The Great Tours: Experiencing Medieval Europe

Course No. 3021
Professor Kenneth R. Bartlett, Ph.D.
University of Toronto
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Course No. 3021
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What Will You Learn?

  • Discover Mdina and Rabat and learn about the historical events of the Great Siege of 1565.
  • Explore York's bright side (like its gorgeous cathedrals) and dark side (like its historical treatment of Jews).
  • Travel through Krakow's culturally rich Jewish quarter, and walk the ceremonial route of Polish kings.
  • Witness a marvel of engineering in Siena's complex medieval water system.

Course Overview

Travel to the mystery, drama, and splendor of the Middle Ages—to the times of great royal dynasties, intrepid knights, religious passions, merchant empires, and towering art … Tucked away within the romantic landscapes of Europe, a remarkable range of beautifully preserved medieval cities and towns invites discovery—time capsules of history where you can stroll the cobbled streets of another time; savor the treasures of palaces, stately mansions, soaring cathedrals, and grand civic centers; and walk the mighty bastions and ramparts that once defended them.

In this extraordinary cultural adventure, you’ll visit unforgettable places such as

  • Mdina, on the palatial island stronghold of the legendary Knights of Malta;
  • Bruges, lovingly preserved, and one of the world’s most hauntingly beautiful cities;
  • Palermo, home of stunning medieval palaces and ecclesiastical architecture;
  • Prague, a magical blending of the medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque, and one of the jewels of European civilization; and
  • Avignon, the resplendent 14th-century seat of the papacy.

In these powerfully evocative sites, royal armies went to war, Christian faith clashed dramatically with politics, sublime architecture and art flourished, great economic empires were built, and Western civilization came of age.

Astonishing in their preservation and historical authenticity, these open-air museums offer one of the world’s great cultural travel experiences, revealing not only the culture, rich history, and daily realities of medieval life, but the ways in which the medieval city contributed to so many aspects of our contemporary world.

From our very conception of beauty and our models of art and architecture to the tensions between the commercial and political, the secular and spiritual—the medieval city speaks compellingly to all of these and more. As keys to our civilization, the sites you’ll visit bear witness to numerous pivotal moments in Western history, even as they illuminate our culture, religious traditions, political and economic systems, art, and science.

To know these places and to delve into their unique treasures is to deepen your insight into the Western mind and worldview, to uncover some of the greatest creations of human culture, and to enjoy the remarkable richness of one of history’s most fascinating eras.

Now, in The Great Tours: Experiencing Medieval Europe, award-winning Professor Kenneth R. Bartlett of the University of Toronto invites you to travel through time to the golden ages of 12 of Europe’s most beautiful medieval cities. In 24 lectures that use extensive location footage, you’ll discover the sights, sounds, and smells of teeming markets and mercantile centers, royal feasts and ritual, dramatic military engagements, magnificent religious pageantry, and the many colorful layers of daily medieval life.

Highlighting in-depth exploration of the architectural and artistic gems of these great cities, these visually sumptuous lectures bring medieval Europe alive in rich detail through the perspective of an expert historian with a deep and seasoned knowledge of the 12 sites.

Wonders of a Dramatic and Tumultuous Era

Going far beyond any conventional travelogue, you’ll look not only at the “what” of the locations visited, but at the “why” and “how”—why they were built, how they were used, and how they fit into the larger picture of medieval culture of the city, the country, and the time itself.

Your journey includes these magnificent sites:

