COSTA "SERENA"
The new Costa Flagship will be the ship of space. Its name symbolises harmony and serenity. Costa Serena and her sister ship Costa Concordia, are the largest and longest ships in the fleet. The prestigious Samsara Spa spreads over two decks and will be a haven of wellness and relaxation. The beautiful Samsara Suites have direct access to the Spa. Over 500 cabins will have balconies. Choose from 13 bars and 5 restaurants. There are 4 swimming pools, two with retractable glass roofs. The decks are spacious and panoramic, and the stylish public areas are designed with your comfort and relaxation in mind.
SAVONA (GENOA), ITALY
One of the most celebrated former inhabitants of Savona was the navigator Christopher Columbus, who farmed land in the area while chronicling his journeys. 'Columbus's house', a cottage situated in the Savona hills, lay between vegetable crops and fruit trees. It is just one of many residences in Liguria associated with Columbus.

Several cities as well as Savona claim his birth and residency, such as Genoa and Terrarossa di Moconesi. Savona is the most important city on the west coast of Italy, within reach of the seaside resorts of Alassio, Loano and Varazze.

Savona is a city rich in history and enterprise, largely centering on its port. The most important monument in the city in this regard is the Priamar, a castle stronghold near the port and recently restored. This is the site of the city's first developed community, in 205BC, described by Roman historian Titus Livius as 'Savo Oppidum Alpinum' and evidently an ally of Carthage against Rome. The city fell under Roman rule in 200BC and, following the establishment of Vada Sabatia, presently called Vado, its importance rapidly declined. After the fall of the Roman Empire and the invasions of the Barbarians, Savona became an important Byzantine settlement. In 643AD, Savona was destroyed by the Rotarians and the Longobards, while during the 9th and 10th centuries it was the capital of Marca Aleramica. Eventually it became an independent municipality, developing considerable trade with France, Spain and North Africa. After a long period resisting Genoa, it finally relinquished power in 1528 and following the Napoleonic era was annexed by Savoy. Formerly a province of the kingdom of Sardinia, the province of Savona was recognised in 1927.

There are two versions surrounding the origin of the name of Savona's symbolic monument, the Priamar. According to the first, Priamar derives from 'Pietra Sul Mare' (rock on the sea), as the fortress is constructed on a promontory rock facing the Ligurian sea. According to the second version the name derives from 'Petra Mala', a reference to the rock underneath the castle being crumbly. Inside the fortress walls stood a school, two of whose pupils became the popes Julius II and Sixtus IV. It also hosted a ceremony to mark the independence of the municipality, in 1191, after the victory of Ghibelline. In the 19th Century the fortress was used as a prison, where in 1830-1831 Giuseppe Mazzini was jailed. During World War II, the fortress was used as an air-raid shelter and to control Savona's port.

KATAKOLON (OLYMPIA), GREECE
Katakolon is a small port founded in the first half of the 19th century and linked to the legendary and nearby Olympia. According to the annals, which describe in detail and with some legend, the birth and history of Olympia, the city is a pastoral site chosen by the king of the gods Zeus to promote his culture among the Greeks.

Olympia, together with Delphi, the city dedicated to Apollo, and Athens represents the most important mythological places in traditional Greece. The Olympic Games originated here and, according to the Hellenic tradition described by the Greek poet Pindar, their origin is in honour of Pelope, a legendary character, after whom the Peloponnese was named. In the beginning the Games were composed of few disciplines, deriving from military arts characterised by loyalty and courage and lasted just one day often interrupted by religious ceremonies.

Subsequently the celebration of the Olympic Games, every four years at the summer solstice, lasted for a few weeks and at this time all conflicts had to be suspended to enable the performance of the games. The ceremony was strict. Women, except for Hera priestesses were not allowed, upon punishment of death. All competitors had to be Greek. The winners (at the time there were no sponsors or money compensation) were awarded by public triumph, they were included in a golden register engraved in stone and a life size statue was erected.

After over 1200 years of continued history, the Olympic Games were stopped in 393 AD by Theodosius I and started again in Athens in 1896 upon initiative of the French Baron Pierre de Coubertin. Life in Olympia takes place around the sacred walls of the Sanctuary where all the temples and religious buildings are situated. Olympia was discovered in 1776, but the most important excavations are recent. Zeus' temple for instance was entirely brought to light by German archaeologists who succeeded in reconstructing part of the front and side columns collecting the statues of Greek winners, votive offerings and small temples damaged by a series of earthquakes unfortunately frequent in the past.

