MAY 29 - JUNE 2, 2005

Tour is FULL; you may sign up for the waiting list; please contact Ben Taggie for details.



Depart Messina at 8:30 AM.


Visit the Neapolis Archaeological Area including the great 5th century BC Greek Theatre. Explore the Ortygia and have lunch.




Syracuse is built on an ancient Greek settlement founded by Corinthians in 734 BC. More than any other modern city in Sicily, Syracuse manifests a visible continuity from its ancient Greek past, both historical and mythological. Its older quarter is an island, Ortegia (or Ortygia, from the Greek for "quail," probably named for that bird's abundance in this area). Ortegia is known for, among many other things, the freshwater Spring of Arethusa. When Artemis changed Arethusa into a spring of water to escape the river god Alpheus, it was here that the transformed maiden emerged. Syracuse was also the city of Archimedes, Pindar, and Aeschylus. It was the most important city in Magna Graecia, and for a time rivaled Athens as the most important city of the Greek world. Syracuse flourished unhindered after Hieron's victory (with the help of the Agrigentans) over the Carthaginians at Himera, near present-day Termini Imerese, in 480 BC, and soon became the most important Greek city in Sicily, both economically and politically. Some of the ancient sights to see in Syracuse are located in Ortegia, which is the medieval city's historic center. Ortegia is reached via the Ponte Nuovo, or "New Bridge." However, most of the more spectacular of the ancient landmarks are on the Teminite Hill, on the city's periphery, in an archeological park near Viale Teracati and Via G. Emanuele Rizzo. Greek and Roman structures are ubiquitous in Syracuse; even a wall of the cathedral was part of a Roman structure, the Temple of Minerva. The city's patron saint, St. Lucy, was martyred near the site of the church of that name, in Piazza San Lucia, in 304. The church itself was built during the Byzantine era, restructured by the Normans during the 12th century but, modified almost beyond recognition in the 17th century. Beneath the church are extensive catacombs. In the Neapolis Archeological Park on the Terminite Hill a clear distinction can be made between the Greek and Roman structures. Syracuse has a Greek amphitheatre (literally carved out of the rock) and also a Roman one, both well preserved. In conformity to tradition, the Greek Theatre is semicircular and open, the Roman one oval and enclosed. This archeological park has some charming surprises, such as the Altar of Geron II and the Ear of Dionysius, formerly a limestone quarry. There is also the Saint Venera Quarry and various necropoli and other caverns.


Some afternoon sightseeing in town. The city of Enna (known as Castrogiovanni until the 1920s) is located high on a mountaintop almost in the exact center of Sicily, affording a panoramic view overlooking the scenic valleys of Sicily's rugged interior. Enna's position makes it a natural strategic defensive position; any army that sought to control Sicily's interior would have to hold Enna. Historically, it is unique in being the only important city of ancient Sicily that was not founded by foreign invaders; it was established by one of Sicily's three indigenous peoples, the Siculi, from whom the name "Sicily" itself derives. This makes Enna one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities on the island. Although scholars are not certain exactly when Enna was founded, most agree that a major settlement existed there as early as 1200 BC. Enna is also the capital of the only one of Sicily's nine provinces that has no coastline. By the time of the Greek conquest of Enna by the tyrant Dionysius I in 397 BC, the Siculi were already Hellenized to a great extent. Enna was first occupied by the Romans in 258 BC during the first Punic War. Roman rule of Enna, and Sicily in general, was oppressive and exploitative. The island was transformed into a giant wheat farm whose sole purpose was to feed Rome and her citizens. Under Byzantine Greek domination, Enna became known as "Castro Yannis" a corruption of the Roman name, which meant "John's Camp" in Greek. In 1087, Enna fell into the hands of Count Roger of Hauteville after a siege on the part of the Normans. Enna's main attraction is the Lombard Castle, built by Frederick II in the early part of the 13th century. Many historians, however, agree that the castle was erected upon the ruins of an earlier fortification, possibly Arab or Byzantine. That older fortress could have been built on the remnants of an even earlier structure dating to the Roman period. It is believed that the castle's name derives from the fact that Frederick II garrisoned the fort with troops from what is now northern Italy. The "Lombard Castle" originally had 20 towers, but only six have survived to the present day. The so-called Pisan Tower is the tallest and offers a breathtaking panoramic view of Sicily's scenic Dittaino Valley. The castle is built in three levels of courtyards which seem to run haphazardly into each other. One of these courtyards serves as an open-air theatre; archaeological excavations are being conducted in the others. Enna's other noted medieval fortification is Frederick's Tower, which stands twenty four meters high on top of a hill in a public park on the other side of town. It is a fine example of medieval defense-tower construction and has three floors, the top one having collapsed. The tower is built on an octagonal foundation instead of the more common round or square floor plan. Overnight at the Hotel Sicilia.


