It is easy to understand why Verdi once said "You may have the universe if I may have Italy". Home not only to the great treasures of ancient Rome and the Renaissance, Italy is also the birthplace of La Dolce Vita. Add to this the great archaeological treasures of Pompeii and Herculaneum and the stunning beauty of the Amalfi Coast, and few would argue with the great composer. Our range of itineraries mean that you can explore all that this magnificent country has to offer: from the canals of Venice to the monumental grandeur of Imperial Rome.
Whether it is your first or fifteenth time in Venice, it is easy to get lost amid the labyrinth of bridges, footpaths and waterways, but save that pleasure for later. On this walking tour, a knowledgeable guide will navigate the city for you, uncovering its treasures as he or she shares its tales. Travel by boat down the beautiful Guidecca Canal to the heart of Venice, St Mark’s Square, and disembark at the bustling Riva degli Schiavoni. Stand in the regally proportioned square so famous for its pigeons and pealing bell towers. Sights here include the Campanile and the 15thcentury clock tower where two huge bronze statues strike the hour.
Walk to St Mark's Basilica, a masterpiece of Byzantine architecture, and admire its façade mosaics and golden dome, both superbly restored to their original grandeur. Next, take in the beauty of the Doge's Palace, a 14th-century Gothic masterpiece with pink marble exterior and lacy stone arches. For nearly a thousand years, this was the seat of the Venetian government and the residence of the Republic's elected leader, the Doge. After viewing this sight from outside, you'll have free time to explore the shops and cafes around St Mark's Square, where necklaces of Venetian glass make a treasured souvenir.
Travel by boat to two islands of the Venetian Lagoon: Murano of glass-making fame, and Burano with its gaily painted fishermen's houses. En route, your guide will provide information, then enjoy independent exploration at each destination.
Start with a visit to Murano, "the island of glass." In the 13th century the glass factories moved here from the city to prevent fires and by the 15th century this was the leading glassproducing center in Europe, noted especially for its chandeliers. To this day glass-making is the heart of the local economy. You'll have the opportunity to watch a master at work and see why these artisans once enjoyed privileges reserved for the ruling elite, including immunity from prosecution and the right to bear arms. The island's 11th-century Camaldolese Benedictine Monastery of St Michael fostered map making, critical to the era of navigation.
Your next stop, Burano, is actually an archipelago of islands connected by bridges. Stroll along canals lined with brightly painted boats and just-as-colorful houses. While the men fished, the women specialized in delicate lace, and the island was an important trading hub in the 16th century. Today, lace made by the time-consuming traditional methods is highly prized and can be seen in the Lace making Museum.
Situated on a hilltop, Urbino is a small town with a big history. This place had a huge influence on Renaissance culture and Urbino’s Ducal Palace is one of the finest buildings of the period. In the fifteenth century, Urbino was ruled by the Montefeltro family, and reached its peak during the reign of the Duke Federico da Montefeltro.
Urbino was also the birthplace of the artist Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio 1483-1520) and your tour includes a visit to the house where he lived up to age of 14. This modest dwelling contains memoirs and artistic furniture of that period. Raphael was born here in 1483 and trained at home at least until the age of 11, when his father died. There is a small mural attributed to the boy painter in one room, but the house is chiefly interesting as an atmospheric 15th-century home/workshop.
Your visit continues to Palazzo Ducale, Italy’s most beautiful Renaissance palace built for Duke Federico da Montefeltro, who ruled Urbino between 1444 and 1482. Today the palace is enriched with a comprehensive library, famous paintings including works by Piero della Francesca, Raphael and Titian and refined architecture.
Another of Urbino’s magnificent buildings is the Duomo built in 1789 on top of a sixthcentury sacred site. Completed in 1604, it was destroyed by an earthquake and then rebuilt. The duomo now has a neo-classical appearance and houses several important artworks, including a painting of the Last Supper by Federico Barocci. The Museo Diocesano has a collection of glass, ceramics, and religious items. After visiting the cathedral there is some free time for lunch on your own in one of Urbino’s many restaurants (you may wish to try Antica Osteria della Stella, an ancient inn that claims to have hosted Raphael and Piero della Francesca) and souvenir shopping.
