Student Tour - Archaeological Sicily
West to East | 12 days

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land: Palermo PMO

leave: Catania CTA

Archaeological Sicily
12 days | 11 nights - Palermo (2 nights) Marsala (2 nights) Agrigento (2 nights) Syracuse (3 nights) Taormina (2 nights)

Day 1 - Palermo

Welcome to Sicily! Upon arrival at Palermo airport (PMO) please proceed through the Passport Control and collect your luggage inside the customs area. Then transfer at hotel.

Day 2 - Palermo & Monreale
Today a short drive take us to Monreale's Cathedral & Abbey (Admission fee: not included) are good reminders that the beauty of a particularly splendid church transcends that of any single work of art, however noble. Overlooking Palermo, the town of Monreale, from the Latin "Mons Regalis" (literally 'Royal Mountain'), straddles a slope of Mount Caputo about eight kilometers south of Palermo's cathedral. Set at about three hundred metres above sea level, the town overlooks the "Conca d'Oro," as the valley beyond Palermo is known. No extended visit of Palermo is truly complete without a visit to Monreale. The cathedral and its cloister represent the largest concentration of Norman, Arab and Byzantine art in one place. True, Palermo's cathedral is larger, but Monreale's exists in something far closer to its original twelfth-century state. This wondrous place is much more than "just another church." If your impression of the overused word multicultural is at all negative, the effect of Monreale Abbey will convert you to another way of thinking. Then onto Palermo. This afternoon we visit the amazing Palatine Chapel (Admission fee: not included) the royal chapel of the Norman kings of Sicily situated on the second floor at the center of the Royal Palace. The chapel was commissioned by Roger II of Sicily in 1132 to be built upon an older chapel (now the crypt) constructed around 1080. It took eight years to build and many more to decorate with mosaics and fine art. The mosaics of the Palatine Chapel are of unparalleled elegance as concerns elongated proportions and streaming draperies of figures. They are also noted for subtle modulations of colour and luminance. The oldest are probably those covering the ceiling, the drum, and the dome. The shimmering mosaics of the transept, presumably dating from the 1140s and attributed to Byzantine artists, illustrate scenes from the Acts of the Apostles. Every composition is set within an ornamental frame, not dissimilar to that used in contemporaneous mosaic icons. Later we continue by seeing the Cathedral (Tips: not included). This majestic jewel was built in 1185 on the site of a previous Christian Basilica. (BB)

Day 3 -
Palermo/Segesta & Erice/Marsala

Early departure to tour western Sicily where we reach Segesta, one of the major cities of the ancient indigenous Elymian people, to visit the unfinished Doric temple (Admission fee: not included), late 5th century BC. Segesta's ancient Greek temple can make a valid claim to being the best preserved in the world. The archeological site, about seventy kilometers southwest of Palermo, reflects the presence of several ancient civilizations, beginning with the elusive Elymians. While the magnificent Doric temple, though (strictly speaking) never completed - as the roof was never added and the pillars never fluted - is impressive, it is just the highlight of a large archaeological park. We then continue to Erice uptown. The Elymians settled the medieval town of Erice, which was an important religious site associated with the goddess Venus. Wander through its ancient streets and visit some of the famous homemade pastry shops—world-famous for marzipan candies and other delicacies like almond and pistachio pastries. Later we travel to Marsala, the city maintained its place as a crucial maritime port under Byzantine, Arab and Norman rule. To the Arabs it was Mars el'Allah, literally "Port of Allah (God)," hence Marsala. (BB)

Day 4 -
 Marsala & Mothia island
Today a short drive takes us to
the Marsala Saltpans to see the historic salt flats works, where the ancient tradition of harvesting salt from the sea is still practiced. Upon arrival we visit the Saline Ettore Infersa (Admission fee: not included). Later a short boat-trip takes us to Mothia Island. This tiny island just off the coast north of Marsala was once the home of the Phoenician colony that was expelled in 379 BC and founded Lilibeo (Marsala). The island's role in the events of Sicily's early Phoenician period (before 600 BC) far transcended its diminutive size. The Phoenicians were a seafaring Semitic people from what is now Syria and Lebanon; they founded Carthage and other Mediterranean coastal communities, such as Mothia. Therefore, it was only natural that Mothia, and then Lilibeo, should side with Carthage in the wars against the Greeks. Ironically, the Greeks themselves owed much, including a great deal of their language and alphabet, to the early Phoenicians, despite their later political differences with the Carthaginians. The island of Mothia, which is owned and operated by a foundation established by the winemaking Whitaker family (who built the Anglican Church and Villa Malfitano in Palermo), has a remarkable museum and the ruins of an equally remarkable civilization, complete with a harbor and cemetery. Some of the finds on display in the museum have a distinctly Egyptian influence, while others seem almost Hellenic. Though certain of these items were brought to Mothia from Asia Minor, others were made locally, based on "foreign" influences. Mothia and its unique museum provide the visitor with a rare unspoiled glimpse into Sicily's Phoenician past. Mothia itself was founded before 700 BC on the island now known as San Pantaleo in a large lagoon ("Stagnone"). Mothia emerged as one of the most prosperous colonies of the Phoenicians' loose Mediterranean confederation. The more noteworthy features are the fortifications, a submerged road that used to link the island to the mainland, near Birgi, the cothon (or drainage basin and harbour) and the main sanctuaries, in particular the tophet, where the burnt remains of offerings and sacrifices in honour of the god Baal Hammon were collected. Thousands of carved steles where discovered here, and these are the most convincing evidence of Punic sculpture. The most ancient part of old Mothia's industrial area includes several semicircular furnaces, identical in construction to the more ancient pottery furnaces used in Phoenicia. (BB)

