Bare Bones - Classical Sicily
The meeting point between Africa and Europe, East and West - there’s so much more to the Sicily you think you know. The classically beautiful heart of the Mediterranean has been praised by poets and became the prize of countless cultures – Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and more. The sun-soaked island is home to wonderfully-preserved Greek temples, Roman villas and Norman cathedrals - many filled with glorious mosaics. Its bountiful seas and fertile lands were once the sites of fierce ancient battles; but Sicily was also a creative centre of philosophy, art and learning.
This tour will leave memories of beautiful bays and ruinous ancient cities; and honey coloured columns against a clear blue sky.
- Island at the centre of the Mediterranean, a multicultural nucleus packed with spectacular monuments
- Exceptionally fine mosaics at Piazza Armerina, a palatial Roman villa, re-opened after extensive refurbishment
- From columns to cathedrals - explore honey-coloured Greek temples and gleaming gold-in-glass Norman mosaics
- Historic Churches
- Cultural Excursion
- Ancient Greek
- Special Access
We leave London and fly into Catania and transfer to our hotel.
After a comfortable night’s sleep and a filling breakfast, we drive out to the rolling hills, where we find the ancient Greek city of Segesta, home to an elegant but unfinished 5th century BC Doric temple – considered by many to be the finest of its type – and the remains of an impressive hilltop theatre.
This afternoon we make our way to Monreale, the former hunting ground of the Norman kings of Sicily. Here we discover an opulent Norman-Byzantine cathedral and abbey founded by the King William II in 1174. The site recently achieved UNESCO World Heritage status thanks to its stunning construction and mosaic work: a brilliant testament to the former might of Norman rule.
Today is ours to experience the wonders of Palermo. Our encounter begins at the newly reopened Archaeological Museum, which houses the most significant collection of Punic and Ancient Greek art in all of Italy. Here we find carvings from many of the temples we will visit later on our trip, as well as a fascinating array of artefacts discovered underwater. Don’t miss the Phoenician sarcophagi, thought to date from the 5th century BC.
Later we visit the beautifully-decorated church of La Martorana, built by the admiral of the Norman King George of Antioch, and the extraordinary edifice of Palermo Cathedral, a 12th-century construction that replaced a Saracen mosque.
This evening we enjoy a special private visit to the Cappella Palatina, an extravagant chapel erected for the Norman kings, glittering with mosaics and gold leaf.
This morning we drive to Marsala, the Carthaginian fortified port of Lilybaeum and visit the museum with its excavated remains of a Carthaginian warship. This area is now famous for its eponymous dessert wine.
Next, we cross by boat to the island of Motya, a stronghold of the Phoenicians, and, later, the Carthaginians. Founded in the 8th century BC, and surrounded by the Stagnone Lagoon, this once flourishing city earned its wealth as a commercial centre with a thriving trade in salt.
While on Motya we visit the Archaeological Museum, taking time to admire its world-renowned statue of the charioteer, a powerful likeness dating from the 5th century BC. We also look at the ruins of the walls, once dramatically stormed by the Greeks of Syracuse, before taking in the temples of Baal and Astarte, and the tophet of Tanit.
Driving eastwards we stop at the verdant quarries of the Cave di Cusa, where the Greeks of Selinunte carved out stone for their titanic temples. Their heavy work was abandoned in 409 BC when an attacking Carthaginian fleet sailed into view. We can still see the remnants of columns on site, sadly destined to remain both unfinished and in situ.
We then travel on to Selinunte itself to see the temples of the mighty eastern sanctuary, some of the few buildings which survived the ten-day siege of Carthage’s 100,000-strong army in the 5th century BC, not to mention the subsequent destruction of the city some 100 years later.
We finish the day at the ancient acropolis, dramatically positioned on plains overlooking the Mediterranean sea.
We spend a whole day exploring the magnificent remains of Agrigento today, at the site of the ancient Greek city of Akragas. It is estimated that between 200,000 to 800,000 citizens resided here at the height of the city’s power, and extensive remains attest to a vast and mighty settlement.
We take in the Valley of the Temples, a World Heritage site of seven Doric sanctuaries, including the remarkably well-preserved Temple of Concordia, with its elegant walls and columns. We also view the remains of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, characterised by the atlases which once bore the weight of its roof.
Our journey takes us through central Sicily, stopping at the magnificent Villa Romana del Casale in Piazza Armerina. This Late-Roman country house is noted for its superb collection of lavish mosaics – the largest in the world – which can now be viewed from a newly installed network of raised walkways. Here we find the famous depiction of the “Bikini Girls”, as well as intricate images of hunting and deities. An unparalleled example of 4th century Roman art.
We proceed to Morgantina, an ancient city of the interior, inhabited since 1000 BC. The last of the Sicilian towns to succumb to Roman rule, the city was later captured by besieging slaves. Morgantina has been the focus of intensive excavations in recent decades, and research here is still ongoing. We find an exciting collection of remains including a bouleuterion – an ancient Greek political chamber – a theatre, sanctuaries and baths.
Today is all about Syracuse, the ancient capital of the island. This splendid World Heritage site is famed for its rich Greek heritage, as well as being the birthplace of Archimedes. Cicero described Syracuse as “the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all”. In terms of power and scale, it is widely believed to have exceeded both Athens and Corinth at its zenith.
We discover traces of Syracuse’s glorious past at the fine Paolo Orsi Archaeological Museum, where we find the stunning Sarcophagus of Adelphia. Later we head to the Neapolis Archaeological Park, home to an incredible amphitheatre where the tragedies of Aeschylus were once performed in the playwright’s presence. We also find an ancient quarry dotted with catacombs and a huge grotto carved into the cliffs.
In the afternoon we walk around the small island of Ortygia, site of the heart of the ancient city, to look at the gorgeous Piazza del Duomo and the remains of the Temple of Athena.
Continuing our immersion into the classical world, this morning is free for us to explore the rest of Syracuse at our leisure.
We then drive to Noto, a Baroque fantasy of a town, created after the terrible earthquake of 1693 and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Prepare to be blown away by this incredible treasure trove of elaborate churches and palaces.
This afternoon we visit the Roman villa at Tellaro. Discovered beneath a traditional farmhouse, and surrounded by luscious vineyards, the villa contains exceptionally fine mosaics depicting vibrant scenes such as the ransom of the body of Hector, and a banquet attended by lady Africa.
In the morning of our last full day, we shall visit the catacombs of San Giovanni in Syracuse. The second largest series outside Rome these ancient Greek cisterns became a Roman burial ground.
Later on, we head into the city of Catania where we wonder at its roman past, with the odeon theatre and Piazza Duomo.
After a relaxing breakfast we transfer to the airport for our return flight home.
- Expert Guide Lecturer
- Tour Manager
- Local Travel - Private a/c coach
- Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in programme; tips included
- Field Notes
- Hotels - Bed & Breakfast
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