Just about every wave of Mediterranean history has washed across this island, and each has left its mark. A matchless cluster of Greek temples, the world’s greatest concentration of Byzantine mosaics, flamboyant Baroque palaces; all are part of Sicily’s heritage, and among them are some exemplary moments of cultural fusion. None is more striking than the mix of Islamic, Byzantine and Norman motifs in Palermo’s Palatine Chapel. Our nine-day itinerary explores the most significant sites on this dramatic and surprisingly fertile island, and uncovers a history as complex and fascinating as any in Europe. Not surprisingly, contemporary social and political issues add an extra frisson to the tour.
Independent arrival in Palermo. Under the Saracens, Bal’harm became Sicily’s capital in the 9th century – and has recently been reborn under the leadership of its mayor, Leoluca Orlando. We begin with a welcome drink and introductory talk in the hotel at 9pm.
A day of beautiful Arab-Norman and Baroque churches begins beneath the red Saracenic domes of San Cataldo. Meanwhile, in the Capella Palatina glittering Byzantine mosaics sit beneath an intricate ceiling, carved and painted in the Islamic tradition – possibly by artists from the Fatimid Caliphate of Cairo.
By coach to Monreale, whose 12th-century cathedral offers another spectacular mix of Arab, Byzantine and Norman motifs. Then to the port city of Cefalù for its splendid mosaics and art gallery. Return to Palermo.
After a morning lecture we visit Sicily’s best art gallery, at the serene, 15th-century Palazzo Abatellis. Our afternoon excursion is to Segesta, to see its Greek temple and theatre.
A free morning in Palermo, followed by a transfer to Agrigento for the most impressive of Sicily’s ancient sites. To set the scene, we visit Agrigento’s archaeological museum.
We start amidst the astonishing
Greek remains of the Valley of the Temples, before driving to Piazza Armerina to see some of the world’s best-preserved Roman floor mosaics. Continue to Syracuse for the first of three nights.
Following a morning lecture, we walk to Ortygia, the small, densely built island that was the original heart of the Greek colony of Syracuse. The city’s cathedral and Caravaggio’s painting at Santa Lucia are among the highlights. Group dinner.
Syracuse’s theatre, built in the 5th century BC, is the largest of its type to have survived. It is the focus of our tour of the Neapolis Archaeological Park. We also visit the Museo Archeologico Paolo Orsi. Free afternoon.
We drive to the pretty Baroque town of Noto for a walking tour. Continue to Catania Airport for a 4.30pm drop-off, before the tour finishes in the centre of Catania by 5pm.
Dr Luca Leoncini
An art historian specialising in Italian painting of the Quattrocento, Luca is Director of the Collections at the Palazzo Reale in Genoa. His first degree and PhD were from Rome University, followed by research at the Warburg Institute in London. He has written several guides to the Palazzo Reale, as well as articles on the classical tradition in Italian art of the 15th century, Renaissance drawings, and Andrea Mantegna. He is a contributor to the Macmillan Dictionary of Art.
£1,795 per person sharing in a double room.
£2,095 for one person in a double room.
The price includes the speaker and a tour manager, accommodation with daily breakfasts, one dinner with wine, welcome drink, transport by private coach, local guides, admissions to sites as mentioned in the itinerary.
Please note flights are not included.
We cover a lot of ground, on foot and by coach. Agility is essential at all sites, in particular the archaeological parks.
Between 5 and 28 participants.
Please check www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice before you book to make sure you are happy with the advice for the places you are visiting.
"Dr Leoncini was an excellent speaker, with a wide range of knowledge, a sense of humour, and patience."