First to arrive here were the Iberians – perhaps from Africa. While they and the Celts, Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians who followed each left their own individual marks, it was from conquest and centuries-long domination by the Romans and later the Moors that the impressive archaeology of Spain and Portugal derived its richest and most influential inheritance.
Our far-ranging journey from picturesque Lisbon to lively Madrid travels first to picturesque medieval Évora before entering Spain’s dazzling Andalusia. Here we take time out in the historic cities of Seville, Cadiz, Cordoba and Granada (home of the legendary Alhambra Palace) and finally Toledo in Castilla-La Mancha. Visits also featured are to major Roman sites (including Mérida, Itálica and Gadir), the ruins of a vast Moorish palace-city, megalithic complexes, several outstanding archaeological museums – and much more.
- Enjoy a walking tour of Évora, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Portugal’s most delightful medieval towns, with many Roman sites
- Explore magnificent Roman ruins in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mérida
- Discover Granada’s magical Alhambra Palace, an eternal love letter to Moorish culture
- Savor the exclusive world of Bodegas Lustau in Jerez de la Frontera with an afternoon sherry-tasting
- Wander through the monumental tombs of Carmona Necropolis, an intriguing complex of Iron Age and Roman tombs
WHAT TO EXPECT
May 22 – Jun 7 with Ori Soltes
Wednesday, May 22: ARRIVE IN LISBON
We arrive in Lisbon, Portugal’s historic and happening capital, and transfer directly to our hotel.
We take the rest of the day to relax after our flight, before enjoying our first dinner as a group.
Thursday, May 23: LISBON
We begin our journey with a walking tour of Lisbon. Our starting point is the Tower of Belém, a lasting legacy of the Portuguese age of discovery, used not only to fortify the harbor, but as a custom house for both visiting and returning vessels. We then make our way along the river to the city’s superb Archaeological Museum, and finally to the 15th-century Jerónimos Monastery, an ornate example of Portugal’s unique Manueline architectural style.
After lunch, we visit the Millenium bcp Foundation, where building works during the nineties revealed archaeological structures left by civilizations over various periods, some of which date back 2500 years. Finally, we enter Lisbon’s Roman Theater Museum, where we view the traces and artefacts that remain of this 1st-century BC site.
Friday, May 24: ÉVORA
This morning we leave Lisbon and travel to Tróia, a former Roman ‘factory’ in which fish was salted and made into garum, a popular fermented sauce. This is not just any Roman ruin, but the largest known facility of its type in the Roman world.
We continue to the medieval town of Évora. Once the residence of Portuguese kings, Évora’s historic centre is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site; a wonderful destination for archaeology enthusiasts. While here we embark on a walking tour of the town’s many Roman sites, including the colonnaded remains of the Templo Romano de Diana, which looms over the main square. We also visit the unusual 16th-century Chapel of Bones, another of Evora’s best known sites.
Saturday, May 25: MÉRIDA
We make an early start this morning and head out to the Almendres Cromlechs, a megalithic complex and the largest existing group of structured menhirs in the Iberian Peninsula. It is believed that the monument had a ceremonial purpose or functioned as a primitive astronomical observatory. We then turn back on our tracks and continue our exploration of Évora with a visit to the town’s museum, which contains some 20,000 pieces, including Medieval paintings, and Roman statues unearthed in the local area.
Afterwards, we head to Elvas for a short stop at the 16th-century Amoreira Aqueduct, a marvelous construction spanning the length of the municipality. If time permits, after crossing into Spain, we also pause at Badajoz for a visit to the Provincial Archaeology Museum, an old fortress in which thousands of artefacts chart the region’s history from the Bronze Age to the Moorish era, and all that’s in between.
Our day ends at Mérida, a city first founded by veterans of Emperor Augustus’ army in around 25 BC – and our home for the next two nights.
Sunday, May 26: MÉRIDA
We devote the entirety of our fifth day to admiring the plentiful Roman sites of Mérida. As the former capital of Lusitania, the city contains arguably the best collection of Roman remains in the whole of Spain. We first visit the city’s amphitheater and theater, the latter of which is generally considered one of the best-preserved examples of its kind from the Empire. We then peruse the marvelous display of paintings, tombstones and sculptures on display at Merida’s Archaeological Museum. After lunch, we enjoy a walking tour of the city, including attractions such as the Trajan Arch and the Puente Romano, the longest of all the surviving Roman bridges, still standing and frequently used to this day.
Monday, May 27: SEVILLE
This morning, we head out of the city to the Dolmen of Lacara, a megalithic complex set in beautiful natural surroundings. Our next stop is the burial site of Huerta Montero Tholos, a Bronze Age or Chalcolithic burial site remarkable for its exact alignment with the sun at the time of the winter solstice. A megalithic marvel.
This afternoon, we journey to the splendid city of Seville, where we enjoy free time to stroll the immaculate Andalusian streets before regrouping for a delicious dinner.
Tuesday, May 28: SEVILLE
An early start takes us to Itálica, just a short drive from Seville. This Roman city is famed as being the birthplace of both Trajan and Hadrian, and its impressive remains not only include elaborate mosaic floors but an amphitheater with space for up to 25,000 spectators.
We return to Seville this afternoon for an excursion to the Archaeological Museum, home to many artefacts from Itálica, as well as other Roman sites in the area. The museum also displays the El Carambolo treasure, almost three kilos of ancient gold jewelry and statues, including that of a Phoenician goddess.
