For thousands of years, the islands of Cyprus, Rhodes, and Malta and the Eastern Mediterranean sea coasts have been invaded, explored, inhabited, and claimed by a multitude of civilizations. These locations were of great strategic importance, and during the Crusades, knights and kings conquered and lost great swaths of this land. The profusion of magnificent archaeological ruins left behind proclaim their significance.
Join Far Horizons for a 15-day tour from Cyprus to Rhodes to Malta, along the path of the Knights of the Crusades. Known as the Order of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, the order was founded to defend the crusader towns in the Holy Land. When these settlements collapsed, the Knights continued their fight in Cyprus, Rhodes, Symrna, Bodrum and ultimately Malta. The Order still exists in Rome as ‘The Sovereign Military and Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem, called of Rhodes, called of Malta’, while in Britain it spawned the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade. We will follow its journey across time and across the Mediterranean Sea upon which it left very deep and still visible imprints.
Depart on a flight bound for Cyprus.
Arrive into Larnaca, Cyprus. Transfer into the slopes of the Troodos Mountains to Casale Panayiotis, a complex of traditional houses that is now a charming hotel and spa. Overnight for two nights. (D)
Travel through charming villages of the Troodos Mountains, the largest mountain range in Cyprus and declared a national park in 1992. Situated predominantly on the northern slope of the range are outstanding Byzantine churches, ten of which are designated as UNESCO World Heritage. Several contain lovingly painted frescoes on the interior walls. Agios Nikolaos Tis Stegis is the only surviving monastery church of its kind on the island and is covered in wall paintings. The 11th century Agios Ioannis Lampadistis Monastery is made up of three sanctuaries protected by one enormous timber roof. Agios Irakleidios Church displays exquisite images along with a 13th century wooden templon, a screen separating the nave from the sanctuary, with painted decoration imitating a coat of arms. Nearby, in the wine producing village of Omodos, Timios Stavros or the Holy Cross Church, is one of the oldest monasteries on the island. The interior is richly decorated with elaborate chandeliers, silver lampions, marble floors and stained-glass windows. Moreover, the building’s imposing wood-carved iconostasis is adorned with gold leaf. (B/L/D)
Step back in time with a visit to Choirokoitia, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. This Neolithic settlement, occupied 7,000 to 4,000 B.C., is one of the most important in the eastern Mediterranean as it is the first human occupation of the island by farmers coming from the Near East mainland. The discoveries here have shed much light on the evolution of human society in this key region. From here, continue to Kolossi. After the collapse of the kingdom of Jerusalem in 1291, this great castle became the focus of operations for the Knights of St. John until they seized Rhodes. Its chief importance after that was as a source of wealth for the order as it was an important center of sugar production. Richard the Lionheart, then King of England, and Berengaria of Navarre were married sometime during the 13th century in the fortress chapel. Continue on to Paphos to see the ancient temple site of Kouklia or Palaepaphos, formerly a major religious center for the worship of Aphrodite. Overnight for one night in Paphos. (B/L/D)
Today see the fascinating Tombs of the Kings which date to the 4th century BC. Although no kings were actually buried here, these underground tombs carved out of solid rock served as the final resting place for Paphitic aristocrats and officials well into the 3rd century AD. Among the burial offerings, archaeologists found Rhodian amphorae which allowed them to date the site and form a clearer chronology for the entire Eastern Mediterranean. Nearby, also of great historical import, is the visual feast offered up by the intricate mosaics of Nea Paphos. Considered among the best in the world they span the Hellenistic to the Byzantine period and have provided significant insight into the architecture of the time. Next, stop and explore the ancient settlement of Kourion. Overlooking the river Kouris, the centerpiece of this once flourishing kingdom is the magnificent Greco-Roman theater, which dates to the 2nd century BC. Continue on to Nicosia and overnight for two nights at the centrally located Centrum Hotel. (B/L)
This morning we cross the Green Line, the border between Turkish and Greek Cyprus, and head into the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus towards Famagusta, a Mediterranean backwater until Christian Crusaders came to the region. During the 14th century, it was briefly the wealthiest city on earth. Although filled with many fascinating sites, including the citadel, called Othello’s Tower, one of the best-preserved and most magnificent is the Lusignan monument, Lala Mustafa Pasa Camii (or St. Nicholas Cathedral), with its three striking porticoes rising toward a six-paned stained glass window. The remains of the magnificent 14th century cathedral, St. George of the Greeks, presents a rare example of an Orthodox church built in the regional ‘Cypriot’ Gothic style of the period. The nearby Martinengo Bastion was built by the Venetian architect Giovanni San Michele between 1550 and 1559. With its triangular design it is an excellent example of military architecture. Time permitting, we will stop by the nearby late Bronze Age remains at Salamis where an important battle was fought between an alliance of Greek city-states and the invading Persian Empire in 450 BC. This evening, we join the archaeologists at The Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI) for cocktails and a presentation of work being accomplished on the island. Then we are hosted at dinner by the Director of CAARI. (B/L/D)