Breakfast included. Depart Enna 8:30 am.

Piazza Armerina (Villa del Casale)

Located a few kilometers outside of Piazza Armerina, the "Villa del Casale" is one of the largest Roman dwellings of its kind to have survived antiquity, and probably belonged to a wealthy patrician. Depicting scenes from daily life, such as hunting, the mosaics are as remarkable for their sociological value as for their artistry. One of these, showing women clad in two-piece swimsuits exercising with barbells, could well describe a scene typical of the twentieth century. The "Villa del Casale" was built between 330 and 360 AD. The identity of its owner remains a subject of debate. 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 Pompei. The villa's buildings are arranged in sections, with an impressive entrance and numerous rooms of various dimensions, some quite large. There are also the remains of water pipes, visible near the entrance. Beneath the villa the remains of a village have been found. These have been dated to 100-200 AD.



Visit Valley of the Temples. Located on a plateau overlooking Sicily's southern coast, Agrigento was founded as Akragas around 582 BC by a group of colonists from Gela, who themselves were the immediate descendants of Greeks from Rhodes and Crete. Akragas was renamed Agrigentum by the Romans, and Girgenti by the Saracens, only to be christened Agrigento in 1927. Akragas, named for the nearby river, flourished under Phalaris (570-554 BC), and developed further under Theron (488-471 BC), whose troops participated in the Battle of Himera in 480 BC, defeating the Carthaginians. Agrigento was destroyed several times during the Punic Wars, suffering particularly extensive damage during a siege by Roman forces in 261 BC, but always rebuilt. The Greek poet Pindar (518-438 BC) described Akragas as "the most beautiful city of the mortals." Akragas' most famous citizen was the philosopher and scientist Empedocles (490-430 BC). In the Valley of the Temples are 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 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, built around 440 BC, is in far better condition. Agrigento's importance declined under the Byzantines and Saracens, who encouraged settlement of the medieval city (present-day Agrigento) several kilometers from the Valley of the Temples. The Normans, however, recognized its importance, and it was during the Norman rule that beautiful churches were constructed in and around the city. Ancient Agrigento's architectural character seems more Greek than Roman, though the latter is certainly evident. What's missing are the thin bricks so typical of Roman sites like Solunto and Taormina. Despite its location virtually in the shadow of a modern city, the Valley of the Temples is surrounded by olive groves and almond orchards that render its ambience altogether natural.



Arrive at the Hotel Moderno in late afternoon. Located on high ground overlooking the northern coast of western Sicily, ancient Eryce was a prosperous Elimi city, Eryx, famous for its temple to a fertility goddess, Astarte, later identified with Venus and worshipped by the Romans. The city owes its name to Eryx, mythical ruler of the Elimi. Hercules and Aeneas are also associated with ancient Erice. The Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans, in turn, conquered the city, which never developed a particularly strong Greek culture except for that of the medieval Byzantines of the Eastern Roman Empire. To the Saracens, Erice was an important foothold known as Gebel Hamed, which the Normans christened Monte San Giuliano, a name by which it was known until 1934, when it was given its older Latin nomenclature. There are some ancient Elimi and Phoenician walls around the northeastern side of the city, and two castles, Pepoli Castle, with foundations dating from Saracen times, and Venus Castle, dating from the Norman era but built on ruins of the ancient Temple of Venus. Surrounded by a lush park, the hilltop castles alone are worth a stop in Erice, which offers charming old stone streets and medieval churches. The beautiful Mother Church, on Via Carvini, is essentially a 14th century Gothic structure whose style reflects certain Romanesque influences. An older tower stands at the entrance, and the church itself was built upon a much older structure. The medieval Church of Saint John the Baptist was modified in recent centuries but still retains something of its original style, especially its exterior. It was built as an Orthodox chapel. The fifteenth century Church of Saint Ursula, which also retains some medieval Gothic elements, is worth a visit. Overnight at the Hotel Moderno in Erice.


