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European Culture

European Tours
European Tours
European Tours
European Tours
European Tours

The Mediterranean Sea, which connects three continents, has an unparalleled wealth of history and culture. Societies inhabiting the Mediterranean have contributed widely to the philosophy, music, art, architecture, religion and science of the modern world. The remnants of ancient civilizations, stunning natural beauty and strong traditions draw people to this uniquely varied region.

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In Athens, the stomping grounds of Ancient Greek gods, the towering Parthenon sits atop the rocky Acropolis. Ruins of the Roman Empire are on display throughout the region, especially in Rome, Ephesus -- the Turkish city that holds what remains of the Library of Celsus -- and Istanbul, with its gilded, domed churches, like the city's crown jewel, the Hagia Sophia.

The Viking Age shaped much of Northern Europe's history. The Vikings were Scandinavians who traded and settled in Northern Europe and the North Atlantic islands from the late 8th to the mid-11th century. They traveled as far east as modern-day Turkey and Russia, and as far south as the Andalusian region of Spain. In Oslo, Norway's capital, the Viking Ship Museum has three blackened wood Viking vessels dating to A.D. 800.

Many of Europe's majestic castles were first built during this period, in modern-day Germany and France. It is believed that castles evolved in the 9th and 10th centuries from the practice of fortifying a lordly home against attacks, especially by Magyars, Muslims and Vikings. They were introduced into England, Wales and Ireland shortly before the Norman Conquest in 1066, and eventually spread from Russia to Portugal. The oldest standing castle in Europe is Châteaux Doué-la-Fontaine in France, which dates to around 950 AD.

Each region of Europe has distinct cuisine and beverages that incorporate local ingredients and have deeply ingrained cultural significance. The cuisine of modern Europe is a combination of dishes from medieval times with new ones garnered from increased foreign trade. While the cuisines of Europe are diverse by themselves, there are a number of shared features. Meat has always been prominent, as are dairy products and wheat-flour breads. Pickled herring is also an important part of Scandinavian, Russian, German, Baltic, Eastern Slavic and Jewish cuisine. After being cured, the salt is removed, and flavor is added. Onion, sherry, mustard and dill are some of the most traditional.

With the establishment of new trade routes with Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Europeans became familiar with a multitude of new spices, such as black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, turmeric, cumin, nutmeg and cloves. The demand for these spices led to the discovery of the New World, and eventually, the introduction of new foods and beverages to the European diet, such as corn, potato, sweet potato, chili, cocoa, vanilla, tomato, coffee and tea. As prosperity in Europe increased, it considerably changed the patterns of eating, since more people could afford these new foods and spices on a regular basis.

Beer is another important part of European cuisine. While countries such as the United Kingdom, Belgium and the Czech Republic are well known for their mastery and consumption of beer, Germany is unrivaled. Today, it is home to some of the oldest and best beers in the world. In some areas, such as Bavaria, you can find at least one brewery -- from large-scale industrial establishments to local, family-run companies -- in every village.

Art and Music
More so than any other country in Europe, Italy is recognized for the astounding art it has produced over the centuries. A UNESCO study placed 40% of the world's art in Italy. Italy's past and present can be traced by the archaeological sites, preserved architecture, museums and public art that are found throughout the country, from the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence to the Vatican Museums in Rome.

In France, Paris beckons art lovers. There are numerous world-famous museums, such as the Louvre, the Musee d'Orsay and the Art and Fashion Museum. The architectural legacy of France is also without compare. Many styles, such as Romanesque, Renaissance and Baroque, came to France from elsewhere, but were soon adapted and refined. Artists from across Europe have always been influenced by the French aesthetic. The Bohemian movement drew some of the world's most acclaimed artists, like Pablo Picasso and Gustave Courbet, to Paris. Art Nouveau is another style frequently associated with France, having emerged as an improbable mixture of Baroque design and the nascent cast-iron industry.

Spain celebrated its own artistic revolution in Barcelona in the mid-19th century with the spread of an Art Nouveau-style of architecture known as “Catalan modernism.” The city is dotted by the elaborate designs of Antoni Gaudí, including his unfinished masterpiece, the cathedral known as Sagrada Família.

And don't forget about Europe's rich musical history. The likes of Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Wagner and many others composed and performed for European audiences of centuries past. From the chants of the Middle Ages to the celebrated melodies of the Classical era and beyond, music has played an important role in European culture and its influence on the rest of the world.

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