Extending from the Nile River to ancient Rome, the Mediterranean Sea is home to some of history’s most fascinating cities and sights. Starting this summer, it will also be the new home of Allure of the Seas. She will be sailing round-trip from Barcelona and Civitavecchia (near Rome) all summer long.
Even with all its star turns in movies and history books, how well do you really know the Mediterranean? In preparation for Allure’s arrival, we’ve compiled a list of 10 facts that may surprise you. So test your knowledge and tuck these away. You never know when they’ll come in handy (hint: Trivia Night).
- The Romans thought the sea was, literally, the middle of the earth. Because of this, they first called the Mediterranean mediterraneus—Latin for “middle of the earth.”
- Believe it or not, Rome is the birthplace of the shopping mall. The first-ever mall was built by Roman Emperor Trajan between 107 and 110 AD. Trajan’s Market consisted of several levels and more than 150 outlets that sold everything from clothes to food and spices.
- The Strait of Gibraltar—where the Mediterranean Sea joins with the Atlantic Ocean, and Spain nearly touches the top of Africa—is only eight miles wide at its narrowest point.
- At the height of the Roman Empire, the entire border of the sea belonged singularly to the Empire for several centuries. Today, the sea touches three continents and 21 modern states, including 11 countries in Europe, five in Asia, and five in Africa.
- In 1830, Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba, widely believed to be the world’s first pizzeria, opened its doors in Naples. Today, the restaurant’s ovens are lined with lava rocks from nearby Mount Vesuvius. Drop in for wood-fired slices or take a pizza making class where you can learn how to make your own authentic Neapolitan pie.
- Málaga, Spain, a port-of-call on Allure of the Seas’ transatlantic Mediterranean itinerary, was built by the Phoenicians in the 7th and 8th centuries BC, making it one of the oldest cities in the world. You can still see some of the original city walls in the cellar of the Museo Picasso Málaga. (That museum, by the way, was built to honor one of the city’s most famous natives: Pablo Picasso.)
- Barcelona was recently ranked the “Best Beach City” in the world by National Geographic, but the city’s beaches weren’t even used for leisure until 1992 when the coastline was revamped for the Summer Olympics (including a five-mile strip of sand imported from Egypt).
- In ancient Rome, some residences not only had central heating and indoor plumbing, but also heated floors. A few more inventions we can thank the Romans for: concrete, newspapers and sewer systems.
- Pisa’s famous landmark isn’t the only leaning tower in the area: the Church of San Nicola and the bell tower at the Church of San Michele degli Scalzi are also taking a similar posture, because of unstable soil in the area. Might be time to hire a new architect.
- That’s a rap: Marseilles, France’s largest Mediterranean city and cruise port, is well-known for its hip hop music scene, thanks to artists and groups like IAM, Le 3ème Oeil and Keny Arkana.