The Queen of Venice

Venice is the Queen of the Seas. But does Venice herself have a queen? Yes, she does. When you inch from the Rialto toward San Marco in the narrow passages, and, next to the church of San Zulian, look down from Ponte dei Bareteri, you read the street name Fondamenta Morosini della Regina – the Queen Morosini’s Quay.

The Morosini family is undoubtedly one of the oldest and most prestigious ones in Venice. They belonged to those twelve families, called “apostolic” because of their number, who first fled from Attila to the lagoons, and who participated in the election of Doge Paoluccio Anafesto (697-717). During the Serenissima’s existence, they gave four doges, four dogaresse (doge-wives) and twenty-six procurators.

“Die Herzogin von Venedig”, that is, the dogaressa of Venice. “Look carefully at this picture if you want to know, how luxuriously a princess is dressed in Venice, in Italian land, that only a few people know. In German land we do not find such a richly dressed lady.” Jost Amman’s woodcut in Im Frauwenzimmer Wirt vermeldt von allerley schönen Kleidungen vnnd Trachten der Weiber (In the boudoir. About all the beautiful ladies’ clothes and attires in the world), Nuremberg, 1586.

However, one of the members of the Morosini family rose to an even higher rank. The blonde prince virtually rode into the life of Tomasina Morosini on a white horse – or perhaps on a white gondola –, and thus she became the queen of Hungary. How did this happen?

“When King Andrew II, father of King Bela IV and Prince Kalman, after the death or rather the assassionation of his first wife, crossed the sea to the Holy Land, to victoriously fight for the Lord’s tomb, and he was returning home with glory and honor, he stopped in Italy, where he was received with great hospitality by the Marquis of Este. The Marquis, having learned that the King was a widow, presented him his daughter, of a great beauty. And the King, seeing that she was beautiful and of charming appearance, and since he wanted to find a new wife anyway, married her on the same day, and brought her to Hungary.

After the death of King Andrew, this lady, while preparing to return to her parents, summoned the magnates, bishops and archbishops of Hungary, and showed them with obvious signs that she was pregnant with the King’s child. Then she returned to their estate in Este. There, in the house of her father she gave birth to a boy, who was named in baptism Stephen. […] Stephen went to Venice. There, one of the wealthier and richer citizens, having heard and received proofs that he was the son of the King of Hungary, married him to his daughter. That woman gave birth to a son, who was named Andrew, after his grandfather’s name.”

The above narrative of the Chronicon Pictum (1358) needs to be corrected in several details, but it does not change much in the essence of the story. Andrew II led a campaign of the Holy Land not on this occasion (1234), but some fifteen years earlier, in 1217-1218. After his first wife, Gertrude, assassinated by the barons of Hungary, he had had a second one by this time, Jolanta, daughter of Peter of Courtenay, Count of Auxerre and Namour. He got to know his third wife, Beatrix of Este in 1233, shortly after Jolanta’s death, during his pilgrimate to Italy, and married her in 1234 in Hungary. And finally, Beatrix not simply “returned”, but fled back to Este. Andrew’s older sons, the future King Bela IV and Prince Kalman were opposed from the beginning to the new marriage of their sixty-year-old father, and looked suspicious on the pregnancy of his young wife, rumouring that the real father was the baron Dénes of Apold. After the death of Andrew II on 21 September 1235, they put Beatrix under arrest. She, however, escaped to Germany, and in Marburg gave birth to her son, Stephen the Posthumous.

Adventurous is the fate of exiled princes. I wonder why no TV series or historical novel was written about the life of Prince Stephen. How was it to be a pretender to a royal throne, to traverse cities and principalities with this card, obtain allies, court to heiresses, put a life on everything or nothing?

Prince Stephen grew up in Este, traveled through Spain and the princely courts of the Po plain, Ferrara, Verona, Ravenna, and finally he settled in Venice. Here he won the hand of the daughter of the patrician Michele Morosini, obviously not without the consent of the Grand Council of Venice, who knew how useful a Venetian-friendly Hungarian king would be in a situation where the Serenissima and Hungary were fighting for Dalmatia. Here was born, around 1265, their son Andrew, who, due to the fortunate collusion of the circumstances, and against all odds, came to the Hungarian throne in 1290. In fact, his predecessor, Ladislas IV, Bela IV’s grandson, spent his time in the tents of her Cuman mistresses, and was abhorred of his wife, Anjou Isabel of Naples, so he died without a legal heir. At this time the Hungarian barons turn to the “last golden branch” of the Árpád dynasty, as he is called in his necrolog of 1303, forgotten in Venice. Andrew was brought to Hungary, and crowned king on 23 July 1290.

