Art and Architecture in Southern Italy
Join art critic and historian Christopher Allen as he traverses Southern Italy’s fascinating coastline, boasting countless archaeological sites, historic cities and diverse architecture.
Southern Italy revels in a rich and complex history. Known as Magna Graecia in antiquity, it was dominated by Greek colonies, influencing the region’s heritage with their art and philosophies.
Over time the Romans, Byzantines and Normans, as well as the great Emperor Frederick II, also left their mark on the area before the long period of Spanish and Bourbon rule.
Experience a fascinating variety of architecture, from Romanesque to Baroque, set in a landscape of spectacular coastlines and ancient olive groves. Discover unspoilt pockets of old Italy as well as cosmopolitan cities and resort towns, and enjoy delicious local food and wine in atmospheric settings.
Arrive in Rome on suggested flights and make your way to the hotel. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements, including travel insurance (a condition of travel), a private hotel transfer, accommodation before or after the tour and a room category upgrade.
In the late-afternoon, join your tour leader Christopher Allen and fellow travellers for a welcome briefing followed by dinner.
After a talk by Christopher, spend the day exploring some of Rome’s finest ancient and medieval sites, starting with the Capitoline Hill and Roman Forum. Continue to the Basilica San Clemente, an extraordinary basilica built at the turn of the 12th century over the remains of a 1st-century manor and temple, which was in turn constructed on the foundations of a Republic-era villa destroyed in the Great Fire of 64CE under the reign of Emperor Nero.
This afternoon, visit Santa Maria Maggiore, the first and largest Catholic church dedicated to Mary in all of Italy, which is famous for its extraordinary interior mosaics on the triumphal arch and nave.
In the morning, enjoy a tour of some of Rome’s most important Baroque churches. First, visit Santa Maria della Vittoria, world-renowned for the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, a masterpiece of Baroque sculpture by Bernini, which stands in the Cornaro Chapel. Continue to the San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, the first independent commission of Borromini and one of the icons of Italian Baroque architecture. Then, view Sant’Ignazio Church and walk to the Piazza Navona to see Bernini’s Fountain of Four Rivers.
This afternoon, enjoy a guided tour of the Vatican Museums and wonder at the splendour of the extensive collection of Italian High Renaissance artworks, including the Raphael Rooms and Michelangelo’s iconic Sistine Chapel. Painted under the patronage of Pope Julius II, the chapel ceiling changed the course of Western art and is considered a major accomplishment of human civilisation. Today the chapel plays host to the conclave of cardinals, the process by which a new Pope is elected.
Depart Rome and travel to Caserta, famous for its Royal Palace and fountain-filled gardens. Enjoy a guided tour of the palace, created in the 18th century by the Italian architect Luigi Vanvitelli as a Versailles-like residence (‘Reggia’) for the Bourbon kings of Naples and Sicily. Vanvitelli also designed the aqueduct, named after him, and opened in 1762 to supply the region with water.
This morning, depart Caserta for the pretty hilltop town of Benevento, surrounded by the Campanian Apennines, between the rivers Sabato and Calore. Explore the sights such as the well-preserved Roman Theatre, the church of Saint Sofia and the Arch of Trajan, built of Greek marble – one of the finest of its kind.
Visit the coastal town of Barletta. Then, travel to Trani, a scenic port town that was once the possession of Venice.
Join Christopher for a talk before dinner at a local waterfront restaurant.
In the morning, enjoy a walking tour of Trani. Visit the cathedral, perched as a spiritual lighthouse on the edge of the sea and perhaps the finest example of the local Romanesque style.
Then, travel to Ruvo di Puglia and explore the Jatta National Museum, home to an elegant collection of vases from the Magna Graecia civilisation.
This afternoon, visit the Castel del Monte, a defensive fortress built in the 1240s by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed fortress is unusual for being constructed in an octagonal shape, with an octagonal tower on each of the castle’s eight corners. Legend has it that the main use of the castle was as an astronomy observatory.
Continue to the charming city of Bari, which offers stunning views of the sea. Having been a major port during Roman times, Bari was brought within the political ambit of the Norman dominions in Naples and Sicily from the 11th century AD, and the mazelike old town retains much of the architecture of this period. Return to Trani in time for dinner.
This morning, depart Trani for the UNESCO World Heritage-listed town of Alberobello, famous for its quaint trulli, whitewashed houses built with conical grey drystone roofs dating from the 18th century. Like so many good stories, the history of the trulli begins with a clever act of tax avoidance: by not using mortar in the building of the roof, the owner of the house could avoid the application of the imperial building tax, either because the residence was deemed ‘temporary’ or because it could be dismantled when tax inspectors were in the area. There are around 1,400 trulli in the town – even the church is in the form of a trullo.
Then, discover the market town of Altamura, located in the Murgia hills and home to the only cathedral built by Frederick II.
Continue to the ancient city of Matera, arriving in the mid-afternoon.
