Pinara, Turkey.

Evocative Ancient Lycian city

The remote ancient Lycian city of Pinara is on a pine forested mountain foothill of the ancient Mount Cragus (today Mount Babadag),two kilometres above the village of Minare, in the Fethiye district of Mugla Province, south-western Turkey.

The lost ruins of Pinara were discovered by Sir Charles Fellows, a British archaeologist and traveller from the 19th century.

Colonists from the overpopulated city of Xanthos, which was the largest city of the Lycian Federation, established Pinara (meaning ‘round hill’ in ancient Lycian) on the western bank of the River Xanthos in the 5th century BC. During this period, Pinara had a large natural harbour and was one of the chief ports of the influential Lycian league. The harbour no longer exists and in its place are reed-filled wetlands.

Very little was written about Pinara by ancient writers, however Strabo, the ancient Greek geographer, philosopher and historian wrote Pinara was a very important and developed city and was one of the six principal cities of the prominent Lycian league and possessed three votes at the Federal assembly. (The other five were Xanthos, Patara, Olympus, Myra, and Tlos). 

Strabo also noted that the city appears to have paid hero honours to Pandarus, Homers celebrated archer from the Trojan war.

In 334 BC, the city surrendered happily to Alexander the Great, on his march through Lycia. The locals welcomed as a liberator Alexander because of their disdain for the former Persian occupiers. The city, like the rest of Lycia, was completely Hellenised during this period.

Ancient Theatre. Pinara. Turkey.
View of the spectacular Greek-style 2nd century BC theatre. Pinara. Turkey. The theatre is situated at the base of the ancient city and accommodated up to 3,200 spectators.

After Alexander’s death, his empire was spilt with Pinara annexed to the Attalid Kingdom, the Hellenistic Dynasty that ruled Pergamum. It eventually became under Roman rule and achieved great prosperity. During its peak, Pinara even minted its own coins.

The area was and is prone to earthquakes and large earth-shaking events considerably damaged the city in 141 and 240 AD. The city was rebuilt; however, it was eventually abandoned in the 9th century.

Many footpaths crisscross the extensive and interesting site, linking many remnants from its past. Highlights include the ancient theatre, foundations of ancient temples, Cyclopean walls, an Odeon and Agora, an upper and a lower Acropolis, and thousands of rocks tombs cut into the vertical limestone cliff face, some of which are quite intricate.

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All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Delos, Greece.

Sacred island of Apollo and Artemis

Near the Greek island of Mykonos and part of the Cyclades, sacred Delos is the birthplace of the Greek God Apollo and his twin sister, the Greek Goddess Artemis, and one of most important archaeological and ancient sites in the Mediterranean.

According to ancient sources, Zeus (Greek king of all gods) had an affair with the beautiful young goddess Leto. Hera, rightful goddess wife of Zeus, was furious and barred every place in the world from giving the pregnant Leto a place to give birth.

The whole Greek world followed Hera’s order – with the single exception being Delos, a floating, unimportant, barren, rocky and windswept island that thought it had little to lose by giving sanctuary to Leto. So, with a haven in Delos, Leto rested under a stately palm tree and gave birth first to Artemis and then Apollo. 

It is said that as soon as Apollo, God of the Sun, Prophecy and the Arts saw the light of day, the island glowed and the entire world shone.

Today, Delos comprises rich and extensive archaeological ruins from antiquity when, as Apollo’s sanctuary, it was a prosperous and cosmopolitan Mediterranean trading port and attracted pilgrims from all over the Greek world. Even today, a trek to the summit of Mount Kynthos, the highest point on Delos, will reveal modern dedications and small shrines to Apollo.

Terrace of the Lions. Delos. Greece.
Delos. Greece. The grand row of five marble lion sculptures crafted and dedicated by the Naxians to the Sanctuary of Apollo in the 7th century BCE. On a natural terrace standing guard and overlooking the sacred lake, it is believed that there may have been up-to nineteen lions.

The ferry ride to Delos from Mykonos is about 30 minutes; however, visitors are not allowed to stay on the island – apart from archaeologists working there.

In antiquity there was a law in place that forbade births and deaths on the Island. Pregnant women and persons gravely ill were transported to the adjacent island of Rheneia to avoid breaking the sacred law.

Delos is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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 All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Temple of Hatshepsut, Egypt.

Powerful Queen and Pharaoh

The mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut is on the west bank of the River Nile, just across from Luxor, ancient Thebes, in Egypt.

Queen Hatshepsut was one of only a few women ever to reign over Egypt as Pharaoh. She ruled for 20 years during the 18th dynasty – 14th century BCE.