Our morning takes us once again across the Green Line as we head to Kyrenia, located on the north coast and considered one of the most charming of the Cyprus coastal towns. We will see the harbor and its guardian castle, last renovated by the Venetians, but originally a Roman fort built and subsequently added on to by the Byzantines. The castle consists of a simple square with four towers, one on each corner, and was at one time protected by a moat and had an inner harbor, which connected to the outside via a Seagate on the north wall. We will enter the fortifications to view the Byzantine church of St. George, the French dungeons and Royal apartments. Continue to the village of Bellapais, renowned for both the long-term residency of Lawrence Durrell as well as the early 13th century abbey, originally founded as St. Mary of the Mountain by Augustinian canons fleeing Palestine. Surrounded by cypress trees and with a Gothic aura, the remains are truly lovely. In the afternoon, view St. Hilarion’s Castle perched among the rocky crags of the Kyrenia hills. It was built by the Byzantines to protect the island from Arab pirates and guarded the pass between Kyrenia and Nicosia. Richard of England conquered the island in 1191 and in 1192 sold it to Guy of Lusignan whose dynasty would rule the island for three centuries. Next, explore the heart of Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus and Europe’s only militarily divided city. Here there are numerous interesting sites for us to discover. The Lusignan kings protected Nicosia, but nothing remains of the medieval fortifications because in 1567 their heirs, the Venetians, built the present defenses in what was then the latest style of artillery fortification, a great star shape with 11 bastions. Much of the old city was demolished, but several significant monuments remain within the fortified area. One of the most important is Selimiye Camii, originally the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Ayia Sofia. It is the work of French masons who accompanied the crusaders and is the oldest and one of the finest examples of Gothic art in Cyprus. Among the earliest and most beautiful of the city’s Ottoman period monuments is Buyuk Han, or the ‘Great Inn’. Dinner is on our own. (B/L)
Board an early morning flight from Cyprus to Athens and connect from Athens to Rhodes, which has always been an important strategic stronghold. The medieval city is renowned for its mighty fortifications and archaeological treasures, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its position on the vital trade routes in the eastern Mediterranean has greatly influenced the course of its history. The Knights of the Order of St. John occupied Rhodes from 1309 to 1523 and set about transforming the city into a stronghold. In 1522, after repeated attempts, the Ottomans finally conquered the city. Upon arrival, we will explore the fortifications on our four-mile walk of still-standing, formidable city walls, along with the towers and seven gates. Overnight in the 5-star boutique Rodos Park Hotel for three nights. (B/D)
Our exploration today takes in many impressive sites in the Old City. With the Palace of the Grand Masters, the Great Hospital, and the Street of the Knights, the Upper Town is one of the most beautiful urban centers of the Gothic period. In the Lower Town, Gothic architecture coexists with mosques, public baths and other buildings dating from the Ottoman period. We will explore several other areas of the town including the Mosque of Suleiman, the Jewish Quarter, the Hospice of St. Catherine and the Archaeological Museum, containing a large collection including the tombstones of many of the Crusader Knights of St. John who once made this island their own. (B/L/D)
Standing guard over the southeastern coast, the citadel at Lindos is guarded by medieval walls, which were constructed by the Knights in the 13th century. As we climb the winding, narrow paths between small traditional whitewashed buildings from the village to the castle, we will stop to view the Church of Phaneromeni and the Church of Panayia. Proceed on foot uphill, to the great staircase leading from the Hellenistic Portico to the Acropolis and the Temple of Athena. From the top, marvel at the breathtaking views covering the great expanse of the Aegean Sea and St. Paul’s Bay, where the apostle cast anchor during his historic voyage to Ephesus. Close to the promontory of Agios Minas, ancient Mylantio, lies Kamiros, one of the three large Doric cities of the island. After lunch overlooking the sea, we will drive to Filerimos Monastery, built by the Knights of St. John over an early 5th century Byzantine abbey. Inside, there was the holy icon of the Virgin Mary that the Knights had probably brought to Rhodes from Jerusalem. When the Ottomans conquered the island in 1523, the Knights left and took the icon with them; it is now housed in the National Museum of Montenegro. (B/L)
This morning fly from Rhodes to Athens and then on to Malta. Malta owes its existence to the Knights Hospitaller Order of St. John. When defeated by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1522, the knights were forced to leave Rhodes. After seven years of wandering Europe, the king of Spain gave them Malta, and the Knights set about transforming the inhospitable islands and creating a series of mighty fortresses. Valletta, Malta’s capital and a UNESCO World Heritage city, is an open-air museum. The bastions of this fortress city rank among the world’s greatest examples of military engineering. This afternoon, we take a cruise on a dghajsas, a traditional boat, and view The Three Cities of Vittoriosa (Birgu), Senglea and Cospicua, located on the Grand Harbor and enclosed by the massive line of fortification, the Cottonera Lines. Overnight for five nights at the Domus Zamittello Hotel, ideally located in central Valletta. (B/L/D)