Buried for centuries, this well-preserved archaeological site is far less visited than Pompeii, yet in many ways provides a more complete picture of daily life in the Roman Empire. Ostia Antica was ancient Rome's main port on the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Anco Marzio (640BC to 616BC), the fourth king of Rome, is traditionally named the founder of this city at the mouth "ostia" of the Tiber. At the city's peak, about 100,000 people from all classes and all parts of the Mediterranean lived here until decline began due to silting river, barbarian invasions and malaria. Excavations reveal a hard-working city with apartments, warehouses, bakeries, bars, plus public and religious buildings.
Your tour of the archaeological zone begins at Via delle Tombe, leading to the city gates. Stroll along the Decumanus Maximus, the main road. Visit the Baths of Neptune with beautiful black-and-white mosaics of the god's wife, Amphitrite. Walk to the theater, the Forum and such public buildings as the Capitolium and the Temple of Rome and Augustus. A variety of religious buildings include several temples dedicated to the cult of Mithras, Egyptian and Roman gods, plus a 1st century BC Jewish synagogue and a Christian basilica.
See the large thermal baths, the 20-hole public latrine and the living complex called the House of Diana. The Termopolium with its marble counter where ancient Romans could have a quick lunch features a fresco representing the food on sale. Round out your visit with a stop at the Museum Ostiense, displaying some of the wonderful sculptures and mosaics found at this remarkable site.
Enjoy a dazzling visit to what is considered one of the world's most important art collections, the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel.
At the Vatican Museums, you will wander through the fascinating Candelabra Gallery, the Gallery of Tapestries and the Gallery of Maps. Then pass through the magnificent Stanza of Raphael, where in the 16th century the young artist decorated the rooms of Pope Julius II's residence with his masterpieces, including the "School of Athens," depicting Aristotle, Plato and other philosophers.
Your tour will then move to the Vatican's most celebrated building, the Sistine Chapel, where Michelangelo painted the chapel's extraordinary ceiling with nine scenes from Genesis, including the Creation of Man, the Expulsion of Adam and Eve, as well as The Flood.
On the wall behind the main altar, The Last Judgment, painted twenty years later, provides further testament to the artist's genius. Though working against his will and in a medium he disliked (he saw himself as a sculptor), Michelangelo managed to fill the room with masterpieces and left a legacy at which the world can only marvel.
Finally, there will be a visit to St Peter’s Basilica, the most important basilica in the Christian World, where inside an almost unimaginable wealth of art treasures await. The basilica is built on the site of the church where St Peter, the first Pope, is said to be buried. Fronting the basilica is one of Rome’s most famous squares, Bernini’s elliptical Piazza San Pietro, an extraordinary sight punctuated by an Egyptian obelisk and a graceful colonnade.
Please note: this optional excursion can be booked using the signup sheet and paid for on-board the ship (all prices for purchases on-board Aegean Odyssey are listed in US dollars).
The price of this excursion already allows a credit for the unused half day excursion.
This tour begins at the Flavius Amphitheatre, better known as the Colosseum of Rome, the biggest and most imposing stadium of the ancient Roman world. Built with a series of arches, it remains an extraordinary feat of engineering.
At its peak, the Colosseum could hold an average of 65,000 spectators and once featured a canvas roof to protect the crowds from the sun. First commissioned by Emperor Vespasian of the Flavia family, this huge elliptical amphitheatre was opened by his son Titus in 80AD, during a week-long celebration featuring combats between gladiators and beasts, mock sea battles and executions.
Next comes the Arch of Constantine. Built in 315AD to honour the first Christian Emperor, the arch is the largest of its kind in existence and spans the site of the ancient Via Triumphalis, the route used by emperors for entering the city in triumph.
From here you will then re-board your coach for the Colle Oppio and a drive to Via della Conciliazione for a glimpse of St Peter’s Basilica and Square.
Among the world's most beautiful gardens, the grounds of the Villa d'Este embody Renaissance culture at its most refined and are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Your visit to this remarkable place starts with a drive to Tivoli, a small town in a lovely wooded area on the slopes of the Apennines. The region is rich in caves, waterfalls and legend (a local Sybil prophesied the birth of Jesus). In the hills, opulent villas date to a time when Tivoli was the resort of Roman emperors. Your destination is the 16th century Villa d'Este, famed for its spectacular gardens, which feature the Avenue of the Hundred Fountains, the Rotunda of Cypresses and an Organ Fountain that still makes music. With their grottoes, terraces and water displays, these gardens had a profound influence on European mannerist and baroque style garden design.