Rising out of the desert plain and set against towering cliffs in the Theban Hills, the temple, with its many monumental ramps, fine terraces, and elegant columns, is one of the most impressive from ancient Egypt.

What’s also impressive are its colourful hieroglyphic paintings and reliefs, that tells the story of Hatshepsut’s divine birth and of her journey to the Land of Punt (which is believed to be modern-day Somalia) to bring back treasures such as ebony, ivory, gold, perfumes and myrrh trees.

Relief. Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. Egypt.
Thebes. Egypt. Temple of Queen Hatshepsut colourful relief showing a festival scene with soldiers running forward carrying branches of trees along with their axes.

The Temple of Queen Hatshepsut is a UNESCO World Heritage listed site as part of the Ancient Thebes, with its Necropolis listing.

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All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Garden of Ninfa, Italy.

A triumphal synthesis of humanity’s imagination and nature’s richness 

The bewitching Garden of Ninfa (Giardini di Ninfa) is set amongst the ruins of a medieval town and is located 70 kilometres southeast from Rome in the territory of Cisterna di Latina within the central Italian region of Lazio.

Described by many as the most romantic garden in the world, the origins of Ninfa go back to Roman times and are immersed in myth. Tradition tells that Ninfa was named after a temple consecrated to the water divinities, nymphs, the locals believed occupied the natural springs and gentle flowing river that meanders through the verdant landscape. 

Prior to developing into a garden of rare beauty, Ninfa was a small town of strategic importance and political influence. From the 8th century, travellers traversed the route through Ninfa to get from Rome to Naples and when the Appian Way (Via Appian) was impossible to traverse because of flooding rains.

In 1159, Cardinal Rolando Bandinelli was consecrated at Ninfa as Pope Alexander III. He was inaugurated at the Church of Santa Maria, whose evocative remnants are visible today.

The distinguished Caetani family, who had ties with the papacy, took control of Ninfa in the 13th century, buying out local proprietors and titleholders.

During the papacy crises, known as the Great Schism (circa 1378), anti-pope factions razed Ninfa to the ground. Never to be rebuilt, the town lay deserted for several centuries, mainly because of the untamed growth of the nearby marshland, a breeding ground for malaria. 

I asked, amazed, what that most puzzling great garland of flowers, that mysterious green ring, could be. “Nympha, Nympha,” said our host. Nympha! then that is the Pompeii of the Middle Ages, buried in the marshes – that city of the dead, ghostly, silent. 

Ferdinand Gregorovius German Historian – when he first viewed Ninfa from the hilltop town of Norma in 1852

Garden of Ninfa. Lazio. Italy.
View of the serene waters of the Ninfa river and the Ponte Romano (Roman Bridge). Town on top of the hill is Norma. Garden of Ninfa. Lazio. Italy.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, members of the noble Caetani family, lovers of botany, created some foundations of the garden seen today.

The garden remained abandoned until the 19th century, when visionary members of the Caetani family rolled up their sleeves and began the arduous process of regeneration and restoration. The legacy of their energy, boldness and foresight endures today.

The garden, a botanical, wildlife and spiritual sanctuary, spreads over 8 hectares (20 acres). Abundant in faunae and native and exotic flora, the garden has over 10000 species of plants, 152 species of birds and a rich variety of fauna that inhabit the lake and river.

The leafy winding pathways are a softened with dappled light and burst with ethereal vistas. The paths unite all parts of the garden and gently pull you to explore the curious and ghostly ruins of the medieval towers, walls and churches, all of which are romantically cloaked with plants such as climbing roses, ivy and scented jasmine.

Several ornate bridges span the serene river named Ninfa, as it serenely drifts in its progress through the lush landscape. And the 12th-century castle and tower cast mirror like impressions on the small lake they border.

The garden of Ninfa is the visionary fusion of many generations of the Italian, English and American-born members of the family. A tour de force of man and nature, Ninfa is a beguiling union of humanity’s creativity and the grandeur and order of nature.


Note: Ferdinand Gregorovius was a German historian who specialized in the medieval history of Rome. He is best known for Wanderjahre in Italien (Years of Wandering in Italy), his account of his Italian travels in the 1850s.

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All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Segesta, Sicily Italy.

Glorious Architectural Legacy of Ancient Greece

The archaeological park of Segesta is in the commune of Calatafimi-Segesta within the western province of Trapani on the island of Sicily, southern Italy. Ancient Segesta was one of the principal cities of the Sicilian indigenous people, called Elymians. 

The Elymians according to legend (and the Greek Historian and general Thucydides) were originally Trojans who fled the destruction by the Greeks of the ancient and famous city of Troy. Having found haven in Sicily, they merged with local peoples and become one. 

