Trip Highlights:


11 Days / 9 Nights

Optional extension to Bari

*Itinerary can be customized according to the number of days and inclusions desired

*Itinerary subject to change

(Breakfast = B, Lunch = L, Dinner = D)

Day 1: USA
Today you will begin a trip to the best Italy can offer! (D)

Benvenuti! Arrival in Venice. Transfer to downtown Venice by motor launch. Depart for the Greek Orthodox Metropolis.

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Italy and Exarchate of Southern Europe is a diocese of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, created in 1991. The Metropolitan is His Eminence Metropolitan Gennadios Zervos and the Chancellor is Father Evangelos Yfantidis.

We will visit the Cathedral of St. George built with the contributions of the Greek Orthodox faithful residing in and travelling through Venice. The number of Greeks living in Venice increased to approximately fifteen thousand after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. The building permit for construction was obtained with difficulty. The soldiers serving in the Venetian army and the Greek intellectuals played a key role in obtaining the permit. Construction began in 1539 and was completed in 1573. The original architect, Sante Lombardo (1539-1547), designed a simple domed structure to which his successor, Bernardo Ongarin (1587-1603), added the inclined campanile. However, it is the luminous golden interior and the intensely spiritual mosaics, icons and sacred images which make the San Giorgio a rare treasure.

Once the home of the Greek Orthodox Confraternity in Venice, today, the Greek Icon Museum hosts the Hellenic Institute for Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Studies. Enjoy your visit there. On exhibition are ancient and precious Byzantine and post- Byzantine icons. The collection also includes painted codices, sacred vestments and handicraft objects. It opened its doors in 1959 and was renovated in 1999.

The final stop is to the Basilica of San Giovanni e Paolo. Among the most impressive churches of Venice are those of the medieval mendicant orders, the Dominicans and Franciscans. The Dominican Church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo (founded in 1246 and consecrated in 1430), is of rose-colored stone. It has a vast interior designed for the large congregations of urban poor whom it served and was favored by noble families as a burial place. The church’s altarpieces, painted by Titian and Giovanni Bellini, were partially destroyed in a fire in 1867. It houses 25 tombs of Dogi. Dinner at a local restaurant. Overnight at the hotel in Venice. (B, D)

Enjoy breakfast in the hotel. After meet with our guide for a 4 hour walking tour of Venice. Venice is renowned for its beautiful setting, architecture and art work. The city stretches across 117 small islands in the marshy Venetian Lagoon along the Adriatic Sea in northeast Italy. It has been a wealthy city for most of its existence. It was a center of commerce and art and as such a wealthy city for most of its existence. Venice also played an important role in the history of symphonic and operatic music and is the birthplace of Antonio Vivaldi.

Our tour begins with St. Mark’s Square where you will admire the Golden Basilica of San Marco and Doge’s Palace.

The Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mark is the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice, northern Italy. It is the most famous of the city’s churches and one of the best known examples of Byzantine architecture. It lies at the eastern end of the Piazza San Marco, adjacent and connected to the Doge’s Palace. Originally it was the Chapel of the Doge, and has only been the city’s Cathedral since 1807, when it became the seat of the Patriarch of Venice, Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice. From the 11th century on, due to its opulent design, gilded Byzantine mosaics, and its status as a symbol of Venetian wealth and power, it has been known as the Chiesa d’Oro (Church of Gold).

The Doge Palace two most visible facades look towards the Venetian Lagoon and the St Mark’s Square. The Palazzo’s principal function was to provide a space for the government to carry out its civic responsibilities to its people. The current Doge Palace was largely constructed from 1309 to 1424. Giovanni and Bartolomeo Bon created the Porta della Carta in 1442, a monumental late-gothic gate on the Piazzetta side of the Palace. The Doge of Venice was the chief magistrate and leader of the Most Serene Republic of Venice for over a thousand years. Doges of Venice were elected for life by the city-state’s aristocracy. Venice was ruled by an aristocratic elite, but there was a facility (Bussolas Chamber) for citizens to submit written complaints. The Doge did, in fact, reside in the Palazzo, however, he held no real power and was a representative figurehead for the Republic.

See one of the famous bridges of Venice, the Bridge of Sighs. It was designed by Antonio Contino and was built at the beginning of the 17th century. It is generally known as one of the finest examples of bridge architecture in the world. It is Italian Renaissance in style, made of limestone and is 36 feet wide. If you take a gondola ride, be sure to notice the many sculptures (all depicting sad or angry faces except for one smiling one) as you cross under the bridge. Spanning the Rio di Palazzo (Palace River), the bridge was intended to connect the Old Prison and interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace to the New Prison. There are many stories as to why the bridge received this name. In one scenario, the prisoners would “sigh” as they crossed the bridge, catching their last glimpse of the world, on their way to the executioner. However, by the time the bridge was constructed, executions at the hands of the inquisitors had ceased but many probably did cross the bridge never to see freedom again. Another story fits in more with Venice’s image as one of the romantic cities in the world. It says that if a couple kisses under the bridge at sunset while sailing on a gondola, they will enjoy eternal love. The “sighs” come from lovers who are overwhelmed by this romantic scene. The Poet Lord Byron contributed to this romantic view of the Bridge in his writings: “I stood in Venice on the Bridge of Sighs, a palace and prison on each hand”.

