Majolica, Mosaics & Architectural Masterpieces
At the heart of the Mediterranean, off the toe of the Italian peninsula, the triangular island of Sicily has been dominated by many rulers throughout its 3,000 years history. Greeks and Romans, Byzantines and Arabs, the Normans and the Spanish left a stunning array of artistic masterpieces, such as classical temples and theatres, as well as medieval and Baroque towns and churches. The different settlers also influenced the Sicilian cuisine, which is Italy’s most varied and exotic, boasting seafood, fruits, pastries and wine. Today’s artists continue the Sicilian tradition of hand painted majolica ceramics on terracotta vessels and tiles.
Our special on-board archaeologist, Dr Emilia Oddo
Emilia Oddo is an archaeologist, whose interest focuses on the production, use and diffusion of ancient Greek pottery, particularly the one from prehistoric Crete. She is particularly intrigued by the social mechanisms at stake in the production processes and is currently working on defining different ceramic traditions in Crete. In the past couple of years, she has taken her interest beyond Greece and has developed an enthusiastic interest for the different ceramic traditions of Italy -particularly Sicily-, throughout the centuries, as well as the modern techniques of Greek potters. A native of Palermo, Sicily, she left Italy for Greece, Belgium, and the USA, where she finished her PhD.Currently she is an Assistant Professor of Greek Archaeology at Tulane University, New Orleans.
Highlights of the Sicily excursion include:
Ceramics: Caltagirone, Santo Stefano di Camastra
These charming towns are the leading centres for the production of ceramics, especially for majolica hand painting. Traditional Sicilian motives are pomegranates and lemons, painted with copper green, fiery yellow, manganese black and cobalt blue pigments over an opaque tin white glaze, which covers terracotta tiles and vessels.
Other wares called “Istoriato” show historical and legendary scenes painted in great detail. Moorish potters from Mallorca (Spain) are reported to have worked in Sicily, and majolica wares reached the Italian mainland from Caltagirone. The Arabs, arriving in 828 A.D., gave the ancient Byzantine village of Caltagirone its name Qual’at Giaran, Hill of Vases, and they also brought with them the tradition and techniques of glazed polychrome ceramics. This tradition continues.
We will visit artists in their ceramic studios, showing and demonstrating both traditional and modern works.
On our strolls through these towns, we will see how ceramic tiles were used as decorating elements in the local architecture, for example on bridge railings, facades of palaces and churches, floor tiles, portals, and the walls and fountains in parks.
The Ceramics Museum at the city of Caltagirone (a UNESCO world heritage site) has an amazing historical ceramics collection, one of the best in Italy, covering 5000 years of ceramics. There are Bronze Age pots, Greek, Hellenistic and Roman craters and figurines. The Middle Ages are represented by Arab vases and Sicilian pieces.
The collection also has more recent pharmacy jars and glazed vases with religious figures. What most vividly tells the history of the city and its potters from Arab times until today are the polychrome majolica tiles decorating the risers of the 142 steps of Maria Santissima del Monte.
Greek and Baroque Masterpieces: Syracuse, Ortygia & Noto
For 27 centuries, the city of Syracuse has been of great economic and cultural importance. From the prehistoric populations to the Corinthians, who founded the Greek city, to the introduction of Baroque architecture, the history of Syracuse is an open book, clearly visible in many streets and buildings. The focal point of Syracuse is the island of Ortygia with buildings dating back as far as the 6th-century BC Temple of Apollo, 14th-century Palazzi and the Baroque Cathedral (18th century).
The Greek theatre was designed in the 5th century BC and many of the great Greek playwrights wrote and staged their works in
this magnificent setting. The enormous quantity of material excavated from digs throughout southeastern Sicily is housed in the archeological museum.
After a devastating earthquake in 1693 the towns of eastern Sicily were almost totally rebuilt; Noto shows a stunning array of this era’s Spanish-influenced Baroque architecture and its unique combination with Sicilian decorative and structural elements.
Doric Temples: Agrigento & Selinunte
The Valley of the Temples near Agrigento is the site of some of the best preserved Doric temples in the world (dedicated to Olympian Zeus, Heracles, Condord and Hera; 5th and 6th centuries B.C.).
The Archeological Museum, located in a convent, displays objects ranging from prehistoric times to the early Christian period, including remarkable pieces such as Attic vases.
Another striking archeological site is Selinunte, with its fine examples of Doric architecture and its Acropolis overlooking the sea.
