Around the same time as the Norman Conquest of England––1066 and all that––the Normans carved out lands for themselves in southern Italy and also in the wealthy island of Sicily that had been part of the Byzantine empire before falling to the Muslims. Ruling over its diverse peoples, the Norman conquerors formed a lasting frontier between Christian Europe and Muslim Africa, and, in so doing, they created a kingdom that was like no other in Europe – a multifaith, multilingual and multicultural state that employed officials and scholars of different religions; used hybrid art and architecture from Islamic, Byzantine, and Romanesque models, and made Latin, Greek and Arabic its official languages. So, how did this Norman Conquest happen? And why did this unique state emerge?
The epicentre of this experimental new kingdom was the island of Sicily itself with its old Arab capital at Palermo. Following the path of the Norman Conquest across the island, this tour will offer a rare and expert view of people, power, art and faith by exploring the towns, palaces, churches, castles, and dramatic landscapes of this remarkable island that was once the richest part of medieval Europe.
- Exclusive access to Cappella Palatina grants us expert insights and the luxury of space and peace to reflect on this crown jewel of Norman architecture.
- Follow the path of the Norman Conquest across this island
- Trace the remains of the Byzantine empire before it fell to the Muslims
- Explore a kingdom that was like no other in Europe - a multifaith, multilingual and multicultural state
- Discover towns, palaces, churches, castles and landscapes of Sicily, which was once the richest and most densely populated region of the medieval period.
- Historic Churches
- Special Access
- Low Single Supplement
- All Inclusive
On arrival in Catania, we drive to Enna for our hotel and a pre-dinner introductory lecture.
We go back to the beginning of early medieval Sicily at Piazza Armerina. The late-antique villa is famous for its fabulous mosaics, but the site remained occupied into the Middle Ages. Here we can take a journey in time from late antiquity to the Muslim period. In the afternoon, we head north to Sperlinga, one of the most dramatic of the early Norman centres in this central and strategic part of Sicily. We return to Enna later this afternoon.
We spend the morning exploring the old town of Enna, taken by the Normans after a major siege, including visits to its castle and cathedral. In the afternoon, we drive to the north coast and to Cefalù, an attractive port overshadowed by a huge cliff, 900 feet high. Here we visit the cathedral, founded by King Roger II in 1131, who allegedly vowed to build it after escaping a storm to land on the city’s beach. Onwards to Palermo
How best to experience the streets of Arab-Norman Palermo? We take a walk through the city, via its markets, still ordered into demarcated trades, and we visit the mosaic interiors of La Martorana, the church built by George of Antioch, Emir of Emirs to Roger II, as well as the adjacent San Cataldo built by George’s ill-fated successor, Maio of Bari. The morning ends at Palermo’s extraordinary cathedral. In the afternoon, we continue through the faded glory of Palermo to visit Palazzo Abatellis.
In the morning, we visit the Arab baths and Norman castle at Cefalà Diana before returning to Palermo. The afternoon will see us explore the suburban palace of La Zisa, built in an Arab-Norman style and used as a residence for Joanna, daughter of Henry II of England. We then visit the remains of the royal monastery of San Giovanni degli Eremiti.
We hope, this evening, to visit the Cappella Palatina, built for King Roger II during the 1140s. No other building in Sicily shows so well the fusion of three cultures during the Norman era: Western-style basilica, Greek mosaics and elaborately carved Arabic ceiling.
In the morning we visit Segesta. Excavations among the classical ruins above the famous Greek temple here have unearthed a Muslim necropolis and a mosque from the 12th century next to a Norman castle. We spend the afternoon at the cathedral of Monreale, one of the greatest surviving monuments of medieval Christendom with its dizzying mosaic interior and enchanting cloisters.
South to the rolling plains of central Sicily. Here, perched high on Monte Jato are recently excavated remains of the last stronghold of the Sicilian Muslims. The early medieval city was built over the extensive remains of a classical site, and from the mountain, the views across the island are exceptional. We also visit the antiquarium of the site which displays the finds from the excavations.
This morning, we transfer to the airport in Palermo for our return flight home.
- Expert Guide Lecturer
- Tour Manager
- Local Travel - Private a/c coach
- Meals - All meals included with wine at dinner
- Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in programme; tips included
- Field Notes
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