Walk to the Rialto Bridge, one of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal. It is the oldest bridge, and was the dividing line for the districts of San Marco and San Polo. The present stone bridge, a single span designed by Antonio da Ponte and completed in 1591, is similar to the wooden bridge it succeeded. Two inclined ramps lead up to a central portico. On either side of the portico the covered ramps carry rows of shops. The engineering of the bridge was considered so audacious that architect Vincenzo Scamozzi predicted future ruin. The bridge has defied its critics to become one of the architectural icons of Venice.

Then, we continue to the Gallery of Accademia. The Accademia galleries constitute an important collection of Venetian paintings dating from the 14th to 18th centuries. Works from the most important masters are conserved there, including paintings by Bellini, Giorgione, Carpaccio, Tiziano, Tintoretto, Veronese and Tiepolo. Afternoon at leisure. Overnight at hotel. (B)

After breakfast, your morning is at leisure.

This afternoon, we will meet our guide in the lobby of the hotel for a 5 hour private cruise to the northern lagoon of Venice to visit the famous islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello.

The island of Murano became famous in 1291 when glass production was transferred here due to fear of fires in the kilns on the mainland. On the way to the “glass island”. You will catch a glimpse of the San Michele island. This is Venice’s cemetery where famous people such as Stravinsky and Diaghilev are buried. Once you get to Murano, disembark and walk along the Fondamenta dei Vetrai, where you can see the famous kilns lined up. Watch the expert master glass blowers creating objecs in glass and consider purchasing one. One of the oldest glassworks is Venini, a company that exhibits its own work in many Museums of Modern Art around the world. Just before the Vivarini Bridge you will see the Church of San Pietro Martire on your left, where there are some frescoes by Bellini, Tintoretto and del Veronese. The Basilica dei Santi Maria e Donato, was built in the 8th century. Here you can admire the Vergine Orante, a splendid mosaic that depicts the Virgin Mary. The Basilica also has a curious fact: the apse in Venetian Byzantine style is facing the Canal.

Sail on to Burano, one of the prettiest islands in the lagoon – a miniature Venice with homes painted in bright colors. Burano is world famous for its lace work, an art carried out since the sixteenth century. In the shops, you will be able to watch the experts create lace and have the opportunity to buy some. In the square, you will also see the Church of San Marino, which houses the “Crocefissione” painting by Tiepolo and also, Palazzo del Podestà. A must is a taste of the famous bussolai buranelli available at pastry shops!

Torcello, the first settlement in the lagoon, is a romantic and charming island and is a favorite getaway of Venetians as it is quiter and green. Unlike Murano and Burano, Torcello is practically uninhabited and still has archeological sites reflecting its glorious past. From the wharf, walk along the pleasant Fondamenta dei Borgognoni where you will see the famous Ponte del Diavolo (the Devil’s Bridge). Further on, there is Piazza Torcello, with its original grass flooring where you can see the wonderful, ancient Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. Inside, there is a wonderful mosaic showing the Universal Judgement. There is also the pretty Church of Santa Fosca in the square, and in front of it there is the famous Sedia di Attila, the throne on which the tribunes once sat to administer justice. Sail back to Venice. Dinner at leisure. Overnight in Venice. (B)

Enjoy breakfast. Depart the hotel by private motor launch to the Tronchetto bus parking lot to meet the private coach. Depart for Florence with a stop in Bologna and Ravenna. Arrive in Bologna. Meet our guide for a 2 hour tour.

The City of Bologna with the first settlements dating back to at least one millennium before Christ has always been an important urban center. It is home of the oldest university in the world, University of Bologna, founded in 1088. Famous for its towers and lengthy porticoes, Bologna has a well-preserved historical center – one of the largest in Italy.

We will visit the Palazzo dell’Archiginnasio, the seat of the city university from 1563 to 1805. Today, it houses Bologna’s 700,000-volume Biblioteca Comunale (Municipal Library) and the fascinating 17th-century Teatro Anatomico where public body dissections were held under the sinister gaze of an Inquisition priest, ready to intervene if proceedings became too spiritually compromising. Cedar-wood tiered seats surround a central marble-topped table while a sculptured Apollo looks down from the ceiling. The canopy above the lecturer’s chair is supported by two skinless figures carved into the wood. The theater, and many of the building’s frescoes, was destroyed during WWII and subsequently rebuilt.

Continue to the Basilica of San Petronio, the main church of Bologna. It dominates the Piazza Maggiore. It is the fifth largest church in the world, stretching for 433 feet in length and 196 feet in width, while the vault reaches 147 feet inside and 167 feet in the facade. It can hold about 28,000 persons. The Basilica is dedicated to the patron saint of the city who was the Bishop of Bologna in the fifth century. Since 2000, it has housed the relics of Bologna’s patron saint, St. Petronius.

Visit the Basilica of San Domenico, one of the major churches in Bologna. The remains of Saint Dominic, founder of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans), are buried inside the exquisite shrine, Arca di San Domenico which was constructed by Nicola Pisano and his workshop, Arnolfo di Cambio. Later additions were made by Niccolò dell’Arca and the young Michelangelo.