Later we take a leisurely walk through the park to view the Plaza de España, a magnificent landmark notable for its ceramic depiction of Spain’s various provinces.
Wednesday, May 29: SEVILLE
Our first visit today is to the monumental Alcázar of Seville – a former royal palace of Moorish kings, with a rich blend of architecture that demonstrates a striking amalgamation of influences. Though originally established in the 11th-century, the sprawling rooms and courtyards of the palace are still used by the Spanish royal family. Next, we enter Seville Cathedral. As well as being the largest Gothic building in Europe, and the third largest church in the world, the Cathedral is also famous as the final resting place of Christopher Columbus and his son, Diego. Its bell tower, the Giralda, was converted from its previous incarnation as a minaret after Seville was taken by the Christians in the mid-13th-century. From its highest heights it offers outstanding views of the city. The afternoon is free for us to spend as we please.
Thursday, May 30: SEVILLE
We make our way to Cádiz this morning for a visit to the Archaeological Museum, where we find evidence of the city’s past as the ancient Phoenician and Punic city of Gadir – one of the most important settlements in the Western Mediterranean. Highlights include two beautifully carved Phoenician stone sarcophagi.
Next, we head to the Gadir archaeological site, where we learn even more about the Phoenician way of life by seeing streets, homes and tools dating back as far as the 9th-century BC. This afternoon we head to Cádiz’s Teatro Romano, a 1st-century attraction that features in the writings of Cicero. As the night draws in we return to our hotel in Seville.
Friday, May 31: CÓRDOBA
We bid farewell to Seville this morning and drive east to Carmona Necropolis, an intriguing complex of Iron Age and Roman tombs that contain such amazing monuments as the Tomb of the Elephant, with its kitchen and three dining rooms, and the Tomb of Servilia, which was built to resemble a Roman villa.
Following this, our journey leads on to Córdoba, where we spend time admiring the extraordinary Cathedral. A former mosque, and converted to Christianity in the 13th-century, it remains an impressive example of Islamic architecture.
Saturday, June 1: CÓRDOBA
This morning we take an excursion to Medina Azahara, the ruins of a vast Moorish palace-city which once served as the de facto capital of Muslim Spain. Though it flourished for only 80 years during the 10th-century, a romantic complex of decorated archways and halls remains.
Returning to Córdoba, we have the afternoon free to spend as we wish. Feel the rhythms inside the Flamenco Museum, explore its atmospheric mosques and churches, or simply watch the world go by at the 17th-century Plaza de la Corredera.
Sunday, June 2: GRANADA
Our travels take us over to gorgeous Granada today, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Once here we spend the rest of our morning at a little-known jewel of the High Baroque period: the Cartuja Granada Monastery, a charterhouse founded in 1506, which contains a spectacularly-decorated tabernacle.
This afternoon we move on to view the resplendent Granada Cathedral, before taking a gentle walk around the Albaicin. This traditional quarter lies at the foot of the Alhambra and is home to a network of winding streets flanked by traditional architecture. We celebrate our first night in the area with an evening meal at one Granada’s lovely local restaurants.
Monday, June 3: TOLEDO
We simply must devote the day to the peerless Alhambra Palace, a hilltop Moorish and Renaissance fantasy set against the backdrop of the Sierra Morena. This legendary UNESCO World Heritage site is certainly set to take our breaths away. A huge complex of carved ceilings, flawless courtyards and glorious gardens, it rightly draws in visitors from all corners of the globe.
Afterwards, we relax during a drive to Toledo, also known as the “City of the Three Cultures” for the cultural influences of Christians, Muslims and Jews reflected in its history. The journey will be a perfect opportunity for our Expert Scholar to give a lecture on some of the sites in store.
Tuesday, June 4: TOLEDO
After breakfast we explore Toledo on foot – a real feast for the senses. Before the expulsion of the Moors and Jews from Spain, the city was well known for its religious tolerance, and is home to some of the last mosques and synagogues built in Spain before it became forbidden to do so. We stop to admire such sites as the ancient mosque of Cristo de la Luz, the synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca, arguably the oldest synagogue building in Europe still standing, as well as the ornate synagogue of El Transito. After lunch we admire Toledo’s impressive Gothic cathedral, a 13th-century sanctuary streaming with natural light. We also enter the Church of Santo Tomé, home to El Greco’s stupendous 1580s masterpiece, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz.
Wednesday, June 5: MADRID
Before heading to Madrid in the late morning, we can either enjoy a leisurely start, or some free time for a further exploration of Toledo. We arrive in Madrid in time for lunch and begin our adventures in Spain’s buzzing capital with a visit to the Museo del Prado. The country’s principle museum of art, Prado exhibits renowned works by Goya, Velázquez, and many, many more.
Thursday, June 6: MADRID
Our final full day of the trip starts with an enlightening tour of the National Archaeology Museum. Within its collections are gathered artefacts from all over the country, including the renowned Dama de Elche, the most famous piece of Iberian art in existence. Little can compare to the intricacies of this limestone bust, which dates back to around the 4th-century BC.
The afternoon is free for us to explore Madrid at our leisure, leaving plenty of time to go wherever our curiosity takes us. Marvel at Picasso’s Guernica at the Centro de Arte Reína Sofia, connect with 17th-century Spain in the Plaza Mayor, or wander the luxurious lawns of the Parque del Buen Retiro. We mark our last night with a delectable farewell dinner and drinks as a group.
Friday, June 7: DEPART FROM MADRID
We transfer to the airport for our individual flights home or onward travel.