Two commissioners of Lodomér, Archbishop of Esztergom, bring Prince Andrew to Hungary. Chronicon Pictum, 1358

The haste and the suppression of the doubts concerning the prince’s illegitimate origin were also due to the fact that there was another pretender to the throne of Hungary. Ladislas IV’s sister, Mary was married to the same Anjou family of Naples, from where Ladislas’ wife Isabel came. Her son, Anjou Charles Martell demanded the Hungarian crown on maternal lineage, and his claim was also supported by the Pope. However, the Hungarian barons did not miss a strong ruler of foreign origin, neither an increased influence of the Pope in Hungary. Only the son of Charles Martell, Charles Robert will seize the throne of Hungary in 1308, after the barons, following the death of Andrew III in 1301, tried two other kings of their own choice. No wonder, that under the Hungarian Angevin kings – Charles Robert (1308-1342) and his son Louis (1342-1382), the memory of Andrew III became increasingly negative. After some time he was openly considered illegitimate, and his diplomas were only accepted if Charles Robert also confirmed them.

Silver denar of Andrew III, 1290-1301

But back to Venice. Andrew was still a minor when his father, Prince Stephen the Posthumous died. His mother’s brother, Albertino Morosini assumed his guardianship. Shortly after he went to Hungary in 1290, his mother and uncle followed him at the head of an official Venetian delegation, to congratulate him on his election as king, and to find a definitive solution – of course to the benefit of Venice – to the Dalmatian question. Andrew appointed his mother Princess of Slavonia, and included his uncle into the Hungarian nobility, making him also his heir in 12900. However, after his death in 1301, the Hungarian estates of his mother and uncle were confiscated, and they returned to Venice. According to Donato Contarini’s Cronaca veneta sino al 1433 (Cod. 6260, fol. 106v.), preserved in the Nationalbibliothek of Vienna, they built a house near the church of San Zulian, and the queen lived there until her death in 1311:

“…Andreas nepote de lo dicto messer Albertin morì et non laso nisun eriede et conuene lo regno uiolentemente in man de realli tirani e prese per maior partido messer Albertin de recondur la sorela et la sua persona a Veniexia con quelle solamente perche la roba li fu tolta et venuto a Veniexia lo dicto messer Albertin el qual era spendidissimo et de degno prosepia esendo la sorela stata regina per honor suo et de la casa sua el feze edificar una posesion in S. Zulian in la ruga driedo le case del monastier de S. Zorzi avanti che se ariva al ponte de le balote et lì abitò la dicta regina in fina che quella uisse et uegniva ciamada quela corte de la regina et cusì se ciamo fino al presente zorno…”

“…Andrew, the nephew of said Messer Albertin, died without heir, and his country came into the hands of tyrant kings. Thus, the main concern of Messer Albertin was to lead his sister and himself without any harm back to Venice, since all their estates were confiscated. In Venice, Messer Albertin, who was generous and very proud, since his sister was a queen, built a house to the glory of his family and of himself in the parish of San Zulian, in the street behind the houses of the Saint George Monastery, before the Ponte de le Balote. The Queen lived there until the end of her life, and that house has been called to this day the Queen’s Courtyard…”

A relief of Saint George in the square of the church of San Zulian, at the beginning of the former houses of the Saint George Monastery. The Ponte de le Balote was a wooden bridge until 1725, when it was rebuilt of Istrian stone. Its name comes from the ballotte, the linen ballots used to the election of the doges and other officials, produced in the neighboring Calle de le Balote. The courtyard opening from Fondamenta Morosini della Regina bears the name of Tramontin only since 1743, after the ivory workshop of Zuane Tramontin opened here (under the sign of the Two Elephants); earlier, it might have been the Queen’s Courtyard.

This is the house of the Morosini Queen, who was forced to flee from Attila’s country to the land of the Venetians forced by Attila to the lagoons. Perhaps the oldest house of the world that is still standing today, which has a Hungarian connection.

Attila, the scourge of God. 15th-century bronze medal (Budapest, National Museum), and its copy in the above cited Viennese manuscript of Donato Contarini’s Cronaca veneta sino al 1433.

View from the Fondamenta Morosini della Regina toward the Armenian church of the Holy Cross

Saint Raphael the Whale-Slayer

St. Raphael’s icon on the chapel at the bridgehead of the Blue Nile, 19th c.