  • York: Walk into the middle ages in this living museum and wander the “ginnels” (medieval passageways), the streets of the butchers and printers, and visit the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall with its vivid view into the life of the wealthy mercantile class.
  • Barcelona: Delve into Barcelona’s turbulent past and its era as a great maritime power as you explore the Royal Palace complex and stroll the arched lanes and squares of the city’s beautifully preserved medieval center.
  • Carcassonne: Discover the dreamlike beauty of this fortified citadel and the brilliant engineering of its defenses, and trace the dramatic history that unfolded in the great cathedral of St. Nazaire, the Inquisition Tower, and the monumental Castle of the Counts.
  • Dubrovnik: Savor Dubrovnik’s breathtaking setting on the Adriatic and its architectural majesty, and learn about its singular system of enlightened government, reflected in the Rector’s palace, merchants’ hospice, and 15th-century orphanage.
  • Kraków: In one of Europe’s most enchanting cities, walk the ceremonial route of Polish kings, from the Wawel Royal Castle to the largest medieval square in Europe, and trace Kraków’s long history of foreign domination and ultimate survival.
  • Siena: Grasp the deep significance of Siena’s ritual horse race, the palio, a direct survival of medieval times, and explore the city’s great fortress-palaces, superb civic buildings, and artworks that number among the marvels of Europe.

Step into a Vanished Age

Aided by detailed footage of each site, Professor Bartlett reveals striking details of life as it was lived centuries ago:

  • Stand on the site where Christopher Columbus unveiled the riches of the New World before Spanish royalty.
  • Experience the evocative sounds of cathedral bells, carillons, clock towers, and monastic chant.
  • Soak in the medieval atmosphere of the winding Moorish streets of Mdina.
  • Explore Siena’s subterranean water system, dating to the Middle Ages and still in use today.
  • Visit a home for the elderly that has operated for 850 years, lace-making workshops practicing traditions from the 15th century, and a monastery pharmacy that has functioned continuously since 1317.   

A Medieval Tapestry of Art and History

At the heart of this journey, you’ll explore the masterworks of medieval architecture and art, and the ineffable beauties of historic cityscapes. In the Norman cathedral of Palermo, you’ll study the vast cycle of biblical mosaics that comprise one of Europe’s greatest treasures. Among the splendors of Prague, you’ll walk the royal road to the majestic courts and regal interiors of Hradcany Castle. You’ll enjoy some of the greatest examples of medieval sculpture—by Donatello, Peruzzi, and Pisano—in the Duomoof Siena, a building where even the polychrome marble floor is a phenomenal work of art.

For each site, you’ll study defining historical events as you visit the very places where they unfolded. On Malta, you’ll relive the Great Siege of 1565, where the invading Ottomans mounted the largest military force assembled since ancient times. In Avignon, your visit to the opulent Palace of the Popes conjures magnificent papal banquets, coronations, and lavish religious ritual. In Bruges, you’ll envision the great wedding ceremony of Margaret of York to Charles the Bold, with its royal pageantry, wine-spouting fountains, and tournament of dazzlingly arrayed knights.

Along the way, you’ll learn where to drink Spanish cava, enjoy fine French provincial food, and taste arrancini, a Sicilian treat dating from the 10th century.