We will admire the Towers of Bologna, a group of medieval structures with the two most prominent ones called the Two Towers. Built by patricians in the 12th century, these leaning towers keep defying gravity year after year and are the symbols of Bologna. In the Middle Ages, Bologna contained dozens of these skyscraper towers. The towers were status symbols – the more powerful the family was, the taller its” tower was. The smaller tower, the Garisenda Tower , is only 162 feet tall. As the Garisendas did not prepare a solid foundation, it sways to the south about 11 feet from the perpendicular. In 1360, part of the tower was lopped off because it was viewed as a threat to public safety. The taller one, the Asinelli Tower, 334 feet tall with a stair case of nearly 500 steps, inclines almost 7 1/2 feet and offes a panoramic view of the red-tile roofs of Bologna and the green hills beyond.

Some time at leisure to enjoy lunch and relax before departing for Ravena. After approximately a one hour drive, we will arrive in Ravenna and meet our guide for a 3 hour tour.

Ravenna is the capital city of the Province of Ravenna. It is most famous for its fabulous early Christian and Byzantine mosaics. It was the capital city of the Western Roman Empire from 402 until that Empire collapsed in 476 leaving Constantinople as the only capital of the Roman world. Afterwards, it served as the capital of the Kingdom of the Ostrogoths. Later, the city formed the center of the Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna until the invasion of the Franks in 751. It then became the seat of the Kingdom of the Lombards. Although an inland city, Ravenna is connected to the Adriatic Sea by the Candiano Canal. The town’s greatest mosaics have been given UNESCO World Heritage status.

You will have the opportunity to visit the Battistero Neoniano, the oldest monument of its kind and declared by the UNESCO as a world heritage sit. It is particularly known for its beautiful Byzantine mosaics. Originally a Roman bath, the octagonal shaped historic site offers visitors a spectacular view of its intricate dome which pictures the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.
We will then visit the Basilica di San Vitale, one of Italy’s most important monuments of early Christian art. The Basilica has an elegant cupola and stunning 6th century mosaics in its apse. Byzantine mosaics illustrate scenes from the Old Testament and also lovely representations of the Emperor Justinian, the Empress Theodora and their elegant retinues.

Continue to the Mausoleo di Galla Placidia. Galla Placidia was the daughter, sister, wife, and mother of Roman emperors. She had this masoleum built in the mid-fifth century. The interior is breath-taking with mosaics among the oldest in the city. The ceiling is a blue field of little gold stars, with a cross in the centre and symbols of the Evangelists at each corner. Pictorial mosaics on the walls include a lovely one of the Good Shepherd.

Then, on to the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, built in the 6th century – originally as Theodoric’s palatinate church. It houses some of the most reproduced of Ravenna’s mosaics. The ancient building houses magnificent mosaics from antiquity. A Byzantine mosaic frieze shows processions of martyrs and virgins leaving Ravenna – represented by the palace of Theodoric – and the port of Classe to pay tribute to Christ and the Madonna.

Just off Piazza Garibaldi is the Tomb of Dante Alighieri, “the divine poet” and the oldest monument in Ravena. In exile from his hometown of Florence, the author of the Divine Comedy, died in Ravenna on September 14, 1321. To the right of the small temple is a mound of earth in which Dante’s urn went “underground” from March 1944 to December 1945 because of fears his tomb might suffer damage from the bombings. Near Dante’s tomb is the 5th-century Church of San Francesco, where Dante’s funeral was held. Depart for Florence. Dinner is on your own. Overnight in Florence. (B)

Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany. Located on the banks of the River Arno, Florence is famous for its history. It was an important city in the Middle Ages and, and known as the birth place of the Renaissance. It is known for its art, architecture and more generally, cultural heritage. Florence’s museums, palaces, and churches house some of the greatest artistic treasures in the world. The Medici Family of Florence was one of history’s most important noble families. Lorenzo de’ Medici was viewed as a political and cultural mastermind in the late 15th century. It was declared a UNESCO city in 1982 and is ranked by Forbes as one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

After breakfast, meet in the lobby of the hotel for a 5 hour walking tour of this fabulous city’s historical center. Meet our guide at the entrance of the Accademia at 8:45 a.m. to begin our tour of the Accademia Gallery famous for it’s’ prisons and for Michelangelo’s masterpiece “David” and his unfinished Slaves. David is one of Michelangelo’s most famous statues and was designed as a symbol of republican livery for the Piazza della Signoria. The figure of young David preparing to fight Goliath made the artist famous.
Continue to the San Marco Museum, a religious complex comprising of a church and a convent. The Convent, which is now a museum, has three claims to fame: during the 15th century it was home to two famous Dominicans, the painter Fra Angelico and the preacher, Girolamo Savonarola. Also housed at the convent is a famous collection of manuscripts in a library built by Michelozzo. San Marco is famous as the seat of Girolamo Savonarola’s discourses during his short spiritual rule in Florence in the late 15th century. The present Convent occupies the site where a Vallombrosan monastery existed in the 12th century, later passed to Benedictine monks of the Silvestrine line. In 1435, the Benedictines were replaced by Dominicans from the Convent of San Domenico in Fiesole. Two years later, they appealed to Cosimo de’ Medici the Elder, who lived nearby in the family palace, now known as the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, to fund the renovation of the entire complex. The works were entrusted to Michelozzo. Each cell of the monks cloister and many other walls were decorated by Fra Angelico in collaboration with others, including Benozzo Gozzoli. Cosimo de’ Medici had a cell at the convent for his personal retreat.