I have already written that the iconography, that is, the system of representations of the Ethiopian church, living isolated at the edge of the Christian world, had evolved in a separate way, and developed many pictorial formulas that are apocryphal to other Christian churches.

Such as the prominent role of the seven archangels in the church frescoes. The Ethiopian monastery churches of Lake Tana are circular wooden constructions, with square-based stone sanctuaries inside. On each of the four sides of the sanctuary, a gate opens (or, more precisely, is closed to the ordinary believer), and on their double doors are painted a pair of archangels (and on the doors of the fourth gate, the seventh archangel and the Virgin Mary).

Archangel Raphael (to the right) on one gate of Ura Kidane Mihret monastery church. The counterpart of the slaying of the big fish is everywhere another sea scene, the crossing of the Red Sea and the destruction of Pharaoh’s army in the water.

Who can name all seven archangels? Probably not many of us. In fact, the Bible mentions only two or three of them by name, depending on confession. Michael, who pushes down the rebellious angels with a fiery sword, and Gabriel, who forwards the divine message to the Virgin Mary with a white lily in hand, are known to everyone. And the Catholic Bible also includes the book of Tobit, which is not accepted in the Jewish and Protestant scriptures, since it had no Hebrew original, only a Greek version was known. In this, a third archangel, Rafael, accompanies the young Tobias from Nineveh to Media – to Ekbatana/Hamadan, a significant Jewish settlement at that time, the later funeral place of Queen Esther and Mordecai, to connect it also to today’s Purim celebration.

At the same time, apocryphal or not, this is the book which establishes that seven is the number of archangels. In its final part, the archangel reveals himself: “I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand in the glorious presence of the Lord, ready to serve him.” (Tob 12:15) The idea of the seven archangels – the lords of the seven planets – was taken over by the Jews from the surrounding peoples, especially from the Zoroastrian religion, where it first took shape, during the Assyrian-Babylonian captivity, when Tobias’ story also takes place. The Yezidi Kurds preserved from the same cultural milieu the cult of the seven archangels, for which they are now being massacred by the extremists of ISIS. This cult was also popular with local Christians in the first centuries, so much so, that the Council of Laodicea of 363 (Article 35) had to expressly prohibit the worship of the angels, and allow only their veneration. The Latin church limited this to the three archangels known by name, while the Orthodox church has preserved to this day the veneration of the seven archangels, celebrated on 8 November in a special feast called “the gathering of the archangels” (Σύναξη των Αρχαγγέλων), “the gathering of Archangel Michael” (Собор Архистратига Михаила), or “the gathering of the bodiless” (Σύναξη των Ασωμάτων). At this meeting, the seven archangels hold a council at the end of time, just before the last judgment.

The gathering of Archangel Michael. Russian icon, 19th c., with the names of the single archangels in their halos: Yegudiel, Uriel, Selaphiel, Barakhiel, Gabriel, Michael, Raphael (the latter with the young Tobias, who holds the fish in hand).

Especially remarkable among the Ethiopian representations is the figure of Raphael, who always stabs a big fish with his spear. In the Book of Tobit, Raphael and Tobias wandering together catch a big fish from Tigris River, whose heart and liver are later used to expel the demon Asmodeus, and its gall to heal the blind eye of Tobit, the father of Tobias. We might think that the Ethiopian pictures of Raphael also show the fish of the Book of Tobit. It is peculiar, however, that we always see a small chapel beside the fish or on the fish’s back, with people praying inside. What’s that?

The answer is given by an Ethiopian source. The 14th-century Synaxarium Aethiopicum, the collection of the biographies of the Ethiopian saints, ordered by feasts, celebrates on 8 September the feast of Archangel Raphael, about whom it tells, amongst others, the following miraculous story. The Coptic Patriarch St. Theophilus (385-412)

“…built many churches, and among them was the church, which was on the island outside the city of Alexandria, and was dedicated in the name of the glorious Archangel Rufa’el (Raphael); and Abba Theophilus the Archbishop finished the building thereof and consecrated it as it were this day. And whilst the believers were praying in the church, behold the church trembled, and was rent asunder, and it moved about. And they found that the church had been built upon the back of a whale of the whales of the sea, on which a very large mass of sand had heaped itself. Now the whale lay firmly fixed in its place, and the treading of the feet of the people upon it cut it off from the mainland; and it was Satan who moved the whale so that he might throw down the church. And the believers and the archbishop cried out together, and made supplication to the Lord Christ, and they asked for the intercession of the glorious Archangel Rufa’el. And God, the Most High, sent the glorious angel Rufa’el, and he had mercy on the children of men, and he drove his spear into the whale, saying unto him, “By the commandment of God stand still, and move not thyself from thy place”; and the whale stood in his place and moved not. And many signs and wonders were made manifest, and great healings of sick folk took place in that church. And this church continued to exist until the time when the Muslims reigned [641], and then it was destroyed, and the whale moved, and the sea flowed back again and drowned many people who dwelt in that place.”

