Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Spaniards, French—and Jews—have all left their traces on “The Two Sicilies,” as Naples and Sicily were once known. Thanks to their position in the center of the Mediterranean, these two Sicilies were the meeting point of many civilizations. During the course of this unique trip, we will be seeking out those traces and studying the rich and complex culture of this region and its Jewish communities.
Jews have had a presence in Naples since the days of Pompeii and Herculaneum, both dramatically destroyed by an eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in the first century CE. A stone’s throw away, across the Strait of Messina, stands Sicily – only a short hop away from Africa. Like Naples, it too has a volcano, Mt. Etna, with a destructive past. Here, Jewish communities once flourished under a series of cosmopolitan and tolerant regimes that began with the Arab conquest of the island in the ninth century, and continued through the period of Norman control, until they came under the same edict of expulsion that ended Jewish life in Spain in 1492.
For centuries, Sicily was truly the center of civilized life; it still contains impressive remains of Greek and Roman antiquity in the form of Greek theaters and Roman temples and the influences of every people that has ever lived there. Join us on this special trip to Sicily where, accompanied by scholar, Professor Ray Scheindlin, trip leader Aryeh Maidenbaum and local experts, we will experience startling sights, spectacular scenery, delicious foods and friendly, curious people. Along the way, we will be staying at the best hotels and learn about the tantalizing traces of Jewish life of the “Two Sicilies.”
Arrive in Naples, and check in to the deluxe Grand Hotel Vesuvio one of Naples’ finest. Rest and relax.
Evening: Overview by our accompanying scholar, Professor Raymond Scheindlin, who will present “The Jewish Communities of the Two Sicilies.” This will be followed by an orientation meeting and an opportunity to get to know one another. Welcoming, festive Shabbat dinner at our hotel is included.
Morning: Free time to explore Naples on our own, or attend services with the local Jewish community.
Afternoon: (optional) Walking tour of Spacca Napoli, the succession of streets that divide Naples’ historic district into two halves. The oldest part of town, dating back to Greek and Roman times and still considered the heart of the city today, contains some of Naples’ most interesting artistic and cultural highlights, including churches, picturesque small shops, and traditional crafts makers. Villa Pignatelli, the early-nineteenth-century home of Carl Mayer Rothschild, will be included in the tour.
Evening: Professor Raymond Scheindlin will present “The Byzantine Emperor Basil I and His Jewish Antagonist.” Dinner on our own.
Our day will begin with a visit to the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, containing one of the world’s foremost collections of Greek and Roman antiquities, including mosaics, frescoes, sculptures, and silver; many of the objects were sourced from excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Break for lunch (included) before a guided visit to Herculaneum, a UNESCO World Heritage site – a wealthier town than Pompeii, possessing an extraordinary density of fine houses with far more lavish use of colored marble cladding. A large number of artifacts from Herculaneum are preserved in the Naples National Archaeological Museum. Departure for the airport and an evening flight to Palermo. Check in to the Villa Igiea, a five-star deluxe hotel in Palermo.
Visit Monreale, the magnificent twelfth-century basilica, with its amazing interior recounting the Old Testament. Continue to lunch (included) in Palermo’s city center, where we will walk through the former Jewish quarter, “La Meschita,” visit the Church of La Magione with its biblical garden and well with Hebrew inscriptions, and the Norman castle “La Zisa.”
Evening: Professor Raymond Scheindlin will present “Muslim Sicily and Its Jewish Community,” followed by a musical performance by Janice Meyerson, and dinner (included).
Tour Mozia, an ancient Phoenician island settlement, accessible by a 15-minute boat ride across a lagoon and past salt flats still harvested in the ancient method. The Mozia Archaeological Museum is a remarkable museum as well as the ruins of an equally remarkable civilization. Mozia as a whole provides visitors with a rare, unspoiled glimpse into Sicily’s Phoenician past.
Lunch in Marsala (included) and a visit to the Tapestry Museum, with eight precious sixteenth-century Flemish tapestries depicting scenes from the Roman-Jewish war (first century CE) that are attributed to the Spanish-Flemish painter Pedro Campaña.
Return to Palermo in time for dinner on our own.
Depart Palermo for Agrigento. Lunch (included) upon arrival, followed by a private, guided tour of the Regional Archaeological Museum “Pietro Griffo,” one of the most important and most visited archaeological museums in Sicily. This museum displays more than 5,600 artifacts arranged both in chronological and topographical order, illustrating the history of the Agrigentan territory from prehistoric times to the end of the Greek-Roman period. It will be the perfect introduction to our visit to the Valley of the Temples the next morning. Check in to the deluxe Villa Athena Hotel, with time to rest and enjoy the spectacular scenery surrounding the Villa Athena. Dinner at our hotel (included).