The most ancient part of the Sanctuary is dedicated to Hera and it was destroyed and sacked after the prohibition of the pagan cult ordered by Theodosius. The stadium is very impressive, with an audience capacity of up to 45,000. Several votive offerings were found here, and among them Miltiades helmets after Athens victory in Marathon. It is still possible to see the starting and finishing lines of the races in the stadium. All archaeological finds are preserved in the Museum.

ASHDOD (JERUSALEM), ISRAEL
Ashdod is one of the most important ports in Israel, gateway to the most renowned places in the Holy Land, acknowledged by Christianity, the Bible and a tradition long lost in history. Just a few kilometres away from the coast, the landscape is typically Middle Eastern, evoking images of the Bible. Great impulse derived from the recent celebration of Jerusalem's 3000 years, which attracted, in the Holy City, millions of people who attended a very full calendar of cultural, historic and musical events. All the other cities prepared a series of events, which made a holiday to Israel interesting from several points of view and certainly entertaining and educating. Perhaps the most impressive route from Ashdod is the road to Bethlehem and to Jerusalem. Bethlehem Nativity Church is one of the most attended religious sites in the world. Every year a multitude of Christians from all possible churches gather here.     

At a short distance, Jerusalem is the "Holy City", the city of the crusades and the "sad return" for millions Jews all over the world. Actually, despite these traditional images, Jerusalem is not just appreciated for its historical monuments such as the Wailing Wall, the Sorrows Route, the Holy Sepulchre, King David tomb, the magnificent Sleep Church and the Garden of Gethsemane, but also for the activity of the historical quarters, bustling with commerce. The Dead Sea, approximately two hours by bus from Ashdod, is particularly interesting. The water is renowned for its therapeutic effects thus attracting thousands of people every year. It is also an important reference point for archaeological research. In fact just a few miles away, there is the fortress constructed by Herod still resisting time and history after two thousand years.

USEFUL INFORMATION Points of interest: Excursions to Jerusalem, Bethlehem and the Dead Sea - depart from Ashdod. Language: Hebrew, Arabic, also English and French are widely spoken. Religion: Judaism (82%), Islam (14%) and Christianity (2.4%) Politics: Parliamentary Republic. Currency: Israeli Shekel Shopping: Gold and silver jewellery representing the traditional and historical motives of Israel's Christian and Jewish religions: the Star of David, good luck charms made in a form of a hand-Hamsa and a variety of holy crosses. Among them the Jerusalem cross symbolising the pilgrimage to the Holy City. Jewellery made from the Eilat stone, the only semiprecious stone found in Israel in the famous mines of King Solomon. Articles bearing Jewish and Christian symbols made from bronze, ceramics and olive wood. Salts and cosmetics from the Dead Sea which are therapeutic for the skin, muscle relaxation, blood circulation and for rheumatic pains. Diamonds are the first industrial exports of Israel because they are cut and polished extremely well.

INFORMATION ON THE CRUISE SHIP AND PORTS OF CALL
Information provided by Costa Cruise Lines
HAIFA, ISRAEL
Haifa is described as an important fishing port in both the Old and New Testament of the Bible. There is still a fishing industry based at Haifa, although the city has developed to become the most important commercial port in Israel, as well as a naval base. Site of a former Roman settlement, close to Bat Galim, the modern hillside city of Haifa has a population of 300,000 inhabitants and is a major entry port to the rest of Israel. During the Crusades, the port enjoyed considerable commercial importance, until it suffered sudden decay and destruction.     

The Sea of Galilee and its flourishing flora is within easy reach and only a few hours away by road is the bustling city of Tel Aviv and, further on, the Holy City of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is visited by people from around the world who come to see monuments of biblical proportions such as the Wailing Wall, the Dome on the Rock, King David's Tomb, the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane. Nazareth, the childhood home of Jesus, is a destination for multitudes of Christian pilgrims every year and is also easily accessible from Haifa.

IZMIR, TURKEY
Capital of a province, with nearly three million inhabitants, Smirne (Izmir in Turkish) is Turkey's second city, after Istanbul, thanks to its busy port and to the intense industrial activity which, from traditional fields tied to agriculture, has expanded to include shipbuilding, mechanical and chemical plants for oil refinery.

