Focus on Archaeology

Interior of Scola Tedesca, one of Ghetto’s still-existing five historic synagogues — Venice, Italy. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

2016 marked the 500th anniversary of the founding of the Ghetto in Venice, the first ghetto in the world. In March 1516, Venetian Doge Leonardo Loredan decreed that “Jews must all live together… in the Ghetto of San Girolamo…” which is in Cannaregio, one of the six sestieri, or sections, into which Venice is divided. 

The Ghetto was then an abandoned foundry area where metal had once been cast. In the Venetian dialect, ghètar means “to cast...

Èglise Sainte-Famille stands proudly with three bell towers — Île d’Orléans, eastern Canada. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

Seventy-three years before Samuel de Champlain founded the city of Québec in eastern Canada, another Frenchman, Jacques Cartier, sailed up the St. Lawrence River in 1535. 

Along his river route lay a large island in the middle of the river. Seeing the abundance of vines and wild grapes on the island, he named it Île de Bacchus (Island of Bacchus) for the Roman god of wine. Soon after, the name was changed to Île d’Orléans in honor of the Duke of Orléans, son of the (then)...

An Inuit carving on display in the Museum of Civilization in Québec’s Lower Town. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

Québec, capital of New France

Long before Samuel de Champlain founded Québec in 1608, Native Americans inhabited the area that was destined to become France’s toehold in the New World and, eventually, capital of New France. Among others, Algonquin, Huron and Iroquois lived in this area of eastern Canada beside the St. Lawrence since at least 5000 BC. 

When Jacques Cartier arrived three-quarters of a century before Champlain, an Iroquois village occupied the site. By...

Detail of a mosaic in the Corridor of the Great Hunt — Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

Villa Romana del Casale

The Romans weren’t the first to invade, conquer or settle Sicily. Preceding them were tribal groups originally from mainland Italy or other parts of the Mediterranean: the Sicans, Elymians and Sicels. 

The Greeks and the Phoenician-Carthaginians followed, both during the eighth century BC. They thrived, built cities, traded, fought each other and were both ultimately defeated by the Romans, who arrived in Sicily in the mid-third century,...

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-...

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...

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...

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-kingdoms,...