Islands in the Mediterranean are inevitably influenced by all passing trades and peoples. Sicily is perhaps the ultimate example of this. When Greek colonists first arrived in Sicily during the 8th century BC they found a fertile and beautiful land with natural harbors, and a flourishing native culture with a fine artistic tradition. They left behind them a rich legacy of temples to their gods, graceful monuments which often still stand, over 2000 years later, in splendid settings among the beautiful flower-strewn hills of Sicily. Later, Normans used Byzantine and Arab artists and craftsmen to create glowing gold-in-glass mosaics in ornate cathedrals and palaces.
This tour will leave memories of beautiful bays and ruinous ancient cities; honey-colored columns against a clear blue sky. Of exquisite Roman and Norman mosaics; mighty Mt Etna (fabled home of the cyclops); and of picnicking in the wild, surrounded by prehistoric tombs, in hills of Pantalica.
Fly to Catania from your US airport of choice, drive to Palermo.
Our survey of the island begins at the famous unfinished Doric temple at Segesta, set among rolling hills. There is also a fine theater on the hilltop above (access by minibus). Afternoon visit to the magnificent Norman cathedral and abbey founded by William II in 1174 at Monreale.
All day in Palermo. We see the recently reopened Church of La Martorana, the Cappella Palatina of Roger II, a glittering jewel of Norman architecture, with cosmatesque inlays in the lower walls, gold-in-glass mosaics above, and an exquisite stalactite ceiling of wood. Afternoon visit to the Archaeological Museum, housing, among other fine collections, the carved stone metopes from the Selinunte temples which illustrate the development of Greek figurative art.*
*The museum has been undergoing massive restorations since 2010, and it is still uncertain what will be open in 2014. Other visits will be arranged accordingly.
Boat crossing to the island stronghold of Phoenician Motya where we see the remains of a Punic boat at Marsala, sunk on its maiden voyage during the first Punic War.
Visit the ancient quarries at Cava di Cusa, from which came the stone for the temples at Selinunte - unfinished column drums still lie abandoned here. In the afternoon we head to the site of Selinunte, whose many temples are now rather unromantically labelled A-G - since the original dedications are unknown.
All among the magnificent Greek temples of Agrigento, imposingly ranked along the southern ridge of the ancient city - built to impress all those approaching. The Temple of Concord was later reused as a church and is one of the best preserved, while the largest of the temples (to Olympian Zeus) is considered one of the most ambitious and innovative temple buildings ever attempted, and was never finished.
Start the day in opulent Roman style, at the palatial Roman villa with exceptionally fine mosaics at Piazza Armerina. These have been left in situ and can be viewed from raised walkways - the site has only recently re-opened following several years of extensive restoration. Continue to the ancient settlement of Morgantina, laid out over two hilltops.
All day in the ancient city of Syracuse: Archaeological Museum; Roman amphitheater; Greek theater; Altar of Hieron II and the ancient quarries. Early evening stroll around the beautiful island of Ortygia where the cathedral encapsulates a standing Greek temple. You may be tempted to break off and have an aperitif in one of the many chic bars.
Free time in Ortygia, then drive north to the Graeco-Roman theater at Taormina, with amazing back-drop which includes Mount Etna.
Our final day is spent at Euryalus fort, constructed at the beginning of the 4th century BC by Dionysius the Elder, and one of the few Greek fortifications surviving from this date; on to the remarkable prehistoric tombs at Pantalica with stunning views over the hills.
Drive to Catania for flights home or onward travel.
- Expert Guide Lecturer
- Andante Tour Manager
- Local Travel - Private a/c coach; boat to Motya
- Meals - All meals included with water (wine with dinners) except dinner day 8
- Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in program; tips included
- Field Notes
- Hotels - 3 nights in an elegant and friendly hotel in the heart of Palermo;1 night in a simple hotel 100m from the beach at Selinunte; 2 nights in a hotel overlooking the temples in Agrigento; 4 nights in a small, newly refurbished hotel on the seafront, in beautiful Ortygia, Syracuse
- 3 nights in an elegant and friendly hotel in the heart of Palermo
- 1 night in a simple hotel 100m from the beach at Selinunte
- 2 nights in a hotel overlooking the temples in Agrigento
- 4 nights in a small, newly refurbished hotel on the seafront, in beautiful Ortygia, Syracuse