Sicily is an ideal destination for anyone interested in ancient history, as there are so many sites to see within such close proximity. Our experiences will be brought to life by local expert Antonio Marretta. Agrigento - Visit Sicily's most famous Classical remains in the Valley of the Temples with its remarkable Doric architecture Syracusa - Discover the ancient ruins in the Neapolis Archaeological Park and the attractive lanes and piazza's of Ortygia Island Villa Romana del Casale - See some of the best preserved and most extensive mosaics left in Europe at this Roman villa.
Arrive in Syracusa. During the Greek Classical period, this east coast city was the largest in the ancient world - even bigger than Athens. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is also notable as being the birthplace of antiquity's greatest mathematician, Archimedes. For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 7pm for the welcome meeting and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. There are no other activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Syracusa at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Catania Fontanarossa Airport (CTA), which is about an hours' drive. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up. If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose to walk into the historic centre of Ortygia Island, which is about 20-30 minutes from our hotel. Artemis Fountain and the Baroque cathedral are lit up beautifully at night. Tonight will be your first opportunity to sample Sicilian cuisine and wine. According to Greek legend the god Dionysus brought wine to Sicily, whereas it's more likely that wine has been produced here since ancient times due to the island being blessed with plenty of sunshine and reliably moderate rainfall, along with fertile volcanic soils. Nowadays there is a huge variety of both delicious red and white wines to choose from. You might like to try a typically Sicilian dish such as pasta with sardines and wild fennel, aubergine stew or boiled pork in salsa verde and saffron.
Syracuse, a colony of Corinth, once rivalled Athens as the most important and beautiful city in the Greek world. The sites we intend to visit include the Neapolis Archaeological Zone with its famous Greek theatre hewn out of the hillside in the 5th century BC and where Aeschylus once produced his plays; the fine Roman amphitheatre where gladiators once fought wild beasts; the quarries where the defeated Athenians were imprisoned in 413 BC and the fortification at Euryalus. Finally we'll make the journey to Ortygia Island and its promontory to see its unique Baroque architecture and where you will be free to wander.
We leave Syracuse and drive to Noto, the most beautiful Baroque city in Sicily, completely rebuilt after the earthquake that devastated this part of the island in 1693. The town was built between 1715 and 1780 and still preserves a unified and homogenous architectural style and town plan, little affected by later developments. Its tufa stone has mellowed to a golden brown colour and its unique buildings leave visitors with an impression that is hard to forget. We continue on to Ragusa, another Baroque town whose buildings crown the summits of two adjacent hills. After our visit we'll continue to the medieval town of Piazza Armerina for the next two nights.
This morning we'll drive to the impressive Villa Romana at Casale, a magnificent country mansion containing some beautiful Roman mosaics. After sightseeing we drive the short distance to the remains of Greek Morgantina, to see the exavations and visit the museum. This large city once controlling an extensive area that now lies deserted in the countryside. The scattered buildings of the site are only partially unearthed. We return to Piazza Armerina later this afternoon.
Leaving Piazza Armerina we drive via the virtually impregnable hilltop stronghold of Enna located near Lake Pergusa, then drive on to Agrigento, once one of the most prosperous cities in Sicily. The ancient Acropolis, now a modern city, overlooks the valley where the lower city stood and the southern ridge where the temples still stand. We explore the remarkable complex of 5th century BC Doric temples and the museum. The romantic aura of the ancient site which lines a ridge overlooking the sea is especially evocative, the golden temples encircled by almond trees and gnarled silver-grey olives. The scene provides a perfect setting for the ancient stonework. Pindar was so moved as to say that Agrigento was 'the most beautiful city built by mortal man'. The Valley of the Temples includes the 6th century Temple of Hercules, the oldest in the complex (nine columns of which were re-erected by Englishman Alexander Hardcastle in the 1920s). The perfectly proportioned Doric columns of the Temple of Concord (circa 430 BC) incorporate optical corrections such as entasis and turn honeygold in the late afternoon sunlight. The Temple of Juno, built at the end of the tufa ridge and probably some twenty years older than the Temple of Concord, was probably burnt by the Carthaginians in 406 BC. The temples are particularly beautiful in the late afternoon light.
