Conquering Sicily

The Island Where Cultures Clashed and Crossed

  • Step into the glittering interior of the Cappella Palatina, an extravagantly decorated chapel brimming with eye-catching gilded mosaics
  • Stand beneath the honey-coloured columns of the Doric temple at Segesta and discover its history
  • Explore the suburban palace of La Zisa, inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list

Around the same time as the Norman Conquest of England - 1066 and all that - the Normans carved out lands for themselves in southern Italy and also on the wealthy island of Sicily, which had been part of the Byzantine empire before falling to the Muslims. Ruling over its diverse peoples, the Norman conquerors formed a lasting frontier between Christian Europe and Muslim Africa, and, in so doing, they created a kingdom that was like no other in Europe – a multifaith, multilingual and multicultural state that employed officials and scholars of different religions; used hybrid art and architecture from Islamic, Byzantine, and Romanesque models; and made Latin, Greek and Arabic its official languages. So, how did this Norman Conquest happen? And why did this unique state emerge?

The epicentre of this experimental new kingdom was the island of Sicily itself with its old Arab capital at Palermo. Following the path of the Norman Conquest across the island, this tour will offer a rare and expert view of people, power, art and faith by exploring the towns, palaces, churches, castles, and dramatic landscapes of this remarkable island, which was once known as the richest part of medieval Europe.

Itinerary 2018

Day 1

Introduction
On arrival in Catania, we drive to Enna for our hotel and a pre-dinner introductory lecture.

Overnight: Enna

Day 2

Back to beginnings

We go back to the beginning of early medieval Sicily at Piazza Armerina. The late-antique villa is famous for its fabulous mosaics, but the site remained occupied into the Middle Ages. Here we can take a journey in time from late antiquity to the Muslim period. In the afternoon, we head north to Sperlinga, one of the most dramatic of the early Norman centres in this central and strategic part of Sicily. We return to Enna later this afternoon.

Overnight: Enna

Day 3

The victors’ spoils

We spend the morning exploring the old town of Enna, taken by the Normans after a major siege, including visits to its castle and cathedral. In the afternoon, we drive to the north coast and to Cefalù, an attractive port overshadowed by a huge cliff, 900 feet high. Here we visit the cathedral, founded by King Roger II in 1131, who allegedly vowed to build it after escaping a storm to land on the city’s beach. Onwards to Palermo.

Overnight: Palermo

Day 4

Ancient remnants

How best to experience the streets of Arab-Norman Palermo? We take a walk through the city, via its markets, still ordered into demarcated trades, and we visit the mosaic interiors of La Martorana, the church built by George of Antioch, Emir of Emirs to Roger II, as well as the adjacent San Cataldo built by George’s ill-fated successor, Maio of Bari. The morning ends at Palermo’s extraordinary cathedral. In the afternoon, we continue through the faded glory of Palermo to visit Palazzo Abatellis.

Overnight: Palermo

Day 5

Travel and power

In the morning, we visit the Arab baths and Norman castle at Cefalà Diana before returning to Palermo. The afternoon will see us explore the suburban palace of La Zisa, built in an Arab-Norman style and used as a residence for Joanna, daughter of Henry II of England. We then visit the remains of the royal monastery of San Giovanni degli Eremiti.

We hope, this evening, to visit the Cappella Palatina, built for King Roger II during the 1140s. No other building in Sicily shows so well the fusion of three cultures during the Norman era: Western-style basilica, Greek mosaics and elaborately carved Arabic ceiling.

Overnight: Palermo

Day 6

Rubbing shoulders

In the morning we visit Segesta. Excavations among the classical ruins above the famous Greek temple here have unearthed a Muslim necropolis and a mosque from the 12th century next to a Norman castle. We spend the afternoon at the cathedral of Monreale, one of the greatest surviving monuments of medieval Christendom with its dizzying mosaic interior and enchanting cloisters.

Overnight: Palermo

Day 7

Last stands

South to the rolling plains of central Sicily. Here, perched high on Monte Jato are recently excavated remains of the last stronghold of the Sicilian Muslims. The early medieval city was built over the extensive remains of a classical site, and from the mountain, the views across the island are exceptional. We also visit the antiquarium of the site which displays the finds from the excavations.

Overnight: Palermo

Day 8

Conclusion
This morning, we transfer to the airport in Palermo for our return flight home.

Itinerary 2019

Day 1

Upon our arrival into Catania, we drive to Enna and check into our hotel, before enjoying a pre-dinner introductory lecture.

