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Cornell University School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions

Study tours

Heaven and Earth in the Ancient Aegean: Study Tour and Cruise aboard Corinthian II

August 29-September 9, 2008

The registration period for this program has passed.
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Home to philosophers and holy men, pagans, Jews, Christians, and Muslims, the city-states and empires of the ancient Aegean were cradles of Western wisdom, science, and religion. From the oracles at Delphi to the synagogues of Ephesus, from Socrates to St. Paul, thinkers and believers spread ideas and practices that survived long after the great empires and rulers faded into the Aegean mist. Only the forces of nature—which literally shaped the Aegean—had an impact as enduring as the thinkers and believers whose teachings sometimes supported but just as often undermined their rulers. As we cruise Aegean waters and explore Mycenean, Doric, Athenian, Roman, and Byzantine sites and cities, we will encounter the forces—philosophical, religious, and geological—that shaped the exquisite birthplace of our civilization.


We’ll be led by two of Cornell’s most accomplished teachers. Scott MacDonald, the N. K. Regan Professor in Christian Studies and chair of the Department of Philosophy, will bring to our journey his deep familiarity with Greek philosophy and religion, early Christianity and its roots in ancient Mediterranean cultures, and the complex relationships among the great Abrahamic faiths that have shared and contested the Aegean lands. Geologist and Cornell president emeritus Frank H. T. Rhodes will help us examine and understand the physical underpinnings of the Aegean, the formation of the Greek Islands and the Turkish coastline, and the global forces that shaped them all.


Our home for the cruise will be the extremely comfortable and spacious Corinthian II, an all-suite ship that accommodates eighty-eight passengers in large, nicely appointed rooms (and bathrooms) and offers fine facilities for dining, sunning, exercise, and conversation. Better yet, we will have an exclusive charter of the ship, which means that both the itinerary and the educational program will be our own.

We’ll begin the journey in Istanbul, the only great metropolis to survive and thrive from the early Christian era to the present, first as Byzantium, then as Constantinople, now as Istanbul. This marvelous city will introduce us to Greek–Christian and Islamic–Turkish culture, power, and beliefs. We’ll visit Hagia Sophia, the immense Christian church that predates St. Peter’s in Rome by a thousand years; the gorgeous Islamic Blue Mosque; and the amazing underground cistern, constructed in the fourth century.

We’ll sail through the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles to the Hellespont, the mouth of the Aegean, to visit the site of ancient Troy, celebrated in legend, myth, and history by everyone from Homer to Hollywood producers. From Troy we’ll continue to navigate the Dardanelles en route to Thessaloniki in northeast Greece, a city that reflects the overlay of Aegean cultures. Here, we’ll examine ancient Macedonia and delve into early Christianity as well as medieval Jewry. Thessaloniki was home for five centuries to the largest, most prosperous Jewish community in the Aegean; we’ll visit the Jewish museum and synagogue. Sailing next to Agios Konstantinos, a small port on the Gulf of Evia, we’ll take a full-day excursion to Thermopylae and Delphi, perhaps the most important pagan religious site in ancient Greece. Returning to the ship from Delphi, we’ll cruise east across the Aegean to the Turkish coast at Izmir for a trip to Sardis, the ancient capital of Lydia, which, since 1958, has been excavated and partially restored by archaeologists from Cornell and Harvard.

Sailing south along the Turkish coast, we’ll arrive in Kusadasi for a morning visit to Priene, a beautifully sited fourth-century city in the foothills of Mount Mycale. After lunch and some free time among the delightful cafés and shops of Kusadasi, we’ll arrive late in the afternoon at Ephesus for a private visit to this fantastic site—so important in the history of early Christianity—followed by dinner in the courtyard of the Library of Celsus. This will be a memorable day!

From Kusadasi we’ll sail to one of the Aegean’s most noted geological sites, the island of Santorini, with its volcanically active crater near the islet of Nea Kameni. We’ll pause to consider the impact of what is likely to have been the most violent volcanic eruption in antiquity, producing a tsunami that scoured virtually the entire Aegean. From Santorini, we’ll cruise south to Crete, arriving in Rethymno, a picturesque harbor town, and driving to Knossos to visit its great Minoan palace and archaeological museum. Our last stop will be Melos, a lovely island that was important in antiquity for its mineral wealth and for its role in the events that followed the Persian Wars. From Melos we’ll sail the short distance to Piraeus, the port of Athens, for disembarkation.

A pre-extension to Istanbul and a post-extension to Athens will be available. We will send you details about both programs when you register and/or call to inquire.

Program Cost and Travel Arrangements

Program fees vary with the suite you select. They range from $6,890 to $13,890 (per-person, double-occupancy). A full ship’s plan for cabin selection will be sent to you upon inquiry or when you submit your deposit. The supplement for single occupancy (limited availability) is $2,695. Program fees include all accommodations, meals, and services aboard Corinthian II, all ground transportation, site visits, admission fees, escort services, taxes, gratuities (including aboard ship), emergency medical-evacuation insurance, and the full educational program. A group airfare will be offered through our tour operator, Travel Dynamics, but you are free to make your own air arrangements.

Program Notes

This is a moderately rigorous trip; we will be walking daily for a mile or more and be on our feet for several hours at a time at sites where we will encounter uneven terrain and many steps. Please also be prepared for strong sun.