Cruise ship the Aegean Odyssey
OUR cruise from Italy to Croatia’s Dalmatian coast began in Rome. The night of our arrival coincided with the 70th anniversary of the Nazi deportation of more than 1,000 Jews who were forcibly marched from the Jewish Synagogue across the Tiber to the old Trastevere quarter. From there, they were transported to Auschwitz. Only 16 returned.
To commemorate this tragic event, thousands of Romans from all walks of life participated in a slow commemorative march. On this occasion, the route was reversed, beginning in Trastevere and ending at the synagogue.
The marchers take to the streets of Rome
The symbolism was clear: Jews had returned to Rome. Torches were lit along the path of the march, and participants carried signs emblazoned with the names of the concentration camps. It was a somber, unforgettable experience.
We then embarked on our cruise. Our first stop was Sorrento, just south of Naples, where we visited Herculaneum, which, together with Pompeii, was buried during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE.
To view the skeletal remains of the unfortunate people fleeing Herculaneum and entrapped by the volcanic flow dramatically brought the human tragedy of the catastrophe into focus.
We also drove from Sorrento south along the Amalfi Coast to Paestum, a major ancient Greek city with three well-preserved Doric style temples dating from the 6th century BCE. They certainly rival any other Greek ruin on the Italian mainland or in Greece itself.
Marco Polo is said to have been born here in Korula
We then cruised to the enchanting island of Sicily, where we were particularly interested in the island’s Jewish heritage. Jews first arrived in Sicily at the time of the Second Temple and lived in specific quarters known as the Giudecca.
With the union of Castile and Aragon in 1479, Sicily came under the direct control of Spain. Jews were expelled from the island in 1493 and sadly, little remains of their presence.
In the ancient city of Syracuse, the area of the Giudecca is still present, but the only remnant of the Jewish presence is a well-preserved mikveh dated to the Byzantine period, making it one of the oldest existing mikvehs in Europe.
In Palermo, Sicily’s capital, there is no remaining evidence of the Jewish heritage in the Giudecca. The Monreale Cathedral, built in the 12th century, is situated a few kilometers from Palermo.
A view of Korula with a Venetian tower in the city walls
It features extraordinary mosaics covering the walls of the nave, aisles, transept and apse. Amongst them are dramatic scenes from the Book of Genesis. The lovely cloisters, amongst the finest in Italy, consist of over 200 double columns supporting Arab-style arches. Many are richly decorated with Romanesque figurative carvings comprising foliage, allegories and biblical scenes, no two being alike.
Leaving Sicily, we rounded the boot of Italy, entered the Adriatic and arrived at the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. We stopped in Korula, where Marco Polo is reputed to have been born.
A narrow street in the ancient city of Syracuse
The town makes much of this fact, although the precise location of his birth is still disputed. Korula was founded by the Greeks and became part of the Roman Empire.
However, for much of its history it was under the control of the Venetians. It is therefore not surprising that many of the civic and religious buildings display a mixed Gothic-Renaissance architecture.
The town itself is shaped like a fishbone with a central axis from which small streets radiate. The 14th century walls which surround Korula are crowned with towers.
The Cloisters at Monreale Cathedral in Sicily
The main gate affording entrance to Korula is adorned with the Lion of Venice as well as the coat of arms of the Venetian Doges and the local rulers.
The town boasts several museums. There is a painting by Tintoretto depicting St Mark and two other saints in the Cathedral. Today Korula is a prime tourist venue with popular beaches. The cruise ended in Venice.
Everything on board was ship shape
We travelled on The Aegean Odyssey, belonging to Voyages to Antiquity (www.voyagestoantiquity.com). The ship can accommodate 380 passengers. The crew was most helpful, the food excellent and the service beyond reproach.
There was an outstanding reference library on board, and lectures on the ports of call were given by academic experts.
TV programs in the individual cabins included famous classics, Academy Award-winning movies as well as outstanding travelogues relating to the itinerary.