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  • The salts-pans area in Nubia, Trapani
    The salt pan area in Nubia, Trapani
  • Citrons and tangerins at the market in Catania
    Citrons and tangerins at the market in Catania
  • A corner of the 18th century village of Marzamemi, Syracuse
    A corner of the 18th century village of Marzamemi, Syracuse
  • The stunning Scala dei Turchi near Realmonte, Agrigento
    The stunning Scala dei Turchi near Realmonte, Agrigento
  • A colorful wall again in Marzamemi, Syracuse
    A colorful wall again in Marzamemi, Syracuse
  • Local folklore in the Medieval town of Gangi, Madonie area
    Local folklore in the Medieval town of Gangi, Madonie area

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The tour of Jewish Sicily

8 days – 7 nights

Among luxury tours we have created for our guests, the ones dedicated to Jewish history and culture in Sicily are some of the most appreciated. 

The history of the Jews in Sicily goes back two millennia.
Significant Jewish settlements had existed in Sicily since early Roman times when Jews were brought there as slaves by victorious Roman armies after the sack of Jerusalem in 63.  However, it is generally presumed the Jewish population of Sicily was seeded prior to the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem. Rabbi Akiva visited the city of Syracuse during one of his trips abroad.

During the Middle Ages there were Jewish quarters, or so-called “Giudecche” in about fifty towns of Sicily. Their size varied from about 350 to about 5,000 people.

When the Jewish communities of southern Italy suffered persecutions at the close of the thirteenth century, those of Sicily, at that time under a different rule, were unaffected.
The Normans were tolerant with the Jewish population and in this period Jewish welfare increased and the culture flourished in many fields (medicine, philosophy, literature, etc.). The nearness to Africa and the Moslem world gave to the Sicilian Jewry the characteristics of a Moresque community.
“When the Jewish communities of southern Italy suffered persecutions at the close of the thirteenth century, those of Sicily, at that time under a different rule, were unaffected.
Hence “Sicilian Jewish history had in certain respects closer affinities with Spain than Italy” (C. Roth).

In 1210, the Jews of Sicily faced so much persecution from Crusaders that Frederick II had to intervene on behalf of the Jews. Persecution of the Jews continued and in 1392 the Jews were ordered to live in ghettos. The culmination of religious persecution finally came with the Expulsion of the Jews from Sicily in 1492 by king Ferdinand The Catholic.
At those times Palermo, Messina and several other cities had a considerable Jewish population. Jewish Sicilians probably constituted around one tenth of the island’s population.
Many of the Sicilian Jewish refugees escaped to neighboring Calabria where in time they were forced to emigrate again to the rest of Europe. A significant segment of Sicily’s Jewish population were forced to convert to Catholicism and remained in Sicily. These converts were known as neofiti. But many of them remained Crypto-Jews.

The infamous Spanish edict of expulsion brought to an end the Jewish influence in Sicily.
But the conversos kept secret Jewish customs. By the 1520s, acts of baptism and marriage in Sicilian churches near formerly Jewish communities listed a number of families bearing surnames such as de Simone (son of Simon), Siino (Sion) and Mosé (Moses), or Nero or Porpura (for the colours of the fabrics they dyed), and baptismal names such as Isacco, Beniamino, Abramo, Iasué and Davide, formerly rare among Sicilian Christians.
Although the Inquisition succeeded in erasing almost all evidence of the existence of Sicilian Jews, it remains material for the careful researcher on genealogy, among which lists of baptisms and  trials of the Inquisition.

Our Jewish experts & driver-guides, will help you regain one of the most fascinating pages in the history of Sicily and discover the Jewish contribution to the Sicilian cultural heritage.

Jewish quarter, Norman Palace, Zisa, Kalsa quarter, Palazzo Steri
Monreale: Cathedral with Byzantine style mosaics
Erice: medieval village with ancient Giudecca area
Tapestries museum  describing scenes from the Jewish WarsJ
Siculiana: Jewish tombstone
Agrigento: Valley of the Temples
Agira: Synagogue site and the magnificent stone portal of the aron hakodesh with Hebrew inscription
Syracuse: catacombs of S. Giovanni and the crypt of S. Marciano, Ortigia, Giudecca area, Miqwè- Jewish ritual bath, Cathedral
Catania: Mt Etna, Ursino Castle
Messina: Norman Cathedral, Palazzo Penso
Greek Theatre


Day 1: Arrival in Palermo 
Meet and greet at Palermo airport and transfer to your hotel. In the afternoon, meet your Tour Escort, Moshe Ben Simon, for an orientation briefing and a Welcome dinner.

Day 2: Palermo
After breakfast, we will explore the historical centre of the city, walking through the narrow streets of the Jewish quarter and its fascinating remains. We will visit to the area once the Synagogue and the ritual bath stand, and with the help of some descriptions made by Jewish mediaeval travelers, we will discover the traces of the largest Jewish community of the Island.
Later, we will walk to the Duomo and the imposing building of the Norman Palace for a deeper understanding of the social intercourse between Jews, religious power and political power.
The tour ends in the splendid Norman royal palace of the Zisa, built in Norman Arab style, that still keeps a Hebrew inscription and a Jewish candle-holder.

