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. 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.


ITINERARY & PROGRAM, overview
10 days – 9 nights

Day 1: Welcome to Sicily!

  • Arrival at Palermo Airport. Meet and greet your driver escort and  transfer to your hotel.
  • Check-in at your luxury accommodation.

Day 2: Palermo

  • After breakfast, we will explore the historical centre of the city, walking through the narrow streets of the ancient Jewish quarter and its fascinating remains.
  • We will visit 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.
  • Overnight stay at your luxury accommodation in Palermo.

Day 3: Palermo, Monreale

  • Breakfast at the hotel.
  • Visit the splendid Byzantine style mosaics describing scenes from both Old and New Testaments in the Norman Cathedral of Monreale .
  • Back in Palermo, continue 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.
  • Overnight stay at your luxury accommodation in Palermo.

Day 4: Palermo – Erice – Trapani – Marsala – Agrigento

  • Breakfast at the hotel.
  • Departure to 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 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.
  • In Agrigento, accommodation at Villa Athena, 5 stars

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: Piazza Armerina – Agira – Syracuse

  • After breakfast, we will drive along the interior part of the island discovering its fascinating landscape and fertility in order to reach Piazza Armerina and visit The Roman Villa del Casale with its stunning mosaics.
  • The, onto the small town of Agira. Visit the Synagogue site and the magnificent stone portal of the aron hakodesh with its Hebrew inscription.
  • Finally, we will drive toward the oriental coast in order to reach  the city of Syracuse.
  • Arrival in Syracuse and accommodation at the Ortea Palace, 5 stars.

Day 7:  Syracuse

  • Breakfast at the hotel.
  • 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.
  • Overnight stay at the Ortea Palace, 5 stars.

Day 8: Catania – Mount Etna – Taormina

  • After breakfast 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 and Roman period Jewish tombs.
  • Then, 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 top boutique wineries located on the lower slop of the Volcano for a wine tasting and a light meal based on the local products.
  • We end the day in Taormina and accommodation at the Blemond Timeo, 5 stars.

Day 9: Messina-Taormina

  • Breakfast at the hotel.
  • In the morning we will drive along the east coast in order  to reach the city of Messina to explore the city centre and its Jewish history. 
  • Back to Taormina to visit the panoramic Greek Theatre and walk to the site of the Jewish quarter and the mediaeval convent of San Domenico.
  • Overnight stay at the Blemond Timeo, 5 stars.

Day 10: Departure

  • Breakfast at the hotel.
  • Private transfer to Catania Airport for departure.

Please, note the detailed program is available upon request by email to info@isolabella.it

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FEATURES

General info
Jewish itineraries in Sicily is a private escorted trip designed to provide customised luxury services and let participants enjoy their Sicilian experience at best. Accommodation provided is luxury, strategically located. When provided, the food is always typically local, with a blend of regional delicacies and top-quality wines. Transportation is top quality. Your driver/guide or your driver/escort and your local guides are qualified, knowledgble but pleasant and happy to meet any specific need and interest.

Departures
This tour is available all year round upon request.

Prices
Quote per person are given upon request with details of inclusions/exclusions.

Flights
We prefer you to take care of your flights according to your needs.

Adds-on
We would be happy to assist you in case of any pre and post nights in Sicily, Amalfi Coast, Rome or any other Italian city and Malta. Do not hesitate to ask for info.

Reservation & Payment
A deposit of 30% per person is required at the time of reservation. Final payment of the tour is due 60 days prior to the beginning of the tour.

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