History & heritage
Europe has a vibrant and alive cultural scene, and that is due to its extraordinary history and extremely complicated cultural set-up which has built up over the centuries to produce the diverse continent we know today. Populations shifted, climates changed and cultural themes appeared only to be absorbed into other cultures. Europe is more richly diverse and has a longer history than virtually anywhere else in the world, and it celebrates that fact.
Celtic culture is fascinating to many people. Tantalizingly little is known about daily Celtic life during the Bronze and Iron Ages, yet modern Celtic language and arts are alive and well in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and northern France. The Celtic legacy is visible to a lesser extent in many other European countries as well.
The Celts were a widespread group of tribes that flourished between the 8th and 1st centuries BC. The Greeks called them “Keltoi”, hence the word “Celt”, and the Romans named them “Galli”, whence the name “Gaul”. At the height of their civilization, the Celts lived in an area stretching from the Black Sea to the Atlantic Ocean and north to the Baltic Sea! As the Romans colonized Celtic territory, some of the population and customs were assimilated, but much was destroyed. By the time of the Roman Conquest in the 3rd century A.D., Celtic culture survived only in large parts of Britain and northern Europe. Because Ireland and northern Scotland were never Roman colonies, they remained entirely Celtic.
It’s well-known that the Romans were great builders; in Europe they constructed an immense network of roads (approximately 100,000 km, more than 62,000 miles) during the 800 years of the Empire, and sprinkled Europe with cities and monuments that still attract great numbers of visitors today, often in the heart of areas rich in other tourist attractions.
Some 2,000 years ago, the Roman Empire needed a way to maintain a firm hold on its conquests: it was imperative to build a main road for military use that would allow communication among the provinces.
Originally a military route, the Via Domitia, the first road to be built in Gaul (France), rapidly became a conduit for communication and commerce, facilitating the settlement of all of southern Gaul. The road begins in Italy, crosses the south of France and over the Pyrenees all the way to Spain, where the Via Augusta takes over and continues on into Andalucía.
In the Languedoc you’ll find the majestic Pont Du Gard, the best-preserved aqueduct in the world, and considered to be the symbol of Roman genius.
Europe’s oldest palaces are Roman villas. Villa Romana del Casale in Sicily is a 4th century B.C. villa decorated with splendid mosaics of hunting scenes, luscious fruits, geometric patterns—and female gymnasts wearing what may be Europe’s earliest bikini! Diocletian’s Palace in Split was built for the emperor’s retirement; Diocletian may have stopped working, but parts of the palace are still going strong today, part of the city’s current architecture.
Germany Castle Route, for cyclists and motorists alike, includes over 70 medieval, baroque, and rococo castles and palaces. Historic pageants bring the drama of past eras to life at many sites. Mad King Ludwig was definitely mad for building; his best known project is Neuschwanstein, which inspired Disney’s Magic Kingdom castle.
Spain’s history harkens to the struggle between Moors and Christians vying to control the rich Iberian Peninsula. 10,000 castles once dotted the landscape; today, thousands still stand, reflecting the contributions of many civilizations to Spanish culture. Seville is the oldest royal palace in Europe still in use.
In Greece visit ancient acropolises and medieval Greece Castles, such as hilltop Byzantine fortresses at Platamon and Trikala. The Franks constructed strongholds in the Peloponnese; the Knights Hospitalier built the famous Palace of the Grand Master in medieval Rhodes, and imposing Venetian strongholds still stand in Crete, Corfu, and Nafplion. The 19th century Achilleion Palace in Corfu incarnates the Hapsburg’s passion for Greek mythology.
European Heritage Days (EHD) offers opportunities to visit buildings, monuments and sites, many of which are not normally accessible to the public. It aims to widen access and foster care for architectural and environmental heritage. These events are also known as Doors Open Days and Open Doors Days in English-speaking countries.