B.C. Archaeology

Study Tours of the Ancient World

ANCIENT SICILY AND MALTA:
HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY


Agrigento - the Temple of Concord

Robert of Sicily, brother of Pope Urbane
And Valmond, Emperor of Allemaine,
Apparelled in magnificent attire,
With retinue of many a knight and squire,
On St. John's eve, at vespers, proudly sat
And heard the priests chant the Magnificat,
And as he listened, o'er and o'er again
Repeated, like a burden or refrain,
He caught the words, "Deposuit potentes
De sede, et exaltavit humiles;"
And slowly lifting up his kingly head
He to a learned clerk beside him said,
"What mean these words?" The clerk made answer meet,
"He has put down the mighty from their seat,
And has exalted them of low degree."
Thereat King Robert muttered scornfully,
"'T is well that such seditious words are sung
Only by priests and in the Latin tongue;
For unto priests and people be it known,
There is no power can push me from my throne!"
And leaning back, he yawned and fell asleep,
Lulled by the chant monotonous and deep.

The Sicilian's Tale; King Robert of Sicily, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

THE TOUR

This three week study tour of Malta and Sicily has an emphasis on the archaeology and history of these two islands in the central Mediterranean. The tour begins in Malta as we fly into the capital Valetta. In the afternoon we go for a walk around the edge of the harbour to see the walls of the Knights of St John. The following day we explore some of the ancient sites on the island. We visit the Ghar Dalam Cave which preserves evidence of pigmy elephants and hippos from the Palaeolithic era. We then explore the wonderful megalithic stone temples at Mnadjara and Hagar Qim. These spectacular monuments were created in the period from 3500-3000 BC and are a wonder of ancient engineering skill. In the late afternoon we visit the site of 'Clapham Junction', a pre-historic limestone terrace with cart ruts.

The following day we explore the centre of the main island of Malta. We visit the mediaeval walled city of Mdina and tour the Museum of Roman Antiquities displaying finds from across the island. We walk through the old quarter of Mdina for spectacular views across the island. In the afternoon we visit the Catacombs of St Paul which preserve extensive burial apartments from the early Christian period.

The next day we take a day trip by ferry to the nearby island of Gozo. Here we visit the megalithic temple of Ggantija which dates back to 3600 BC. We also take a walk through the medieval hill town of Victoria. Our tour of Malta concludes on the following day with an exploration of the splendid 16th Century buildings in Valetta. We take a walk through the old quarter of the city, stopping to visit the stunning Co-Cathedral of St John, a magnificent baroque Cathedral built by the Knights of St John. After lunch we explore the Grand Master’s Palace with its fascinating armoury.

Our tour then heads to Sicily - we fly into Catania and are met by our bus which will take us to Syracuse. After freshening up we take a walk around the island of Ortygia, stopping to see the impressive Cathedral of Syracuse which is a converted Greek temple originally dedicated to Athena. The next morning we visit the impressive Archaeological Museum in Syracuse which houses a collection of artefacts from across the island. After lunch we explore the Archaeological Park which includes a magnificent Greek theatre and Roman amphitheatre. The following day is set aside as free time to explore the old quarter of Ortygia Island or simply relax. There are many possibilities including visiting Palazzo Bellomo with its magnificent collection of Renaissance art.

We travel by bus to the centre of Sicily where we visit the beautiful ancient site of Morgantina which preserves many Greek and Roman houses with mosaics and frescoes. After lunch we visit Piazza Armerina, a spectacular Roman villa. Built for an imperial owner, the complex is lavishly decorated with mosaics which have few parallels in the Roman Empire. We then travel to the hill town of Enna where we stay overnight. The following morning we explore the castle and old quarter of Enna before travelling down to Agrigento on the south coast of Sicily.

Our tour includes a day exploring the stunning Greek temples at the site of Agrigento. Built in the Doric order they are amongst the best preserved Classical temples anywhere. After lunch we visit the museum of Agrigento which includes a beautiful collection of sculpture and vases from the local area. The following day we head west to the site of Selinunte. The Punic and Greek urban remains of the ancient city are extensive and include stunning temples overlooking the sea. We then head to Trapani which will be our base for exploring the west coast of Sicily.

The following day we visit the Island of Motya which preserves remarkable evidence of a Phoenician colony including houses, walls and gates. We also visit the ruins of Lilybaeum, which has Roman houses, and the Marsala Museum which preserves part of a Phoenician boat. Our tour then heads to the hill town of Erice which we visit by cable car. The views from the castle are stunning and on a clear day extend to Mt Etna. We then travel by bus to the Classical Greek site of Segesta which has a magnificent temple and ruins of the ancient town including a theatre with views over the north coast. In the afternoon we proceed to Palermo where we check into our hotel.

