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Commences Rome 29 September and ends Rome 18 October 2019

 

I am forever fascinated by these two wondrous islands:  Sicily for its bold magnificence, sophistication and elegance; and Sardinia for its majestic scenery and distinctive charm. I do hope you will join me in September on this wonderful journey exploring these extraordinary Italian islands.
 

As Sicily lies at the crossroads of the Mediterranean, it has always attracted interest throughout the ages.  It is the largest island in the Mediterranean offering extensive fertile plains, valuable mineral deposits, salt deposits and excellent natural harbours.  Settlers were drawn to Sicily, setting a pattern of conquest after conquest that has left us with a legacy of the island’s fascinating history with, in many cases, ruins that we visit that testify to the grandeur of these ancient civilisations. 
 

During the Bronze Age, three tribal groups shared the island of Sicily: the Elymians in western Sicily, the Sicanians in the centre and the Sicels in the east.  During the Early Iron Age, the Phoenicians and later their cousin Carthaginians established trading posts on the western shores of the island.  In the course of our journey we will visit a number of sites stemming from this period, including bustling Palermo and the tiny lagoon island of Mozia near Marsala.  While what we see and learn about in Palermo is a kaleidoscope of layer upon layer of history from ancient times until the present, what enchants us in Mozia is the insight it gives us into the Punic world. 

Palazzo dei Normanni, Palermo, Sicily 'Giovane di Mozia'

The Ancient Greek world expanded into the western Mediterranean in the 8th century BC, with settlements being established not only on the rim of the Italian peninsula but also in eastern and southern Sicily.  Agrigento, Syracuse and Taormina, all of which we visit, were amongst the most prosperous Greek cities of their time and were held in high regard.

Mosaics at the Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily Agrigento, Sicily

As an outcome of the Punic Wars, the Romans invaded and quickly took the entire island of Sicily towards the end of the 3rd century BC. It remained a critical part of the Roman Empire in the West until waves of barbarians, including Vandal and Ostrogoth tribes, invaded the island from the 5th century AD. An archaeological site, a Roman villa, which we visit near Piazza Armerina, is renowned for having the most outstanding display of Roman floor mosaics in situ. Breathtakingly superb!

Sicily fell under the sway of the Byzantine Empire during the first half of the 6th century. Constantinople managed to hold this valuable possession for little more than 200 years when it fell to Muslim Arabs. The Arab period in Sicily’s history provided Sicily with a fillip. The capital was moved from the Syracuse to Palermo, which became a cultural hub of the Mediterranean, where Christians, Muslims and Jews lived in a certain harmony. Furthermore, it was the Arabs who revolutionised agricultural practices in Sicily by introducing irrigation into farming. They also introduced the cultivation of citrus fruits and other crops. The Arab period was a vibrant period.

Lemon trees Church of San Cataldo, Palermo, Sicily

The Normans constituted the next wave of Sicilian history. A band of Norman knights took southern Italy and Sicily during the 11th century. By the beginning of the 12th century, Sicily had become a Norman kingdom, which endured until the second half of the 13th century. Magnificent Byzantine mosaics in Cefalù, Monreale and Palermo remind us of this vital Norman period, not to mention the hallmarks of the period’s distinctive Arab-Norman architectural style, which we’ll see at a number of places including the Palazzo dei Normanni, a site we visit in Palermo.

Politics and intrigues of the late 13th century saw Sicily fall under the sway of the Angevines, a change which left a bitter taste in the mouths of Sicilians. Within decades the Kingdom of Aragon in northern Spain had laid claim to Sicily by hereditary birthright and Sicily remained part of the Spanish realm, in one way or another and with few interruptions, until the unification of Italy in the mid-19th century.

Cagliari, Sardinia Typical vineyard, Sardinia

Both Sicily and Sardinia have glorious landscapes. As we drive across Sicily we see anything from huge durum wheat farms to vineyard clad hillsides or valleys with extensive prickly-pear farms and, of course, olive groves and citrus and almond orchards. Because of a violent earthquake that rocked eastern Sicily in 1693, towns were rebuilt according to the architectural taste of the day, namely in the baroque style. For this reason we explore a number of outstandingly baroque towns such as Catania, Modica, Noto, Ragusa and Syracuse. Our Sicilian journey will include a visit to Lipari in the beautiful Aeolian Islands immediately to the north of the province of Messina. A flight from Palermo in north-western Sicily to Cagliari in southern Sardinia will transport us from the busy vibrant world of Sicily to one of the world’s oldest landforms, much like Australia, to an island that is sparsely populated, also much like Australia.

