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The Byzantine fortress town of Monemvasia, the “stone ship” referred to by the poet Yiannis Ritsos, stands sentinel on the southeastern coast of Laconia, ready to take its visitors on a historic journey back through the ages. Castles, walls, old mansions, narrow cobbled lanes, churches, low arches and vaults, coats of arms, imperial marble thrones, Byzantine icons all give the impression of a town untouched by time. Referred to variously throughout the ages as the Gibraltar of the East, the Castle above the Clouds, or the Castle of Flowers, among others, it is situated on a small islet linked to the mainland by a causeway and bridge, as if floating on the edge of the Myrtoon Sea. The single entrance that gives the rock its name (moni emvasia in Greek) is a passageway into its past, beginning in the 6th century AD. As one enters the main gate of the Lower Town, immediately above it to the left is the birthplace of the poet Yiannis Ritsos. The main thoroughfare, consisting of a narrow cobbled Byzantine street flanked by shops, leads to the main square dominated by an old cannon and the town cathedral, the Church of Elkomenos Christos. Directly opposite the church is a 16th century former mosque now housing the Monemvasia Archaeological Collection. From the main square a number of picturesque narrow streets fan out over the Lower Town. One of these leads to the Upper Town or Goula, a steep climb taking about 15 minutes, but a rewarding one for the panoramic view of the Lower Town and the surrounding open sea glittering below. Watch full virtual tour of Monemvasia castle
Europe is generally agreed to be the birthplace of western culture, including such legendary innovations as the democratic nation-state, football and tomato sauce.The word Europe comes from the Greek goddess Europa, who was kidnapped by Zeus and plunked down on the island of Crete. Europa gradually changed from referring to mainland Greece until it extended finally to include Norway and Russia.Don't be confused that Europe is called a continent without looking like an island, the way the other continents do. It's okay. The Ural mountains have steadily been there to divide Europe from Asia for the last 250 million years. Russia technically inhabits "Eurasia".Europe is presently uniting into one political and economic zone with a common currency called the Euro. The European Union originated in 1993 and is now composed of 27 member states. Its headquarters is in Brussels, Belgium.Do not confuse the EU with the Council of Europe, which has 47 member states and dates to 1949. These two bodies share the same flag, national anthem, and mission of integrating Europe. The headquarters of the Council are located in Strasbourg, France, and it is most famous for its European Court of Human Rights. In spite of these two bodies, there is still no single Constitution or set of laws applying to all the countries of Europe. Debate rages over the role of the EU in regards to national sovereignty. As of January 2009, the Lisbon Treaty is the closest thing to a European Constitution, yet it has not been approved by all the EU states. Text by Steve Smith.