The Mediterranean was always an area of exchange of people, goods and ideas. Its cities were important centres in the history of mankind and for European civilisation. The Library of Alexandria was a centre of science, Athens the cradle of new democratic ways of political decision-making and Rome the capital of the Roman Empire. City-states like Venice commanded global economic networks and enjoyed an incredible cultural richness. The Mediterranean has also been a centre of religious learning: Rome and Constantinople/ Istanbul were home to the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox church respectively. Cairo, Kairouan, Damascus and Baghdad were centres of Islamic learning. Advancements in philosophy and medicine in Arab Al-Andalus gave critical impetus to the later European enlightenment. Like Istanbul and Sicily, the Iberian Peninsula was a true cultural and intellectual bridge between Orient and Occident.