Day 5 - Marsala/Selinunte/Agrigento

Today departure for Selinunte (Admission fee: not included), the ancient Selinus of the Greeks. The temples are fairly obvious, the celery less so. Yet the English and Italian words for the stalky vegetable derive from sedanus, which in turn comes to us from selinon (there was also a mythical king named 'Selinus'), and indeed celery grew wild around Selinus, particularly along the river of that name. The site of this important Siceliot (Sicilian-Greek) city of antiquity bears the ruins of an acropolis and numerous temples, though much of what is standing today was reconstructed from pieces found in the vicinity. The city was founded in the seventh century BC (BCE), and effectively destroyed in 409 BC. The glory of ancient Selinus lasted for about two centuries, when it was one of the most progressive Greek cities in Sicily, famous throughout Magna Graecia. The Selinunte site is located near the southwestern coast of Sicily in the province of Trapani. While Akragas (Agrigento) boasts more standing Greek temples in its Selinunte"Valley of the Temples," Selinunte is set in a much more tranquil setting. The city of Selinunte proper, known as the "acropolis," is situated on high ground overlooking the Mediterranean about twenty meters below. The acropolis is located roughly in the center of the large archaeological park. This afternoon we then continue onto Agrigento, located on a plateau overlooking Sicily's southern coast. (BB)

Day 6 - Agrigento

Today we visit the finest Agrigento, founded as Akragas around 582 BC (BCE) by a group of colonists from Gela, who themselves were the immediate descendants of Greeks from Rhodes and Crete. Our first stop is to the Temples Valley (Admission fee: not included), the ruins of numerous temples but also necropoli, houses, streets and everything else one would expect to find in an ancient city. There is a small amphitheatre, as well as several auditoria, and a fine archeological museum. Unfortunately, most of the temples at Agrigento are in ruins, with pieces strewn about, and several appear to have never even been completed. Part of the Temple of Hera (Juno), built around 450 BC, is still intact. Its style has been compared to that of the temples at Paestum, near Salerno. The Temple of Concord (named retroactively), built around 440 BC, is in far better condition, and at night the illuminated temple is a sight to behold. A number of telamons (large segmented stone columns in the form of human figures) have been preserved. This afternoon we then continue visiting the Archaeological Museum (Admission fee: not included), one of the most important and visited archaeological museums in Sicily. The building was designed by Franco Minissi and constructed in the 1960's on the site of the ancient agora where the villa of Ciantro Panitteri once stood. It shows a perfect blending of  old restored remains (Cloister of the Convent of St Nicholas) and new structures. It displays over 5688 artefacts that, arranged both in a chronological and topographical order, illustrate  the history of the Agrigentan territory from prehistoric times to the end of the Greek- Roman period. The collections partly come from the Civic Museum (items found at the beginning of 20th century) and from private collections or were ceded by other museums. Most of the artefacts, however, come from excavations conducted by the Sovrintendenza of Agrigento since the 1940s. (BB)


Day 7 - Agrigento/Piazza Armerina, Morgantina & Aidone/Syracuse

Today departure for Piazza Armerina to view the ruins of the Roman Villa of Casale (Admission fee: not included),  built between 330 and 360 AD. There are 3500 square meters of mosaics on the villa's floors, and some surviving wall paintings. Many of the structure's walls are still standing. The style of the mosaics is said to be influenced by the North African motifs of the Romans. The art itself is impressive, but the visitor is also struck by the size of the villa, whose architectural style differs markedly from that of urban dwellings such as those of Pompeii. The villa's buildings are arranged in sections, with an impressive entrance and numerous rooms of various dimensions, some quite large. This afternoon we then continue onto Morgantina (Admission fee: not included), settled by a certain King Morges who arrived with colonists from central Italy around 1300 BC. Therefore, the early Morgetian culture was perhaps somewhat distinct from Sikel civilisation. The Greeks absorbed the city some six centuries later. It was sacked by the Romans during the Punic Wars in 213 BC, but eventually rebuilt as a Roman city populated by Hispanic soldiers. Eunus "liberated" Morgantina in 139 BC during the slave revolt, and died a prisoner in this city. Morgantina was sacked by Verres in 72 BC and abandoned around 30 BC following its destruction by Octavian. It had been a wealthy and prosperous city. The city was famous for its mint, a public building still easily identified. Its amphitheatre dates from the 3rd century BC. The ruins of a temple dedicated to Demeter and Kore have been identified. Pliny the Elder and other writers mention the particularly fine grapes of Morgantina. Some of the site's finds, including the Morgantina Venus (shown here) and the Morgantina Silver, are on display in the museum at Aidone near the archeological site (Admission fee: not included). We then continue onto Aidone to see the Morgantina Venus, this famous Greek statue “the Venus of Morgantina” standing 2.2 mt tall, from the eponymous archaeological site in Sicily (sculpted between 425 and 400 BC) – returned to Sicily on March 18th 2011 after a long and forced exile in the United States. Later departure for Syracuse. (BB)

