Jewish Heritage 11 days
We arrive in Athens - capital of Greece! Meet and greet and transfer to the hotel. Afternoon at leisure. Welcome dinner with folklore show in the heart of the city, Plaka area. Overnight in Athens.
We start the full day tour of Athens with a visit to the Jewish Museum, Beth Shalom Sephardic Synagogue and Athens Holocaust Memorial. We also admire the architectural wonders of ancient Athens, as we follow our guide to the world-renowned Acropolis to see the Propylea, the Erechtheum and the Parthenon. From the top of the Acropolis we can see the Agora, the ancient center of the economic and public life of the city. What will surely amaze us is the New Acropolis Museum, one of the finest Museums of the world! During the bus tour, we also see Constitution Square with the House of Parliament and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Temple of Zeus, the Old Olympic Stadium and the Neoclassical Buildings like the National University, the National Library and the Academy. Dinner at the hotel and overnight in Athens.
We start our full day tour traveling west with a stop for rest and photos at the impressive Corinth Canal. We then travel to the ancient city of Corinth. See the Archaeological Museum, the Market Place, the Bema and the Temples. The ruins of this important cultural center are fascinating. The engineering skill and intellect of these people are evident in the water systems that still flow from ancient to modern day. Our guide will be sure to show you the room dedicated to the medical care of that period. After the visit to ancient Corinth, we travel to Mycenae where the remains of the ancient city date back to the Bronze Age to see the famous Lions Gate, the Tomb of Agamemnon in the shape of a beehive, and many other sites. Then we will continue our visit to Ancient Epidaurus to visit the famous Theater with the unique acoustics before we return to Athens for dinner.
Today we enjoy our full day cruise. We sail for the island of Hydra, a favorite of the international jet-set. Hydra is the beloved muse of painters, craftsmen and photographers. Its unique architecture, crystal clear waters, splendid craft & jewel shops, folk art and the island’s traditional means of transport (the donkey) make it one of the last examples of “living Mediterranean history”. In Hydra we have time at leisure for strolling, shopping or swimming. In the early afternoon, sail for the island of Aegina, passing through the narrow strait separating the Peloponnesian coast from the island of Poros. Aegina is known for its rich history, inspiring pistachio grove landscapes, Aegina Port’s lively fish market, colorful floating fruit and vegetable marketplace as well as picturesque seaside villages such as St. Marina with its taverns, traditional shops and beautiful golden beaches. Lunch is served on board. Sailing to Poros, the smallest of the three islands. Poros Town rests in a narrow strait between Poros Island and the Peloponnese, quietly nestled in the embrace of deep green pine forests and mildly scented lemon groves. A climb to the town’s magnificent bell tower offers an unforgettable view. And if you think that the day ends here... you are mistaken! A “Traditional Greek Folk Show” with singers and dancers in original costumes from all around Greece who, together with our Officers, will entertain and animate us until the final moment as the ship docks in Piraeus. Dinner and overnight at our hotel in Athens.
We leave Athens this morning and travel to Thermopylae, where we learn of the famous Spartan battle of 300. Then we continue to Delphi, a mountainous city which today is both an archaeological site and a modern town. For the ancient Greeks, Delphi was labeled the “omphalos” (navel) of the earth, and it is here that the eternal flame burned in the Temple of Apollo. Delphi was the site of the Delphic oracle, the most important oracle in the classical Greek world. It was also here beginning in 586 B.C. that athletes from all over the Greek world competed in the Pythian Games, one of the precursors to the modern Olympics. On our way up to Delphi, we’ll have time to stop and enjoy the small scenic villages that cling to the mountainsides. After our visit to Delphi, we continue to Kalambaka for dinner and overnight.
This morning we see the world-famous, breathtaking Byzantine monasteries that are perched on summits of gray rock of varied and beautiful shapes. Their history goes back to the 14th century when the monks sought refuge in the cliffside caves, then fled higher to build the original wooden shelters which were later transformed into monasteries. Afterwards, we continue west and stop in Metsovo, a traditional Greek village of the Epirus area. Our final destination is Ioannina. The city's foundation has traditionally been ascribed to the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the 6th century AD, but modern archaeological research has uncovered evidence of Hellenistic settlements. Ioannina flourished in the late Byzantine period (13th–15th centuries). In the period between the 18th and 19th centuries, the city was a major center of the modern Greek Enlightenment. Dinner and overnight are at our hotel in Ioannina.