Day 2

We go back to the beginning of early Medieval Sicily at Piazza Armerina. The late-antique villa is famous for its fabulous mosaics, but the site remained occupied well into the Middle Ages. Here we can take a journey in time from late antiquity to the Muslim period. In the afternoon, we head north to Sperlinga, one of the most dramatic of the early Norman centres in this central and strategic part of Sicily. The current planned village replaces the original rupestral cave settlement used in the earlier Middle Ages. The castle dates back to c.1000 with much later rebuilding. We return to Enna this afternoon.

Day 3

Our morning is spent exploring the old town of Enna, which was taken by the Normans after a major siege, and our visit here includes visits to both its castle and cathedral. Beginning as a Byzantine fort and later an Arab stronghold, it became a Norman royal castle, enlarged by the emperor Federick II and his successors. The Cathedral of Enna was commissioned by Queen Eleanor of Anjou, wife of Federick III of Aragon who was crowned king of Sicily here. In the afternoon, we drive on to the north coast and to Cefalù, an attractive port overshadowed by a huge cliff, 900 feet high. Here we visit the cathedral, which was founded by King Roger II in 1131. He allegedly vowed to build this cathedral after escaping a storm to land on the city’s beach. From here, we move onwards to Palermo.

Day 4

How best to experience the streets of Arab-Norman Palermo? Well, let us show you. Today we take a walk through the city, via its bustling markets, still ordered into demarcated trades, and we pay a visit the luminous mosaic interiors of La Martorana, the Byzantine church built by George of Antioch, Emir of Emirs to Roger II. This 12th century structure has a stunning interior, with a domed cupola depicting Christ alongside his archangels. We also make a stop at the adjacent San Cataldo, which was built by George’s ill-fated successor, Maio of Bari. The morning comes to an end at Palermo’s extraordinary cathedral. In the afternoon, we continue with our touring and venture through the faded glory of Palermo to visit the Palazzo Abatellis.

Day 5

In the morning, we visit the Arab baths and Norman castle at Cefalà Diana before returning to Palermo. The afternoon will see us explore the suburban palace of La Zisa, built in an Arab-Norman style and used as a residence for Joanna, daughter of Henry II of England. We then visit the remains of the royal monastery of San Giovanni degli Eremiti. This evening, we hope to visit the spectacular Cappella Palatina, built for King Roger II during the 1140s. No other building in Sicily shows so well the fusion of three cultures during the Norman era: Western-style basilica, Greek mosaics and its elaborately carved Arabic ceiling.

Day 6

In the morning, we visit Segesta. Excavations among the Classical ruins, above the famous Greek temple here, have unearthed a Muslim necropolis and a unique mosque from the 12th century, next to a Norman castle. Later, we visit the cathedral of Monreale, one of the greatest surviving monuments of medieval Christendom, with its dizzying mosaic interior and cloisters.

Day 7

Venture south to the rolling plains of central Sicily. Here, perched high on Monte Jato, we find recently excavated remains of the last stronghold of the Sicilian Muslims. The early medieval city was built over the extensive remains of a Classical site, and, from the mountain, the views across the island are simply exceptional. We also visit the antiquarium of the site, which displays a wealth of finds from the excavations.

Day 8

This morning, we transfer to the airport in Palermo for our return flight home.

What's Included

  1. Tour Manager & Guide Lecturer
  2. Meals - 7 breakfasts, 5 lunches and 7 dinners
  3. Hand-picked hotels throughout the tour
  4. Transport - Return flights and all local travel

Shining light on the Dark Ages

The Medieval era was filled with breathtaking artistic achievement spurred on by tremendous religious faith. Alongside the beauty, life could be coarse and cruel; cut short by famine, disease or the religious zeal that spurred on wars that still echo today.

This era is one of the most intriguing yet misrepresented periods of history. Did people really think the world was flat? No, that enduring myth was created by a 19th-century American journalist. Were witches put on trial and burnt at the stake? Yes, but you’d have to wait for the refined Renaissance period to bear witness to that. Travel alongside an expert guide lecturer, and separate fact from fiction in this fascinating period.

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To book your tour without flights from the US, please call our team on 888-591-0830

2019 Tour Details

$3,795

inc.

London based departure

  • 8 Days
  • 23rd Sep - 30th Sep 2019
  • Code: QSI19B
  • Available
  • sgl supp: $375