Breakfast included. Depart Erice 9:00 AM


Selinunte is an abandoned ancient Greek city, with ruins of an acropolis and numerous temples. The city was founded in the seventh century BC, and effectively destroyed in 409 BC. Selinunte's glorious heyday lasted for a period of about two centuries, when it was one of the most progressive Greek cities in Sicily, famous throughout Magna Graecia. The city of Selinunte proper, known as the "Acropolis," is situated on high land overlooking the Mediterranean Sea about twenty meters below. The Acropolis is located roughly in the center of the park's area. Selinunte was founded by Doric Greek colonists from the Sicilian Greek settlement of Megara Hyblea, the latter also settled near Syracuse by Greeks circa 730 BC and located roughly 15 miles North of present-day Syracuse on Sicily's east coast. The precise date of Selinunte's founding is debated, as the accounts of the ancient historians Thucydides and Diodorus Siculus differ on this point, but it was between 650 and 630 BC. Commerce allowed the residents to build splendid temples. Selinunte's trade, riches and elegant buildings soon made it famous as one of the most important cities of Greek Sicily and even all of Magna Graecia, second in importance only to Syracuse. However, Selinunte's success soon engendered the envy of the neighboring Carthaginians, who perceived the city as a threat to their hold on Sicily. This would eventually lead to the city's demise. Selinunte's citizens remained neutral in the war of 480 BC, not siding with their fellow Greeks when Agrigento and Syracuse decisively defeated the Carthaginians at Himera. By 409 BC, the political situation had changed. In the intervening years, Selinunte's diplomats had managed to establish an alliance with Syracuse and Agrigento. This ensured Selinunte seven decades of peace and prosperity, during which some of the more beautiful and advanced temples were built. In 409 BC Selinunte became involved in a war between Syracuse and Athens, when the Greek metropolis sent an expedition to punish the Sicilian cities that sided against her on behalf of Syracuse. The Athenians were never able to capture Syracuse, and were eventually forced to leave Sicily, having incurred heavy losses. Selinunte's diplomacy had once again managed to avoid any great degree of involvement in the war on the part of the city. The Carthaginians used some minor border skirmishes between Selinunte and the Elami as an excuse to march upon Selinunte to aid their old allies. They sent an army said to number 100,000 men equipped with battering rams and siege towers that were taller than Selinunte's walls. After a siege that only lasted nine days, the Carthaginians breached the walls of Selinunte and easily overwhelmed the defenders. This brutal massacre marked the end of Selinunte's glory and freedom, and although the city was repopulated to some extent by the Carthiginians, the city never regained its former beauty, power or prestige. During the first Punic War with Rome in 250 BC, the Carthaginian forces, fleeing the Roman advance towards the main center of Panormus (Palermo), decided to deprive the Romans of a prize by razing Selinunte to the ground, destroying it forever. The site of the city remained a ruin for centuries, through the Roman period and into the early medieval era. The acropolis is the actual city of Selinunte and is located west of the "Eastern Temples," built on high ground looking out over the sea. It was once flanked by two small rivers, one on each side of the city. The walls surrounding the Acropolis were mostly reconstructed by archaeologists in 1927, though some parts of the walls standing are actually from antiquity. Ancient sources gave the city a population of circa 25,000, and the size of the Acropolis supports that figure. The entire Acropolis has never been completely excavated. However, the temples and the market (agora) zone, clustered between the sea and just beyond the intersection of the two main streets, has been thoroughly excavated.