Today will be spent in Valletta, the city created by the Knights after the Great Siege by the Ottomans. Our walking tour will take us to several stunning sites in this UNESCO World Heritage city. The opulent Grand Master’s Palace has always been the house of government in Malta, first by the knights, then the British, and it now hosts the President’s office. The many rooms throughout the building contain lavish furnishings and are embellished with precious tapestries, and on the lower floors are fine examples of medieval armor and weapons used by the Knights of St. John and their adversaries. Manoel Theatre, one of the oldest working theaters in Europe, was built in 1731 by the Grand Master of the Knights who personally funded the construction. Continue to the Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens, and the Old Saluting Battery in time for the noon firing of the canons and with a breath-taking view of the Grand Harbor and the Three Cities. Then it’s on to St. John’s Co-Cathedral, designed by the Maltese architect Gerolamo Cassar in the 16th century and containing the largest painting ever created by Caravaggio. When the Knights of St John built the city of Valletta, they constructed an auberge or inn for seven of their eight langues (languages, or nationalities). The buildings were intended mainly as the residences of knights who did not have a home of their own in Malta. We will see two of them. The Auberge de Castille was the official seat of the knights of Castille, León and Portugal – one of the most powerful of the Order. The mansion is today the office of the Prime Minister. The Auberge de Provence, the palace built for the French Knights of Provence, now houses the National Archaeological Museum where nearly 7,000 years of Malta’s heritage is presented. We will end the day with a film, the Malta Experience, which gives an overview of the history of the island. Dinner tonight is on your own. (B/L)
Board a ferry and cruise across the azure waters to the smaller island of Gozo. Walk through Città Vittoria, or Rabat, the largest town on the island, and visit Gozo’s Archaeology Museum, housed within the 15th century house used for guests of the Knights of St. John. Continue to the Ta’ Cenc area where Neolithic dolmens and tombs can be seen scattered through the fields. Our final stop is Ggantija, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to view a complex of two temples that were created more than 5,500 years ago making them the oldest in Malta and some of the oldest in the world. Archaeologists believe that the statues and figurines found here may mean that the holy site was home to a fertility cult. Return to Valletta and enjoy dinner on our own. (B/L)
Our explorations this morning take us to several fascinating, sometimes rarely visited sites. The Cottonera Lines was one of the largest projects of military architecture undertaken by the Knights on Malta. Massive fortification walls, they encircled the three old cities (Vittoriosa, Senglea and Cospicua) and the Margarita Lines. Built in 1675, Notre Dame Gate is the principal gateway into Cottonera and the most imposing. Wignacourt Tower is one of the seven coastal defense towers built by the Knights and is the oldest surviving coastal defense post on the Maltese Islands. Today it contains a small museum dedicated to Malta’s architectural-military heritage. St. Agatha’s Tower is a former Knight’s stronghold with views over to the neighboring islands of Comino and Gozo. In the 17th century, Grand Master Martino De Redin built a set of 13 coastal watchtowers that were designed to send early warning signals along Malta’s coast to Valletta. (B/L)
Professor Nick Vella of the University of Malta, a specialist in Maltese prehistory, will join us today. Our explorations begin in the 5,000-year-old Hagar Qim temple, the best preserved of several ancient limestone temples in Malta. Nearby Mnajdra, part of the Megalithic Temple Complex, is one of the oldest religious sites on earth and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992. In the afternoon, visit a megalithic complex dating from about 3,000 BC. Both have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Tarxien contains four temples notable for their complexity, fine construction and variety of figural carvings, and is considered one of the oldest freestanding monuments in the world. Enter the Hypogeum, another UNESCO World Heritage site and the only prehistoric underground temple in the world. Found throughout the tiny Maltese Archipelago are unexplained grooves in the bedrock. These ruts (or ‘tracks’ as they are often known) are heavily weathered and some examples have been found under the sea, just off the coast, or ending abruptly at cliff edges, thus suggesting a prehistoric origin. There are many theories on the original purpose of these man-made structures. Perhaps it was an ancient irrigation system or a way of marking ceremonial routes, although the most likely explanation is that the tracks are the result of ‘sledgecarts’ being dragged over the same route for hundreds of years, creating the deep grooves that are seen today. We will end the day with a walk through cart track fields. In the evening, walk through nearby M’dina the island’s capital until the medieval period. This fortified town situated on a hill in the center of the island, is one of Europe’s finest examples of an ancient walled city. Impressive palaces of noble families line the narrow streets, some of them built as far back as the 12th century. Dinner will be in one of M’dina’s finest restaurants. (B/L/D)
Transfer to the airport and depart for home.
