Jewish Heritage 9 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 of Athens like the National University, the National Library and the Academy. Dinner at the hotel and overnight in Athens.
This morning we take our short flight to 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. We visit the old synagogue of Ioannina, 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. We also visit the Jewish Museum and the Holocaust Memorial. Dinner at a local restaurant and overnight at our hotel in Ioannina.
This morning we drive from Ioannina to the port of Igoumenitsa to take the ferry to the island of Corfu. Upon our arrival to Corfu, we head west through the village of Gastouri to visit is to Achillion Palace, built in 1890- 1892 by the Empress Elisabeth (Sissy) of Austria, then purchased by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany in 1908. Inside the Palace we visit the interesting small museum, admire the many statues (including the Dying Achilles) which decorate the beautiful gardens with a magnificent view over Corfu town. Then on to Perama and Kanoni where we can walk to Vlacherena Monastery and take our holiday snaps of “Mouse-Island” (Pontikonissi), one of the most famous attractions of Corfu. After that we continue our tour to Old Corfu Town, a Unesco World Heritage site. Here we visit Synagogue and the Jewish Quarter. We also walk around the old Town with its kantounas (narrow alleyways). Late in the afternoon, we take the ferry back to Igoumenitsa and from there we drive back to our hotel in Ioannina. Dinner and overnight are at our hotel in Ioannina.
Today we leave Ioannina and drive east to Kalambaka to 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. Dinner (at the hotel) and overnight are in Kalambaka.
Today we leave Ioannina and drive to Veria to visit the Synagogue, 18 th century Jewish quarter and the Jewish cemetery. The Jews of Veria were Sephardic and strongly connected with those of Salonica. They inhabited a Mahalasi (quarter) that survived almost completely intact, although today it 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. Then we 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 which is 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. Tonight, we have our dinner with live Greek music at a nice tavern in the Ladadika area, the center of nightlife in Thessaloniki. Overnight in Thessaloniki.
Today we leave Thessaloniki in the morning following the route of the Via Egnatia. We 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. Also, we 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. Dinner and overnight are at our hotel in Kavala.
Today we say goodbye to Greece as we cross the border to Bulgaria.