The detailed itinerary provides an outline of the proposed daily program. Participants should note that the daily activities described in this itinerary may be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate changes in museum opening hours, flight schedules etc. All meals are included in the tour price and are indicated in the itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=lunch and D=evening meal. All entrance fees and permits are included in the tour price.
Syracuse - 3 nights
Day 1: Thursday 27 September, Catania Airport – Syracuse
- Arrival transfer from Catania Airport to Syracuse for participants taking the ASA ‘designated’ flight
- Welcome Meeting & evening at leisure
Participants travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flight are scheduled to arrive at Catania’s airport in the evening. Participants not travelling on this flight should discuss the meeting arrangements with their ASA consultant. After collecting your luggage, you will travel by private coach to the Grand Hotel Ortigia in Syracuse. Following a welcome meeting, the evening is at leisure to relax after your flight. (Overnight Syracuse)
Day 2: Friday 28 September, Syracuse
- Temple of Apollo
- Cathedral (Temple of Athena)
- Museo Bellomo (optional)
- Afternoon at leisure
- Welcome Dinner
Syracuse (Siracusa) was the most prominent Greek city-state in Sicily and the heart of Sicilian-Greek civilisation. The ancient city was constructed on the island of Ortigia, still the heart of the old city. Syracuse was ruled successively by the Romans, Arabo-Muslims, Normans and Spanish Habsburgs. These layers of civilisation can all be found in its cathedral. Under its floor have been discovered the remains of pre-Greek huts (8th century BC). Greek colonists built an archaic temple on the site in the 6th century BC. This was replaced in the 5th century BC by the Temple of Athena, which was inaugurated to celebrate the victory of Himera.
In the 7th century the Byzantine Bishop Zosimus converted the temple to a church which was dedicated to the city’s patron saint, Santa Lucia (c.281-301 AD). This early martyr took on many of the attributes of her pagan predecessor, Athena. Openings were cut in the temple’s cella to form an arcade to connect the nave to the aisles formed by filling the spaces between the columns of its pteron; we may still discern the massive Doric columns embedded in the medieval flanking walls of the building. Atop these are the remains of triglyphs and metopes surmounted by Norman crenellation. The temple had literally been turned inside out to become a church. Syracuse cathedral became a mosque under the Muslims. The Normans constructed a new façade that was later destroyed by an earthquake and replaced with a grandiose Baroque façade between 1728 and 1754.
Our morning will be an exploration of the old town of Syracuse where we will visit the Cathedral, the solid Doric colonnades that survive of the Temple of Apollo and the extraordinary Arethusa Fountain, a natural freshwater spring that wells up just a metre or so from the saltwater of the harbour. In the Piazza del Duomo close to the cathedral we shall visit a small shrine in which we shall see Caravaggio’s late masterpiece The Burial of Saint Lucy. This poignant image has recently been returned to its original location, and is one of the great artist’s most powerful late works.
There will also be the option of visiting the Museo Bellomo, a small museum in a medieval palace with medieval sculpture collection. Its greatest treasure is Antonello da Messina’s Annunciation, a recently restored triptych that is a masterpiece of the Renaissance by Italy’s first painter to use oils. The rest of the afternoon will be at leisure to enjoy the historic heart of this beautiful city before we meet again in the evening to partake in a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant. (Overnight Syracuse) BD
Day 3: Saturday 29 September, Syracuse – Noto – Syracuse
- Greek Theatre, Syracuse
- Quarries – prisons, Syracuse
- ‘Ideal City’ of Noto: A spectacular ‘Baroque stage set’
- Afternoon at leisure
Syracuse was probably the richest city in the Hellenic world. Although it did not control the whole of Sicily, which was made up of independent city-states, it was the major Greek city in the Western Mediterranean and in many ways outshone the Greek and Ionian cities which had originally colonised the island. This morning we will delve into Syracuse’s past by visiting the archaeological complex of the great theatre. We will also visit the quarries where the stone used to build Syracuse was dug, and where the prisoners from the unsuccessful Athenian attack on the city during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC) were incarcerated.
In 1693 the east of Sicily was devastated by a terrible earthquake which destroyed many of its towns. One of these was the old town of Noto (Noto Antico), which had been built by Muslims high on a crag above the great Val di Noto, which dominates the south-western third of the island.
