to get lost and wander its old alleyways surrounded by 11th-century architecture.
- The Palace of Knossos: Here you can explore the center of the Minoan civilization and what some consider to be Europe’s oldest city. A guided tour can teach you the history and mythology in vibrant detail.
- Historical Museum of Crete: Located in Heraklion, history buffs can learn about life on Crete from the early Byzantine days to the modern period in this museum. Despite its small size, there’s plenty to see.
- Heraklion Archaeological Museum: This museum holds artifacts, some thousands of years old, excavated from sites in Crete and is an absolute must-see.
- The Venetian Fortezza: Atop a hill in Rethymnon Old Town stands the 16th-century Fortezza. Overlooking a glittering Mediterranean sea, this citadel is home to many cultural events.
Split is the main city on the Dalmatian Coast in southern Croatia and is rich with history, beauty and intrigue. It’s famous for the Palace of Diocletian which holds the town’s center and is surrounded by thick walls. The palace still houses businesses and residents today and remains the heart of the city. The palace had four gates that still remain — the Silver Gate, Gold Gate, Iron Gate and Bronze Gate.
While at Split, visit the Cathedral of Saint Dominus and climb to the top of the bell tower for an amazing view or tour the crypt for the full experience. Don’t forget to visit the medieval Klis Fortress or the Temple of Jupiter dedicated to the king of gods. There are plenty of museums with both ancient and modern art to complete the trip.
For a dose of history on a whitewashed island, head to Mykonos. Located in the heart of the Cyclades, Mykonos was formed from petrified bodies according to myth. There is plenty to see and do for the history lover who also appreciates deep blue water and captivating seascapes.
As you approach Mykonos, you’ll notice its famous windmills — the symbols of the island’s rich agricultural past. While there, visit the snow-white Church of Panagia Paraportiani which is the most photographed church on the island.
Also tour Ano Mera, the second largest village on the island, to choose from three historical sites — the Monastery of Panagia Tourliani constructed in 1542, the nearby Paleokastro Monastery built in the 1800s and the 13th-century Gyzi Castle.
From Mykonos, many visitors travel to the small ancient island of Delos. Delos is a sacred island where the mythical god Apollo and the goddess Artemis were born. The barren island may not be suitable for habitation but was the perfect sanctuary in Greek mythology. Become awestruck as you pass the Avenue of Lions, or view ancient ruins and the indigo sea from the top of Mount Kynthos.
On the Adriatic Coast, history buffs won’t want to skip a trip to Kotor — a fortified town in Montenegro that lies at the base of the Lovcen massif. It was founded by the ancient Romans and has been ruled by many different kingdoms throughout history.
Many of its medieval structures and cathedrals remain. For example, there’s the Saint Tryphon Cathedral, built in 1166, which contains many frescos and jewels. There’s also the church of Saint Luke, built in 1195, which displays both Roman and Byzantine architecture. As the oldest town in Montenegro, Kotor is now a historical monument and a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site.
Whether you want to stroll the romantic medieval streets of Kotor or climb to the Castle of San Giovanni to view the bay and town below, you’re bound to feel the magic of Kotor. If you can break yourself from Kotor’s spellbinding charm, you might consider hopping over to Dubrovnik, located in southern Croatia. This gem of the Adriatic Sea is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to museums and architectural delights.
Book Your History Cruise With Windstar
The Mediterranean Sea is surrounded by fascinating stories of the past, gorgeous beaches and water so blue it seems surreal. History lovers could easily get lost in the myths and timelessness of these cities by the sea. The Mediterranean can teach any traveler something new about themselves.
Some of the most enchanting spots in the Mediterranean are difficult to reach on a large cruise ship, but at Windstar Cruises, we can take you where your heart belongs. We operate a small fleet of comfortable, intimate yachts designed to reach ports other ships can’t get to, so you can see the hidden treasures scattered throughout the Mediterranean and beyond. We are proud to provide unique, authentic and unforgettable experiences for our travelers while taking them to the most breathtaking destinations on the planet.