19 – 24 October 2017
Cefalù: The Golden Age of Sicily


CefalùIn the twelfth century in Sicily the most amazing multi cultural fusion occurred. The island was conquered by the Normans. These Normans, who were members of the Hauteville clan, close relatives of the Norman dynasty soon to rule England, took possession of an island with an ethnically diverse population of both Orthodox Byzantine Greeks and Muslim Arabs. Rather than persecuting, exploiting or simply ignoring these conquered peoples, the Norman barons, later to become Kings of Sicily, brought about a truly captivating and inspiring integration of cultures and faiths. The monuments to this ‘Golden Age of Sicily’ are the chief goals of this tour.

We will be staying at a small hotel in the lovely seaside town of Cefalù and travelling to various destinations across the island by mini bus or train. Cefalù itself, as well as being a resort favoured by the Sicilians, boasts one of the most remarkable products of this fusion. In a massive Romanesque Cathedral, which, apart from the waving date palms outside, would not look out pf place in Normandy or even England, is an example of the most exquisite Byzantine mosaic work, completed for King Roger by first rate craftsmen from Constantinople. The soaring yet serene Christ figure in the apse, is considered by no less an authority than John Julius Norwich to be,’ The most sublime representation of the Redeemer in all Christian art.’

Monreale PeterWe shall then visit the massive splendour of Monreale Cathedral, built by William, Rogers’s successor and compare the slightly later but no less impressive complete Byzantine cycle of mosaics depicting the whole of the Bible, from Genesis to The Acts of the Apostles in 8,000 square metres of dazzling mosaic tesserae.

A short train ride from Cefalu is Palermo, capital of Sicily. Here we will explore two further wonderful Byzantine mosaic cycles, at the church of La Martorana and the jewel in the crown of Norman Sicily, the Capella Palatina, in this, the royal chapel of the kings of Sicily, not only will we witness how first rate Byzantine Mosaics have been fused brilliantly with the architecture of a small Latin plan church but also how the chapel was completed with a gorgeous carved and painted Arab stalactite ceiling, the rival of anything in Moorish Spain.

We will explore the rest of Palermo, its flamboyant Baroque churches and public buildings, bustling street markets and the Palazzo Abatellis with its collection of paintings, including the famous ‘Triumph of Death’ fresco and a lovely Virgin Annunciate by Antonello da Messina, one of the earliest oil paintings in Italy.

We will complete our exploration of Sicily by taking a look at some of the monuments relating to an earlier but no less glorious, ‘Golden Age’ works of art and architecture from the time that Sicily was an important part of the Classical World and later considered the’ Bread Basket of Rome’, one of the most important and wealthiest of Rome’s colonies. We will visit the breathtaking late Roman Villa Casale, and meander around its 3,500 metres of floor mosaics depicting scenes from Classical Mythology, massive dramatic hunting scenes, and the now renowned figures of women in the gymnasium exercising in their bikinis.

A day will also be devoted to visiting the lovely, largely intact Greek Theatre at Taormina and its spectacular views of brooding smoking Mount Etna one way and the crystal azure of the Ionian Sea the other.


Other Details


The modern Hotel Riva del Sole*** in Cefalù, overlooking the sea and close to the centre, in twin-share room with private facilities


Course Cost

£690 inclusive of tuition, airport transfers (airport transfers are only available for the Siragusa Tours Ltd nominated flight), visits to Monreale, Enna and Piazza Armerina, and Taormina, in twin-share room with private facilities


Single Room Supplement



Travel Insurance

Once tour is viable and if we have booked a flight for you through Travelpack, you can call Lina on 0208 5854010 ext 1008, for an immediate quote (unless you already have insurance).



Ca. £220 scheduled flight to Palermo (if possible direct otherwise via Milan or Rome). Note that this is an estimate. Once the tour is viable we will contact you with details of the ‘nominated flight’. You can decide whether you wish to make independent arrangements (people from the North may wish to use a Northern airport) or whether you wish to be booked on the group flight. Please note that when we contact you with fares they are usually only valid for the day and may be higher (or lower) the next day. On the booking form you have the option to authorise us to issue flights if we can’t get hold of you.


Local Transport

Airport transfers and day visits to Monreale, Enna & Piazza Armerina, Taormina by minibus, visit to Palermo by train


Group Size



Peter Murphy new portrait croppedTutor

Peter Murphy, BA, is a noted expert in the fields of Byzantine and Pre Renaissance Italian Art. Educated at Jacob Kramer College of Art and the University of East London, later trained with noted iconographer Guillem Ramos Poqui in London. Peter works using traditional techniques from medieval religious painting, including egg tempera paint and gold leaf. He was Vice Chairman of the Society of Tempera Painters and is a member of The British Association of Iconographers for whom he runs workshops. He runs courses in the UK, USA, Greece, and Italy teaching these techniques and in addition leads groups on Sacred Art Tours to Italy and Sicily. He has been commissioned by a number of churches in the UK, notably Tewkesbury Abbey and Hereford Cathedral. He has also been employed by a number of museums for special exhibitions; he has recreated a triptych by Simone Martini for The Barber Institute of Fine Arts and created a mural of ten scenes from the life of Benedict Biscop for Bede’s World Museum in Jarrow. He is currently undertaking his fourth major commission for The Dean and Chapter of Hereford Cathedral. This year he helped establish and is chief tutor for the St Peter’s Centre for Sacred Art, located in the medieval church of St Peter’s in the heart of Canterbury. He is visiting tutor in Byzantine Iconography and Early Italian painting and gilding techniques for the Edward James Foundation at West Dean College in Sussex.


Related OU Courses

General Interest


Itinerary / Study Programme


Day 1, Thursday 19 October 2017

Arrive at Palermo airport for transfer by minibus to Cefalu, short orienteering walk around the pretty coastal resort of Cefalu


Day 2, Friday 20 October 2017

AM Cefalu Cathedral, lunch in Cefalu,

PM minibus to Monreale Cathedral, back to Cefalu by minibus for dinner


Day 3, Saturday 21 October 2017

Full day in Palermo

AM Train to Palermo Centrale from Cefalu to catch the sun streaming onto the Byzantine mosaics at La Martorana (you only get this effect in the morning), lunch in Palermo possibly in Piazza Bellini the little square outside La Martorana and San Cataldo churches.


PM Short walk to the high point of any trip to Sicily La Capella Palatina. Following La Capella Palatina we will walk along Corso Vittorio Emanuele towards the sea and visit the magnificent collection of paintings, icons, mosaics, altarpieces, Arab ceramics etc, at the Museo Regionale at Palazzo Abatellis, train back to Cefalu, dinner in Cefalu.


Day 4, Sunday 22 October 2017

Full Day in Enna & Piazza Armerina

AM visit to the magnificent medieval fortified hill town of Enna in the morning (we will stop to have lunch with some wonderful views at Enna)

PM Roman floor mosaics at Piazza Armerina


Day 5, Monday 23 October 2017

Full Day in Taormina

Full day out in mini bus to Taormina to see the superb Greek Theatre, with views of the Mediterranean in one direction and the brooding smoking peak of Mt Etna the other.


Day 6, Tuesday 24 October 2017

Free until transfer by mini bus back to Palermo for flight.

This itinerary and study program is provisional and may be subject to change in response to local conditions