In the 18th century most of these towns were rebuilt, including Noto, which was moved away from its defensible but inaccessible medieval site down to a broad shelf near the Mediterranean. This relocation enabled a regular plan to be adopted with broad, straight avenues that could be used by aristocratic carriages. These avenues, lined with the impressive façades of palaces and monasteries, provided a setting for aristocratic life that would have been impossible in the cramped old hilltop town. The relocation, however, involved difficulties. The peasant population did not want to move because they would have to walk much further each day to their fields. Also, the broad escarpment where the new city was positioned was exposed to pirates that regularly raided Sicily’s shores. Moreover, the plans for the new city were grandiose and could never be funded completely. The project, nevertheless, proceeded, but because the ordinary people would not move and because of lack of funds, many of the projected buildings behind the façades flanking the avenues were not constructed, giving Noto the fascinating aura of an 18th-century stage set. We shall explore this ‘ideal city’, which is arguably the prettiest of all the 18th-century ideal towns built after the earthquake. We then return to Syracuse, where the rest of the afternoon will be at leisure. (Overnight Syracuse) B
Agrigento - 2 nights
Day 4: Sunday 30 September, Syracuse – Piazza Armerina – Agrigento
- Roman Villa of Casale, Piazza Armerina
This morning we drive inland from Syracuse, through the region that the 19th-century writer, Giovanni Verga, made famous in his novels about the horrors of peasant life in Sicily. One of his short works became the libretto of Cavalleria Rusticana.
Outside Piazza Armerina we will visit the Roman villa of Casale, located at the centre of an imperial latifundium, or agricultural estate. The villa is decorated with an important series of floor mosaics depicting hunts, chariot races and the capture of animals for the Colosseum in Rome. These mosaics, one of the most extensive mosaic series extant, reflect the influence of Roman Africa upon Sicily. Their vivid style and depiction of exotic animals clearly connect them to the mosaic styles of Libya, Tunisia and East Algeria. In the afternoon we shall drive to Agrigento, where we shall be based for two nights. (Overnight Agrigento) BD
Day 5: Monday 1 October, Agrigento
- Archaeological Museum, Agrigento
- Lunch at a local restaurant
- Temples of Zeus, Hercules, Concord, and Hera, Agrigento
Greek Akragas (Roman Agrigentum) on the south coast of the island was founded by the Sicilian city of Gela in 581 BC. It was ruled by tyrants in the 6th century BC, was sacked by Carthage (406 BC) and conquered by Timoleon (340 BC). It was taken by the Romans (261 and 210 BC) and then became a Muslim city in 827 AD. It was conquered by Count Roger of Normandy in 1087. We shall first visit the Archaeological Museum, which has a large collection and some excellent models of the temples to be seen in the Greek archaeological site. After lunch at a charming local restaurant we visit the temples of Zeus, Hercules, Concord, and Hera. The Temple of Concord is the best-preserved Greek temple after the Theseion in Athens. (Overnight Agrigento) BLD
Palermo - 4 nights
Day 6: Tuesday 2 October, Agrigento – Selinunte – Segesta – Palermo
- Temples and City, Selinunte
- Temple and Theatre, Segesta
- Dinner at a local restaurant
The Greek city of Selinus (Selinunte) is of great significance because, like Agrigento and Segesta, it preserves monuments from the Greek Archaic period; few temples of such antiquity remain in Greece. Unlike many other sites from antiquity, Selinus was never over-built in later eras and therefore affords a clearer understanding of the layout of Greek cities than many of its counterparts. Its isolation on the lonely shores of Southern Sicily gives it a particularly evocative quality.
We will visit the acropolis, the fortified citadel of the Greek polis, and also several temples, reconstructed during the 19th and 20th centuries. In the afternoon we visit the Greek site of Segesta. This city, whose well-preserved temple and theatre have few parallels, was founded by the Elymni. Its temple, which remained unfinished, gives a fascinating insight into how Greek temples were built. Its present state probably resulted from Segesta’s defeat by Selinus in 416 BC. High above the sacred area of the city stands a 3rd century theatre, looking out over a vast panorama, a vivid indication of the importance of siting and orientation to Greek cities and shrines.