Morning walking tour of the Valley of the Temples, one of the most important archaeological sites in the world as well as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Picnic lunch (included) before afternoon visit to the Piazza Armerina and a tour of the Villa del Casale. An estate that dates back to the third century CE, the villa is renowned for what many consider the most exceptional Roman mosaics in the world. Return to Agrigento in time for dinner on our own and overnight at Villa Athena.
Depart Agrigento for Siracusa. Originally a Greek colony, Siracusa—founded in the eighth century BCE and described by Cicero as “the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of all”—has one of the largest concentrations of Greek ruins outside Greece. Arrive in time for lunch on our own and an afternoon tour of the Paolo Orsi Archaeological Museum, which holds one of the most important collections in southern Italy. Check in to the Grand Hotel Ortigia, and rest and relax before a festive Shabbat dinner at our hotel (included).
Free to rest and relax…(OR) optional morning walking tour of the island of Ortigia, where we will visit the ancient market and Roman ruins; and walk the narrow streets of the Giudecca (ancient Jewish quarter), and see what was once the site of a synagogue and ancient mikveh (Jewish ritual bath). Located 11 meters below ground level, this mikveh is among the oldest ever found in Europe. Our morning will end at the Bellomo Gallery, where some tombstones from the Jewish medieval cemetery are displayed.
Evening: Professor Scheindlin will address the theme “The Holy Roman Emperor and His Jewish Intellectuals,” followed by dinner on our own.
Depart Ortigia for Taormina, with a stop to tour Siracusa’s (World Heritage) archaeological site, including the archaeological park of the Neapolis. Here, we will visit the monolithic Greek theater; its cavea (curved, stone seating area), one of the largest ever built by the ancient Greeks, is still used today for classical performances. Our morning tour will continue with a visit to the sacrificial Altar of Hieron II, “Ear of Dionysius” (an artificial limestone quarry so named by the painter Caravaggio), and its ancient Roman amphitheater before we continue to Taormina. Upon arrival in Taormina, check in to the five-star San Domenico Hotel, one of the finest in Taormina, with an expansive view of the sea. After lunch on our own, a walking tour of Taormina, including its magnificent Greek theater. Dinner on our own.
Free to rest, relax, or explore Taormina on our own, OR…. enjoy an excursion to Messina and its ancient Jewish quarter. In Messina, we will visit the Norman Cathedral (with its Latin inscription that negatively refers to the Jewish community) and the beautiful Palazzo Penso, originally of Jewish family heritage. We will also visit the Regional Archaeological Museum, which contains, among its many artistic treasures, a Hebrew inscription. The museum illustrates the development of art and culture in Messina from the twelfth to the eighteenth centuries and displays the work of outstanding artists such as Caravaggio.
Evening meeting: Final thoughts by Professor Raymond Scheindlin and a musical performance by Janice Meyerson.
Evening: Closing dinner (included).
Depart Taormina for Catania airport and return flights to the U.S.
Gran Hotel Vesuvio, Naples
Attention to detail is the five-star Grand Hotel Vesuvio’s theme, while graciously combining old-world charm with modern comfort and the latest technology. Dining at the Caruso Roof Garden Restaurant is a unique experience, and there is a breathtaking view of the bay. The Grand Hotel Vesuvio is only a few steps from the Royal Palace and the Castel dell’Ovo.
Grand Hotel Villa Igiea, Palermo
Located at the foot of Mount Pellegrino, overlooking the Gulf of Palermo, the Grand Hotel Villa Igiea is a five-star luxury hotel in Art Nouveau style. With an old-world, romantic atmosphere of the Belle Epoque, the Villa Igiea has welcomed guests for over a century. It is surrounded with colorful terraced gardens and the scent of jasmine and Mediterranean herbs.
Villa Athena, Agrigento
The Villa Athena, located in the heart of the Valley of the Temples, overlooks the Temple of Concordia, a fine example of architectural beauty dating back to the fifth century BCE. Formerly a princely residence of the eighteenth century, the building was carefully restored to preserve its architectural style; thus was born the five-star Villa Athena, surrounded by a beautiful park of Saracen olive trees and palms, making it a quiet and comfortable location.
Grand Hotel Ortigia, Siracusa
The five-star Grand Hotel Ortigia is situated in a recently renovated historic building on the island of Ortigia, in Siracusa, just a few steps from the old town center, Fonte Aretusa, and Marina di Siracusa. The hotel offers a restaurant with a panoramic sea-view terrace, as well as welcoming guest rooms. Enjoy a memorable stay in one of the most beautiful towns of Sicily.