Then, we will visit San Lorenzo, the oldest church in Florence founded in the late 4th century and once served as its cathedral. In the 1420s, the Medici hired Brunelleschi to spruce up their parish church. The facade may look like a pile of rough-cut stones, but it belies the extraordinary, light-filled interior. The harmonious geometry, quantities of natural light and classical Corinthian columns of soft grey stone were unlike anything in Christendom. Michelangelo was commissioned to design the facade in 1518, though it was never executed; hence its unfinished appearance. Donatello, who sculpted the church’s two bronze pulpits, is buried in the chapel featuring Fra Filippo Lippi’s Annunciation. Also look for Rosso Fiorentino’s Sposalizio della Vergine (Marriage of the Virgin Mary; 1523), with its handsome young Joseph, and Bronzino’s gruesomely vivid fresco of the martyrdom of Saint Lawrence, the church’s namesake. Left of the altar lies the outstanding Sagrestia Vecchia (Old Sacristy), also designed by Brunelleschi.

Continue to the Palazzo Medici, also called the Palazzo Medici Riccardi. This Renaissance palace was designed by Michelozzo di Bartolomeo for Cosimo de’ Medici. It was built between 1445 and 1460 and still houses the Magi Chapel, completed in 1461, the only 15th century interior piece still largely intact. It is the true gem of the Palazzo and is reached via the elegant seventeenth century staircase. Frescoed by Benozzo Gozzoli with a wealth of anecdotal detail of character types believe to be portraits of the Medici family, along with the emperors John VIII Palaiologos and the Emperor Sigismund of Luxemburg, parading through Tuscany in the guise of the Three Wise Men.

Continue the tour with a visit to the Bargello Museum. also known as the Bargello Palace or Palazzo del Popolo (Palace of the People). It was a former barracks and prison (18th century) and is now an art museum. In the sixteenth century, it became the residence of the Bargello or head of police spies from which it took its name. It has been the setting of many of the most important events of civic life in Florence such as the meeting place of the Council of the Hundred in which Dante took part. There have been sieges, fires and executions, the most famous perhaps being that of Baroncelli, involved in the Pazzi conspiracy against the Medici in which Leonardo also participated. Despite a series of alterations and additions which altered the original plan during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the palace preserved its pleasant severity, best seen in the beautiful courtyard, the balcony and the large hall on the first floor.

The original two-story structure was built alongside the Volognana Tower in 1256. The third story was added after the fire of 1323. The building is designed around an open courtyard with an external staircase leading to the second floor. An open well is found in the center of the courtyard. The Bargello opened as a national museum in 1865, displaying the largest Italian collection of Gothic and Renaissance sculptures from the 14 –17th century. What the Uffizi offers in painting, the Bargello offers in sculpture and its courtyard and interiors contain some of the masterpieces of the Tuscan Renaissance. the large fourteenth century hall. The finest works of Donatello (1386-1466) such as the marble Youthful David, the St. George from its niche in Orsanmichele and the later, and more ambiguous, David in Bronze can be seen. You will also see the two panels entered by Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi for the Baptistery Doors competition of 1401. Among the more dazzling exhibits are the glazed terracottas of Luca della Robbia whose sweet Madonnas glitter in white and blue as bright as the day they left the studio.

This afternoon, meet the guide to continue the rest of the tour. Walk to the Piazza della Signore, an L-shaped square in front of the Palazzo Vecchio. It is named after the Palazzo della Signoria, also called Palazzo Vecchio. It is the focal point of the origin and of the history of the Florentine Republic and still maintains its reputation as the political hub of the city. It is the meeting place of Florentines as well as the numerous tourists. Near by is the Ponte Vecchio (“Old Bridge”) is a medieval stone closed-spandrel segmental arch bridge over the Arno River. It is also known for the many shops built along it as was once common. Butchers initially occupied the shops; the present tenants are jewelers, art dealers and souvenir sellers.

The last stop is the Basilica di San Miniato al Monte, a basilica standing atop one of the highest points in the city. It has been described as one of the finest Romanesque structures in Tuscany and one of the most beautiful churches in Italy. There is an adjoining Olivetan monastery, seen to the right of the basilica when ascending the stairs. Construction of the present church was begun in 1013 by Bishop Alibrando and it was endowed by the Emperor Henry II. The adjoining monastery began as a Benedictine community, then passed to the Cluniacs and then in 1373 to the Olivetans, who still run it. The monks make famous liqueurs, honey and tisanes, which they sell from a shop next to the church. Our driver will meet us and drive us back to the hotel. Dinner and overnight in Florence. (B, D)

Enjoy breakfast. Meet in the lobby of the hotel and walk to the Uffizi Museum. We will meet our guide at the Museum for a 5 hour walking tour of the city center.

