11 Med Ports for History Lovers, From First-Century Towns to 20th Century Masterpieces

(Pel_1971/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images) Photo by Pel_1971/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

by Pat Richardson, The Telegraph, August 8, 2018

Whether it’s sites of archaeological importance, locations of historic events, centres of ancient civilisation, famous people or significant structures from the past that float your boat, examples of them all feature on most Mediterranean cruise itineraries. Of course, you can wander at will, but if you join an expert-led guided tour, you will see more, learn more and miss nothing of note.



It grew from a small village to be Spain’s second-largest city. Highlight sights include its glorious Gothic and Baroque Cathedral, medieval Gothic Quarter and Gaudi’s voluptuous but unfinished La Sagrada Familia, plus his first major design project, Casa Vicens, on Carrer de les Carolines.

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Today the Vieux Port is a popular place for meeting and eating, and Marseille’s landmark sight is the Byzantine- and Romanesque-style basilica of Notre-Dame de la Gard, which overlooks the city from its highest point.

Read more: Telegraph Travel's Marseille cruise port guide


Corsica’s capital was the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte. The future Emperor of France was born on August 15, 1769 in a house that is now a museum. He was baptised in the city’s Notre-Dame Cathedral, and is commemorated in Ajaccio with statues and several streets named in his honour.



Best-known of this city’s wealth of historic sites is the Colosseum, where some 55,000 spectators watched the inaugural games in 80AD. The city’s famous 135 Spanish Steps were built 1,640 years later.

The Vatican City is a separate state, and the world’s smallest. Its highlight sights are St Peter’s basilica and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, painted by Michaelangelo, who also designed the dome of St Peter’s.                                                         

*Cruise passengers reach Rome from the port of Civitavecchia


The city stands on a bay overlooked by Mount Vesuvius. Its catastrophic eruption in AD79 destroyed the nearby town of Pompeii and also buried Herculaneum in mud. Both sites have enormous archaeological significance, and give visitors fascinating insights into first century life. 



It owes its highlight sight to Diocletian, Emperor of Rome, who was born just four miles away from Split and built the palace to which he retired in 305. Between 500 and 1000AD, Split’s Old Town lay within the palace walls; commercial prosperity later prompted its spread beyond them. Many of the early structures edging its narrow streets and central square are now shops, churches, cafes, restaurants, or even homes.



The awesome Megalithic Temples (five on Malta and two more on its sister-island Gozo) dating from the third century BC, are the oldest free-standing monuments in the world. All are Unesco World Heritage sites, and each is different in terms of plan and method of construction.  

Read more: Telegraph Travel's Valletta cruise port guide



This ancient city was the Greek world’s most powerful military and cultural city-state. It became Greece’s capital only in 1833. Its standout is the fifth century Acropolis, a hill-topping complex of temples, large enough to be seen long before you reach the city.

*Cruise passengers reach Athens from the port of Pireaus


The country known as the cradle of Western civilisation was also the birthplace of the Olympic games. From this port, you can visit their original site, Olympia, to see the remains of a stadium, and a dedicated modern-day museum. First held in 776BC, as part of the four-yearly Panhellenic festival, the event originally involved wrestling, racing and singing competitions between Greek states, with winners awarded a wreath of olive leaves.


Near this port in Crete is the Palace of Knossos where, according to Greek myth, a Labyrinthe was built to hold the minotaur, a much-feared monster. Construction of the 150,000 sq ft palace is thought to have begun almost 2,000 years before Christ but, following extensive earthquake damage, it was later rebuilt twice. The colourful decorations of its 20th-century restoration may not accurately reflect the palace’s original appearance.



You will truly be stepping back in time when you walk through this ancient city where, apart from tourists, no trace of the present day intrudes. Its well-worn paving stones lead past intriguing remains of shops and homes, as well as the imposing Roman Imperial period Library of Celsius and The Great Theatre.  

Read more: Telegraph Travel's Mediterranean Cruise Guide


This article was written by Pat Richardson from The Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].

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