We will visit the well preserved 5th Century BC Doric Temple and the Greek Theatre. Segesta ranks as one of the best-preserved Greek architectural sites to be found anyplace. The temple is situated in a pristine countryside, standing alone in tranquil beauty amidst nature. There are virtually no modern-day structures to mar the setting of the temple. At Segesta, you can easily imagine what it was like to live in Sicily in ancient times. The temple of Segesta is 61 meters long (190 feet) and 26 meters wide, built upon 4 steps, with a total of 36 Doric columns supporting the stone roof-frame of the structure. There are 14 columns on each of the long sides of the building and 6 columns across the front and back, for a total of 36 columns. The columns are of a "rough" finish because they were never "fluted." Apparently, the temple was never completed. It also appears that the structure never had a "cella," or roof, and archeologists are still in disagreement as to whether the Temple was deliberately planned this way, or was just never finished. It is believed that the edifice was erected between 420 and 430 BC. Segesta's other main monument, the amphitheatre, stands on the slopes of Monte Barbaro at an elevation of 400 meters above sea level. The theatre has 20 tiers of steps which served as seats, divided into 7 sections by aisles that lead to the U-shaped stage area. The diameter of the semi-circular seating area is 63 meters. The seating area is known as the "cavea" and a good part of it was carved out of the solid rock of the mountain. A colorful theory is widely accepted which advances a reason for the temple's construction. In 450 BC, Segesta's dreaded rival, Selinunte allied herself with Syracuse, mightiest of all the states of Magna Graecia. Segesta sought help outside Sicily, turning to Greece itself and beseeching mighty Athens for aid. To the Athenians, Segesta was only a distant city of scant importance. Before the Athenians would consider Segesta an ally, they deemed it proper to send a delegation of diplomatic envoys to investigate the city's claims of great wealth. In order to deceive the Athenians into thinking their city more prosperous than it actually was, the Segestans built the temple to impress the envoys. Once the envoys departed, convinced of Segesta's wealth, work on the Temple ceased. Its incompleteness cannot compromise its grandeur.
Overnight in Erice at Hotel Moderno for a second night.


Breakfast included. Depart Erice at 8:30 am.


Monreale, from "Mons Regalis" (Royal Mountain), is world-renowned for its cathedral, a dazzling mixture of Arab, Byzantine and Norman artistic styles framed by traditional Romanesque architecture, all combined in a perfect blend of the best that both the Christian and Muslim worlds of the 12th century had to offer. Work on the cathedral was started in 1174. Most of the major work on the Monreale Cathedral was finished before William II's death at 36 in 1189. Externally, its front facade faces west, looking onto Piazza Guglielmo. Two massive square bell towers flank the main church entrance. The portico is not an original part of the structure. The sides of the cathedral are approximately 105 meters long. From Via Arcivescovado, a street behind the cathedral, can be seen the intricate stonework of the apse. The floor plan of the cathedral combines elements of both a traditional Western (Latin) basilica and an Eastern (Orthodox) one. The combination of Greek and Latin elements is a distinct feature of Norman architecture in Italy. The cathedral has a wide central nave and two smaller aisles or naves, one on each side of the main nave. The dazzling mosaics in the interior of Monreale Cathedral are what make the church world-famous. Their splendid and delicate beauty creates an atmosphere of indescribable tranquility, solemnity and awe. The mosaics cover practically all the surfaces of the cathedral's walls, excepting the ground level, up to a height of two meters, where the walls are finished in white marble bordered with inlaid polychrome decorations. All of the duomo's mosaic figures (most are icons) are placed upon a background of gold mosaic "tesserae" (tiles). The interior of the church is about 100 meters long by 40 meters wide. There are a total of 130 individual mosaic scenes depicting biblical and other religious events. The Old Testament is portrayed upon the walls of the central nave, starting from the Creation and ending with Jacob's Fight with the Angel. The mosaics on the side aisles illustrate the major events of the life of Jesus, from His birth to the Crucifixion, and include a cycle which portrays the miracles worked by Christ. Most of the mosaics are accompanied by written inscriptions in Latin or Greek. The masterpiece and key representation of the whole cycle is the domineeringly majestic Christ Pantocrator (All Powerful) located on the central apse over the main altar. The entire image is 13 meters across and seven meters high. Beneath the stupendous portrait of Jesus is a mosaic of the Mother of God enthroned with the Christ child on her lap. This depiction is flanked by mosaics of the angels and various saints and apostles. There are mosaics of various other saints and scenes from the Gospels all about the transept area, including the previously-mentioned tribute to Saint Thomas Becket. Two noteworthy mosaics are located on the sides of the presbytery, over the Royal and Episcopal thrones. The one over the Royal throne shows Christ crowning William II. It is similar to the icon in the Martorana (in Palermo) showing Roger II crowned by Christ. The mosaic over the Episcopal throne shows William II offering Monreale Cathedral to the blessed Virgin. Rarely in the West were living monarchs represented in a Heavenly setting in a public work of art.



