From Homer to Caravaggio
Explore the alluring Mediterranean islands of Sicily and Malta through a wealth of art and archaeology, tracing their history from the Neolithic to the Baroque.
Begin in Sicily, largest island of the Mediterranean and Homer’s ‘Land of the Cyclopes’. Visit the imposing remains of Classical Greek and Roman theatres in Taormina and Syracuse and the evocative Valley of the Temples in Agrigento. See lesser-known masterpieces of Classical Greek art like the marble Motya Charioteer in Marsala and the bronze Dancing Satyr at Mazara del Vallo. Explore the Norman history of Sicily in the churches of Palermo and Monreale.
Continue to the tiny island of Malta, whose Neolithic temples still stand as some of the oldest religious structures on earth, and discover its extraordinary Mediaeval and Renaissance history which saw Caravaggio serve as court painter to the Knights Hospitaller.
This tour is part of the World Art Tours program organised by the Art Gallery Society of NSW in partnership with Renaissance Tours.
Suggested departure in the afternoon from Australia or New Zealand on Emirates flights to Palermo via Dubai and Rome. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements.
Overnight in flight.
Arrive in Palermo in the morning and transfer to the hotel (included in tour price).
Check in to the hotel and enjoy an afternoon at leisure, with the option to join Christopher for a walk to the Vucciria Markets, Palermo’s bustling outdoor market which sells all the ingredients of good, fresh Sicilian cuisine: meat, fish, fruits and vegetables.
In the evening, attend a welcome briefing with Christopher and fellow travellers, followed by dinner at a local restaurant.
Begin the day with a visit to the Palermo Regional Archaeological Museum, one of the grandest archaeological museums in Italy, filled with artefacts from prehistoric times to the Roman era, including major Sicilian finds from the Phoenician, Punic, Greek, Roman, and Saracenic periods – a testimony to Sicily’s complex, multicultural history.
Continue to the Regional Gallery of Sicily, located in the Palazzo Abatellis, a 15th century palace that once belonged to the Port Master of the Kingdom of Sicily. The Regional Gallery houses a collection of Mediaeval paintings, maiolica and frescoes gathered from monasteries suppressed in the mid-19th century, including the exquisite Virgin Annunciate by Antonello da Messina.
Walk to a traditional restaurant in central Palermo for lunch, followed an afternoon and evening at leisure to continue your exploration of Palermo.
After a morning talk by Christopher, visit the Palazzo dei Normanni, seat of the Norman Kings of Sicily in the 11th and 12th centuries and the oldest royal residence in Europe. The focus of the palace is the Palatine Chapel, whose stunning mosaics stand out even amongst the great works of Byzantine art for the subtlety of their colours and the delicacy of their depiction of the draped robes of the saints.
Then travel to the nearby town of Monreale for lunch and a visit to its magnificent cathedral, one of the masterpieces of Norman architecture, whose interior is almost entirely covered with brilliant mosaics.
Return to the hotel in the afternoon. In the evening, attend a performance by the Puppet Opera, a traditional Sicilian entertainment in which giant marionettes act out chivalric contests between the Franks and the Saracens.
Check out from the hotel and travel to the archaeological site of Segesta, one of the major cities of the ancient Elymian people who, along with the Sicanians and the Sicels, constitute the indigenous inhabitants of Sicily. The Elymians eventually came under the cultural influence of the Greeks, as is evident in the impressive ruins of the Greek-style theatre and temple at Segesta.
After some free time for lunch at leisure, continue to Mazara del Vallo and check in to the hotel in the afternoon. Founded by Phoenicians in the 9th century BC, Mazara del Vallo came into its own under the Arab rulers of Sicily from the 9th century AD onwards, who established it as the administrative capital of the western third of the island. The architecture and culture still bears Arab influences – the historic centre of the city is even referred to by locals at the ‘Kasbah’. Dinner tonight is at a local restaurant.
In the morning, attend a talk by Christopher on the coming days’ art and archaeological sites, and then visit the Museum of the Dancing Satyr, the prize possession of which is the eponymous Dancing Satyr, a bronze statue dating from as early as the 3rd century BC, and exhibiting an artistic refinement recalling the works of Praxiteles from the previous century. The statue was recovered from the depths of the sea by a fishing boat in 1998 and hailed as the finest discovery of Hellenistic art in decades.
Then visit the Giuseppe Whitaker Museum in Marsala to view the Motya Charioteer, a marble statue from the Classical Greek period which was probably toppled from its original position during the siege of Motya by King Dionysius I of Syracuse in 397 BC.
After lunch at a local restaurant in Marsala, return to Mazara del Vallo. The remainder of the afternoon and evening are at leisure.
Check out from the hotel and travel to Selinunte, one of the most important cities of Hellenic Sicily. Selinunte’s position in western Sicily meant that it came into contact with both indigenous Elymians and the seafaring Carthaginians from North Africa, and the remains of temples, shrines and towers on its acropolis testify to this cultural intermixture.
