AAIA Sicily Tour – 18 September – 1 October 2021
Centrally placed between the eastern and western Mediterranean Sicily has attracted raider and traders to her shores for thousands of years. Sicily is also home to some of the most interesting archaeological sites and historical monuments in Europe, many with UNESCO World heritage listing. Focusing on stunning temples and theatres of the ancient Greeks who established colonies on Sicily, Phoenician settlements and the legacy of the Romans, this tour explores this fascinating legacy as well as the island’s more recent past. We visit spectacular Arab and Norman monuments in Palermo and late baroque towns from the time of Spanish rule in the southeast. This tour travels through beautiful natural scenery, including the volcanic terrain of Mt Etna, the coast and the mountains and countryside of inland Sicily. It also allows free time to explore and discover the vibrant culture and cuisine waiting to be discovered in Sicily today.
Helen Nicholson (BA Hons I, MPhil) is an experienced, well-regarded study tour leader and has led more than thirty tours to Europe and Asia, including AAIA tours to Greece and Alumni’s Egypt, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia tours. She holds Archaeology degrees from the University of Sydney and has delivered numerous lectures, courses and study days for adult, museum and professional audiences. Helen spent several years working at the Powerhouse Museum and lectured and tutored at the University of Sydney for more than 20 years. She has worked on archaeological sites in Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Jordan, Cambodia and Uzbekistan, including three seasons at the AAIA’s excavations at Torone and is a senior team member of Sydney University’s excavations at Paphos in Cyprus. Helen currently works as an archaeological consultant in Sydney.
SAT 18 SEPT ARRIVE PALERMO
On arrival we transfer and check into the hotel. In the late afternoon we gather and take a walk in the environs of our hotel and enjoy a welcome drink and light meal. (Meals in flight, D)
SUN 19 SEPT PALERMO
Our exploration of Sicily starts in the island’s capital, Palermo. The city is home to some impressive buildings and churches from the Arab-Norman period of the city’s history with UNESCO World heritage listing that are our focus today. This includes visits to La Mortorana, San Cataldo, San Giovanni degli Eremitti, Royal Palace and the Cappella Palatina, the Duomo and La Zisa; all outstanding examples of the socio-cultural syncretism between Western, Islamic, and Byzantine cultures. Tonight we dine in a local restaurant. Overnight Palermo. (B, D)
MON 20 SEPT PALERMO
We continue our exploration of these stunning World Heritage buildings today. This morning drive to the pictureque, seaside town of Cefalu and visit the Cathedral started by the king of Sicily Roger II in 1131 but not completed until 1240. After free time for lunch in Cefalu return to the outskirts of Palermo and visit the Norman cathedral at Monreale. Overnight Palermo. (B)
TUE 21 SEPT PALERMO
This morning there is a visit to the Archaeological Museum in Palermo where many of the important finds from the island are displayed. The Museum is housed in the 17th century former House of the Fathers of the Congregation of San Filippo Neri. In the afternoon there is a visit to the Palazzo Abatellis, the regional art gallery, built as a luxurious home for one of Palermo’s officials. Overnight Palermo. (B)
WED 22 SEPT PALERMO – MARSALA
We leave Palermo this morning and drive to Segesta once home to the Elymians. Here we see the 5th century BCE temple and the ancient theatre. We then continue to the picturesque, hilltop town of Erice where the Carthaginian sanctuary of the goddess Astarte became a sanctuary for the goddess Venus after it was taken by the Romans in the 3rd century BCE. In Erice there is free time for lunch. In the afternoon we drive east to Marsala where we spend the next two nights. Overnight Marsala. (B)
THU 23 SEPT MARSALA
The western third of Sicily was largely under the sway of the Phoenicians and Carthaginians and this period of Sicily’s history is the focus today. We take a short boat trip to the island of San Pantaleo and the ancient site of Mozia where there are abundant remains of an important Phoenician settlement until sacked by Dionysius of Syracuse in 397 BCE. While on the island we visit the Whitaker Museums where finds from the site are displayed. Upon our return to Marsala we visit the Museum Baglio Anselmi. Overnight Marsala. (B)
FRI 24 SEPT MARSALA – AGRIGENTO
After checking out of our hotel we drive east along the coast to the Selinunte. We first visit the Cave di Cusa ancient quarries, the source of stone for the columns of the many temples found at Selinunte. Afterwards we visit this extensive archaeological site founded by colonists from Megara Hyblea in the 7th century BCE. It was an important city until it came into conflict with Segesta at the end of the 5th century BCE when it fell under the sway of Carthage. Overnight Agrigento. (B, D)
SAT 25 SEPT AGRIGENTO
In the morning we visit the impressive Archaeological Museum at Agrigento and the nearby remains of houses occupied by inhabitants of this ancient city.