Day 3: Palermo, Monreale
After breakfast, we will be transferred to Monreale in order to visit the splendid Byzantine style mosaics describing scenes from both Old and New Testaments.
Later we will be transferred to the picturesque quarter of la Kalsa in order to visit the Jewish memorial tombstone and a short walk in the characteristic small narrow streets. We  will end  the day at the famous Piazza Marina where the imposing building of Palazzo Steri, once the seat of the Holy Inquisition, is still standing. We will take the time to visit the victims undergrounds cells  conserving some impressive gratifies curved on the walls.
Rest of day at leisure.

Day 4: Palermo – Erice – Trapani – Marsala
Early departure to tour western Sicily. We will reach the Medieval town of Erice city- the religious centre of the Elymians  associated with goddesses of fertility. Wander through its’ ancient streets we will discover  the Giudecca area and see the only Jewish tombstone that the city conserve from its glorious past. We will not leave without visit some of the famous home-made pastry-shops, world-famous for marzipan candies and other delicacies. like almond and pistachio. In the afternoon, we will drive along the Salt Route to tour the historic saltpan works in order to reach the city of  Marsala, after a short visit in the Tapestries Museum that describes scenes from the Jewish Wars we may stop in one of the  local winery’s cellar and taste some of the local productions.

Day 5: Siculiana- Agrigento
After Breakfast we will drive long the West coast of Sicily. Our first stop will be the small village of Siculiana in order to discover one of the Jewish tombstone reused and transformed into  baptistery. Then we will continue to toward Agrigento, whose history dates back to 6th century B.C., guided tour of the Valley of the Temples, a magnificent cluster of Greek ruins overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
At evening Join us for a magical view of the valley of the Temples by night.

Day 6: Agira-Siracusa
After breakfast, we will drive along the interior part of the island discovering its fascinating landscape and fertility in order to reach the small town of Agira. Visit the Synagogue site and the magnificent stone portal of the aron hakodesh with its Hebrew inscription. The portal, unique example of Jewish architecture, will give us an insight into the life of a small Jewish community in the heart of mediaeval Sicily. After lunch in one of the local restaurant we will drive toward the oriental coast in order to reach  the city of Syracuse.

Day 7:  Syracuse
Today all day will be dedicated to the magnificent city of  Syracuse, once the most important rival of Athens. Our first stop is at Acradina, the site of the earliest Jewish settlement. We will visit the catacombs of San Giovanni and the crypt of San Marciano, who, according to the legend, was killed by the Jews of the city. The visit will follow a guided tour of the archaeological park. Then, we’ll move to the island of Ortigia and walk in the narrow streets of the Giudecca (the ancient Jewish quarter) in order to discover the pulsating heart of the Jewish life: the site of the Synagogue and the Miqwè - Jewish ritual bath, 11 meters below ground level, unique example of a Jewish architecture from the byzantine period.
The tour ends in the main Piazza visiting the Duomo once Greek Temple dedicated Athena.

Day 8: Mount Etna – Catania
After breakfast we will drive up to the slopes of Mt. Etna. Weather and volcanic conditions permitting, we experience the lava fields and incredible views of Europe’s highest and most active volcano. On our way down we will stop in one of the winery farmhouse located on the lower slop of the Volcano ,for wine tasting and a light meal based on the local products of Catania province. After lunch we will drive  to the city of Catania for a short guided visit that include the famous Duomo dedicated to Saint Agatha and the Ursino Castle with some evidence of Jewish influence on its architecture. After visiting the city we will turn back to our hotel in Syracuse.

Day 9: Messina-Taormina
In the morning we will drive along the east coast in order  to reach the city of Messina. We will explore the city centre and its Jewish history. Visit the Norman Cathedral- with its Latin inscription against the Jewish city- community and the beautiful Palazzo Penso- Jewish family heritage. At Noon we will take the time to enjoy the fantastic and unique clock tower mechanism that moving some figures create a real open space show. Then, we will drive to Taormina for a guided tour. We will Visit of the panoramic Greek Theatre and walk to the site of the Jewish quarter and the mediaeval convent of San Domenico.
After a short free time for strolling on your own, we will drive back to our hotel in Syracuse.
Meet together for a Farwell dinner.

Day 10: Departure
Transfer to Catania airport for departure.


General info: “Jewish itineraries in Sicily” is an escorted trip. It is a private tour for individual travellers and can be adapted to a small group of travel companions. It is available all year round on request. It starts at the hotel in Palermo area and end at the hotel in Syracuse area. It is designed to create a good comfort and let participants enjoy Sicily at best. Accommodation provided is first-class, strategically located. The food is always typical Sicilian, with a blend of regional Sicilian delicacies and top wines. Transportation is top quality. Your tour escort is qualified, pleasant and with a long experience in the field.

Departures & Prices: available all year-round, upon request

Flights: we generally recommend that our travellers to arrive one day before the trip starts in order to get their bearings and ease in to the new surroundings.

Travel Services: we would be happy to assist travellers in case of any further services: i.e. pre-post nights in Sicily, Amalfi Coast or Malta. Do not hesitate to ask for info.

Reservation & Payment: a deposit of 30% per person is required at the time of reservation. At that moment a signed contract is required to hold your reservation. Final payment of the tour is due 60 days prior to departure.

Book this tour OR ask for a customized proposal info@isolabella.it
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