Enjoy lunch near Selinunte before continuing to the Valley of the Temples, whose expansive archaeological park is the largest in the world at 1,300 hectares. The scale and quality of the archaeological relics earned the Valley of the Temples a place on the UNESCO World Heritage list, and the site includes seven Doric temples; the remarkably well-preserved Temple of Concord is a stunning sight.
Check into the hotel in Agrigento in the late afternoon, followed by dinner.
Check out from the hotel and travel to Caltagirone for lunch followed by a sightseeing tour of this centre of Sicilian ceramic ware. Particularly famous for its production of maiolica and terra cotta, even its name derives from the Arabic for ‘Castle of Ceramic Jars’. In addition to decorating religious and civic landmarks, ceramic tiles with floral and geometric designs rendered in delicate violet, green, yellow and white adorn the steps of the lengthy Staircase of Santa Maria del Monte.
In the afternoon, travel onwards to Syracuse and check in to the hotel. Dinner this evening is at the hotel.
Syracuse was one of the mightiest Greek colonies of the Classical and Hellenistic eras, dominating the island of Sicily from the 5th to the 3rd centuries BC. In 415-413 BC, Athens invaded Sicily and attempted to conquer Syracuse, with disastrous consequences. Delve into the fascinating history of Syracuse with a tour of the Ancient Greek Theatre, recessed into the Temenite Hill and overlooking the Bay of Syracuse, and the 3rd century BC Altar of King Hiero II, the largest known altar from antiquity. Also visit the ancient quarries (latomie) which supplied the doughty and durable limestone of which Greek Syracuse was built, and where the unfortunate Athenian prisoners of war were held in terrible conditions.
Enjoy a light lunch of fresh Syracusan cuisine before continuing to the Regional Archaeological Museum. One of Italy’s foremost archaeological museums, its collection spans the Neolithic to the Roman period of Sicilian history. Be sure not to miss the skeleton of the Pygmy Elephant (Palaeoloxodon falconeri), an extinct species of dwarf elephant native to Sicily and Malta whose skulls, when uncovered in antiquity, are thought to have been mistaken for the remains of the Cyclopes described in Homer’s Odyssey, earning Sicily the sobriquet ‘Land of the Cyclopes’.
Return to the hotel in the afternoon before an evening at leisure.
After a morning talk by Christopher, enjoy a walking tour of Ortygia, the island which forms the historic centre of Syracuse, visiting the Fountain of Arethusa, Main Square and the Cathedral. The Cathedral is an example of High Sicilian Baroque architecture, although it incorporates earlier architectural elements such as the Norman roof and the Doric columns of the Temple of Athena which originally stood on the site. In the nearby church of Santa Lucia alla Badia, see Caravaggio’s altarpiece Burial of St Lucy. Caravaggio was commissioned to paint the work when he fled to Sicily after escaping from prison in Malta, where he had been locked up for brawling.
Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant in Ortygia, followed by the remainder of the afternoon and evening at leisure to continue your exploration of historic Syracuse at your own pace.
Check out from the hotel in the morning and travel to picturesque Taormina, an ancient city set between the towering Mount Etna and the azure waters of the Ionian Sea.
After lunch at a local restaurant in Taormina, get to know the city on an afternoon walking tour, starting with a visit to the Ancient Theatre; often referred to as the ‘Greek Theatre’, the foundations date from the Hellenic era, but the brick construction of the edifice itself indicates that the building in its present form dates from the Roman period.
The evening is at leisure.
In the morning, travel by funicular and four-wheel-drive up to Mt Etna itself. Explore the craters of this mighty – and still active – volcano on foot, experiencing the raw power of the mountain under which the Ancient Greeks believed that Hephaestus, god of the forge, tended his fires.
Return to Taormina in the afternoon.
Check out from the hotel in the morning and transfer to Catania Airport for an afternoon flight to Valletta in Malta (flight included in tour price).
Arrive in Valletta in the evening and transfer to the hotel, followed by dinner.
In the morning, enjoy a talk by Christopher on Maltese history and art, and then take in the sights of Valletta, Malta’s honey-coloured capital city. Enjoy a walking tour of the Upper Barrakka Gardens, the Armoury of the Grandmaster of the Knights of St John and St John’s Co-Cathedral, where Caravaggio’s giant altarpiece Beheading of St John the Baptist stands as testimony to the painter’s brief stint as court painter to the Knights Hospitaller.
After lunch at a local restaurant in Valletta, the remainder of the afternoon and evening are at leisure to enjoy the relaxed pace of Maltese life in the spring.
In the morning, visit the 5,500-year-old temple complexes of Hagar Qim and Mnajdra, whose Stone Age megaliths, among the national symbols of Malta, are around a millennium older than even the most ancient of Egypt’s pyramids.
Continue to Mdina, which served as the capital of Malta from antiquity to the Middle Ages. After some free time for lunch at leisure in Mdina, discover the Siculo-Norman, Gothic and Baroque architecture of the houses of Malta’s noble families.