Originally a Benedictine convent, the palace was the residence of the exiled Cardinal Ippolito d'Este, governor of Tivoli from 1550. He envisioned a garden set amid hanging cliffs and enlisted the painter-architectarchaeologist Pirro Ligorio to design them. Their innovative construction and the series of terraces upon terraces call to mind the hanging gardens of Babylon. The Aniene River laces the property and the control of its waters, along with the gravity-powered fountains evoke the engineering skill of the Romans.
Following your visit, enjoy free time to wander through the colourful open air market offering souvenirs, fruit, and a variety of local products.
Please note: this optional excursion can be booked using the signup sheet and paid for on-board the ship (all prices for purchases on-board Aegean Odyssey are listed in US dollars).
The patricians who built their mansions in Pompeii came to escape the turmoil in Rome, but a different sort of violence awaited them in their southern retreats. In 79AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted at 10am and, within three hours, extinguished these affluent communities even as it preserved their remains for our discovery. Begin with a scenic hour drive along the Bay of Naples to Pompeii.
On the walking tour, you will be guided expertly through this spectacular site. Places not to be missed include the aristocratic mansions, temples, theatres, markets and large forum. At every turn, inscriptions bring the hustle and bustle of this ancient city to life: there are notices of wine sales and apartment vacancies, upcoming gladiatorial events in the theatre and political announcements.
A scenic hour drive takes us to Herculaneum which was engulfed by volcanic mud in the same eruption that claimed Pompeii. Fortunately for us, this mud sealed and protected entire buildings: today inlaid marble floors, paintings, mosaics and carbonised woods can all be seen. These range from the sculpture of the Drunken Hercules in the House of the Stags to mosaics of tritons in the city baths. Herculaneum was a wealthier town than Pompeii with an extraordinary density of fine houses, with far more lavish use of coloured marble cladding. The discovery in recent years of some 300 skeletons along the sea shore came as a surprise since it was known that the town itself had been largely evacuated.
Following our visit, we will return to central Sorrento where you have the option of exploring independently or returning to the ship in the company of the guide.
Imagine the surprise of the King of Naples when his 17th-century road project revealed three Greek temples in a state of near perfection amid a malaria-infested swamp. He had discovered Paestum, a major city of classic times, surviving untouched since the fall of the Roman Empire.
Drive from the ship to the east-west mountain ridge that acted as a boundary between the colonies of Magna Graecia (Greater Greece) and the indigenous Lucanian people. Mythology credits Jason and the Argonauts with the city’s founding but, more likely if less romantically, the honour belongs to the Greeks who settled here in 600BC, naming the site Poseidonia to honour the god of the seas. The city was occupied by the Lucans in 400BC, but evidence suggests that the two cultures prospered together. In 273BC, the city became a Roman colony and was renamed Paestum. Three exquisite Greek temples, built between 530BC and 460BC, are at the heart of the city and are complemented by magnificent Roman discoveries that include baths, an amphitheatre and the remains of a forum.
We will also visit the site’s museum, where the tomb frescoes, discovered by a local farmer in 1969, are worthy of special note. Thankfully, moist conditions enabled these Greek paintings to survive the centuries without drying and flaking and maintain their colours. The various themes include a banquet attended by male lovers, a spirited chariot race and a diver captured in midplunge. They are among the world’s rare surviving examples of ancient Greek painting.
Settle back for a beautiful drive along the legendary Amalfi Coast to magnificent Ravello. From the harbour, the narrow main road winds along sheer cliffs and offers breathtaking panoramas at every hairpin turn. Many consider this the most beautiful drive in the world and it certainly is a fitting prelude to Ravello. Perched 1,150 feet above the Bay of Salerno, the town is a vision of antique towers, graceful arches and flowering gardens that contrast with the rugged surrounding landscape. Its beauty has drawn poets, artists and musicians over the millennia. Boccaccio wrote of Ravello in his Decameron and, more recently, the author Gore Vidal made the town his home.
Our first stop will be at the aristocratic Villa Rufolo, which has hosted Pope Adrian IV and King Robert of Anjou. The 11th-century Arab style structure has a fountain-decked garden that so entranced Wagner he called it "the garden of Klingsor" after the legendary sorcerer and guardian of a magic garden from his opera Parsifal. The terrace is the setting for Ravello's annual music festival. Later, you'll have time to browse Ravello's cafes, shops and such gems as the cathedral's pulpit which features mosaics of lions and parrots in its sumptuous design.
