EUROPEAN TREASURES; Croatia: Dubrovnik Old Town Walls

Article excerpt

5TH CENTURY BC: SICILY

OFTEN unfairly dismissed as the rock at the end of Italy's boot, Sicily was an important part of pre- Christian Europe. It was colonised by ancient Greece in the eighth century BC - a takeover that is still visible today at Agrigento, on the south coast. Aside from the fact that it sits on a ridge, the Valley Of The Temples does what it says on the box, proffering seven ruined, pillared structures, all built in the fifth century BC. Pick of the bunch is the Temple Of Concordia, a close cousin of the Parthenon in Athens.

Information: www.valleyofthetemples.com

1ST CENTURY BC: ROME

ROME was the dominant city of ancient Europe for more than a millennium. But for many, the key period was the 1st century BC, when Julius Caesar held sway. A military genius, his coup d'etat in 49BC paved the way for a long line of allpowerful emperors - and his own death. Assassinated in 44BC, Caesar was deified two years later. The temple built in his honour still exists, in the city's famous Forum, distinguishable by the fact that, even 2053 years after his murder, well-wishers leave flowers on the altar.

Information: www.capitolium.org

1ST CENTURY AD: POMPEII

AUGUST 24th 79AD was a bad day for Pompeii, but a great one for the rest of the world. The erupting Mount Vesuvius smothered a thriving Roman town in volcanic ash, but also preserved it for future generations. To walk the wide streets of this archaeological site near Naples is to step back to the 1st century AD. Its forum, temples and bathhouses, the mosaics and frescoes on the floors and walls of its villas, even some of its victims (frozen as they died in plaster cast) all remain. As, of course, does the still-alive Mount Vesuvius.

Information: www.pompeiisites.org

9TH CENTURY: PRAGUE

THE castle was the fulcrum of any medieval city - and nowhere more so than Prague. The hradcany (castle district) of (what is now) the Czech capital was founded on its lofty crag in 870, and remains there to this day. Granted, the fabric has changed in the interim, but the principle is the same - the narrow passageways exude history, St Vitus's (founded a century later) is a glorious cathedral, the Czech president has his office here, and the clear view down to the River Vltava shows why the site was chosen in the first place. Stunning.

Information: www.hrad.cz/en/

10TH CENTURY: DUBROVNIK

IF THE castle was the stronghold of the medieval city, its walls were the most fundamental line of defence.

Dubrovnik is proof of this. Its towering ramparts, 25 metres high and dotted with turrets, are the postcard image of modern Croatia over a millennium on from their 10th century construction. They have withstood a great deal in the meantime - the city was an independent republic from 1358 to 1808. A walk around them takes 90 minutes, and offers superb views across the rooftops of the old town and out into the Adriatic.

Information: www.croatia.hr

11TH CENTURY: NORMANDY

ONE of the roots of modern Britain lies not in Roman-founded London or the Celtic heritage of Cornwall - but in northern Normandy. …