This morning we drive to Heraclea Minoa which legends associate with King Minos of Crete. The excavated settlement commands an isolated and magnificent position overlooking the sea. Legend relates that King Minos was killed here when he was in pursuit of the great architect Daedalus, the designer of the Minotaur Labyrinth at Knossos, who had fled from Crete. We then continue to the vast site of Selinunte, where earthquake-tumbled ruins litter the landscape and some temples have been partially re-erected. We'll see the ancient Acropolis, its fortifications and the town within, perched on a plateau overlooking the Mediterranean. Selinunte was the most westerly of the Greek colonies, and despite its poor natural defences it became a powerful and wealthy city. It was constantly under threat from the Carthaginians and was in a state of perpetual warfare with its prosperous rival, the Elymnian town of Segesta to the north. An army led by the Carthaginian Hannibal sacked it in 409 BC, slaughtering some 16,000 inhabitants, then, in 250 BC the Carthaginians once again razed the city, demolished the temples and moved the population to nearby Lilybaeum (modern Marsala). The site was effectively abandoned afterwards. We then continue to our hotel for the evening just outside Marsala.
A short distance north and ferry ride away brings us to the small island of Mozia, which lies off the western coast and was once owned by the Whitaker family of Marsala wine fame. The island is in an ideal location, surrounded by shallow waters that secure a protected and sheltered anchorage. We visit the museum and the site of the old Phoenician town and harbour works. Returning to Marsala we make a brief visit to the Phoenician Ship Museum before you have the rest of the afternoon free to relax and enjoy the town's old quarter.
This morning we head to picturesque Erice, a medieval town perched on a precipitous 750 metre-high mountain. Magnificent views extend over the Egadi Islands. One tradition says that Erice was founded by the legendary Aeneas who stopped here after the fall of Troy (circa 1200 BC). Its original inhabitants were a non-Greek race, though they readily adapted to Greek ways. We then continue to the romantically situated Doric temple at Segesta, one of the best preserved and most beautiful of all. It was probably started around 426 BC, perhaps to impress Athenian allies, but it was never finished. Its columns were never fluted and many of the bosses used to hoist the stones into position were not chiseled off. After our visit we drive on to Palermo.
This morning we drive to the ruins of Solunto, a Roman town abandoned in AD 300. The ancient site was once thought to be Phoenician Solus, but we now know that the Punic settlement was at Cozzo Cannita, some 5 miles away. The excavations are beautifully situated high above the sea on the slopes of Monte Catalfano, and give a fine impression of the variety of buildings and layout of a Roman city. The site includes paved streets, houses (some with mosaics), a theatre, a bouleuterion, cisterns and baths. The afternoon is left free for you to explore more of Palermo.
Sicily's capital stands at the foot of Monte Pellegrino with the fertile valley of Conca d'Oro behind. It was once one of the richest cities in Europe from the 9th to the 12th centuries AD when Islamic culture, Byzantine magnificence and the vigorous world of medieval Europe were merging into a fascinating civilisation. Today the city contains numerous Islamic, Norman and Baroque buildings, together with some noteworthy museums and art galleries. After breakfast we'll visit the Norman palace, a fascinating mixture of styles: Saracenic, Byzantine and Norman influences appear in its architecture and decoration and the nearby San Giovanni degli Eremiti. The rich marble and mosaics in the Cappella Palatina were mostly executed by Byzantine craftsmen. The remaining time before lunch will be spent driving into the hills to the majestic Norman cathedral of Monreale. After lunch we will then go for a walk touring the Gothic Cathedral, founded 1185 by the Englishman Walter of the Mill, and the area around Quattro Canti, the Baroque city centre. Founded in 1174 by William the Good, the cathedral is famous for its extensive mosaics and beautiful cloisters showing both Romanesque and Islamic influences.
Palermo has a fascinating market crammed with exotic goods and is a veritable treasure trove of artistic and cultural sites. The day has been left free for you to explore at your own pace.
Leaving Palermo we drive along the spectacular coastline to the picturesque fishing town of Cefalu. Here we stop to visit the Norman Cathedral, to see the stupendous mosaic of Christ Pantocrator. Next we'll continue along the coast road to the archaeological site of Tindaris. Our journey today ends in Giardini Naxos, near Taormina.
This morning, you have the opportunity to join a tour to explore the lunar landscape, craters and lava fields of Mount Etna - one of the most active volcanoes in Europe. Taormina, Sicily's most famous resort, is situated 213 m up on the slopes of Monte Tauro and overlooked by Castel Mola. It was a favourite place during the days of the 'Grand Tour' and was frequented by Goethe, Edward Lear, D.H. Lawrence and many others. This afternoon we'll visit the Graeco- Roman theatre for possibly the most famous view in Sicily - that of snow-capped Etna acting as a backdrop to the remarkably preserved columned stage.
Our last day is free to explore Taormina and Giardini Naxos further.
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Giardini Naxos. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Giardini Naxos at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Catania Fontanarossa Airport (CTA), which is about one hours' drive.
14 Break Fast(s)
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