In the morning, enjoy a guided tour of Matera, including the ‘Sassi di Matera’ (stones of Matera) – the most outstanding, intact example of a troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean region. Houses, churches, monasteries and hermitages were dug into the calcareous rock, and these atmospheric caves have been continuously inhabited since the Palaeolithic period.
Depart Matera for the port city of Brindisi, and on to Lecce, whose abundance of Baroque sculptures has earned it the moniker ‘The Florence of the South’. Thousands of years of human habitation and a naturally workable honey-coloured limestone known as pietra leccese (Lecce stone) have graced Lecce with monuments including a Roman theatre, a 16th-century triumphal arch and several fine Mediaeval and 17th-century churches.
Depart Lecce for Taranto in the morning and visit the archaeological museum, where one of the largest collections of artifacts from the Magna Graecia era is exhibited.
Arrive in Potenza in the late-afternoon.
This morning, travel west to Paestum, on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea in Magna Graecia. This major ancient Greek city has three of the world’s best preserved Doric temples, as well as a fascinating archaeological museum filled with millennia-old frescoes, ceramics and daily artefacts. Among these is the iconic Tomb of the Diver funerary fresco.
In the afternoon, continue to Ravello, situated on a rocky promontory at 350 metres above sea level and offering breathtaking views of the Amalfi Coast.
Following a talk by Christopher, explore Ravello. See the impressive cathedral, the venerable Duomo, dedicated to San Pantaleone whose blood is a treasured relic and supposedly liquefies every year.
After lunch, the afternoon is at leisure to visit the gardens of Ravello’s Villa Cimbrone and Villa Rufolo and wander amongst the tropical plants while enjoying panoramic views of the coastline. Otherwise join an optional tour to Amalfi along the scenic Amalfi Drive (not included in tour price). The twisting road squeezed between the rocks reveals tantalising glimpses of small villages, secluded bays and inlets, all looking out over a clear blue sea in stark contrast to the lush green Mediterranean flora which colours the slopes of the hills and cliffs.
Depart Ravello and travel to Naples, which sits on the northern edge of the Bay of Naples, one of the most beautiful in Italy. On arrival, enjoy a walking tour of the historic centre of Naples including a visit to Pio Monte della Misericordia, home to Caravaggio’s masterpiece, The Seven Works of Mercy.
After checking in to the hotel in the afternoon, there is the option to join an optional excursion to Cumae, one of the first Greek settlements in Italy, and visit the temple foundations on the hill offering expansive views of the area (not included in tour price).
In the morning, explore some of the treasures of ancient Italy in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. One of the world’s most impressive archaeological institutions, the museum contains the extraordinary Farnese Art Collection of works from Graeco-Roman antiquity, as well as many poignant casts made of the victims of Pompeii and decorations removed from the Pompeii excavations. A particular highlight is the series of astoundingly lifelike mosaics of Mediterranean sea life, waterfowl and the denizens of the Nile River, rendered in carefully-observed detail.
The afternoon is dedicated to the Capodimonte Museum, containing 13th- to 18th-century artworks by Masaccio, Botticelli, Rafaello, Bellini, Tiziano, Caravaggio, Vasari, Giordano, El Greco and Jacob Philipp Hackert. The extraordinary collection testifies to the wealth and influence of Naples throughout the centuries.
The day is at leisure to further explore Naples at your own pace. An option is to take the public ferry to the island of Capri, famed for its rugged landscape (not included in tour price).
In the evening, join Christopher and fellow tour members for a special farewell dinner.
Tour arrangements conclude after breakfast.
For those returning home today, make your way to Naples airport for suggested flights to Australia or New Zealand. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your flights and other travel arrangements, including a private airport transfer, additional nights’ accommodation either before or after the tour and travel insurance (a condition of travel).
Per person, twin-share
Deposit per person (at time of booking)
Final payment due
30 July 2024
Room category upgrade available on request; please enquire with us.
Tour price includes
- Accommodation in centrally-located 4-star hotels with breakfast daily (B)
- Meals as per itinerary (L=Lunch, D=Dinner), including wines with dinners
- Comprehensive sightseeing, including local guides and entrance fees as per itinerary
- Transportation on comfortable air-conditioned coaches as per itinerary
- Lectures and talks by your tour leader, Christopher Allen
- Gratuities for local guides, drivers and wait staff
- Hotel porterage (one piece per person), where available
Tour price does not include
- International airfares (please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
- Airport porterage
- Airport/hotel transfers on arrival and departure
- Items of a personal nature (e.g. telephone, laundry, room service, mini-bar, taxis etc.)
- Travel insurance (a condition of travel; please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
Rome – Starhotels Metropole****
Caserta – Hotel Royal Caserta****
Trani – San Paolo al Convento****
Matera – Basiliani Hotel****
Lecce – Grand Hotel Di Lecce****
Potenza – Park Hotel Centro Congressi****
Ravello – Hotel Marmorata****
Naples – Royal Continental Hotel****
N.B. Hotels of a similar standard may be substituted.
Tour code: RT2401
Fitness level: Moderate
Please see Terms & Conditions for fitness level definitions here.
Suggested airline: Emirates/Qantas
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.
Download booking form here.