Price is based on double occupancy and includes:
Trip prices are based on a minimum number of participants. If this minimum number is not met, trip prices are subject to change. Should the prices need to change, Far Horizons will reach out to registered guests to discuss directly.
Should a roommate be requested and one not be available, the single supplement must be charged.
As a tour company that benefits from the cultural and natural riches of our destinations, we have a policy of donating to the scientific and cultural sites and projects which we visit. This has created a bond between Far Horizons and the academic and local communities that has helped us establish an extensive list of lecturers and contacts in each of our destinations. We ask that each participant donate to the noteworthy project we designate. The donation amount is $150.00 per person. Note that the donation is required as part of your registration for the trip and that it is non-refundable.
Prices are based on currency exchange rates keeping below a projected level. While it is unlikely, if the exchange rates should change substantially, Far Horizons reserves the right to charge an additional amount to the trip cost.
A deposit of $1000 per person is required along with your registration & health forms, which will be linked in the email confirmation you receive once you pay your deposit on our booking platform. Final payment is due 120 days before departure. Prior to departure, you will be sent a reading list and a tour bulletin containing travel information.
Cancellations received in writing at least 120 days before departure will receive a refund less a $500 per person administrative fee. Cancellations received less than 120 days before the departure date will not receive a refund. If for any reason you are unable to complete the trip, Far Horizons will not reimburse any fees. Upon registering for the tour, the purchase of travel protection with both trip cancellation and emergency evacuation is strongly advised. Links to recommended insurance policies will be included in the email you receive confirming receipt of your deposit.
International round trip flights are not included in the cost of the trip. If Far Horizons must change the trip dates or cancel the trip for any reason, Far Horizons is not responsible for any air ticket you may have purchased. Please send your complete air schedule as soon as you have it. NOTE: Please contact Far Horizons if you would like for us to handle your air ticketing.
The private tours of archaeological sites and talks by specialists are scheduled in advance and include a donation to each. Specialists working at these sites are excited about showing their work to interested enthusiasts. However, please be aware that there may be times when the director or a member of the staff may not be on site when our groups arrive due to other commitments.
Far Horizons expects all participants to be physically active and able to walk and climb independently throughout the full touring days. This includes walking over uneven terrain (uphill and downhill) for 2 miles or more at each site. You should expect to be on your feet for much of each day, averaging as much as 5 miles of walking per day. As such, each participant should be able to walk unaided at a pace of 3 miles per hour for at least an hour at a time, and to stand unsupported for at least 60 minutes. Bearing this in mind, we suggest that, if you have not already done so, you begin walking several miles every day, ideally including stairs and hills. If you have questions about your ability to keep up with the group or the strenuous nature of this trip, please contact the Far Horizons staff.
This tour is designed for flexible, energetic people who like to be active, have a spirit of adventure and a positive attitude. We have designed this trip to be as comfortable as possible, while also aiming to visit some remote or unique sites that other companies do not attempt to include in their itineraries. There may be days where we have very long drives and the conditions of the roads may vary. Hotels and transportation in some remote areas may not be up to western standards. There may be times when no bellhops are available; please pack with the understanding that you need to be able to handle your own luggage at times. At times we may be walking over uneven trails for a mile or more; hiking boots are strongly recommended. Not every meal will not be haute cuisine and several lunches may be picnics or box lunches. By maintaining a flexible attitude we will soon be captivated by the beauty of the natural scenery, the hospitality of the local people, and the fascinating sites we will see. Your flexibility and patience will be appreciated.
Changes in our itinerary, accommodations, and transportation schedules may occur. While we are committed to keeping as close to the published details as possible, sometimes it is simply not possible. Weather events, government affairs, or other factors out of our control sometimes come into play. A good book to read as well as patience, flexible attitude, and a sense of humor are essential.