After free time for lunch we stroll through the evocative Valley of the Temples where several Greek temples were built along a ridge between the city and the sea. Overnight Agrigento. (B, D)
SUN 26 SEPT AGRIGENTO – TAORMINA
We head inland today through countryside dotted with hilltop villages and visit the site of Morgantina and Archaeological Museum at Aidone. Afterwards we continue to the UNESCO World Heritage listed Villa Romana del Casale at Piazza Armerina to see what are probably the best preserved in situ Roman mosaics in this large country villa. We then continue to Taormina. Overnight Taormina. (B, D)
MON 27 SEPT TAORMINA
Today we visit Mt Etna, the highest volcano in Italy. Overnight Taormina. (B)
TUE 28 SEPT TAORMINA – REGGIO DI CALABRIA – MESSINA – SYRACUSE
After checking out of our hotel we cross the Straits of Messina that separate Sicily from mainland Italy and visit the Archaeological Museum at Reggio di Calabria. Here are found the famous 5th century BCE Riace bronze statues found by divers. On our return to Sicily we will visit the Norman church in Messina and take a stroll in the historic centre, before driving on to Syracuse. After checking in to our hotel we take a late afternoon stroll in the historic centre of Ortigia. Overnight Syracuse. (B, D)
WED 29 SEPT SYRACUSE
Today we explore ancient Syracuse. We start at the stunning Paolo Orsi Archaeological Museum where artefacts and sculpture from the area are displayed. Next we visit Castello Eurialo, the massive defensive fortifications constructed in the early 4th century BCE. We then explore what remains of this once prosperous and powerful classical city in the Neapolis Archaeological Park. Overnight Syracuse. (B)
THU 30 SEPT SYRACUSE
The late baroque towns of south-east Sicily, built around their medieval centres after a devastating earthquake in the 17th century, are World Heritage listed and we visit three today: Modica, Noto and Ragusa. Tonight we enjoy a group dinner at a local restaurant. Overnight Syracuse. (B, D)
FRI 01 OCT SYRACUSE – CATANIA – ROME
This morning we check out of our hotel and drive to Catania Airport for onward flights. (B, Meals in flight)
Highlights of Greece tour – postponed indefinitely due to the ongoing COVID 19 pandemic
This three-week tour takes in the highlights of Greece – from the Neolithic to the birth of the modern Greek state. It also offers opportunities to explore Greek culture today. Spring is a perfect time to visit Greece before the summer crowds arrive and when the countryside is carpeted with wildflowers.
Our journey begins in Athens where we visit museums and take in the stunning classical monuments on the Acropolis before heading to the Peloponnese and the first capital of Greece after independence, picturesque Nauplion. Here we step back into the Bronze Age with visits to Mycenae Tiryns and Nemea. The area is also famous for its wines and we enjoy a wine tasting at a local vineyard. From Nauplion we drive over the Taygetos Mountains to Sparta, Athens’ rival in the 5th century BCE. We visit the World Heritage listed site of Mystras before driving to Methoni, the southern most tip of the west coast. This strategic site was fought over by the Byzantines, Venetians and Ottomans. After a visit to the Bronze Age Palace of Nestor at Pylos we continue to Olympia. Here we explore the site of the ancient Olympic Games and visit the museum where impressive dedications made at this ancient sanctuary are displayed.
We then head off the tourist trail and explore the island of Ithaca, home to the Bronze Age hero Odysseus. Our ferry returns us to the mainland where we visit Messalonghi where Lord Byron died before continuing to the city of Ioannina. From here we visit the ancient sanctuary of Zeus at Dodona and the monasteries at Meteora. From Thessaloniki we explore the world of Alexander the Great with visits to Pella and the Royal Tombs Museum at Vergina where spectacular artefacts are displayed. We also spend a day taking in the numerous monuments, sites and churches of Thessaloniki, a vibrant and cosmopolitan city. After a visit to the site of Dion we drive to Volos on the Pelion peninsula, from where Jason set off with the Argonauts. We visit the important Neolithic sites of Dimini and Sesklo and enjoy time in a mountain village. From Volos we drive to what may be one of Greece’s most impressive sites, the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi, before returning to Athens.
Our tour is led by Helen Nicholson, an experienced, well-regarded study tour leader. Helen has led more than thirty tours to Europe and Asia, including AAIA tours to Greece and Alumni’s Egypt, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia tours. She holds Archaeology degrees from the University of Sydney and has delivered numerous lectures, courses and study days for adult, museum and professional audiences. Helen spent several years working at the Powerhouse Museum and lectured and tutored at the University of Sydney for more than 20 years. She has worked on archaeological sites in Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Jordan, Cambodia and Uzbekistan, including the AAIA’s excavations at Torone and is a senior team member of Sydney University’s excavations at Paphos in Cyprus. Helen currently works as an archaeological consultant in Sydney.