Palermo preserves magnificent remains from the Norman period (11th and 12th Century). We visit Zisa palace (a royal hunting lodge), the Catacombs of the Capuchin Monks, the Norman Cathedral of Palermo and the royal Palace with its stunning Palatine Chapel decorated with gold mosaic. The following day we explore some of the Norman churches in the centre of Palermo and see the stunning Monreale Cathedral located in the hills overlooking the city. We also visit the site of Solunto, to the east of Palermo, which has well preserved Roman houses.

Our program concludes in Catania where we explore the old quarter of the city including the 13th Century Castello Ursino, the ancient theatre and the Cathedral. We visit the slopes of Mt Etna to see the volcanic landscape and spend a day in the stunning hill town of Taormina which retains an ancient theatre with magnificent views over Mt Etna and the sea. The tour flies out to Rome for our connections to Australia.

The Palatine Chapel, a Norman jewel in Palermo

ITINERARY*

Day 1: Depart Australia
Our flight on Singapore Airlines leaves Australia with a short stop over (usually a few hours) before we connect to our flight for Rome.

Day 2: Arrive Rome - transit flight to Malta
We connect with our 'domestic' flight from Rome to Malta, arriving into Malta International Airport (Luqa) in the middle of the day. We check into our hotel and go for a short walk around the harbour edge to see the walls of Valletta.

Day 3: Ghar Dalam - Mnadjara - Hagar Qim - 'Clapham Junction'
In the morning we head by bus to the south of Malta to visit the cave of Ghar Dalam where we see the remains of prehistoric dwarf elephants and rhinoceroses. We then head to Mnadjara to see a megalithic temple of the 4th Millennium and the nearby temple of Hagar Qim. We have some lunch at a local café. In the afternoon we drive along the coast and see the physical evidence of ancient cart ruts at 'Clapham Junction'.

Day 4: Mdina - Domus Romana Roman Museum - St Paul's catacombs
In the morning we head west of Valletta, stopping to see the impressive walls of the mediaeval city of Mdina. We visit the Museum of Roman antiquities (known as the Domus Romana) with its well preserved floor mosaic, statues and household objects. We have some lunch and then explore the atmospheric St Paul's Catacombs - there is some free time to explore the old city or relax in a local café.

Hagar Qim megalithic temple
Valetta’s Grand Harbour

Day 5: Gozo – Ggantija Temple - Victoria old city
We drive by bus to the west of Malta where we take the 20 minute ferry trip to the island of Gozo. We visit the magnificent megalithic temple of Ggantija, one of the oldest manmade structures on earth (5600 years old). We visit the historic citadel of Victoria where we experience the wonderful views across the island.

Day 6: Valletta old city - St John's Co-Cathedral - Grand Master's Palace
The day is set aside for a walking tour of the fabulous walled city of Valletta created by the Knights of St John to guard against Ottoman incursion. Our visit includes the remarkable Co-Cathedral of St John, a gem of Baroque architecture built by the Knights Hospitaller, which preserves the chapels of the various 'langues' which made up the Order and many works of Renaissance art. After lunch we explore the Palace of the Grand Masters which is richly endowed with frescoes and tapestries. The armoury contains a superb collection of weapons from the 15th Century onwards.

Day 7: Fly to Catania in Sicily - bus to Syracuse - explore Ortygia Island
In the morning we fly to Catania on the east coast of Sicily. We are met by our bus and transferred to our hotel on the island of Ortygia, the ancient heart of Syracuse. After freshening up we take a walk around the old quarter where we visit the ruins of the ancient Greek temple of Apollo and see the Duomo (Cathedral of Syracuse) which incorporates the 5th Century BC temple of Athena. We have dinner near the ancient Spring of Arethusa.

Day 8: Syracuse - Museum - Archaeological Park
The morning is set aside to explore the fascinating artefacts in the Paolo Orsi Archaeological Museum, the most extensive collection in Sicily. The Museum contains finds from all over Sicily. After lunch we explore the remains of the Archaeological Park of Syracuse which includes the remains of the ancient Greek theatre (first constructed in the 5th Century BC), a Roman amphitheatre, and the enormous ancient quarries.

Day 9: Syracuse - free day
The day is set aside as free time to explore Syracuse. There are numerous possibilities including a walk in the old quarter of Ortygia island with its fascinating medieval streets. You could visit Palazzo Bellomo, a mediaeval house with important Renaissance paintings. Or you could simply relax and read a book.

Day 10: Morgantina - Piazza Armerina mosaics
We drive inland through scenic mountainous countryside to the town of Aidone. Here we visit the ancient site of Morgantina, an ancient Greek and roman city which preserves fascinating mosaics and wall frescoes. After lunch we visit the remarkable Villa Romana del Casale near Piazza Armerina, one of the most luxurious and well-appointed Roman villas ever found. Almost every room preserves stunning mosaics dealing with a wide variety of subjects. We spend the night in the hill town of Enna.

Piazza Armerina roman mosaics
Selinunte Greek temples

Day 11: Enna old city - drive to Agrigento
In the morning we explore the old quarter of Enna, including a visit to the Castello di Lombardia, a Norman castle rebuilt by Frederick II in the early 13th Century. The fortress has spectacular views over the surrounding countryside. In the afternoon we drive down to the coast where we check into our hotel in Agrigento.