In this story, we can recognize two “Wandermotive”, traveling motifs. One is the big sea fish which is thought to be an island, but which, after a while, swims away or submerges in the sea. Its best known example is read in the sea travels of the 6th-century Irish abbot St. Brendan, where the abbot and his companions moor at night on an island. However, when in the morning they read Mass, and then set fire, the island moves, and slowly swims away. The companions flee back in horror to the ship, where they hear from St. Brendan:

“God has last night revealed to me the mystery of all this; it was not an island you were upon, but a fish, the largest of all that swim in the ocean, which is ever trying to make its head and tail meet, but cannot succeed, because of its great length. Its name is Iasconius.”
Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis. The voyage of St. Brendan the Abbot, ch. 10., translated by Denis O’Donoghue, 1893

St. Brendan’s island, c. 1230-1240. British Library, Harley MS 4751, f. 69r.

The other traveling motif is the subjection of the great fish / water monster. This story often appeared in various creation stories in Mesopotamia, where the Book of Tobit was also written: the deity (Ninurta, Marduk, Hadad etc.) overcomes the great fish / snake / dragon living in the ancestral sea of chaos, and creates from it / builds upon it the world. This myth was also taken over by the Jews at the time of the Babylonian captivity, and although later they replaced it with the two creation stories now read at the beginning of the Book of Genesis, its traces were retained in the Bible. For example, in Job 40:25-32, where God reminds Job of His greatness with references to the former struggle: “Can you pull the Leviathan with a fishhook… will it make an agreement with you for you to take it as your slave for life?” or in Psalm 74, which briefly summarizes the creation myth to illustrate God’s greatness:

“It was you who split open the sea by your power; you broke the heads of the monster in the waters. It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan, and gave it as food to the creatures of the desert. It was you who opened up springs and streams; you dried up the ever-flowing rivers. The day is yours, and yours also the night; you established the sun and moon. It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth; you made both summer and winter.” (Psalm 74:13-17)

The creation founded on the Leviathan in the center of the Hasidic synagogue of Łańcut (on the vault of the bimah), late 18th c.

The Ethiopian legend of Raphael bears a great resemblance to this creation story. The archangel, at the command of God, stabs the great fish, so it serves as a solid foundation for the house of God. Is it possible that the Ethiopian tradition has retained something from the Jewish myth, in which, perhaps, the Archangel Raphael fulfilled the subjugation of the ancient water monster at His command, just as the rebellious angels were pushed out from heaven to the underworld by the Archangel Michael in His name?

This is justified by a motif that was unintentionally left in the Book of Tobit. Known as the “Tobias’ Dog Problem”, it has excited the fantasy of commentators at least since the age of confessional debates. It is about the dog that appears twice in brief mentions without any antecedents, and then disappears again without any further role in the Book of Tobit:

“So the son and the angel departed, and the dog went after them.” (Tob 6:2)

“They both arrived, and the dog went after them.” (Tob 11:4)

Tobias and Raphael depart and then come back, and on these occasions the dog appears next to them. Jacob van Maerlant, Rijmbijbel. Utrecht, 1332, miniatures by Michiel van der Borch

According to the analysis of Naomi S. S. Jacobs (What about the dog? Tobit’s mysterious canine revisited, 2014), the dog remained in the Book of Tobit from a more detailed folk narrative, written – as it is indicated by its Greek vernacular – as an entertaining and teaching Midrashic story. In the original narrative, it might have been the helper of Raphael who subjugated the great fish / water monster, just as in similar myths, the evil-chasing dog helps the deity to overcome the water monster / dragon. In the final version, it appears at the two key points of the fish story: before the catching of the great fish, and when Tobias and Raphael heal the blind Tobit with the fish gall.

It is thus conceivable, that this unique motif of Ethiopian iconography, Archangel Raphael stabbing the big fish and firmly founding the house of God on it, as well as the Book of Tobit, written in the 3th century BC in a Greek-speaking Jewish diaspora of Mesopotamia or Egypt, preserved the memory of the most ancient “third creation story” on these two edges of the Jewish and Christian religions, where the authority of the official Book of Genesis, redacted in Judea in the 6th century BC, had not yet completely pushed the original myth into oblivion.