We begin with the Uffizi Palace, one of the most famous art museums in the world. It was constructed in the mid 16th century by the architect Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) in the period when Cosimo de’ Medici, first Grand Duke of Tuscany, was consolidating his recent takeover of power. Built in the form of a horse shoe extending from Piazza Signoria to the River Arno and linked with Palazzo Vecchio by a bridge over the street, the Uffizi was intended to house the offices of the magistrate. However, from the start, the Medici set aside rooms on the 3rd floor for their finest art works. Artists such as Leonardo daVinci and Michelangelo gathered at the Uffizi. In 1737, Anna Maria Luisa, the last heir of the family, offered the collection to the public and it became permanent public property. The Gallery is currently forty-five rooms with the paintings arranged in chronological order from the 13th to the 18th centuries. Included at some of the most famous paintings of Renaissance art and in particular, Tuscan art. In addition, there are sections dedicated to Flemish, French, Dutch and German painters. Apart from its paintings, the Uffizi exhibits ancient Roman sculpture and sixteenth century sculpture.

We continue to the Basilica di Santa Croce (Basilica of the Holy Cross), the principal Franciscan church in Florence and the largest Franciscan church in the world. Legend says that Santa Croce was founded by St Francis himself. It is also a minor basilica of the Roman Catholic Church. It is situated on the Piazza di Santa Croce. Originally, the area was marshland, outside the city walls. It is the burial place of some of the most illustrious Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Foscolo, Gentile and Rossini. Thus it is known also as the Temple of the Italian Glories. It is also known for its sixteen chapels, many of them decorated with frescoes by Giotto and his pupils, and its tombs and cenotaphs. The construction of the current church, to replace an older building, was begun on 12 May 1294. It was consecrated in 1442 by Pope Eugene IV. The building’s design reflects the austere approach of the Franciscans. The floor plan is an Egyptian or Tau cross (a symbol of St Francis), with a nave and two aisles separated by lines of octagonal columns. The Primo Chiostro, the main cloister, houses the Cappella dei Pazzi, built as the chapter house. Filippo Brunelleschi (who had designed and executed the dome of the Duomo) was involved in its design which has remained rigorously simple and unadorned.

Continue to the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, the Cathedral Church of Florence. The Duomo, as it is ordinarily called, was begun in 1296 in the Gothic style by Arnolfo di Cambio. It was completed structurally in 1436 with the magnificent dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi. The exterior of the Basilica is faced with polychrome marble panels in various shades of green and pink bordered by white and has an elaborate 19th century Gothic Revival façade by Emilio De Fabris. The interior, by contrast, is stark and plain. In the interior of the dome, see Giorgio Vasari’s much-reviled frescoes of the Last Judgment.

Located in Piazza del Duomo, the cathedral complex includes the Baptistery with its renowned “Gates of Paradise”and Giotto’s Campanile. The three buildings are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The poet, Dante Alighieri, and many others including members of the Medici family, were baptized in this baptistery. The Baptistery is renowned for its three sets of artistically important bronze doors with relief sculptures. The south doors were done by Andrea Pisano and took six years with the doors being completed in 1336. The doors consist of 28 quatrefoil panels, with twenty top panels depicting scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist. The eight lower panels depict the eight virtues of hope, faith, charity, humility fortitude, temperance, justice and prudence. The molded reliefs in the door case were added by Lorenzo Ghiberti in 1452.

The north doors by Lorenzo Ghiberti were dubbed by Michelangelo “the Gates of Paradise”. These new doors would celebrate the sparing of Florence from relatively recent scourges such as the Black Death in 1348. It took Ghiberti 21 years to complete these doors. These gilded bronze doors consist of twenty-eight panels, with twenty panels depicting the life of Christ from the New Testament. The eight lower panels show the four Evangelists and the Church Fathers Saint Ambrose, Saint Jerome, Saint Gregory and Saint Augustine. The panels are surrounded by a framework of foliage in the door case and gilded busts of prophets and sibyls at the intersections of the panels. These doors made him famous and in 1425, he began the east doors working on them for 27 years. These had ten panels depicting scenes from the Old Testament. The panels are included in a richly decorated gilt framework of foliage and fruit, many statuettes of prophets and 24 busts. The two central busts are portraits of the artist and of his father, Bartolomeo Ghiberti in 1452.

We then visit the Cappella Brancacci, the church and convent of the Carmine. They were founded shortly after the middle of the 13th century by a group of Carmelite monks from Pisa, the first of the great structures built by the mendicant orders in Florence. The oldest parts of the convent are those surrounding the current cloister rebuilt during the seventeenth century: in particular the old chapter house that overlooks the portico and the Sala del Cenacolo decorated in 1581 by Alessandro Allori.

In the church, we will see the Brancacci Chapel, a masterpiece known around the world for its frescoes of the Life of Saint Peter by Masaccio and Masolino. Felice Brancacci hired Masolino da Panicale to paint his chapel. Masolino’s associate, Masaccio assisted but when Masolino left, the commission was given to Masaccio. He was called to Rome before he could finish the chapel and died there and died there. Created between 1425-1427, the frescoes were left incomplete and finished by Filippino Lippi between 1481 and 1482. It is called the Sistine Chapel of the early Renaissance.