Palermo's cathedral is known officially as "Santa Maria Assunta" or Saint Mary of the Assumption. Some scholars believe that a temple existed here in Roman, or possibly even Punic, times. There is no doubt that the site once had a large Byzantine Greek church. Arab records mention the existence of a large "pagan" temple present on this site when they conquered Palermo in 831. This was turned into a mosque. In 1072, when the Normans wrested control of Palermo from the Saracens, Count Roger promptly saw to it that the Great Mosque was reconsecrated as a Christian church. The present cathedral was not completed for another century, and greatly modified through the ages. In 1185, the English Archbishop of Palermo, Walter of the Mill, assumed responsibility for the completion of the cathedral. The Cathedral of Palermo underwent major changes in the following centuries, manifested in the form of renovations and additions, such as the cupola constructed in 1785. This dome, and the extensive Baroque reconstruction of the interior, completely defaced the beautiful Norman Arab arches and lines of the inside of the church and corrupted the exterior's intended effect. The church is a massive rectangular structure, with two towers at the two front corners constructed in the Norman Arab style. The exterior of the apse is similar to those of Monreale Cathedral and the smaller Basilica of the Magione. The chapel that is located near the main entrance of the church is famous for its royal tombs. It is here that King Roger II is buried, along with his daughter, Constance de Hauteville, mother of Emperor Frederick II Hohenstaufen, who is also laid to rest here. The Cathedral Treasury is a museum containing an assortment of finely crafted religious objects. There are illuminated manuscripts here and bejeweled chalices and crucifixes, along with sophisticated gold Jewelry adorned with Byzantine enamel ware. The treasury's most famous object is the Crown of Constance, a masterpiece of twelfth century metalwork combining Byzantine, Arabic and Western elements.


The Capella Palatina was founded in 1132 by the Norman King Roger II. Resplendent with traditional Orthodox iconography and a painted Arabic ceiling, the Palatine Chapel seems to be a Monreale Cathedral in miniature, though it antedates that church by decades. Of note are the fine icons of Saint Peter and Saint James, and the throne. The lions on the wall above the throne resemble those used in the coat of arms of England's Norman kings some decades later, suggesting that the symbol originated in Sicily or one of the other Norman dominions. Relations between the English and Sicilian kingdoms were close; Otto of Bayeaux, brother of William the Conqueror, is buried in Palermo Cathedral.



Located near the Royal Palace, the Abbey Church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti is another fine example of 12th century Norman-Arab construction in Palermo. That it was built upon a mosque may account for its particularly Arabic style, with five reddish cupolas. The bell tower is the only part of the building that has a distinctively Norman appearance, with its Gothic lines and mullioned windows. Were it not for the bell tower, Saint John's could easily be mistaken for a mosque. The construction of St. John of the Hermit's was ordered by Roger II in 1130 for the Benedictine Order. St. John's visual impact results mostly from its external features, with its charming Arabesque domes amidst the surrounding trees and gardens, and an elegant cloister, probably a 13th century addition constructed in the Romanesque style, though it combines harmoniously with the Church and its surrounding gardens.
Overnight in Cefalu.



Breakfast included. Depart Cefalu early afternoon for Messina and Catania.


In Cefalù we will visit the 12th Century Norman Cathedral.Begun in 1131 during the reign of Roger II, the cathedral and the adjoining abbey and cloister were completed some years later. The floor plan and artistic style, typical of many cathedrals built in Northern Europe during the same period, differ somewhat from the simple Romanesque lines of Monreale's cathedral, especially when viewed from the outside. The church was one of the first Sicilian cathedrals built on the Western model, with a long nave and distinct transept. Near the ruins of the fortress at the top of the mountain are the remnants of the so-called Temple of Diana, probably a Sicanian structure. Its portal and cut stone reflect Greek and Roman construction, and in fact the cult of Hercules worshipped here. However, the temple's foundations are actually far more ancient, dating to the ninth century BC if not somewhat earlier. Several medieval buildings still stand in the city itself. These include the lavatoio (lavandai), a medieval wash house fed by freshwater springs, and the Osteria Magna (Great Guesthouse), where King Roger stayed during his visits to Cefalù.


Bus will return to Messina and take those who wish to Catania for early morning flight out of Catania.

Tour is FULL; you may sign up for the waiting list; please contact Ben Taggie for details.

Cost per person (based on double occupancy): $495.
This includes luxury coach, hotel room (4 nights), breakfast, entrance fees to sites visited.
This does not include meals (other than those noted above), tips for guides and driver, entrance fees to sites not included in the itnerary, spending money, hotel incidentals.

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