In the early evening we will arrive in the Sicilian capital Palermo, where we will be based for four nights. Tonight’s dinner will be at a local trattoria. (Overnight Palermo) BD
Day 7: Wednesday 3 October, Palermo – Monreale – Palermo
- Castello della Zisa
- Cathedral and Cloister, Monreale
Palermo, founded by the Phoenicians, eclipsed Greek Syracuse under the Muslims, who made it capital of Sicily. The Normans also made it their royal capital and many of the most beautiful monuments of the city and its surroundings come from this period. Outside Palermo’s city walls, in the Conca d’Oro, the Normans laid out a royal park in the Islamic style, with palaces and hunting lodges. The Zisa Palace was built here by William II (1166-1189). This cuboid structure takes the form of an Islamic hall with a central cruciform reception chamber flanked by smaller rooms. The roof has muqarnas or stalactite decoration, corbels, and walls decorated with blind arcades. Water runs in a narrow channel through the palace. The building evokes the poetry of Islamic palatial life.
The Normans built a number of cathedrals in Sicily; the counterparts of their great shrines in Normandy, England and southern Italy. The most interesting of these are Monreale and Cefalù, in which naves of western inspiration are appended to apses that echo those of centrally planned Byzantine churches like Hosios Lukas in Greece. Between each apse and nave is a strange gabled crossing which provides a fluid spatial transition between these two heterogeneous spaces. This gable replaces the central dome in a Byzantine shrine which invariably possesses an image of ‘Christ Pantocrator’. The absence of such a dome at Monreale and Cefalù necessitated that the ‘Christ Pantocrator’ image inhabit the conch of the apse.
We ascend the hills which surround the Conca d’Oro to Monreale, where we visit the cathedral and its cloister. Whereas Cefalù’s apsidal area resembles those of tall, narrow, centrally planned Byzantine churches, Monreale’s is wide and airy. Its nave resembles those of Early Christian basilicas in Rome. The apsidal ‘Christ Pantocrator’ is less ethereal at Monreale than at Cefalù, and the wall mosaics which celebrate the lives of Christ, the Virgin and Saints Peter and Paul, are more lively than those in the Martorana or Cappella Palatina. This reflects the influence of the western narrative tradition upon Monreale, the last of the Sicilian churches to be constructed.
The exterior walls of the cathedral’s apse are enlivened by splendid blind arcades. These are articulated by sophisticated geometrical patterns of coloured stone inlay. Their forms are thought to derive from Arab sacred geometry and astrology. To the south of the cathedral is its cloister – a masterful fusion of Islamic form and Norman decoration. The arches of the cloister, like Monreale’s apse, are patterned with inlay. In one corner, a fountain shaped like a palm tree is surrounded by a small arcade; an architectural representation of an oasis. The columns of the cloister, in contrast, are topped with storiated capitals like those of Cluniac monasteries and churches on the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela. (Overnight Palermo) B
Day 8: Thursday 4 October, Palermo
- Palazzo dei Normanni, Cappella Palatina
- San Giovanni degli Eremiti
- Palermo Cathedral
- Afternoon at leisure
- Private tour of Palazzo Conte Federico
- ‘Teatro dei Pupi’ – traditional Sicilian puppet show
We spend today in Palermo, exploring the town with its combination of Byzantine, Arabo-Muslim and Norman styles. We begin our study with visits to the Palazzo dei Normanni (Palazzo Reale) and the Cappella Palatina (Palatine Chapel), which show this fusion of elements. The Palatine Chapel takes the form of a western basilica but its nave has one of the finest Muslim wooden ceilings extant. Below this are Byzantine mosaics and Muslim inlaid stone dados. We continue to the church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti; a composite building with pink Byzantine domes, a Norman nave and an Arabo-Muslim arcade. Fragmentary remains of a mosque abut this church. We end the morning with a visit to Palermo Cathedral, the east end of which was constructed upon the foundations of the Friday mosque.
