Winter in Italy: Palermo & Sicily’s Architectural Wonders

Though the architecture of Palermo normally draws a crowd, explore the Byzantine, Arab and Norman influences of the city’s grandest structures when the tourists have all gone home.
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Program No. 23488RJ
8 days
Starts at
Flights start at

At a Glance

From the early 800s to 1100s, the Sicilian town of Palermo was ruled by two great forces: first the Arabs and then the Normans. Both claimed this coastal city as their capital and erected grand structures and elaborate churches during their rule. Though it may seem like this would result in a disjointed city, actually the opposite was true. Instead of knocking down the Arab structures upon invasion, the Normans had a fascination with their architecture and vowed to keep the Arab influences intact. This resulted in a melting pot of cultures, one where Norman buildings were designed by Arab architects and Islamic art could be found inside Norman façades. Come to eastern Sicily in the off-season when the temperatures are mild and the tourists have gone home. Alongside local experts, explore the culture of Palermo through the incredible architecture when the normally crowded streets are quiet. As you study the history behind each cathedral, palace, opera house and monument, learn how a city with so many influences came together to create one of the most beautiful towns in Sicily.
Activity Level
Keep the Pace
Small Group
Small Group
Love to learn and explore in a small-group setting? These adventures offer small, personal experiences with groups of 10 to 24 participants.

Best of all, you'll ...

  • Study the history of the Palazzo dei Normanni, the oldest royal residence in Europe, once housing the Kings of Sicily during the Norman era.
  • Join a local expert on a field trip to Monreale, where you’ll explore the Cathedral and its beautiful mosaics representing the Old and the New Testament.
  • Learn about the Arab-Norman origins of Palazzo Conte Federico and discover the priceless art inside with a descendant of Frederick II, former King of Sicily.

General Notes

Program includes independent time to explore the city and several meals on your own. Group Leaders will provide directions for self-directed excursions. Suggestions for free-time activities provided in preparatory materials. Give us a call to combine this learning adventure with select dates of "Winter in Italy: Taormina & Sicily’s Culture & Cuisine" (#22850) for even more learning in Southern Europe! We’ll even transfer you for free between locations.
Featured Expert
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Jacqueline Alio
Jacqueline is one of Sicily's leading historians with a specialty in medieval Jewish communities. She is one of just a few whose work has been published in English for an international readership, and both of her books are landmarks in their fields. Jackie has consulted for The History Channel and other media, and, in addition to her research and publishing, she lectures on Palermo, Monreale and other places of historical interest. Jackie is multilingual and has been educated on both sides of the Atlantic.

Please note: This expert may not be available for every date of this program.

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Jacqueline Alio
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Visit the Road Scholar Bookshop
You can find many of the books we recommend at the Road Scholar store on bookshop.org, a website that supports local bookstores.
Palermo: Travels in the City of Happiness: Art, Architecture, and History in Sicily's Ancient Capital
by Allan Langdale
Sicily: Art, History and Culture
by Enzo Russo
Sicily: Guide to the Mosaics of Palermo (2017 Italy Travel Guide)
by David Raezer
Seeking Sicily: A Cultural Journey Through Myth and Reality in the Heart of the Mediterranean
by John Keahey
Sicily: Three Thousand Years of Human History
by Sandra Benjamin
Sicily: An Island at the Crossroads of History
by John Julius Norwich

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