The old synagogue of Ioannina is located just inside the Castle in what was the old Jewish quarter. According to the inscription over the entrance, it was built in 1829 and apparently occupies the site of an older synagogue which probably dated back to the 17 th century. The wall and the gate were built in the 19 th century. The new synagogue which was dedicated in 1841, has unfortunately been destroyed. There are remains of two minyans (oratories) that were connected to the two synagogues for the use of members of the community who came early to pray. The foundations of the minyan connected to the Old synagogue can still be seen to the northeast of the building. The cemetery is on the western edge of the town. It is surrounded by a wall but has been neglected over the years, thus offering little interest. But some of the stones are peculiar in that they bear no inscriptions and are simply roughly quarried slabs of local limestone. They are most likely to be the oldest, dating back to the 13 th century according to some local community members. A walk on Eliya Street, named after the celebrated Jewish Greek poet, provides an access to the old Jewish quarter of the city, which is located outside the Walled City. In the National Garden, we can see a marble bust of the pre-mentioned poet Joseph Eliya, located in the Poet’s park. The Municipal Museum has some Jewish artifacts including textiles, Parochet, Bima covers and two of the oldest Ketubot surviving in the world. A Holocaust Memorial is located just outside the citadel. During our tour, we won’t miss the chance to take the boat to the small island of the Ioannina lake, which is the one and only “anonymous” island in the middle of a lake in Greece! It is a small miracle of nature- unbelievably beautiful and of great historical significance. Dinner and overnight are at our hotel in Ioannina.
Today we leave Ioannina and drive to Veria to visit the Synagogue, the 18 th century Jewish quarter, and the Jewish cemetery. The Jews of Veria were Sephardic and strongly connected to those of Salonica. They inhabited a Mahalasi (quarter) that survived almost completely intact, although today is empty of Jews since the Nazi action of 1943. This afternoon we visit Vergina, a small town which became internationally famous in 1977 when a Greek archaeologist unearthed what he claimed was the burial site of the Kings of Macedonia, including the tomb of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Then we continue to Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece. Dinner and overnight are at our hotel in Thessaloniki.
We start our day with a visit to the Yad Lezikaron Synagogue. Upstairs is the Center for Historical Studies with Jewish artifacts. We then visit the Jewish History Museum. After the expulsion from Spain, Spanish and Portuguese Jews arrived in great numbers and over 32 synagogues marked the Jewish quarter. The Jewish Mystics, legalists, poets and rabbis were famous throughout the Near East and Europe. Without a doubt, Thessaloniki was a Jewish city at heart until World War II and was rightly claimed “Mother of Israel”. Before we visit the Archaeological Museum and the beautiful basilicas of St. Sophia and St. Demetrios, we see the city’s trademark, the White Tower. Along the Via Egnatia stands the Galerus Arch, where we can look out over the second largest city in Greece from the Old City Ramparts, some dating back to Roman times. Dinner and overnight are at our hotel in Thessaloniki.
Today we leave Thessaloniki in the morning and we follow the route of the Via Egnatia and visit the area of Amphipolis to see the famous funerary Lion of Amphipolis. Then we travel onto Philippi. There, we visit the Baptistery of Lydia near the river, where Apostle Paul baptized her. Lydia was the first convert of Paul on European soil, followed by the jailer. We also visit the ruins of the Forum of Philippi, the Christian Basilicas, the “Prison of Paul” and the Theater. Then we drive to Kavala (Neapolis), one of the most beautiful cities in Greece! It is unclear exactly when Jews began living in Kavala, but after the Turkish occupation of Budapest during the mid-16th century, a number of Hungarian Jews joined the Sephardic Jews already living in the city. At first these new Hungarian arrivals preserved their language and customs, but they eventually integrated into the community of Sephardic Jews. By the end of the 16th century Kavala had four synagogues and a Jewish population of 500. By 1676, one-third of the city's population was Jewish. Here, we view the Byzantine Castle and the Roman Aqueduct then we return to Thessaloniki. Tonight, we have our farewell dinner with live Greek music at a nice tavern in the Ladadika area, the center of nightlife in Thessaloniki. Overnight in Thessaloniki.
Today we say goodbye to Greece as we cross the border to Bulgaria.