Romans, Etruscans and ancient Greeks: Exploring Antiquities from Tuscany to Campania

June 28 - July 10, 2015

Dr. John Wonder

This tour of Rome, Tuscany and the beautiful Bay of Naples provides a fascinating view of the archaeology, culture and ancient history of the Greeks, Romans and Etruscans.

The program begins in the exciting city of Rome. As we visit monuments and examine artifacts of the Eternal City, we will gain an excellent understanding of Roman culture, history and archaeology from the beginning of the city’s formation to the fall of the Roman Empire. We will also examine the mysterious and alluring Etruscans, visiting museums such as the Villa Giulia and traveling up to lovely Tuscany to visit the important Etruscan sites of Cerveteri and Tarquinia. The Etruscans, who made contacts with the earliest Greeks in Italy, developed a flourishing and vibrant culture. This civilization had a tremendous impact on Rome and thus on later culture.

On the fourth day, we will travel to Campania and stay at the Villa Vergiliana by the Bay of Naples. Many ancients considered the Bay of Naples and Campania, once home to Romans, Etruscans, Greeks, and Oscans, the loveliest land in the world. In the first half of the eighth century B.C., Greek traders established a very early settlement on the island of Ischia for trade with indigenous people of Italy including the Etruscans to the north. We will visit this beautiful island on the eighth day of our tour. Later, in the eighth century, Greeks established the city of Cumae on the mainland, Vergil’s Greek “Euboean coast” (6.2). From this site Greek culture and settlements spread to other areas of the Bay of Naples. We will visit Cumae and examine, among other remains, the acropolis, temples and Sibyl’s cave. Cumae is extremely significant for the development of western civilization since Greek culture spread from here to the other areas of Italy. During our travels, we will also see Lake Avernus, made famous by Vergil and often thought to be the entrance to the underworld and black Tartarus.

Under the Romans, Campania and the Bay of Naples became a rich and populated area as well as a favorite vacation spot. Puteoli, originally a Greek city, became the major Roman port as well as a bustling and cosmopolitan town. We will visit important monuments of this town, now called Pozzuoli. To the west, Baiae (also on our itinerary) was dotted with villas of the very wealthy and powerful. It was said that those who owned half a province in other areas, strove for one acre here. In 79 A.D., under the reign of the emperor Titus, Mt. Vesuvius erupted, covering many cities and villas in Campania. Today, the ongoing excavations of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Oplontis (which we will visit) provide us with a window to the past as well as an opportunity to help us understand ancient life and culture. Our tour will also include a trip to Paestum (an ancient Greek, Lucanian and Roman city), the island of Capri and Tiberius’ imperial villa, Capua (an Etruscan, Oscan, and Roman city), the Romanesque church of Sant’Angelo (built on the ruins of a Roman temple to Diana) and the volcanoes at Vesuvius and Solfatara.

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Day 1:

We begin our program with a tour of ancient sites of Imperial and Republican Rome: The Roman Forum, the Palatine with remains of the emperors’ palace, the Colosseum, site of gladiatorial games, the Arch of Constantine, Trajan’s Column and the imperial fora. We will also visit the excellent Capitoline Museum that contains famous Roman sculptures and the foundations of the ancient Temple to Jupiter. The evening will find us at the Piazza Navona among the cafes, painters and Bernini’s sculptures.

Day 2:

Continue our tour of ancient Rome: See the excellent collection of Etruscan remains in the museum at Villa Giulia. Visit the well-preserved Ara Pacis (in its new museum), walk down to the Column of Marcus Aurelius, then to the Pantheon and Largo Argentina.

Day 3:

Visit the Temple of Portunus, Temple of Hercules Victor, Ara Maxima, Circus Maximus and the nearby Mithraeum and then the famous Baths of Caracalla. Following this, we will walk down the Appian Way and see the tombs and catacombs.