From one world to another. There is little in Sardinia that reminds us of Sicily, not even the local language nor the food. Most of Sardinia is comprised of rugged mountains, so rugged that even the Romans gave up trying to tame the mountain people. The plain to the south of the island comprises productive agricultural districts, where one might see almond and citrus orchards, olive groves and fields under wheat or spelt, while in the north one comes across vineyards.

Sardinian countryside with the Nuraghe at Barumini Mural in Fonni, Sardinia

Sardinia, the Mediterranean’s second largest island, was settled during the Early Stone Age. Obsidian trade was of great importance to the local people because of the toughness of this glass-like black volcanic rock, from which one could make spearheads, for example. During this period of settlement, the locals built nuraghi, which were tall stone towers, used either for defensive purposes or as dwellings, sometimes with a cluster of lesser dwellings surrounding the tower. Thousands of nuraghi ruins dot the landscape but we explore by far the most sought-after to visit.

Our journey in Sardinia takes us up into the craggy heights of the mountains where we stay to discover a very distinctive and formerly remote country town known for its wall murals or trompes-l’oeil that depict a myriad of scenes, some quite disturbing. This tells us a story about the lives of the local people and gives an insight into how they live.

At a relaxing pace we explore the Archipelago of La Maddalena, with its glorious scenery. We also visit Porto Cervo and the Costa Smeralda, famous for the Agha Khan’s resort development, which was initiated in the 1960s and is now a fashionable resort!

La Maddalena Archipelago, Sardinia Alghero, Sardinia

Our journey in the north will take us to Alghero on the western coast of Sardinia. Originally established as a town by the Arabs, it came under the sway of the Genovese and then later of the Kingdom of Aragon, when it was re-established as a settlement populated by burghers from Catalan in northern Spain. The local inhabitants were ousted in order to make way for the migrants from Barcelona. Even today, the locals here speak an old form of Catalan and their dialect is studied by academics from Spain.


Rome


Sardinia also had its waves of invasions. After its Byzantine period, two of the most powerful maritime republics of the Middle Ages, Genoa and Pisa, vied to have control of Sardinia. At the time of the War of the Spanish Succession in the early 18th century, Hapsburg Austria took control of the island before it passed to the dukes of Savoy. In taking Sardinia, the Savoyards were elevated from dukes to monarchs, as Sardinia had been decreed a kingdom in the 13th century by Pope Boniface. During the mid-19th century the Kingdom of Sardinia-Savoy was responsible for taking the entire Italian peninsula and Sicily by force or by bloodless treaty to create the modern Kingdom of Italy, which established its first capital in Florence and then, when Rome fell in 1870, in Rome. Italy abandoned the monarchic system after World War II, when by public plebiscite Italians chose to function as a republic.
 


I look forward to your joining me on this wonderful trip, which also includes the opportunity to enjoy a marvellous variety of food and wine experiences. Because we start and finish our journey in Rome, you will have ample opportunity to extend your stay in the Eternal City!

With best wishes,

Hugh Morgan
Golden Compass Program Leader

 

Highlights

  • The dramatic architecture of cities such as Syracuse, Nota, Catania and Taormina
  • The stunning scenery of Mt Etna and the volcanic Aeolian islands
  • The lively port of Palermo with the Mediaeval city of Erice
  • The outstanding Greek temples at Agrigento and the amazing Roman mosaics of Piazza Armerina
  • The ancient Nuragic and Roman sites of Sardinia
  • The charming ports of Cagliari and Olbia
  • The brooding mountainous interior of Sardinia around Fonni

Program Includes

  • 19 nights en-suite accommodation
  • All local flights between Rome, Sicily and Sardinia
  • Typical breakfast and dinner daily
  • Touring by comfortable and modern  coach
  • Transport and field trips as indicated
  • Applicable entry fees and services of local guides
  • Services of a Program Leader
  • Gratuities and necessary tips
  • Detailed Program Information Booklet

Price from: $10,980
Single Supplement: $1,230

Sicily and Sardinia

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