After some time at leisure, in the late afternoon we visit Palazzo Conte Federico, the private home of Count Federico, whose line can be traced back directly to the Emperor Friedrich II. Palazzo Conte Federico is, in fact, the oldest continuously inhabited palace in Palermo. It was built into the Punic-Roman city walls which originally surrounded ancient Panormus. One of its rooms is part of a tower of Arabo-Norman origin and is one of the few standing sections of the old city wall. Above its double-arched Norman windows can be seen the coat of arms of the imperial Hohenstaufen family of the kingdom of Aragon and the city of Palermo. The palace also has medieval, Renaissance and Baroque rooms and, therefore, encapsulates the history of the city in its layout, decoration and furniture. High painted ceilings from the 14th century, Baroque ceiling frescoes by Vito D’Anna and Gaspare Serenario, various sculptures, Marabitti’s lion fountain (17th century) and the grand stairway with the interior walls by Marvuglia, are features of Conte Federico’s fine home. Our private tour of the palace will include a light aperitivo.
In the evening we attend a special puppet show performance, enacting the wars of Charlemagne and his knights against the Arabs at one of Palermo’s few remaining traditional puppet theatres. This lively performance, in which there is much fighting and spilling of puppet entrails (in the form of streamers), draws upon theatre traditions of the 19th century which romanticised Sicily’s past; it was at this time that literature began to emphasise the island’s ‘exotic’ heritage. The epic cycles told in the puppet shows, however, draw upon more ancient sources. When the art of puppetry was introduced to Sicily in the early 19th century, it fused with the craft of the Sicilian storyteller who entertained people in the streets of the cities, towns and villages. This form of entertainment is thought by some to have its roots in the Norman period. (Overnight Palermo) B
Day 9: Friday 5 October, Palermo
- Chiesa di San Francesco D’Assisi
- San Lorenzo Oratory
- The Palermo of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s novel, The Leopard: Private visit to the Palazzo Gangi
- San Cataldo
- Chiesa della Martorana
- S. Cita Oratory
Our morning’s program commences with a visit to the Chiesa di San Francesco D’Assisi, which contains works by the Baroque master, Serpotta, followed by a visit to San Lorenzo, a neighbouring oratory decorated with the cycles of the life of St Laurence and the Passion of Christ. Also by Serpotta, each scene in the narrative is presented in a small stage-like box that enclosed the space and allowed the master sculptor to convey an illusionary sense of depth, with the main figures in each scene dramatically interacting. The viewer is given the impression that he or she is looking through a window into the lives of Christ and St Laurence.
The highlight of today, and perhaps of your whole tour, is a visit to the exquisite, untouched 18th-century Gangi palace. It was in the ballroom of Palazzo Gangi that Luchino Visconti filmed the famous ball scene for his cinematic adaptation of Lampedusa’s melancholic, ironic novel, The Leopard. You will be conducted through this private palace (not open to the public) which is almost exactly as it was when Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa wrote his enchanting description.
From the Palazzo Gangi we walk the short distance to the oratory of San Cataldo, the fascinating small church which is the companion to ‘La Martorana’. This cuboid building was never completed because, when the patron died, work on it ceased. Although San Cataldo never gained its mosaics, there is the hidden benefit of being able to clearly discern the structure of an Arabo-Norman church. Nearby is the Bellini restaurant. It was in this restaurant that Lampedusa wrote much of his great novel.
We shall visit ‘La Martorana’ (Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio) which is a centrally-planned Byzantine church decorated with, arguably, the finest mosaics in Sicily (1140). It was built by Roger I’s admiral, George of Antioch, and in 1433 was presented to a monastery founded by Eloisa Martorana, after whom it was later named. In 1588 it gained a Baroque façade.