Day 4:

Travel up to Cerveteri, site of ancient Etruscan Caere, to see the vast necropolis of Banditaccia and the fascinating well-preserved tombs, some with carved interiors imitating houses. Our next stop is Tarquinia, a town with medieval turrets and fortifications. Explore Etruscan culture by examining Etruscan murals in the necropolis. Visit the national museum housed in Palazzo Vittelleschi, a Gothic 15th century palace. Travel to the Bay of Naples late in the afternoon and spend the night at the Villa Vergiliana (where we will stay for the rest of our sojourn).

Day 5:

Take the ferry to beautiful Ischia, the earliest Greek settlement in Italy. Tour the island, visit the museum, swim and enjoy the beaches at picturesque Sant’Angelo. Return to the mainland and visit the Roman macellum (Serapeum) in Pozzuoli before returning to Villa Vergiliana.

Day 6:

Travel to Pompeii. This ancient Roman town, buried under the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius in 79 B.C., provides one of the best examples of ancient Roman culture and life. See Roman civilization come to life as we visit monuments such as the Temple of Apollo, the forum, the basilica, the macellum, baths, a bakery, a brothel, the Triangular Forum, theatres and the amphitheatre. We will also see many interesting houses such the House of the Vettii, House of the Faun and Villa of the Mysteries.

Day 7:

Take the ferry to the very lovely island of Capri. Walk up to the imposing ruins of Villa Jovis where the emperor Tiberius held court. Visit the charming town of Capri and travel to Villa S. Michele to see Axel Munthe’s museum. Swim on the beaches of Capri.

Day 8:

Travel to the ancient city of Paestum. This wealthy and interesting city preserves remains from three different cultures: Greeks, Lucanians and Romans. The city was established by the Greeks and later conquered by the Lucanians, an Italic people from the interior. Roman rule then followed the Lucanian period. See the extremely well preserved Greek temples and other fascinating monuments that include the Roman forum and amphitheater. Visit the museum with examples of Lucanian tomb paintings as well as frescoes from the Tomb of the Diver and sculptures from the Temple of Hera on the Sele River. Return to the Villa Vergiliana.

Day 9:

Travel to Pozzuoli and see the well preserved Roman amphitheatre (with substructures) of ancient Puteoli, a city that was once the busiest and main Roman port. Stroll through picturesque sections of Pozzuoli (Rione Terra) and visit archaeological remains of shops and roads. Then we will travel to ancient Baiae, once famed for its medicinal waters, its beauty and as the home of the very rich. See the famous baths and the museum at the Castello Aragonese. (If time permits we will see the Piscina Mirabile, a massive underground Roman water reservoir that provided water for the Roman fleet at Misenum.)

Day 10:

Travel to the elegant Romanesque church of Sant’Angelo in Formis. This unique church, built on the ruins of a Roman Temple to Diana, is decorated with lively frescoes illustrating such topics as the life of Jesus and the Last Judgment. From Sant’Angelo we will travel to Capua (originally an Etruscan, Oscan and then Roman town). See the well-preserved amphitheatre, mithraeum and museum (with Roman, Etruscan and Oscan artifacts). Travel back to the Naples area and see the volcano at Solfatara before returning to Villa Vergiliana.

Day 11:

Visit Herculaneum and tour the streets of the once buried city on the Bay of Naples. See the well-preserved houses (such as the House of Neptune and Amphitrite, the Samnite House, and the House of the Stags), the baths and other fascinating spots. Visit the new Virtual Museum a few blocks from the archaeological site. We will then travel up and visit Mt. Vesuvius with its views of the crater and the Bay of Naples.

Day 12:

Travel down the coast and visit the magnificent villas at Oplontis and Stabiae with their well-preserved murals. We will then go up and visit the mysterious Lake Avernus and see the “Temple of Apollo” (a large Roman bath complex originally built with a domed roof) and the Grotto of Cocceius. If time permits, see Piscina Mirabile (if not visited earlier) and the Cento Camerelle.

Day 13:

Visit ancient Cumae, the acropolis, the temples and Vergil’s cave of the oracular Sibyl. Travel to Naples and see the excellent archaeological museum. At the museum, we will see wall paintings from the ancient sites, famous sculptures from the Classical period, bronzes, gold jewelry, mosaics and much more. Return to Rome late in the day.

Price: $2,595