Porthole‘s Five Faves
Passage to Paradise
The ever-popular 7-night Western Mediterranean cruise itinerary typically includes ports in Spain, France, and Italy, treating visitors to ancient cities, diverse architecture, amazing art, and historic treasures. Churches and cathedrals play an important role in illuminating a city’s history and the region’s cultural past, thus are great importance to tourism. Travelers visit Rome to see St. Peter’s Basilica, London to admire Westminster Cathedral, and Paris to marvel at Notre Dame. If you’re a been-there, done-that traveler, enjoy these lesser-known — but equally noteworthy — churches on your next Western Mediterranean cruise.
Palma Cathedral in Mallorca, Spain, is a massive complex easily seen from the cruise ship harbor. Three naves with a vast central vault, 87 stained-glass windows, and seven rose windows bathe the Gothic interior in ever-changing colors of light. Visitors come to view Gaudi’s wrought-iron canopy over the main altar, opulent reliquaries, and the tombs of Kings James II and James III of Mallorca. An excellent audio guide and the Dioceses Museum are included in the admission price.
Basilica of Notre Dame de La Garde
The strikingly beautiful Basilica of Notre Dame de La Garde greets travelers from its lofty mountaintop as ships sail into Marseille, France. This Roman-Byzantine–style basilica has an immense golden statue of the Virgin Mary on the belfry to guard Marseille and protect the fishermen at sea. The interior dazzles with mosaics, multicolored striped stones, and arches, plus paintings of ships, intricate models of boats hanging from the ceiling, and marine memorabilia connecting it to the city’s maritime history. From Vieux Port take bus #60 to the top, and then enjoy the walk back down. The panoramic city views are stunning!
Palermo, a frequently visited port in the Western Mediterranean is the capital of the Italian island of Sicily and home to the magnificent Cappella Palatina. Utterly brilliant Byzantine mosaics, Norman architecture, and Arabic design demonstrate the finest craftsmanship from the many cultures that influenced Sicily. Admire the decorative wooden ceiling and the colorful geometric inlay floor. This is perhaps one of the most sublime treasures in Europe!
Chiesa Del Gesu and Santa Maria di Castello
Genoa, Italy, is blessed with several exceptional churches including the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, which is visited on many city tours. But there are two other awe-inspiring churches here. An unassuming exterior hides the opulent interior of Chiesa Del Gesu, with soring arches, glimmering gilding, and museum-worthy paintings. Above the main altar is Rubens’ Circumcision of Christ, over a side altar is Rubens’ Miracles of Saint Ignatius, and don’t miss The Assumption, by Guido Reni. Near Genoa’s port is the unpretentious Santa Maria di Castello, with many valuable religious artifacts and paintings from the 15th century onward. The treasures are impressive, but it’s the volunteers who make a visit here special by providing free personalized tours of the church, cloisters, museums, and reliquary. Tours are primarily in Italian, but some volunteers speak English, plus brochures in English and French are available.
Paradise is found in these unique churches!
— Mary H. Thieme
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