Archangel Raphael (to the right) on a gate of the Azwa Mariam monastery church at Lake Tana.

In any case, the fish scene is well suited to the monasteries built on the islands of Lake Tana. The frescoes of the nearly two-dozen monastery churches willingly reach back to those biblical or apocryphal scenes, where the holy figures catch or eat fish, thus blessing and elevating up to a higher sphere the most important daily food of the islands’ inhabitants.

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Río Wang tours in 2019

The tours of río Wang grew out of this blog at the request of our readers. For the eighth consecutive year, we have been organizing tours to regions that we know well and love, and which are not to be found in the repertoire of tourist offices; or even if they occasionally are, they do not delve so deeply into the history and everyday life of these places, the tissue of little streets, interior courtyards, cafés and pubs frequented by the locals: to the Mediterranean, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Iran, the Far East.

Our journeys are no package tours, but rather the excursions of friends. Almost always there is someone who admits to never having wanted to take part in a package tour, but could not resist the call of the blog. And in the end he/she recounts with relief that it has
absolutely been no package tour. We consider it a really great compliment.

For fresh news, sign up for our mailing list at!

About myself: Dr. Tamás Sajó, art historian, translator, blogger. I live in Berlin, from which I organize my tours. I speak and translate in fifteen languages. I have worked at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the Central European University in Budapest. In fact, the tours I organize are also peripatetic university lectures.
Our 2019 tour calendar has taken shape through the conversations during the previous trips and blog meetings, and all of the subsequent correspondence about them. The participants have told us where they would prefer to go, and their votes on the first proposal, which was sent out in a circular letter, has decided which tours to actually organize. Meanwhile, for some trips the maximum number of participants – 18 persons, the capacity of a small bus – has been also reached. So if, in the future, you want to take part in the shaping of the tour calendar, and want to be sure you do not miss out on the most popular tours, sign up for the mailing list at

In previous years, there were many tours we organized only once or twice, while the interest in them was increasing. This is why we announce many familiar trips again this year. Once again we visit Rome, Andalusia, Lemberg, Istanbul, Berlin, Sarajevo, Albania. May, as always, is Caucasus month, when we travel through Georgia’s still largely unknown sights. At the end of May, we repeat our Jewish heritage tour to Odessa through the shtetls of Galicia and Podolia, and in the autumn the Toscan tour following the traces of Antal Szerb’s cult novel Journey by moonlight, as well as the tea-horse-road in China’s Yünnan province. In the second semester, we are planning new, exotic tours to Ethiopia, Morocco and Anatolia.

I regularly hold presentations, historical and art historical lectures and travel reports on our tours, which are announced in the afore mentioned newsletter. Be sure to subscribe!

You can register for the tours or request information about them using the same address. In response, I will send you a detailed program with all pertinent information.

Usually, each participant pays for the flight ticket out of their own pocket, and everything else concerning the tour is organized by me. Participation fees usually include one bed in a double room (breakfast included), rented bus and my services as guide; if any other expenses accrue, I will specify them. If you prefer a single room, ask me about the surcharge. Where I only indicate the participation fee approximately, it will depend on the number of participants and the corresponding final costs of the bus and hotels.

2019 first semester

These tours are all prepared, all are confirmed, having a sufficient number of participants (many of them are already full). The next available spots are in the Berlin tour in early April, Lemberg/Lviv at Easter time, and for Georgia in late April-early May.

Rome, from piazza to piazza, 27 February – 3 March. To bring spring forward, we begin with a few tours to warmer climes. Following our previous successful tours in Rome, over the course of five days, we explore in detail the old town of Rome, including the most important ancient, Renaissance and Baroque monuments, also addressing some more “exotic” scenes, such as the Jewish quarter, the self-sufficient world of Trastevere, or the beautiful garland of ancient and medieval churches in the Caelius Hill. We acquaint ourselves with the city from square to square, street to street, so that it will offer many interesting details and secrets even to those already lovers of Rome. Our accommodations will be in the heart of the old town, so that a long bus ride from and to the suburbs would not encumber the day. For details, check our posts on Rome. Participation fee 500 euros. • Full.

Historic cities of Andalusia, 5-9 March. Andalusia is one of those special areas of the Mediterranean upon which many great cultures left their mark. Starting from Málaga, we go through the historic cities of Seville, Córdoba, Granada and Ronda, getting to know in detail their Roman, Arabic, Jewish and Christian pasts, monuments and still living traditions. • Participation fee 600 euros. • Full.