We then walk to one of Serpotta’s last commissions, the Santa Cita Oratory. Here in the elaborate High Baroque style we find scenes representing the twelve feasts from the life of Christ, presented in the same stage-like boxes that we encountered earlier at San Lorenzo. A highlight of the decorative scheme is the representation of the important Battle of Lepanto that covers the rear wall of the room. (Overnight Palermo) B
Lipari - 3 nights
Day 10: Saturday 6 October, Palermo – Cefalù – Milazzo – Lipari (Aeolian Islands)
- Cefalù Cathedral
- Ferry from Milazzo to the Aeolian island of Lipari
This morning we check out of our hotel and drive to Cefalù, where Roger II built an Arabo-Norman pleasure-palace and his cathedral. The west end of Cefalù Cathedral is a particularly noteworthy fusion of Arab and Norman architectural elements. Whilst its general massing could be called Norman, the twin bell towers which dominate it may be based upon North African minarets. Cefalù’s Christ Pantocrator is more ethereal than those of the Cappella Palatina and Monreale. Cefalù’s mystical image is probably of purely Byzantine provenance, whereas the more vivacious and worldly Monreale Christ Pantocrator was made by Byzantine-trained, Sicilian craftsmen. From Cefalù we drive east along the north coast of Sicily to Milazzo. From here we take a ferry to the Aeolian island of Lipari. (Overnight Lipari) BD
Day 11: Sunday 7 October, The Aeolian Islands
- Morning at leisure
- Cruise to the islands of Panarea and Stromboli
We spend this afternoon and evening on a wonderful cruise to the islands of Stromboli and Panarea, some 20 kilometres away. We shall visit Panarea, then continue on to Stromboli. After time to stroll about this charming island we return to our boat to enjoy the sunset spectacle of the regular spurts of lava and sparks that errupt from the summit to illuminate the night sky. We shall return to Lipari for a light, late dinner at the hotel. (Overnight Lipari) BD
Day 12: Monday 8 October, The Aeolian Islands
- Lipari Archaeological Museum
- Lipari Island Tour
Lipari has known human habitation since at least the 6th millennium BC. With Sardinia, it was one of the earliest (Neolithic) exporters of obsidian, which found its way all across Europe. It was colonised by the Greeks, then raided by the Arabs from Sicily, who depopulated the island and then used it as a base to attack the coasts of the Tyrrhenian Sea (Italy, Sardinia, Corsica and the South of France). The Normans eventually drove them from the island and the Pisans forced them from the Tyrrhenian. The Turks later raided Lipari and enslaved its population. The Emperor Charles V repopulated Lipari, and caused massive defensive fortifications to be built.
This morning we shall visit Lipari’s major archaeological museum, and then, after lunchtime at leisure to explore the quaint old town, we will board our coach for an afternoon tour of the island. Lipari’s landscape is very beautiful, and its coasts afford spectacular views of its fellow islands. Dinner this evening will be at a local restaurant. (Overnight Lipari) BD
Taormina - 2 nights
Day 13: Tuesday 9 October, Lipari – Milazzo – Reggio Calabria – Messina –Taormina
- Ferry from Lipari to Milazzo
- ‘Riace Bronzes’, Reggio di Calabria
- Caravaggio’s last works at the Messina Regional Art Museum
Early this morning we take a ferry back to from Lipari to Milazzo. We then cross the Strait of Messina by ferry to Reggio Calabria on the Italian mainland to view the famous ‘Riace Bronzes’, the monumental Greek bronze figures found in the sea off Riace in 1972. These are some of the most significant works of Greek antiquity to be seen anywhere.
After a group lunch, we reach in the early afternoon Messina, where we will visit the city’s art museum to view Caravaggio’s last works, the Nativity and the Raising of Lazarus. These masterpieces of his final period will be compared to the Syracuse Caravaggio. The Messina Raising of Lazarus is of particular interest for the large areas of undifferentiated background in front of which the figure group of the painting hangs like a vision.
We shall also view works saved from churches after the disastrous tidal wave of 1908. Among these is a beautiful painting by Antonello da Messina, who is often credited as the first (Renaissance) Italian to work in oils. There are also Byzantine mosaics and a fine small medieval sculpture collection.
We shall then continue south to Taormina, where the evening will be at leisure. (Overnight Taormina) BL
Day 14: Wednesday 10 October, Taormina
- Graeco-Roman Theatre, Taormina
- Afternoon at leisure
- Farewell Dinner
Mount Etna dominates Taormina’s southern horizon, acting as a backdrop to its ancient theatre. When the Romans incorporated Greek and Carthaginian Sicily into their empire they transformed Taormina and its theatre. The theatre, which was once a simple conch carved out of the mountainside looking out at Etna, gained a monumental backdrop like Roman theatres elsewhere. Taormina was fortified during the Middle Ages and small palaces were built by its major families.
We shall spend this morning exploring medieval Taormina and its ancient theatre. The remainder of the day will be at leisure before we meet up again for a farewell dinner at a local restaurant. (Overnight Taormina) BD
Day 15: Thursday 11 October, Depart Taormina. Tour Ends
- Airport transfer from Taormina to Catania Airport for those taking the ASA ‘designated’ flight
Participants taking the ASA ‘designated’ flight will be transferred to Catania airport in the early morning. B