Day 8 - Syracuse  & Ortygia island

Today we visit the Archaeological Park (Admission Fee: not included) highlights the Greek Theatre, the Roman Amphitheatre and the Paradise Quarry. Then to the San Giovanni Catacombs(Admission fee: not included) excavated for the most part between 315 and 360 A.D., and remained in use until the end of the 5th century. Contrary to popular belief, burial in catacombs (or in underground tunnels carved into rock) was not an exclusively Christian custom. To save work, the tunnels in the Catacombs of San Giovanni of Syracuse were opened initially following the route of a disused Greek aqueduct (some traces of which are recognizable on the ceiling of the main gallery), which was expanded to its current dimensions.  Similarly, some existing cisterns along the route were converted into funeral chapels for families of distinction. We then continue to Ortygia island to walk around the narrow streets to explore the Aretusa Fountain. This afternoon we walk to the “Jewish quarters”, called in Italian "Giudecche" ("Jewries"), and that of Syracuse is defined by the principal street that continues to bear the name today of "Via della Giudecca". Upon arrival we visit the Mikvah (Admission fee: not included) a ritual Jewish bath, used for the purpose of purification. The site appears today to visitors as a rectangular principal room, entirely excavated in the limestone rock (to a depth of 18 meters / 59 feet) and supported by four pillars with three baths dug under the level of the floor. Its walls contain three side niches, two of which also feature a bath. One of the side niches intersected a circular well, probably of the Hellenistic period. Then we walk to the delightful pedestrian square home to the wonderful Dome built on the site of an ancient Temple of Athena as can clearly be seen from the original Doric columns that were incorporated into the building’s main structure. (BB)


Day 9 - Syracuse/Necropolis of Pantalica & Noto/Syracuse

Today departure for Pantalica,  near the Anapo river and the Ferla and Sortino localities in a canyon not too far from Syracuse. The site is famous for its necropolis carved in squared forms into the limestone. Numbering around five thousand, the tombs were carved beginning in the twelfth century BC (BCE). This is one of the oldest archaeological sites in Sicily, and was largely abandoned by the time the Greeks settled the area in the seventh century BC, but in the Middle Ages the Arabs established a community here. This afternoon we then continue onto Noto, a lovely village parts of the UNESCO, famous for its honey colored buildings of the early eighteenth century.  Noto is considered a masterpieces of the Sicilian Baroque style. Later return to Syracuse. (BB)

Day 10 - Syracuse/Taormina

Today departure for Taormina. Upon arrival time at leisure: Taormina is a hill-village with a glossy sheen of glamour. A drink at the tables of Caffè Wunderbar (or similar) in Piazza IX Aprile may set you back a few euros, but you'll be basking where Tennessee Williams and Elizabeth Taylor basked before you. As well as the famed Greek-Roman Theater (Admission fee: not included), there are several minor sites to be discovered around Taormina. The attractive principal thoroughfare, Corso Umberto is pedestrian and ideal for strolling and window-shopping. Picturesque lanes above and below the Corso are interesting to explore, while if you want to stretch your legs further there are attractive walks up into the hills, or down to the sea. Given its compact size, Taormina has a huge range of bars, cafes and restaurants where you can while away pleasant hours while admiring the views. (BB)

Day 11 -
Taormina/Reggio Calabria & Riace Bronzes/Taormina

Today departure for Messina. Upon arrival we catch on the first ferry-boat to join Reggio Calabria, in the southern Italian city of Reggio Calabria, Italy mainland. Upon arrival transfer to the Archaeological Museum (Admission fee: not included) to see the Riace bronzes (Italian Bronzi di Riace), also called the Riace Warriors, are two famous full-size Greek bronzes of naked bearded warriors, cast about 460–420 BC and found in the sea near Riace in 1972. The Bronzi are on display inside a microclimate room on top of an anti-seismic Carrara marbled platform. Along with the Bronzi, the room also contains two head sculptures: “la Testa del Filosofo” and “la Testa di Basilea”, which are also from the 5th century BC. Although the Bronzi were rediscovered in 1972, they did not emerge from conservation until 1981. Their public display in Florence and Rome was the cultural event of that year in Italy, providing the cover story for numerous magazines. Now considered one of the symbols of Calabria, the bronzes were commemorated by a pair of Italian postage stamps and have also been widely reproduced. The two bronze sculptures are simply known as “Statue A”, referring to the one portraying a younger warrior, and “Statue B”, indicating the more mature-looking of the two. Statue A is 203 centimeters tall while Statue B stands 196.5 centimeters tall. This afternoon we then return to Taormina.

Day 12 -

Today transfer to Catania airport (CTA)


Meal Legend: L Lunch or Light Lunch  D Dinner

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