Istanbul, beyond the bazaar, 27-31 March. We penetrate the many layers of the city’s two-thousand-year history, from the Roman and Byzantine period through the Ottoman Empire to modern Turkey. We explore in detail the most remarkable monuments from Hagia Sophia to Suleymaniye Mosque, walk through the self-sufficient neighborhoods from Galata to Kadiköy, and discover a lot of hidden places, small restaurants, Greek, Armenian, Jewish and Ottoman monuments. It is recommended that you read our posts on Istanbul and Turkish culture. Participation fee 450 euros. • Full.

Berlin’s scenes, 4-7 April. A long weekend to explore Berlin’s iconic sites and unknown parts, contemporary architecture and exotic neighborhoods. We visit the historic heart of the city as well as the recently built centers, the subcultural neighborhoods and little hidden worlds. We pay special attention to the cultural flourishing of Berlin of the 1920s with its Eastern European and Jewish immigrants, the post-war divisions, and the alternative scene of the 80s and 90s. Participation fee 450 euros. • Full.

Easter in Lemberg, 19-22 and 25-28 April. Lemberg/Lviv/Lwów is one of the most beautiful cities in Eastern Europe, and one which has not been demolished in the vicissitudes of the past hundred years. Several nationalities – Poles, Armenians, Jews, Ukrainians, Germans, Hungarians and others – have made it one of the most colorful cities of the old Austrian Monarchy. Its architecture was as great during the Renaissance as it was during the Art Nouveau period. We visit this city on two consecutive long weekends, the first of which coincides with the Catholic, and the second with the Orthodox Easter: during this time, the Greek Catholic, Orthodox and Armenian believers of this multiethnic, multiconfessional city celebrate not only in the churches, but throughout the entire city. On the way there, we visit the Baroque town of Drohobycz, the birthplace of Bruno Schulz, and on the way back, the Jewish cemetery of Bolechów, one of the most beautiful and best-preserved Hasidic cemeteries in Galicia. • Travel by small bus from Budapest to Lemberg and back. Participation fee 450 euros, single room surcharge 90 euro. • Full.

Round trips to Georgia, 29 April - 7 May and 6-14 May. Every year we go to Georgia in May, when the mountains are already emerald green, and have not yet faded from summer heat. Over the period of a week, we travel through almost every beautiful region of this extremely diverse country, from Svaneti, the northernmost valley of the Great Caucasus, and the fifteen-centuries-old residential towers of Ushguli through the medieval quarters of Tbilisi to the monasteries of the Kakheti wine region. Here we have collected our posts on the Caucasus. • Participation fee 600 euros, single room surcharge 100 euros. • The second tour is full, but for the first one we have some free places left.

Odessa and the South Galician world of the shtetls, 22-28 May. The great tour de force that we do every other year, inspired by Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is illuminated. A three-day trip by bus through the important – and partly still living – Jewish settlements of the former Polish-Russian region, Czernowitz, Kamenets-Podolsk, Uman, Mezhibozh, the cradle of Hasidism, and many other Hasidic towns and cemeteries, down to Odessa, where we discover, in the wake of Isaac Babel, the sophisticated culture of the “Paris of the South” and the memories of the former Jewish gangster’s world in the Moldavanka. From Odessa, we return home by plane. We have collected our posts on Odessa here, and our writings on the Jewish heritage here. • Participation fee 600 euros. • Full.

Unknown Albania, 30 May - 6 June and 6-13 June. In this unexplored country, we first visit the least known – because it has only recently been provided with an asphalt road – part, the northern mountains, the valleys of Theth and Valbona. We sleep in traditional farm houses converted into modern family pensions, and we make a long boat tour on the Drin river among the mountains. We visit the Ottoman merchant town of Berat, and the ancient Greek settlements of Byllis and Apollonia. We make a detour to Kosovo, to the beautiful Serbian monastery of Dečani and the Ottoman town of Prizren, and finish our journey at the pristine bay and beach at Vlora, next to the monastery of Zvernets. Our Albanian posts are available here. Participation fee 600 euros. • The second tour is full, but for the first one we have some free places left.

Long weekend in Sarajevo, 16-19 June. The original Persian-Ottoman name of Sarajevo, located in the high mountains of Bosnia, is Saray Bosna, “the Bosnian caravanserai”, and it really feels like time has stopped since the centuries of the Ottoman Empire. In the vast bazaar and in the tortuous streets of the mountain slopes, full of small mosques, Ottoman cemeteries and old houses, the atmosphere of the Ottoman period is still so present, to an extent which persists not even in Turkey. At the same time, during the period of the Austrian Monarchy, a beautiful Art Nouveau district was added to the old town, and the city was one of the intellectual centers of the former Yugoslavia. Today, Sarajevo has largely recovered from the destruction of the siege of 1992-1996, and it is considered to be one of the most important centers of contemporary architecture in the Balkans. In our long weekend, we explore this unique ensemble, and make a one-day bus trip through the wonderful valley of Neretva River to Mostar. • Participation fee 350 euros. • We have some last free places.