The last stop is the Santa Maria Novella. Chronologically, it is the first great basilica in Florence and the city’s principal Dominican church. The church, the adjoining cloister, and chapter house contain a store of art treasures and funerary monuments. They were financed through the generosity of the most important Florentine families, who ensured themselves of funerary chapels on consecrated ground. The layout is supposedly the work of Brunelleschi, the same architect of the Duomo’s Cupola. The entire church was initially covered in frescoes but these were painted over in the 16th century. The important works are The Trinità by Masaccio, where the Virgin Mary is not portrayed as a young girl but older and a mother, the Crucifix by Giotto hanging in the center of the central nave with empty air all around it, the Strozzi Chapel dedicated to St. John the Evangelist with scenes of his life portrayed by Filippino Lippi, the Tornabuoni Chapel in the main chapel, dedicated to both the Virgin Mary and to St. John the Baptist with frescoes by Domenico Ghirlandaio and his workshop (in which a very young Michelangelo apprenticed) and a wooden Crucifix by Brunelleschi which he completed in competition with his friend Donatello. Balance of the aafternoon is at leisure. Dinner is on your own. Overnight in Florence. (B)

After breakfast, check out of the hotel. Depart for Rome. En route, we will stop in Assisi. Upon, meet our guide for a 2 hour tour of Assisi.

Assisi is the birthplace of St. Francis who founded the Franciscan religious order in the town in 1208, and St. Clare (Chiara d’Offreducci), the founder of the Poor Sisters. After her death, it became the Order of Poor Clares. The 19th-century Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows was also born in Assisi.

We begin our tour of Assisi with the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli (Saint Mary of the Angels).The Basilica was constructed in the Mannerist style between 1569 and 1679 enclosing the 9th century little church, the Porziuncola. This is the most sacred place for the Franciscans. It was here the young Francis of Assisi understood his vocation and renounced the world to live in poverty among the poor and thus, began the Franciscan movement.

We continue to the San Francesco Basilica, one of the most important churches in the Roman Catholic faith.  It is the final resting place of St. Francis of Assisi, Italy’s patron saint and a popular pilgrimage destination for Catholics from around the world.
After the visit, you will have free time to have lunch before beginning the drive to Rome The drive to Rome is 2 and half hours.

Arrive at the hotel. After check in depart for the The Borghese Gallery, a famous art gallery housed in the former Villa Borghese Pinciana. It is a building that was at first an integral part with its gardens, Nowadays, it is considered by tourists as the Villa Borghese Gardens. The Galleria Borghese houses a substantial part of the Borghese collection of paintings, sculpture and antiquities, begun by Cardinal Scipione Borghese, the nephew of Pope Paul V (reign 1605–1621).

The bus will drive us down the famous avenue, Via Veneto and the Piazza Barberini before leaving us at the top of the Spanish Steps. The Spanish Steps is a steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti, dominated by the Trinità dei Monti church at the top. It is the widest staircase in Europe. The monumental stairway of 138 steps was built with French diplomat Étienne Gueffier’s. We will spend some time in this famous area. The Café Greco, a famous café is located there for anyone who wishes to enjoy a cup of cappuccino or espresso. Then, we will walk to the magnificent Trevi Fountain, the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world. Legend states that if you throw a coin in the fountain, you will return.

Break for dinner on your own. After dinner, we will walk to the hotel passing by Piazza Navona, located on the site of the Stadium of Domitian, built in 1st century AD. It follows the form of the open space of the stadium. The ancient Romans came there to watch the agones (“games”), and hence it was known as ‘Circus Agonalis’ (competition arena). Over time the name changed to ‘in agone’ to ‘navone’ and eventually to ‘navona’. Overnight in Rome. (B)

Day 9: ROME
Breakfast will be available at the hotel. After visit St. Priscilla Catacombs. The Catacombs are the ancient underground cemeteries used by Jewish and Christian communities from the 2nd until the 1st half of the fifth century. The tombs gave the idea of a large dormitory, called cemetery, a term of Greek origin that means place of rest. In this way, the Christians wanted to affirm their belief in the resurrection of the body. In ancient Rome, the tombs and catacombs were often located on the outskirts. An important part of the funerary complex north of Rome is certainly one of Santa Priscilla currently attached to a nunner.Here you can admire some ancient Christian frescoes. Depart the Catacombs for Liturgy at the Greek Orthodox Church in Rome, St Theodore Rotondo.

After Liturgy, depart for the Colosseum, the largest amphitheater built in the Roman Empire. The Colosseum, originally the Flavian Amphitheatre, is an elliptical amphitheatre in the centre of the city and the largest ever built in the Roman Empire. It is considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and engineering. The Colosseum was begun around 70AD by Emperor Vespasian on the former site of an ornamental lake. His son, Titus, finished the Colosseum after his father’s death. Titus inaugurated it in 80AD with celebrations that saw 100 days of festivities and the slaughter of 5,000 animals. Capable of seating 50,000 spectators, the Colosseum was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The competed structure had tiered seating and 80 exits or vomitoria, allowing huge crowds to leave in minutes. A vast sailcloth roof or velarium supported by 240 wooden masts could be unfurled to protect spectators from the elements. Much of the seating and flooring has disappeared. A fire in 217AD devastated the upper levels and wooden arena, as well as other fires and earthquakes over the next 400 years causing further damage. In 1744, Pope Benedict XIV consecrated the site in memory of Christians who were supposedly martyred there. Today, you will see the maze of tunnels and shafts through which animals and gladiators were brought to the stage from distant pens. The Colosseum is an iconic symbol of Imperial Rome. It is one of Rome’s most popular tourist attractions and still has close connections with the Roman Catholic Church, as each Good Friday the Pope leads a torch lit “Way of the Cross” procession that starts in the area around the Colosseum.