Return to Valletta in the afternoon, and then in the evening join Christopher and fellow travellers for a special farewell dinner.
For those continuing on to the Gozo post-tour, check out from the hotel and transfer to Gozo island.
For those not continuing on to the post-tour, check out from the hotel after breakfast and transfer to Valletta Airport, arriving by 12:30 (included in tour price). Tour arrangements conclude on arrival at Valletta Airport. Suggested departure for Australia or New Zealand on Emirates flights via Larnaca and Dubai departing from 15:30 onwards. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your travel arrangements, including post-tour nights’ accommodation.
*Single travellers may request to share.
Please advise at time of booking.
Final payment due
12 February 2019
Please see Terms & Conditions for fitness level definitions.
Please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for current airfares and flight reservations.
Australian and New Zealand passport holders do not require a visa to visit Italy or Malta.
Tour price includes
- Accommodation in centrally located 4 and 5 star hotels with breakfast daily (B)
- Meals as per itinerary (L = Lunch, D = Dinner), including wine
- Airport/hotel group transfer on tour arrival and departure if travelling on suggested flights
- Lectures and talks throughout with your tour leader, Dr Christopher Allen
- Comprehensive sightseeing including local guides and entrance fees as per itinerary
- Economy Class flight from Catania (Sicily) to Valletta (Malta)
- Transportation throughout on comfortable air-conditioned coaches
- Gratuities for local guides and drivers
- Hotel porterage (one piece per person)
Tour price does not include
- International airfares (please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
- Airport/hotel transfers on arrival and departure if not travelling on group transfers
- Airport porterage
- Optional activities as described in itinerary (subject to availability)
- Items of a personal nature including telephone, laundry, taxis, minibar, room service etc.
- Travel insurance (a condition of travel; please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
Palermo – Eurostars Centrale Palace ****+
Mazara del Vallo – Giardino di Costanza Resort *****
Agrigento – Colleverde Park Hotel ****+
Syracuse – Grand Hotel des Étrangers *****+
Taormina – Eurostars Monte Tauro ****+
Valletta – Hotel Phoenicia *****+
NB. Hotels of a similar standard may be substituted.
27–29 April 2019 (3 days) / Locally Guided
Cap off your exploration of the Maltese Archipelago by spending two nights on the island of Gozo, Malta’s smaller, greener, more rustic cousin, which is home to some of the country’s most beautiful scenery and architecture. Said to be the home of the nymph Calypso in Homer’s Odyssey, Gozo has been enchanting travellers for at least 7,000 years and delights the heart with its slower pace, charming fishing villages, coastal scenery and centuries-old traditions.
- Gaze on the azure waters of Dwejra Bay and the teal lagoon of the Inland Sea, where the Mediterranean creeps beneath great limestone cliffs through a natural archway
- Wander through the megaliths of Ggantija, a fertility temple built in the third millennium BC, the second-oldest manmade structure in the entire world
- Relax in the quaint fishing village of Xlendi, perched where the hills dive into the Mediterranean Sea
- Admire the cliffs of Ta’ Cenc from a watchtower built by the Knights of Malta
Saturday 27 April 2019 / Valletta – Gozo
After breakfast, drive from Valletta to the port city of Cirkewwa for a ferry ride to the picturesque island of Gozo. On arrival, proceed to Victoria, the capital of Gozo, with free time for lunch before a walking tour of the sights of the city. Built on one of the three hills of Gozo, Victoria is dominated by its honey-coloured Mediaeval citadel, and also boasts elegant Baroque churches in the form of the Cathedral of the Assumption and the Basilica of St George.
In the afternoon, check in to the hotel, followed by dinner in the evening.
Sun 28 Apr / Gozo
Enjoy a full-day tour of the highlights of Gozo. In the morning, travel to Dwejra Bay, where the Mediterranean creeps through a natural archway underneath great limestone cliffs and forms the gentle, teal-coloured lagoon known as the Inland Sea. Explore the megaliths of Ggantija, a 5,000-year-old temple complex dedicated to a Stone Age fertility goddess and continue to Calypso’s Cave, where the nymph Calypso was said to have trapped Odysseus for seven years. (For safety reasons, it is not possible to enter the cave – but given what happened to Odysseus, it is just as well!)
Enjoy lunch in the beguiling fishing village of Xlendi, set between the steep hills and the deep sea. Visit the Villa Rundle Gardens, a Mediterranean-style garden established around 1915 by the British Governor of Malta, before returning to the hotel for an evening at leisure.
Mon 29 Apr / Gozo – Valletta – Depart Valletta
After breakfast, check out from the hotel and return to Malta island by ferry. Transfer to Valletta Airport, arriving by 12:30 (included in tour price).
Tour arrangements conclude on arrival at Valletta Airport. Suggested departure for Australia or New Zealand on Emirates flights via Larnaca and Dubai departing from 15:30 onwards. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements, including post-tour accommodation.