Adventure tour in Georgia, 2-10 July. In contrast to the Georgian round trip in May, in which we travel comfortably by bus through the most beautiful regions of the country, in this tour we invite our more adventurous readers. We embark on a great hike among the amazing mountains of Svaneti, ride on horseback from the medieval village of Ushguli to Mount Shkhara on the Russian border and back, and then we go rafting on Rioni River from Ambrolauri almost as far as Kutaisi. To participate, you need no previous training in riding or rafting: we will get and learn locally everything necessary. Participation fee, which includes all equipment and full board: 700 euro. • We have some free places.

2019 second semester

The program of the second semester is still in development. The following list is not complete yet: it only includes the already organized tours (thus it does not have some that are in preparation, such as Scotland, Morocco and Anatolia). As the organizating of a new tour is completed, it will be added to the list. Where we do not have exact dates yet, which will be added later, and you can also propose your preferred dates. It is not yet certain that all these tours will actually take place: it depends on the number of registrations. If you register now at, you will both secure your place, and simultaneously increase the chance of the tour taking place.

Subotica Art Nouveau, 12-14 July. In one of the most important centers of Hungarian Art Nouveau (now in Serbia), we visit one of the most beautiful synagogues of pre-war Hungary as well as the gorgeous town hall – both chef d’oeuvres of the Marcell Komor - Dezső Jakab architectural duo –, and the entire old town, which, in late 19th century, became one of the most exciting architectural centers of the country. On the way there, we stop at the most beautiful old Hungarian library, of the Archdiocese of Kalocsa, where I did research for many years, and on the way back, in the Art Nouveau Spa of Palić, whose buildings were also designed by Komor and Jakab. See our posts on Szabadka/Subotica here. • Travel from Budapest by bus, participation fee ca. 200 euros.

Iran’s historic cities on the feast of Ashura, 6-14 September. Ashura is the greatest Shi’ite religious feast in Iran, celebrated with huge parades and street performances. For the fourth year, we have been taking part: up until now in Kashan, but thsi year we will participate in the city of Yazd, the epicenter of the celebrations. At the same time, we visit all the important historic towns of Iran, from the formerly Zoroastrian town of Abyaneh, through Isfahan, Pasargade, Persepolis and Shiraz, from which we return by plane to Tehran. • Flight from Budapest to Tehran via Istanbul and back, ca. 250 euros, participation fee 1200 euros.

The route of the Jewish wine from Tokaj to Galicia, mid-September. The cultivation and trade in the wine of Tokaj was, from the early 18th century, largely in the hands of Hasidic Jews, who delivered it through a well-established route, Kassa/Košice, Eperjes/Prešov and Bártfa/Bardejov to the towns of Galicia, Nowy Sącz, Kraków, Tarnów, and, beyond that, to the Russian Empire. And as the wine went north, so the offspring of the Galician rabbinic dynasties came down on the same route south, to these towns, and created flourishing Hasidic communities. On our week-long journey, we follow this route from Tokaj to Galician Lublin. And as we become familiar with the specific culture of these merchant communities and the Galician cradles of Hasidism, we will also have an ongoing Tokaj wine tasting, thanks to our co-organizer, wine expert Dániel Ercsey.Exact date, program and participation fee to be announced later.

Odessa and the South Galician world of shtetls, late September. The tour of May was so overbooked, that we will repeat it at the end of September. The great tour de force that we do every second year, inspired by Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is illuminated. A three-day trip by bus through the important – and partly still living – Jewish settlements of the former Polish-Russian region, Czernowitz, Kamenets-Podolsk, Uman, Mezhibozh, the cradle of Hasidism, and many other Hasidic towns and cemetery down to Odessa, where we discover, in the wake of Isaac Babel, the sophisticated culture of the “Paris of the South” and the memories of the former Jewish gangster world in the Moldavanka. From Odessa, we come home by plane. We have collected our posts on Odessa here, and our writings on the Jewish heritage here. • Participation fee 600 euros. • Exact date later.

