Historical places in Europe
Ohrid is beautiful old city right on the shore of Lake Ohrid. It's so rich in history that it's a UNESCO World Heritage site. The old part of town is deadly charming with old houses, winding streets and exquisite churches, where St. John at Kaneo is probably the most famous one. The church was built in the 3rd century and have a magnificent location high on a cape overlooking the lake. In summer time the city transforms itself into holiday zone for mostly local tourists and partygoers. North Macedonia isn't packed with mind-blowing sights, so Ohrid will for sure be the highlight of any trip to North Macedonia.
Way before the Vikings, in the Bronze Age, Scandinavia was inhabited by hunter-gatherers. They carved their daily life into slabs of rocks. These rock carvings can be seen throughout Scandinavia (except for mainland Denmark), but the area at Alta is among the absolute best. There have been found more than 6000 individual carvings, where the main site, Jiepmaluokta, contains thousands. The wide variety of figures shows animals, fishing, hunting and shamanistic rituals. The most recent carvings were dated to around 500 BC, the earliest might be around 4200 BC or maybe even older.
The rock carvings are a UNESCO World Heritage site and is today an open-air museum with wooden viewing platforms and boardwalks. A full circuit is about 4 km.
Røros is a delightful old copper-mining town, with a UNESCO-protected historical district consisting of turf-roofed wooden miners’ cottages. But even the newer parts of town are quaint. Surrounded by mountains that remain snow-clad until early summer, Røros is small enough to walk around. There is also an 18th century church, a museum and several galleries worthy of a visit, and cafes line the main street. While it lacks a water-front setting, it certainly gives Bergen a run for its money in terms of pure aesthetics, and is not nearly as overrun by visitors. It is also possible to go on a cold, damp, subterranean tour of the old copper-mine, some distance out of town. And if all else fails, Røros is a good place for people watching, as its inhabitants seem to enjoy dressing up in traditional folk outfits for the slightest reason!
Auschwitz concentration camps consisted of three main camps, where two are kept as museums today. A grim memorial of the horrendous crimes against humanity committed by the Nazis. We will not get into the sickening details here, but rather point out some (maybe surprising) observations: Auschwitz I, the first concentration camp and what became the base, was set up in some already existing military barracks in the town of Oświęcim. The camp lied, and still lies, within the town with residential and industrial areas bordering the barb-wired camps. Later, the second camp, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, was added on the other side of the railway as an extermination camp. It was here where the gassing took place. The sheer size of Birkenau is hard to grasp. When standing in front at the infamous railway gate, the camp just extends for hundreds of metres, but what you actually see is just a fraction of the whole complex as it extends into the woods at the back, where the gas chambers were located. The third camp, Auschwitz III-Monowitz, was a labour camp with factories several kilometres away from Auschwitz I and II. There is no museum at Monowitz, though some of the factory buildings and walls still stand today.
The 13th-century castle is the largest in the world (measured by area) and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Originally it was a fortified monastery. Over time the ownership changed hands many times between Polish, German and even Swedish occupation. Today, the castle stands meticulously restored as one of Poland's most impressive historical sights.
When the Nazis planned these super bunkers between the I and the II World War, they wanted a strong defence line against enemy tanks. But war strategy during WWII turned out to be very different from WWI. Suddenly tanks played a less important role compared to fighter planes and battleships. So the defence line at Miedzyrzecz was never really tested. Nevertheless, the bunker complex was huge and consisted of 21 reinforced concrete bunkers with nearly 30 km of tunnels in between along with barbwire and anti-tank barriers. Today you can visit one of the bunkers and walk in the dark tunnels. You will be taken through the different rooms and gun towers on the first and second level before descending 30 meters to the tunnels, which today house bats. It's a very impressive sight, even for non-history buffs, to see how well the Nazis' bunkers were constructed. You can only visit with a guide, either on a scheduled tour (only in Polish or German) or a private tour (in Polish or German).
Wolf's Lair was Hitler's secret military headquarter on the Eastern Front during WWII. It was a heavily fortified concrete bunker located deep in the forest. The security was of the absolute highest level and the location was a well-kept secret. Surprisingly, it was here Hitler was attempted assassinated in July 1944 by a suitcase bomb detonated by a Nazi colonel. Unfortunately, Hitler survived the blast with minor injuries. The complex was never completed as the Soviet Red Army was quickly approaching in late 1944. In early 1945 the complex was blown up by the Nazis, 72 hours before the Red Army arrived. Today the concrete ruins are reclaimed by nature. There are two walking routes of 1.3 km and 1.8 km passing various bunkers in different stages of decay. The entrances to the bunkers are mostly not closed off, but many warning signs state that it's forbidden to enter inside the ruins due to danger of falling bits.
Nicolae Ceaușescu (1918-1989) was Romania's dictator until 1989. After an ultra short anti-communist/Ceaușescu-cult revolt in Bucharest, he and his wife Elena fled the city by helicopter but were cornered by the army and executed on Christmas Day (December 25th) by a military firing squad after a short trial. Pictures of the bodies of the elegantly dressed dictator couple went around the world as a symbol of the collapse of Communist Romania. Today, the graves of Ceaușescu and wife can be seen at the Ghencea cemetery in the outskirts of Bucharest. The new marble tomb is strangely decorated with fresh flowers and candles left by those who apparently still regard the dictator couple highly.
While plenty of European countries are commemorating the crimes of the Holocaust, few memorials of Soviet repression still exist - at least in Russia. The notable exception is Perm-36, which is the only preserved Soviet concentration camp despite the Gulag system numbered more than 500. Functioning as a camp primarily for political prisoners between 1946 and 1988 it opened as a museum in 1994 under its official name, The Museum of the History of Political Repression Perm-36. The museum now gives a thorough, but frightening insight into the lives and living conditions of the more than 14,000,000 people who went through the Gulag system - 1,053,829 never made it out alive. A word of advice, however, is that as of 2015 the region government have taken over the museum causing some concerns that the horrors will be down-played as unpatriotic.
Throughout the Mediterranean region, the ancient Greek and Roman empires have certainly left their mark. Ruins are scattered throughout the area. But one place stands out above all others. Efes (or Ephesus) was, at a time, the largest city in the entire region. It was mentioned many times in the bible, and some say the Gospel of John was written here. But for the average traveller, simply strolling along the ancient paths is enough of a "religious" experience. Even with such architectural highlights as the Library of Celsus, estimates are that only 15% of the site has been excavated. One tip, try to get there as early as possible. When the cruise ships dock at nearby Kuşadası, Efes can become beyond overrun with tour groups.