From the 8th century BCE, the Ancient Greeks colonised or influenced most of Sicily and Segesta was no different. The city adopted Greek culture, including architecture and temple building. 

Standing glorious in magnificent isolation on a low hill amid verdant country side and framed by mountains is the Greek Doric Temple of Segesta. 

One of the three orders designed by the Greeks was the Doric order. The other two were the Ionic order originating from the Ionian Greek city states from Asia Minor and the Corinthian order, named for the Greek city-state of Corinth. The Romans later adopted these orders.

One of the most magnificently sited classical monuments in the world, the temple was constructed between 42 and 16 BCE.

It was built to impress the ambassadors from Athens whom the Segestans were eager to win over to help protect them from their hostile Greek rival Selinous (modern day Selinunte). 

Ancient Greek Theatre. Segesta Sicily Italy.
Segesta. Sicily. Italy. View from the rear of the Greek Theatre, which stands on the highest part of the ancient city at about 400 metres on the cliffs of Mount Barbaro.

Believed to be the work of a great Athenian architect, the Doric order peripteral temple authentically follows the existing models of classical architecture of Greek cities in Sicily and comprises 36 limestone columns, arranged by 6 columns on the facade and 14 on the sides. 

The temple was abandoned before completion, possibly due to war and conflict. Incompletion is assumed because the columns are unfluted, the lifting bosses (knobs) have been left inserted in the structure and there is no evidence of a cella and roof being built. 

Nearby is the well preserved ancient Greek Theatre, which stands on the highest part of the ancient city at about 400 metres on the cliffs of Mount Barbaro. Dating from the second half of the 2nd century BCE, the theatre originally accommodated 4000 people and has a stunning backdrop overlooking the beautiful panorama of the Segesta territory which is dominated by Mount Inici. 

Click to view the complete Segesta image gallery.

All content, images and text are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Villa Borghese Gardens, Rome Italy.

Green lungs of Rome.

The Villa Borghese Gardens (80 hectares) is the third largest public park in Rome, Italy.

Originally, a private vineyard, the Park Garden was redesigned and enlarged in the early 17th century by Cardinal Scipione Borghese (nephew of Pope Paul V). It was further landscaped following an English-style gardens design in the 19th century.

The main building of the Villa is the 17th century Casino Nobile, which houses the Museo or Galleria Borghese. Designed by Giovanni Vasanzio (Jan Van Santen), the Villa was built to house the extensive collection of paintings, artwork, ancient statues and artefacts owned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese.

Often referred to as the green lungs of Rome, the park, which is easily accessible from anywhere in Rome, features wide leafy shady lanes, landscaped gardens, several museums, neo classical temples, beautiful fountains and many monuments and statues.

Biking through park. Villa Borghese gardens. Rome. Italy.
Rome. Italy. People biking through the leafy lanes within the Villa Borghese Gardens, which is the largest public park in Rome.

It also has a scenic lake or lagoon that allows tourists and locals to hire boats and row in amongst the water fowl and around the imitation Ionic Temple of Aesculapius.

It’s a pleasure to walk or bike through its shaded pathways and observe Romans and visitors at play or relaxing and escape the hectic streets of Rome. Note: The Villa Doria Pamphili is the largest landscaped park in Rome and the Villa Ada is the second largest.

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All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Krak des Chevaliers, Syria.

 Outstanding Crusader castle

Krak des Chevaliers (Crac des Chevaliers) was largely built by the Christian Knights Hospitaller (Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem) who occupied it around the 12th century.

The strategically positioned crusader castle lies on a volcanic crater with a view of Homs gap which gave access to the Mediterranean coast and interior of Syria. 

The castle eventually fell to the armies of Islam, who occupied the building for hundreds of years and strengthened the defences further.

Gothic, Romanesque and Arabic architectural elements and legacies are found throughout the well-preserved castle, which is one of the greatest masterpieces of military architecture found anywhere in the world.

Crusader castle. Krak des Chevaliers. Syria.
Krak des Chevaliers. Syria. View of an Inner vaulted passageway set-up with souvenir and handicraft stalls at the crusader castle.

Krak des Chevaliers is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

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All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Aegina, Greece.

Ancient Island Powerhouse

A stone’s throw south of Athens lays Aegina, an unspoiled and historic Greek island endowed with splendid archaeological remains, beautiful beaches and charming harbour towns. 