Ethiopian tour, early October. In this ten-day tour, we visit the most important scenes of the three-thousand-year-old Ethiopian civilization and two-thousand-year-old Ethiopian Christianity, from the monasteries at Lake Tana through the palaces of Gondar, through Aksum and Tigray to the magnificent monastery ensemble of Lalibela (all World Heritage sites). We also make a short excursion into the stunning Simien Mountains, also included in the World Heritage list. The diary of our Ethiopian preparatory tour is available here.Exact date, program and participation fee later.

The route of Journey at moonlight from Venice through Umbria to Tuscany, mid-October. In this one-week tour – which on its first being announced in 2016, was considered as the best Río Wang tour of the year – we follow the path of Antal Szerb’s 1937 cult novel, considered by Nicholas Lezard as “one of the greatest works of modern European literature.” From Venice, we travel by bus through Ravenna, Urbino, Umbria and Tuscany, Gubbio, Assisi and Arezzo, the centers of early Renaissance art, to as far as Siena and San Gimignano. During the journey, like the figures of the novel, we encounter the surviving traditions of the pre-Christian world, the many thousand-year-old Oscan towns built on hilltops, the magnificent view of the Apennines, and the renowned “Sienan primitives.” • Participation fee ca. 700 euros, including several dinners. • Exact date later.

A long weekend in Florence, mid-October. A detailed art historical and historical tour in the capital of the Renaissance and the cradle of the Medici House. We visit the most important monuments in the triangle of the Duomo, the Signoria and the Santa Croce and beyond, the left bank of Arno, the churches, palaces, squares and historical sites, everywhere explaining in detail the history and history makers, art and artists. • Participation fee ca. 500 euros. • Exact date later.

Unknown Venice, 23-27 October. Visitors to Venice are mostly satisfied by visiting the Rialto and St. Mark’s Square. This weekend, however, we go beyond and explore the whole labyrinth of Venice, from alley to alley and house to house, from the Lido to the still living Jewish quarter, and we become familiar with its everyday history. For details, see the announcement of last year’s Venetian tour, and check our posts on Venice. • Participation fee 450 euros.

The churches of Maramureș and Bukovina during the “lighting”, 1-6 November. On the long weekend around the first of November, we return, as we have so many times, to this particularly beautiful and archaic mountainous region on both side of the Carpathians. In the valleys of Maramureș, we visit the centuries-old wooden churches, in Bukovina the Renaissance painted monasteries: both groups are included in the World Heritage list. But we also travel by steam train into the Ukrainian border mountains, visit the multiethnic market of Sighetu Marmației and the Merry Cemetery in Sapănța, as well as some abandoned Hasidic cemeteries: and all this in the annual days of “lighting”, when the archaic cemeteries overflow with candlelight, and every visitor is generously treated. Our accommodations will be in exclusive locations converted from old farmhouses. • Travel by small bus from Budapest. Participation fee 600 euros, which, apart from the usual items, also includes extraordinary dinners with free slivovitsa.Still there are some free places.

Journey along the tea-horse-road in Yünnan province, China, 8-19 November. Last year, we started with this tour to explore China, with whose language and culture I have been engaged for a quarter of a century. In 2017, this was our most successful tour. Our road leads through one of the most beautiful and most archaic regions of China, rich in historical monuments and natural beauties, the region of Yünnan under the Tibetan mountains, homeland of Chinese tea, and the towns of several ethnic groups. Picturesque tea lands and rice terraces, deep canyons and still untouched historic towns (check the photos of my Yünnan guide, purchased there about ten years ago). Read the description of last year’s tour here. • Participation fee 1400 euros. • Still there are some free places.

Historic cities of Andalusia, late November. Due to great interest, we will repeat our early March tour. Andalusia is one of those special sites of the Mediterranean, on which many great cultures left their mark. Starting from Málaga, we go through the historic cities of Seville, Córdoba, Granada and Ronda, getting to know in detail their Roman, Arabic, Jewish and Christian past, monuments and still living traditions. • Participation fee 600 euros. • Exact date later.

Sicilian grand tour, early December. During a one-week tour we visit the most important sites of an island with a rich historical heritage, almost all of them World Heritage sites, from the Jewish quarter and fish market of Catania through the Greek old town of Siracusa, the valley of the ancient temples in Agrigento, the Norman harbor town of Cefalù, the Norman basilicas of Palermo and Monreale, decorated by Arab and Greek masters, and the ancient Greek and Roman theater of Taormina. • Participation fee 700 euros. • Exact date later.

Whenever we announce a tour in detail, and when we include a new tour in this calendar, we will also send out a circular e-mail, for which it is worth signing up at