Afterwards, walk along the Imperial Forums. The Imperial Forums were an important center for religion and politics in Rome. Political discussions were held here, justice was administered and there was also room for education and libraries.

Short break for lunch before continuing to St. John in Lateran Basilica and the famous Holy Stairs. The Basilica Cathedral of Rome and the official ecclesiastical seat of the Bishop of Rome, who is the Pope. Officially named Archibasilica Sanctissimi Salvatoris (“Archbasilica of the Most Holy Saviour”), it is the oldest and ranks first among the four major basilicas of Rome. It holds the title of Ecumenical Mother Church (Mother Church of the whole inhabited world) among Roman Catholics. We will also see the Scala Santa (Holy Stairs). It is believe that these are the stairs that Jesus climbed the day he was sentenced to death. They were brought to Rome by St Helena in the 4th century.

Afterwards, visit Santa Croce in Jerusalem or the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem is a Roman Catholic parish church and minor basilica in Rome. It is one of the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome. According to tradition, the Basilica was consecrated around 325 to house the Passion Relics brought to Rome from the Holy Land by St. Helena of Constantinople, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine I. At that time, the Basilica floor was covered with soil from Jerusalem, thus acquiring the title in Hierusalem. It is not dedicated to the Holy Cross which is in Jerusalem, but the church itself is “in Jerusalem”, in the sense that a “piece” of Jerusalem was moved to Rome for its foundation.

Next is San Pietro in Vincoli or St Peter in Chains where you can admire Michelangelo’s statue of Moses which is part of the tomb of Pope Julius II. It also houses the relic chains that bound St Peter when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem. It is a Roman Catholic titular church and minor basilica. Proceed to Santa Prassede, which is dedicated to St Praxedes, and contains one of the greatest expressions of medieval art in Rome. St Praxedes was martyred because, together with her sister Prudence, she collected the blood of the dead Christians with a sponge and poured it into a well. There is a porphyry slab in the center of the floor, which covers the well. The Chapel of St Zenone is perhaps one of the most important Byzantine monuments, with its black marble columns and mosaics. In the chapel, there is a room which houses the Flagellation column upon which Jesus was scourged; it was brought from Jerusalem in 1223. In the church, we will also see Bishop Santoni’s funeral monument by Bernini, his first work completed at the age of 16. In the crypt is the sarcophagus containing relics of St Praxedes and St Prudence.

Then, continue to Santa Maria Maggiore. The Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major is the largest Roman Catholic Church dedicated to the Virgin Mary in Rome. According to the 1929 Lateran Treaty, the basilica, located in Italian territory, is owned by the Holy See and enjoys extraterritorial status similar to that of foreign embassies. The building is patrolled internally by police agents of Vatican City State, not by Italian police.

Afterwards, visit the Papal Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls commonly known as St Paul’s Outside the Walls, is one of Rome’s four ancient major basilicas or Papal Basilicas. The Basilica was founded by the Roman Emperor Constantine I over the burial place of Saint Paul, where it was said that, after the Apostle’s execution, his followers erected a memorial.
Time Permitting and if daylight: Continue by bus to the Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta At the southern end of Via di Santa Sabina, this peaceful little square takes its name from the Cavalieri di Malta (Knights of Malta), who have their Roman headquarters here, in the Priorato dei Cavalieri di Malta. Although it’s closed to the public, the priory offers one of Rome’s most charming views: look through the keyhole and you’ll see the dome of St Peter’s perfectly aligned at the end of a hedge-lined avenue. Admire from the outside the Basilcia di Santa Sabina.

As you are driving back to the hotel, you will see the Aurelian Walls is a line of city walls built between 271 AD and 275 AD, during the reign of the Roman Emperors Aurelian and Probus. The walls enclosed all the seven hills of Rome plus the Campus Martius and, on the right bank of the Tiber, the Trastevere district. The river banks within the city limits appear to have been left unfortified, although they were fortified along the Campus Martius. Return to the hotel at about 6 pm. Dinner and overnight in Rome. (B, D)

Day 10: ROME
Enjoy breakfast, depart for a walking tour. See the Palazzo Montecitorio. Around 1600, Pope Innocent X commissioned the project for this palace by Bernini. It then became the courts of Rome and since 1870 it has been the Lower House of Parliament. Inside the building there are several antique and modern works of art.

Continue on the famous Via del Corso, for centuries has been the main road of access to the city for pilgrims coming in from the north. This road, measuring almost a mile, connects Piazza Venezia to Piazza del Popolo . Here, among other things, you can find elegant palaces dating back to ancient times.  Pass by Sant’Ignazio Church in Campo Marzio (from outside),

We will then visit the Pantheon, a magnificent ancient temple in Rome that was later converted into the church of Santa Maria ad Martyres. Dating from 125 AD, this is the most complete ancient building in Rome and one of the city’s most spectacular sights. The Pantheon was dedicated to pan theos, “all the gods.” When it became a church, it was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and all the martyrs. The Pantheon is the burial place of several important Italians (including the artist Raphael), and it remains an active church.