In The Great Tours: Experiencing Medieval Europe, you’ll discover the many rich and layered survivals of medieval life that are still there to see, touch, hear, and enjoy. Take this incomparable journey and experience the glorious legacy of culture, architecture, and art that connects us so deeply to a seminal epoch.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Medieval City—A Feast for the Senses
    Begin with an immersion into the sights, sounds, and smells of the medieval city. Explore the rich sensory details of markets, monasteries, churches, and religious and civic events. Learn about life in the townhouses of the rich, the tenements of the poor, and the diverse daily activities of medieval societies. x
  • 2
    Rothenburg—Jewel on the Romantic Road
    In this beautifully preserved German medieval city, explore the imposing mansions of the city’s former elite, the grand fountains, and the market square with its remarkable gothic Town Hall. Also visit St. Jakob’s Church, a treasury of medieval and early Renaissance art, and walk the powerful bastions of the city walls. x
  • 3
    Mdina—The Silent City
    Discover Malta’s Mdina through the history of the legendary Knights of Malta, who ruled the island for nearly 300 years. Visit the great palaces of the knights and Maltese nobility, with their striking Gothic and classical architecture, and the sumptuous cathedral, and find the city’s medieval atmosphere in the winding Moorish streets. x
  • 4
    Mdina and Rabat—In the Steps of St. Paul
    Learn about the Roman history of Malta and St. Paul’s internment on the island. In Rabat, experience key sites such as the splendid Roman villa, the Grotto of St. Paul, and the remarkable catacombs where Christians sought refuge. Visit rich gardens and palaces, and study the historical events of the Great Siege of 1565. x
  • 5
    Palermo—A Mosaic of Cultures
    The sumptuous interiors of the Norman Palace are your entry point to Palermo and its rich multicultural history. Grasp Norman Sicily’s historical role as the richest and best-governed state in the West. Explore the complex architecture of the city’s churches, cathedral, and Palazzo Abatellis, and the cosmopolitan past of the seaport. x
  • 6
    Palermo—Celebrating Throne and Altar
    Visit the most magnificent of the city’s medieval palaces, the Palazzo Chiaramonte. Learn about the eras of German, French, and Spanish rule, and explore the Zisa Castle, richly decorated churches, and the Norman summer palace. Finally, ascend Monreale, overlooking Palermo, to enjoy the finest Norman ecclesiastical architecture in the world. x
  • 7
    York—Wool and Prayer
    In the living museum of York, stop first at the romantic ruins of the abbey of St. Mary’s, the Abbot’s palace, and York Minster cathedral with its stunning stained glass and splendorous interiors. Savor the atmosphere of York’s old historical center, the streets of the butchers and printers, and the still-inhabited 14th-century houses. x
  • 8
    York—Vikings and Merchants
    Taste medieval life in York’s “ginnels,” narrow passageways offering shortcuts through the town, and in the Barley Hall mansion and Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, with their views into the lives of wealthy citizens. Delve into the Viking and Norman history of York, and the latter era’s dark side in its treatment of Jews. x
  • 9
    Avignon—The Babylonian Captivity
    Traveling now to France, contemplate the unusual history of Avignon as the 14th-century seat of the papacy—an era that created the medieval city we see today. Visit the extensive circuit of medieval walls, the great Romanesque cathedral with its splendid papal tombs, and the imposing buildings of the Palace Square. x
  • 10
    Avignon—Papal Splendor
    Continue with an in-depth visit to Avignon’s Palace of the Popes—one of the most elaborate and luxurious palaces of the Middle Ages—highlighting the sumptuous private apartments and the settings of dazzling papal ceremonies. Also learn about Avignon’s Jewish history, and walk the evocative, cobbled medieval streets. x
  • 11
    Carcassonne—Fortress of the Languedoc
    The fortifications of this exquisite, romantic city were considered virtually impregnable. Study in detail Carcassonne’s complex military defenses and the brilliant strategy behind their use. Then visit the monumental Castle of the Counts, with its dramatic towers, portcullises, and layers of defense—a stronghold of the French crown in an unstable region. x
  • 12
    Carcassonne—Cathars and Crusaders
    Here, encounter the heretical Cathars, who opposed the Roman church, and the resulting Albigensian Crusade, called to destroy them. Follow the response of the church in the grim events of the Inquisition, and visit the Inquisition Tower, the great cathedral of St. Nazaire, and other sites linked to the conflict. x
  • 13
    Barcelona—The Gothic Quarter
    Walk the streets of Barcelona’s beautifully preserved medieval center, reflecting on the remarkable Palace of the Generalitat and the calm elegance of the Catalan Gothic cathedral and cloisters. Delve into Barcelona’s turbulent history under the Visigoths, Moors, and Franks, and its flourishing as a great maritime power. x
  • 14
    Barcelona—Imagination and Inspiration