Day 12: Agrigento - the Valley of the Temples - Agrigento Museum
In the morning we visit the archaeological remains at Agrigento, the ancient Greek city of Akragas. The ruins include well preserved Doric temples dedicated to Hera, Concordia and Heracles which are dramatically situated on a ridge overlooking the sea. The enormous Temple of Zeus lies ruined nearby. After lunch we visit the Museum of Agrigento which preserved an excellent collection of remains from the local region including superb painted Greek vases from tombs.

Day 13: Selinunte - Archaeological Park - drive to Trapani
We drive west along the coast, stopping at the ancient Greek and Phoenician site of Selinunte. Founded in the 7th Century BC by Greeks from the city of Megara, Selinunte flourished and built a series of magnificent temples, the best preserved being Temple E, thought to be dedicated to Hera. Coming under Carthaginian control it became embroiled in the First Punic War and was later destroyed. The city remains have been extensively excavated and include numerous Punic houses. In the afternoon we drive to Trapani where we check into our hotel.

Day 14: Motya Island - Marsala Museum and Archaeological remains
Today we visit the Island of Motya which preserves fascinating evidence from the period when this was a thriving Phoenician and later Carthaginian colony. Founded in the 8th Century BC, the city was fortified and had its own artificial harbour. The site museum contains extensive evidence of the cultural life of the inhabitants. In the afternoon we visit Marsala where we see the remains of a Punic ship and also explore the remains of Roman villas from the settlement of Lilybaeum.

Erice castle
Monreale Cathedral

Day 15: Erice hill town - Segesta Greek city - drive to Palermo
In the morning we take the cable car to the hill town of Erice which rises above the city of Trapani. A very ancient settlement, Erice is famous for its spectacular Norman castle which has stunning views. We then travel by bus to the ancient site of Segesta, famous for its 5th Century Doric Temple. Above the temple rises the rest of the walled settlement including a theatre with magnificent views down to the coast. We continue our journey to Palermo where we check into our hotel.

Day 16: Palermo - Zisa Palace - Catacombs - Norman Cathedral and Palace
The day is set aside to explore the splendid Norman remains of Palermo. In the morning we see the Palace of Zisa, a royal hunting lodge built in 1160. We also see the catacombs of the Capuchin Monks where the dead have been naturally mummified. In the afternoon we see the Cathedral of Palermo and the fascinating Norman palace. A highlight is the superb Palatine Chapel built by Roger II in 1132 and decorated with magnificent golden mosaics.

Day 17: Palermo - Norman church of San Cataldo - Monreale Cathedral
In the morning we see the Norman church of San Cataldo which includes numerous Arab elements in its design. We then head into the hills above Palermo to see the magnificent Norman Cathedral at Monreale. Begun by King William II in 1174, the Cathedral is decorated with magnificent Byzantine style gilded mosaics which occupy an astonishing 6500 sq metres. The scenes illustrate the Old and New Testaments while the floor is decorated with superb Moorish style inlay. The adjoining cloister of the Benedictine Monastery is famous for its richly carved colonnade.

Day 18: Solunto - drive to Catania
We leave our hotel in Palermo and head east to see the ruins of the Classical site of Solunto. Spectacularly located on a rocky peninsula, the ancient remains of the Phoenician/Greek/Roman colony include mosaics and wall frescoes, a theatre and bath complex. In the afternoon we head inland through the mountains until we reach the town of Catania where we check into our hotel.

Solunto Roman ruins
Taormina theatre with Mt Etna in the distance

Day 19: Mt Etna - Catania old quarter
In the morning we had by bus to Mt Etna where we experience the ancient lava flows and take the cable car towards the summit of the volcano. If the summit is clear of clouds, the view is magnificent. In the afternoon we take a walk around the heart of Catania and visit the Cathedral, ancient remains of the theatre and amphitheatre and see the 13th Century Castello Ursino. Here we see how the moat filled with lava during an eruption of Mt Etna in 1693.

Day 20: Taormina
In the morning we head to Giardini Naxos where we take the cable car to the hill town of Taormina. We explore the remarkable Greek and Roman theatre which has stunning views along the coast to the Straits of Messina and towards Mt Etna. After lunch there is some free time to explore the old town with its numerous shopping opportunities.

Day 21: Depart Catania to Rome - connecting flight to Singapore
In the morning we fly from Catania Airport to Rome. We connect with our Singapore Airlines flight for the journey back to Australia. There is a short stop en route at Singapore.

Day 22: Arrive in Australia
Arrive back in Australia.

* Please note that the Company reserves the right to make alterations to the itinerary in the period up to 60 days prior to a tour departure. The itinerary may also be subject to minor re-arrangement due to the scheduling of the operators and availability of access. If this occurs, the Company will endeavour to provide a comparable alternative.

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