Roman Mosaics & Architecture: Villa del Casale & Taormina
The Roman Villa del Casale near Piazza Armerina was part of a 3rd-4th century AD estate. The exceptionally beautiful mosaics that decorated every one of the rooms of the landowner’s apartments have been preserved through the centuries, thanks to a flood that buried them in mud in the 12th century. Each room’s mosaics depict a different topic: The frigidarium (cold bath) is decorated with mythical sea creatures, whereas the wild game hunting scenes which can be seen in a long passageway, show ferocious beasts such as boar and lions being loaded onto ships after capture. The ten women gymnasts in the Hall of the Female Gymnasts in Bikinis are a rare and precious record of the Roman fashions of the time.
The second largest ancient theatre in Sicily after the one in Syracuse is located in Taormina, a pretty town which spreads across steep hillsides high above the sparkling Ionian coast. The theatre was originally built in the Hellenistic age (3rd century BC) and was almost entirely rebuilt by the Romans in the 2nd century AD, when it became an arena for gladiatorial combat. Magnificent views of the sea and Mt Etna can be enjoyed from the theatre as well as from many other locations in Taormina.
Arab-Norman Architecture and Mosaics: Palermo & Monreale
The golden age of Palermo was under Arab domination (10th century), when it rivaled Cordoba and Cairo in beauty, and the Arab influence can still be seen in the architecture of the churches, the many alleys in the old town and the markets. Later, in 1091, Palermo became the capital of the Norman kingdom. The Cappella Palatina, founded in 1130 by the Norman King Roger II, boasts an extraordinary cycle of mosaics. Another jewel of Arab-Norman art is the Monreale Cathedral with its gold mosaics representing episodes from the Old Testament and a cloister with pointed arches of Arab inspiration.
Medieval walks: Cefalu & Erice
Cefalu is a lovely town which combines medieval and 17th-century architecture with a beautiful sandy beach. It is very appealing to stroll through the narrow streets and the fishermen’s quarter with its old houses clustered along the seafront.
The atmospheric Piazza Duomo with its cafes invites for a drink while watching the colours of sunset behind the giant illuminated Norman cathedral.
Erice, a hilltop town laid out on a triangular plan, has also preserved its medieval character, with fine city walls, beautifully paved streets, stone houses with decorated doorways, small squares and open spaces with numerous churches. Its almond pastries are exquisite and the town offers superb views on the Mediterranean.
Day 1: Transfer Catania Airport to Hotel in Catania, dinner.
Day 2: Catania highlights.
Day 3: Drive around Mt Etna to Cefalu, dinner.
Day 4: Explore medieval Cefalu, visit the cathedral.
Day 5: Excursion to Santo Stefano di Camastra. Walking tour, ceramic studios, museum.
Day 6: Drive to Palermo. Walking tour, markets and churches.
Day 7: Excursion to Monreale, visit monastery. Afternoon in Palermo, museums.
Day 8: Visit Palatine Chapel. Free afternoon in Palermo.
Day 9: Drive to Erice. Explore the medieval hilltop town of Erice, churches & castle.
Day 10: Free morning in Erice, Drive to Agrigento, visit Greek ruins of Selinunte and Sciacca enroute, dinner.
Day 11: Visit Valley of the Temples. Guided visit to archeological museum Agrigento.
Day 12: Drive to Caltagirone. Visit Villa Romana with its amazing mosaics enroute.
Day 13: Guided visit to ceramic museum. Visit majolica studios in Caltagirone.
Day 14: Drive to Syracuse, walk and overnight in the old town of Syracuse (Ortygia).
Day 15: Walking tour of Ortygia, cathedral. Guided tour of archaelogical museum Siracusa.
Day 16: Visit Greek ruins. Free afternoon in Siracusa.
Day 17: Drive to Taormina. Guided visit to Greco-Roman theatre and Taormina town.
Day 18: Free morning in Taormina. Visit ceramics museum. Final dinner.
Day 19: Breakfast and transfer to Catania airport.
18 nights accommodation including 4 and 3 star hotels, a monastery in a medieval village.(details to follow)
4 Dinners.(details to follow)
Meet, assist, and transfer for international arrivals and departures.
Transport throughout Sicily in a first-class minivan.
Specific site guides.
On-board professional ceramic artist and tour leader.
Special guided tours to archaeological, historical sites, and museums.
Guided visits to potteries including demonstrations.
Entrance fees to museums, and special sites
If you must cancel, the following cancellation fees will apply:
- up to June 15,
- June 16 - September 7
- September 8 - November 29
- November 30 - January 15,
- January 16 - April 29,
- Deposit of $300
- Deposit plus 20% of the invoice total
- Deposit plus 35% of the invoice total
- Deposit plus 50% of the invoice total
- No refund
There is no refund for arriving late or leaving the trip early.
Discovery Art Travel reserves the right to cancel the trip due to low enrolment, or if we feel that the quality of the trip or the safety of travelers would be compromised. In such a case ,we will refund all payments received to date, which constitutes full settlement.