Located within a beautiful bay, surrounded by lovely hills, the town has changed in the course of recent years, into a modern metropolis with an established urbanistic structure and new residencial areas.  Archaeological diggings have indicated that Izmir was probably first inhabited in the third millennium BC. In the 10th century BC farmers from the island of Lesbos took up residence in Izmir. Occupied by the Ioni toward the end of the 9th century BC, Izmir experienced a long spell of economical and cultural development, followed by domination from many local dictators, until conquered by Alessandro Magno (334 BC).

Starting in 27B.C., following Roman rule, Izmir experienced a new period of prosperity, in the course of which was enriched by sumptuous monuments of which, however, few traces remain. Destroyed by a violent earthquake in 178 it was then rebuilt under the command of Marco Aurelio. After becoming an important Bishop Seat during Costantino era, Izmir began a slow decline due to Arabic incursions.

Sieged by the Turks, the town was conquered (1076) and subsequently utilised as base for naval attacks in the Aegean Sea. Later it became a feud of the Knights of Rhodes. It was annexed to the Ottoman Empire by Mohamed 1st Celebi, notwithstanding efforts from part of the Venetian fleet which attempted to reoccupy it on several occasions.  Izmir has preserved its prosperity, mainly thanks to the commercial activity of its port which has been an important stop along the routes between East and West. In the large square, dominated by the modern clock tower in Arabian style, a present for the German Kaiser, William the 2nd, you can see the City Hall, the Konak Camii, little mosque decorated with glazed tiles and surrounded by a large garden and the City Cultural Centre. In the centre of the city, on the west side of the train station (Basmane Gari), you find the large green area of the Kultur Park, with a Luna Park, a Zoo, a small lake and pavilions where, every year, starting from the second half of August to September, the International Izmir Fair takes place, it is perhaps the most important commercial fair in the Mediterranean.

You should visit the Archaeological Museum inaugurated in 1983 containing finds from Ephesus, Belevi, Myrina and Eritre. The old building next to the Archaeological Museum is the Ethnographic Museum displaying interesting art collections and traditional handicrafts: ceramics, copper tools, embroidery, traditional costumes, shawls and decorated fabrics, carpets, arms and armours.  The last stop for the shopping fans is the animated and colourful bazaar with stalls selling every kind of local goods.
PIRAEUS (ATHENS), GREECE
The cradle of Greek civilisation, Athens today is a bustling, frenetic, modern city with six million inhabitants, one third of the total population of Greece. The port of Athens, Piraeus, is very much an integral part of the city.  Although Athens is a huge, sprawling city, much of its political, historical and administrative life is concentrated in a small area including Syntagma (Constitution) Square, the Acropolis and Omonia Square.

According to Greek mythology, the establishment of Athens was the result of a dispute between the goddess of wisdom Athena and her fellow gods, under which the city was given as a peace offering. In historical terms, the city was founded by the Phoenicians at least 2,000 years before Christ. The founding fathers of democracy, Athenians had many times to go into battle to defend their freedom and built up a mighty military strength.

As the leading cultural influence in the Mediterranean region for centuries, Athens attracted considerable opposition as well as admiration. Its intellectual dominance over the Mediterranean began to wane with the establishment of the Byzantine Empire, eventually leading to the city being virtually deserted and almost destroyed by Saracens in the 12th Century. By the time the Turks gained control of Athens in the 15th Century, its population had dwindled to only a few thousand inhabitants. Between 400BC and 1400AD Athens had been raided, sacked, and burnt at least 30 times.

Gradually Athens was rebuilt and by the end of the 19th Century its fortunes had greatly improved, culminating in the revival of the Olympic Games in 1896. The next period of sustained development came after World War II with aggressive industrialisation and maritime enterprise.

The historical attractions of Athens are world-renowned. The Acropolis, overlooking the city of Athens from the top of a rocky hillside, is the dominant monument of ancient Greece, the site of the first temple dedicated to the goddess Athena and the stunning Parthenon. Among the magnificent ruins of the Acropolis, and the fascinating artefacts of the Acropolis Museum, the ancient civilisation surrounding the Parthenon, Herod Atticaus Odeon, Dionysus Theatre, Muses Hill, the Agora, Hephaestus Temple and the Apostles Church come to life. In addition to its magnificent ancient monuments, Athens has much to offer the visitor, including colourful street markets and shops. Plus, of course, delicious Greek food such as the speciality meze and desserts including baklava.

Not far from Athens is one of greatest engineering feats of mankind, the Corinth Canal. The canal, which is cut out of solid rock, is a little over 6km in length, 21 metres wide and some 79 metres high, with a water depth of eight metres. Such was the complexity of its construction that the canal was started by Nero in 66AD but only completed in 1893.