Located between the Attica and the Peloponnese, the island of Aegina (Aigina) is part of the archipelago known as the Saronic Gulf Islands which are regarded by Athenians as their own a little secret paradise to escape to from the hustle and bustle of the capital. (Salamis, Poros, Hydra and Spetses are the other Saronic Gulf Islands)

In the 7th and 6th centuries BC, Aegina was a mighty maritime state that rivalled Athens in power and prestige. 

Aegina minted the first ancient Greek coins (marked with a tortoise) and traded and established colonies throughout the Mediterranean. However, the imperial ambitions of Athens eventually eclipsed and then conquered Aegina in the 5th century BC. 

Between 1826 and 1828, Aegina town became the first capital of the new Greek state after winning independence and the new government of Greece was set-up there. 

Aegina Town is a picturesque harbour town, overflowing with colourful fishing and coastal boats and a lively waterfront lined with neoclassical buildings, taverns, churches and many stands selling Aegina’s famous pistachios, considered the tastiest in the world. 

Aegina. Greece.
View of the East and North sides of the Temple of Aphaia or Afea, Aegina Greece.

On eastern side of the island, set atop a pine crested hill, stands the impressive 5th century BC Temple of Aphaia, which is one of the best-preserved ancient temples from the ancient Greek world. Dedicated to Aphaia, a local goddess, the perfectly proportioned Doric Temple has twenty-five of the original 32 monolithic limestone columns still standing. 

The Temple of Aphaia, together with the Parthenon in Athens and Temple of Poseidon at Sounion, form a perfect isosceles triangle which continues to mystify scholars today.

Aegina is easily reachable from the port of Piraeus, with many ferries available throughout the day ranging from approximately 40 minutes to 75 minutes in travel time.

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All Images, Text and Content are Copyright Steven Sklifas

Bulla Regia, Tunisia.

Subterranean Roman City.

Bulla Regia is a notable archaeological site in a highly fertile region of northwestern Tunisia. It is officially recognized as Colonia Aelia Hadriana Augusta Bulla Regia.

The ancient city was under the influence of the North African powerhouse Carthage around the 3rd century BC. With the collapse of Carthage, the Romans eventually obtained absolute authority of the city in the 1st century BC.

Prosperity for the city was the greatest between the 1st and 3rd centuries as it became a major producer and supplier of wheat, grains, grapes and olives to the Roman Empire. 

Bulla Regia and other Roman towns in the region have been referred to as the breadbasket or granary of Rome.

Roman ruins. Bulla Regia. Tunisia.
Bulla Regia. Tunisia. View of remains of buildings, including the House of the Fishing at northern end of the archaeological site.

Abandoned after a catastrophic earthquake, the city was buried by drifting sands and lost to the world for many centuries.

A French company constructing a railway through the region accidentally rediscovered the city it in the late 1800s. Unfortunately, some of the well-preserved buildings, including the monumental gateway to the city, were recklessly destroyed.

Thankfully, the site is home to various fine remnants of its history, including a well preserved Roman theatre. However, the site is famed for its unique and distinctive underground villas that distinguish it from all other Roman towns.

The subterranean villas are adorned with magnificent exquisite mosaics in situ built by the town’s wealthy Romans residents in the second and third centuries AD. The Villas provided an escape from the baking Tunisian summer heat and provided warmth in the Winter.

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All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Villa d’Este, Tivoli Italy.

Garden of the High Renaissance.

The Villa d’Este is situated 30 kilometres east north of Rome in the lush, picturesque and historical hilltop town of Tivoli, in the Lazio region of Italy. 

Renowned for its spectacular use of water, the Villa d’Este represents the quintessence of the Italian garden of the late High Renaissance and has elements of the mannerist and baroque architectural styles.

Converted from a Benedictine monastery into a sumptuous palace around 1550, the much-copied Villa d’Este is a masterpiece of Italian Garden. 

Hundred Fountains. Villa d Este. Tivoli. Italy.
Villa d Este. Tivoli. Italy. View along the avenue of the hundred fountains or Le Cento Fontane at the Villa d’Este at the hill town of Tivoli. The wooded walkway is flanked on one side by over one hundred hand carved waterspouts jetting out cooling water into three overlaying canals.

The Villa d’Este is one of the most significant and complex examples of Renaissance water gardens in Europe.

Visually stimulating, spectacular and theatrical, the Villa d’Este has been a tremendous influence on European garden design.

Its grounds, which have varying elevations, are replete with greenery, sculpture and statuary and a myriad of imaginative fountains, grottoes and water features. 

Tivoli and the Villa d’Este is a very rewarding and relatively easy and relaxed day trip from Rome. Whenever I travel there, I usually take the train, which takes about 1 hour from Rome. 

The Villa d’Este is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

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All text, images and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.