Europe has some of the most well-known and much visited archaeological and historical sites in the World. From the caves that sheltered Europe’s earliest Hominin inhabitants to Ice Age cave art. From the megalithic structures made by the continent’s first farmers to Iron Age hill forts. From the temples and theatres made by the ancient Greeks and Romans to the abbeys and churches that were built as organised religion spread across the continent. From Medieval battlefields to the memorials remembering the two World Wars. Whatever your interests and passions, there is something here for everyone.
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Albania was part of the area ancient writers called Illyria. The Illyrians created spectacular rock cut tombs. From the 6th century the ancient Greeks established substantial cities along the Illyrian coast, including Butrint and Apollonia, many of which were taken over by the Romans in the 2nd century BC.
From prehistoric salt mines to Roman legionary forts, medieval monasteries to Imperial castles. From the lowlands to the Alps, Austria’s historic and cultural sites are as diverse as its landscape. A diversity seen in its UNESCO listed World Heritage Sites: from the prehistoric settlements next to alpine lakes to the historic cities of Vienna, Salzburg and Graz. Whether you enjoy city breaks and moseying around some of the finest museums in the world, or hiking and cycling while exploring ruined forts and castles spanning many centuries, this landlocked country will not disappoint.
At the heart of the ancient world, Bulgaria’s archaeological heritage is under-explored. Many of the sites are on a par with those in neighbouring Turkey and Greece but the big difference for the visitor to Bulgaria is that there are none of the huge crowds you will find at the more famous sites. Bulgaria has some 40,000 archaeological and historical sites, seven of which are included on the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites and a further eight are on the tentative list. These sites range in date from the earliest farmers some 8,000 years ago to monuments constructed since 1944.
From the enigmatic Stonehenge in the south to the monumental Hadrian’s Wall in the north, archaeology in England is as rich through time as it is in geographical distribution. The earliest evidence of humans dates back to before the Last Glacial period. Beginning just before the end of the Ice Age and on into the Medieval period there were successive arrivals of people who brought with them new ways of living: the first farmers, the Romans and the Anglo-Saxons, all contributing to the diversity of archaeological sites in England we can visit today.
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From the Palaeolithic cave art in the Dordogne and the megalithic structures of Neolithic Brittany, through the later prehistoric periods of the Bronze and Iron Ages, the Roman occupation of Gaul, the Medieval and Renaissance and the vast number of castles and churches standing still today in various states of repair, and the numerous memorials from two World Wars, there is no questioning that France has some of the most iconic archaeology and history in the world.
Few other countries have a prehistory and history as rich and complex as you will encounter in Germany. From the Neanderthals who made some of Europe’s oldest Ice Age art to the Iron Age Celts and their exquisite gold work, from the Hanseatic League of the Middle Ages to the 20th Century and the Third Reich, the historic highlights of Germany are being discovered by more and more visitors each year. Whatever your interest in archaeology and history, in Germany you will be spoilt for choice with Roman forts, Charlemagne’s Aachen, Gothic castles and churches, Bach’s Leipzig, the Berlin Wall and some of the finest museums and art galleries in the world.
Mainland Greece is a rugged, mountainous peninsular jutting out into the Aegean sea, surrounded by some 1,400 islands. From the Acropolis in Athens to Knossos on the island of Crete, Greece has some of the world’s most fascinating archaeological sites. Places that have fuelled fertile imaginations for centuries, and filled glass cabinets around the world. Not surprising then that Greece is a popular tourist destination, particularly if exploring history is your thing. And there is over 700,000 years worth of history to explore. There are as many spectacular historical sites to visit on the mainland as there are on the islands.
Italy is understandably dominated by its rich Roman past. But there is so much more for lovers of history, both before and after the Roman era. Prehistoric Italy goes back a few hundred thousand years into the Palaeolithic. And following the fall of Rome different regions of what we know of as Italy today were significant in political developments in both eastern and western Europe. If it is prehistoric rock carvings or Etruscan tombs, Greek temples or Roman amphitheatres and theatres, Norman castles or Byzantine churches that interests you, Italy has all this and more.
The earliest evidence of human habitation in Luxembourg dates to around 35,000 years ago. A wonderful collection of artefacts representing the full sweep of prehistory, the Palaeolithic, Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages, can be seen in the National Museum of History and Art in Luxembourg City. The area of Luxembourg fell within the Roman province of Gallia Belgica and the Via Agrippa passed through here joining Lyon to the Rhineland. Princes of Luxembourg become Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire.
Malta has been at the crossroads of the Mediterranean cultures for about seven thousands years, and has some of the most spectacular archaeological and historical sites in Europe resulting from a fascinating and complex past. The density of sites here is said to be greater than anywhere else in the World. This amazing and unique heritage together with an agreeable climate makes Malta a popular destination for culturally inspired travellers.
About 20% of the Netherlands, often incorrectly called Holland, is below sea level. A further 50% is less than one metre above sea level. The reason for this unusual geography results from centuries of badly controlled peat extraction. And from the 16th century onwards land reclamation started in earnest – an activity that resulted in industrial sites that are now recognised as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Despite this disruption of the land, the Netherlands still has an extraordinary archaeological and historical record. The oldest evidence of human occupation being from Neanderthal communities living near what is today Masstricht.
Having being established early in the Christian Reconquista, Portugal is one of the oldest nation states in the world. Certainly it is the oldest on the Iberian Peninsular. The name Portugal comes from the Roman name for what is today Vila Nova de Gaia, then Portus Cale. The country has an impressive although little explored prehistory, from the Stone Age art in the Côa Valley and the intriguing megalithic sites throughout Portugal to the impressive hill-forts of the Iron Age. Since these early times Romans, Visigoths, Moors and Christians have all left their mark on an enormously diverse landscape.
Spain has evidence of human history stretching back over a million years to the time of the earliest Europeans. From Altamira to the Alhambra, from the Palaeolithic to the Medieval Moorish Muslims, with the Iberians, Celts, Romans and Vandals in between, this country has an extraordinarily rich and diverse cultural heritage.
The archaeology of Wales has produced some of the most important evidence for the study of early hominins in Europe; including the most westerly remains of Neanderthals that date to 230,000 years ago, and the oldest ceremonial burial of about 29,000 years. Artefacts and features of later periods of prehistory, from Neolithic megalithic monuments to beautifully crafted Iron Age objects, are just as significant. From Neolithic mortuary monuments and Iron Age hill forts, to Roman forts as well as castles and abbeys of the Medieval, the archaeology of Wales adds much to our understanding of the history of north-western Europe.