Focus on Archaeology

View of the skene, orchestra and cavea in the Greek Theater in Taormina, Sicily. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

In the shadow of Mount Etna

A few of my favorite trips to Italy have been not to the great cultural and tourist centers of Rome, Venice or Florence but to some of the small hill towns found all over Italy. Over the years, my husband, Paul, and I have compiled a list of our favorites: Volterra and Fiesole in Tuscany; Erice and Ragusa in Sicily; Todi and Gubbio in Umbria, and Positano and Ravello on the Amalfi Coast south of Naples.

On a 5-week trip to Palermo, Sicily, in April-...

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Mosaic of Noah loading animals into the ark — Monreale Cathedral. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

(Second of two parts)

By the time I had finished visiting the five (arguably) major Norman sites in Palermo, Sicily (Italy), described in my January 2017 column, I was hooked on the Normans and all that still remained of their era even after more than 800 years. I wanted more.

Pleasure palaces

In addition to building churches, chapels and palaces, the Normans built intimate pleasure palaces for themselves, probably to escape the intense summer heat of the city. One such...

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Mosaic of Noah releasing the animals from the ark after the flood — Palatine Chapel, Palermo, Sicily. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

Norman Palermo

(First of two parts)

Located in the Mediterranean just off the “toe” of the “boot” of Italy, Sicily has been the crossroads for traders, invaders and settlers from other lands for thousands of years. 

There were indigenous groups occupying Sicily when the Phoenicians arrived in the eighth century BC. The Phoenicians originally came from the eastern Mediterranean, from the area that is present-day Lebanon, and settled in, among...

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Buddha statues line all four sides of the temple enclosure at Wat Yai Chai Mongkol — Ayutthaya, Thailand. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

Ayutthaya — island kingdom

Ayutthaya is one of my favorite archaeological sites. Over the past 35 years and seven or eight trips to Bangkok, I have never missed the chance to return for “one more look.” This is exactly what my husband, Paul, and I did in February 2016 on our most recent trip to Bangkok. We returned for “one more look.”

What, today, is Thailand was — at the beginning of the 14th century — a collection of mini-...

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The one square tower at Al Zubarah Fort in Qatar, with a glimpse of the interior courtyard. Photo by Sameh Mohamed

It is not often that you have the opportunity to experience 5,000 years of archaeology in just eight hours. In March 2016, my husband, Paul, and I visited Qatar, a small country roughly the size of Connecticut that juts out into the Persian Gulf. It shares a land border only with Saudi Arabia to the south.

Most visitors travel to Qatar for business. If they go for pleasure, as we did, it is for Qatar’s futuristic architecture, glittering mega-malls, atmospheric souks and...

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The eighth century in Japan was a peripatetic century as far as capitals go. Within the space of one hundred years, AD 694 to 794, Japan’s capital made four major moves. After 16 years in Fujiwara (694 to 710), the capital moved to Nara in 710, then to Nagaoka in 784 and, finally, to Kyoto in 794, where it remained for almost 1,100 years. In 1868, Tokyo replaced Kyoto as Japan’s capital. 

As if all these major moves weren’t enough, there were also minor...

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The three castles I visited on my trip to Japan in October-November 2015 — Osaka, Nijo and Himeji — have much in common. Each is a spacious complex in the middle of a large city. Each is surrounded by a moat and by expansive gardens. Each displays monumental gateways, picturesque wall turrets and impressive stonework. Two of the three castles still each have their tenshu, a central tower or keep.

These castle complexes are so grand that they could be mistaken for imperial...

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Most visitors to Cape Town in South Africa typically spend three or four days exploring the city and its environs. Among their must-see sights are Table Mountain, the Cape of Good Hope, the penguins near Simon’s Town, Kirstenbosch Garden, Groot Constantia and the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. 

These are among the top sights to visit, and well they should be. They make Cape Town special. But for those with more time and/or with an interest in history, there are several...

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