Nestled in the Italian countryside not far from Brindisi, the UNESCO World Heritage town of Alberobello is a magical place where time really does seem to stand still. Hugged by olive trees, this charming comune is renowned for its unique buildings known as trulli, whitewashed huts dating back to the 15th century that were once used as stables but have since been transformed into family houses, churches and restaurants. Originally designed so they could be quickly dismantled and moved to a new location, the invention of the trulli allowed the people of the town to circumvent a draconian period of taxation during Italy’s feudal period. However, one thing that has always remained key to their iconic look is the distinctive conical roof, which is formed from hundreds of individual stones and in custom with local tradition is usually still painted with mythological or religious symbols.
Following a short coach ride though the picturesque Apulia region, often referred to as the heel of Italy’s “Boot”, your local guide will take you to the Rione Monti district of the Old Town, where hundreds of trulli still remain, including the church of Sant’Antonio, which has a trulli-esque dome surmounted by an Orthodox cross. After a short tour you will then have a chance to enjoy the town’s wonderful atmosphere at your leisure, before sitting back for the return to Aegean Odyssey in Brindisi.
Lecce is a city of outstanding historical and architectural treasures. With its abundance of ancient ruins, Baroque churches and noble palaces carved out of honey-coloured local stone, it is a place that will stay long in the memory.
Set in the heart of the Salento region on the south-eastern tip of Italy’s “boot”, Lecce was founded in the 5th century BC and was later an important Roman city. The 25,000-seat amphitheatre dating from the 1st century BC in the Piazza St Oronzo is a magnificent legacy of the city’s Roman past and it is here that your tour begins. You will also pass by the Roman column that marks the end of the Appian Way and then continue on to the city centre to discover the remarkable buildings from a later time.
From the 16th to the 18th century, Lecce flourished under a period of great splendour and was duly embellished with Rococo and Baroque monuments. The local limestone was particularly easy to work, making the creation of decorative relief and delicate detail relatively easy and created a style known as Lecce Baroque.
You will visit the Santa Croce Basilica, which is sumptuously decorated and represents the triumph of Baroque art in Lecce. Nearby, admire the impressive façade of the Governor’s Palace (the former monastery of the Celestine monks). Visit one of the finest and most impressive squares in southern Italy – Piazza Duomo.
Explore the elegant streets of Lecce adjacent to the square and you will discover that the typical local crafts of the town, such as papier-mâché or Leccese stone items, are traditional art forms here. The objects created in the artisans’ workshops are crafted according to ancient traditions handed down from generation to generation.
San Giovanni Evangelista is one of five medieval “Scuola Grandi” Great Schools that once provided charitable and artistic patronage to the people of Venice and played an important part in the complex Venetian social system of its day. This very special event inside its magnificent rooms is exclusive to Voyages to Antiquity and begins with a fascinating guided tour around the complex, after which an apéritif will be served in the pilgrim’s gathering place, the grand Sala delle Colonne (“Hall of Columns”).
Founded in 1261, San Giovanni Evangelista is the second oldest scuola in Venice and is famed throughout the Christian world for possessing a piece of the True Cross, which was donated to the school by a French knight and governor of Jerusalem, Philippe de Mézières, in 1369. The arrival of this most Holy Relic transformed the scuola from a confraternity of flagellants into a powerful Renaissance guild capable of commissioning paintings by many important artists, including Gentile Bellini, Vittore Carpaccio and Titian.
Most of these works are now on display in the Gallerie dell’Accademies, but San Giovanni is still home to some wonderful pieces, including Domenico Tintoretto’s 17th century rendition of the Crucifixion, as well as episodes from the life of St John the Evangelist. During your tour you will be able to see Codussi’s magnificent vaulted Scalone Monumentale (Great Staircase), followed by the elegant 18th century Salone, that was designed by Giorgio Massari to house a series of scenes by Tiepolo from the Book of Revelation. The Sala Dell’Albergo is where the school governors would originally have convened, but it is the Oratory of the Cross, where the piece of the True Cross is kept inside its Gothic reliquary, that is the spiritual and symbolic centre of the scuola.