Stop for a coffee break at one of the two famous cafes – Tazza d”Oro (famous for its expresso and Granista de cafe) and Cafe Sant’ Eustachio (cappachino, expresso or its Grand Cafe which is a combination of the two!).

Our tour will continue with Santa Maria Sopra Minerva Church, the only Gothic church in Rome. The last stop is San Luigi dei Francesi. The church is known for the paintings of Caravaggio, in the Contarelli Chapel, about the life of St. Matthew.

After drive to Vatican City. Some free time before we meet for our entrance into the Scavi or the Vatican Necropolis under St. Peter’s. The Tomb of the Apostle Paul is there. Pope Pius XI requested the Necropolis to be built as he wished to be buried as close as possible to St Peter. St Peter is said to be buried ther due to its proximity to the Circus of Nero where he was martyred. Most of the necropolis was discovered in 2003 during the construction of a parking lot.

After meet the guide again at the exit of the Scavi to be driven to the entrance of the Vatican Museums for a visit of the Vatican and its breathtaking Museum including the Sistine Chapel.

The Vatican is among the most important historical sites in the world and the seat of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, The Vatican is also the home of the Pope. As the smallest state in the world, the Vatican has played a major role in key events throughout history. It is also significant because of its fabulous, historic and valuable architecture, religious, and artistic treasures. Among countless other notable events in the history of Rome is the convening of the College of Cardinals, at the death of a reigning Pontiff, to elect a new Pope.

The Vatican Museums makeup the world’s largest museum complex. Visit the Hall featuring Greco-Roman sculptures, the Hall of Tapestries featuring magnificent 16th c. Flemish tapestries executed from Raphael’s designs and the Maps Gallery. Your tour will end at the Sistine Chapel, the Pope’s official private chapel, where election conclaves are held. It was built for Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484) and its lower walls were frescoed between 1480 – 1483 by several notable artists including Perugino, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Sandro Botticelli. It was Pope Julius II della Rovere in the 16th century who commissioned Michelangelo to paint the history of creation on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The ceiling was painted by Michelangelo between 1508 – 1512. Raise your eyes to see Michelangelo’s Creation illustrating the Creation, Adam and Eve and the fall, the Flood and Noah’s drunkenness and the famous Last Judgment illustrating God venting his judgment on cowering mankind. Those spared rise to Paradise on the left, the doomed sink to hell on the right and the dead rise from their graves along the lower section. Christ stands at the center surrounded by the Virgin Mary, the Apostles and the saints. Look for the damned soul hugging himself as he waits his fate.

Stroll through St. Peter’s Square, passing Bernini’s famous colonnade and the Piazza San Pietro (1656-67). Its setting is magnificent with two semicircular colonnades supported by 284 columns and crowed with 140 statues of saints. Visit St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church in Christendom. Inside, the first impression is one of immense size: the church measures 607 feet long and 390 feet high at the dome and can accommodate over 60,000 people. Under the dome, is the magnificent Confession Altar and the Papal Altar, covered with the sumptuous bronze baldachin by Bernini. It was constructed 1624-33. Behind you, on your right as you face the canopy, is a 13th century statue of St Peter Enthroned. Its right foot is worn smooth by pilgrims’ kisses. Catholic tradition holds that St. Peter is buried beneath the altar. View the Basilica’s most famous work of art – Michelangelo’s Pieta, located in the first chapel. It depicts the Virgin Mary cradling the dead Christ. It was created between 1498 and 1499. In 1972, it was vandalized and as such, is now behind a bullet proof glass. New popes and sainthoods are proclaimed from St Peter’s Basilica’s central balcony. One of the façade’s five portals, the Porta Santa (on the extreme right), is opened only during Holy Years (every 25 years). We will also visit the Museum del Tesoro della Basilica di San Pietro. Return to your hotel. Dinner at leisure. Overnight in Rome. (B)

Day 11: ROME / USA
After breakfast, check out of the hotel and transfer to the airport for your flight back home. (B)

Add on: BARI- Relics of St. Nicholas

After breakfast, depart by private motorcoach to Bari. En route, you will stop in Pompeii for a guided visit of the excavations of this famous town destroyed tragically after the eruption of the Vesuvius Volcano in the year 79 B.C. Continue to Bari. Check in to the hotel and either stroll around the quaint town or relax. Dinner and overnight at the hotel in Bari. (B, D)

After breakfast, check out of the hotel. Walk over to the Basilica of San Nicola. Celebrate a special service in the Crypt where the relics of St. Nicholas are kept inside the Basilica of San Nicola.

After the service, meet with an English speaking guide by the entrance to the Basilica for a walking tour in the historical city center of this famous town composed of two parts: the old and new town. You will have the chance to admire the splendid Cathedral of  San Sabino and the Swabian Castle.

Depart Bari by private motorcoach. Time permitting, stop for a panoramic view of the nearby beaches before heading to Rome. Dinner and overnight at hotel in Rome. (B)

Depart for your flight home. (B)