    Continue with the jewels of Barcelona, among them the Royal Palace complex, richly decorated Gothic and Romanesque churches, the 15th-century hospital, merchants’ mansions, and craftsmens’ shopfronts. Visit the Maritime Museum; stroll the narrow, arched lanes and squares around the cathedral; and learn about Barcelona’s mystical architect, Antoni Gaud'. x
  • 15
    Dubrovnik—Pearl of the Adriatic
    In its construction, this lovely medieval city and former maritime republic was intended to rival Venice. Enter through the perfectly preserved city walls and study the elaborate fortifications. Trace Dubrovnik’s history of enlightened government as you visit elegant civic structures, churches, and the Sponza Palace, one of Dalmatia’s most beautiful buildings. x
  • 16
    Dubrovnik—City of Seven Flags
    Probe deeper into Dubrovnik’s remarkable political system, highlighting its ingenious diplomatic strategies and progressive policies, such as a free public health service. Visit the sites connected to this history, including the Rector’s Palace, the 15th-century orphanage, and the still-operating pharmacy founded in 1317, and enjoy the majesty of the city’s diverse architecture. x
  • 17
    Kraków—The Royal Way
    Enter this great Polish city through the historic Wawel Royal Castle with its Gothic towers and imposing Room of the Envoys. From there, walk the ceremonial route of Polish kings, stopping at the 14th-century cathedral, great town mansions, Romanesque and Polish Gothic churches, and the architectural riches of Jagellonian University. x
  • 18
    Kraków—Crossroads of Europe
    Now enter Kraków’s Market Square, the largest medieval square in Europe. Visit treasures such as the 16th-century mercantile Cloth Hall, the historically significant Church of St. Mary, the remaining medieval fortifications, and the culturally rich Jewish quarter, and contemplate Kraków’s long history of foreign domination and ultimate survival. x
  • 19
    Prague—Freedom of Mind and Spirit
    In this famously beautiful city, travel the royal road from the ceremonial Powder Tower to Prague Castle. Pause at the Courtyard of the Merchants and the spectacular Old Town Square, with its medieval city mansions, Town Hall, and extraordinary astronomical clock. Savor the magical atmosphere of Prague’s rich architectural landscape. x
  • 20
    Prague—Castle Hill
    Prague’s political and religious history comes alive as you climb Hradcany Hill to Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral. Explore the castle’s large medieval complex, noting historical sites such as the Chancery and Imperial Court Council Rooms. Study the stunning interiors of the cathedral, and visit Prague’s great monasteries. x
  • 21
    Bruges—Built on the Sea and Trade
    Begin at the Markt, the medieval commercial center of Bruges, and learn about the city’s great mercantile empires and valiant 14th-century uprising against the French that established civic liberty. Visit architectural masterpieces such as the magnificent Town Hall, the Old Recorder’s House, the Basilica of the Holy Blood, and splendid mansions. x
  • 22
    Bruges—Commerce and Community
    Visit the sublime Church of Our Lady, with its Baroque interiors and masterworks of art, paramount among Bruges’s riches. Then enjoy vivid glimpses of medieval life in the 12th-century St. John’s Hospital, the Beguine House, a lace-making workshop, the 13th-century hospice for women, and the site of Europe’s first stock exchange. x
  • 23
    Siena—Good Government
    Siena’s turbulent medieval history is vividly represented in the city we see today. Trace the republic’s defining 13th-century victory over the Florentines, visit the fortified palaces of the great feudal families and the monumental buildings of the beautiful Piazza del Campo, and marvel at the city’s complex medieval water system. x
  • 24
    Siena—The Gothic Dream
    Learn about the significance of the palio, the Sienese ritual horse race of absolute medieval authenticity. Explore treasures including the Baptistry, and the spectacular interiors of the Duomo and the Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala. Finally, contemplate the spirit of the Sienese— their reverence for their beloved city and core conception of liberty. x

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Your professor

Kenneth R. Bartlett

About Your Professor

Kenneth R. Bartlett, Ph.D.
University of Toronto
Dr. Kenneth R. Bartlett is Professor of History and Renaissance Studies at the University of Toronto, where he earned his Ph.D. and has taught for the past 30 years. A distinguished teacher, Professor Bartlett has received numerous teaching awards and honors. These include the 3M Teaching Fellowship-awarded by the Canadian Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education-and the inaugural President's Teaching Award from...
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The Great Tours: Experiencing Medieval Europe is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 63.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Great Tours : Experiencing Midieval Europe This course is outstanding in every way. I am treating myself to savoring each city daily as I start my day with my morning coffee. Delightful and engaging Professor ! I also appreciate the way he dressed to add to the pleasantness of the studio setting. The photography and graphics are wonderful and I found the maps perfectly readable, helpful and informative. The music to lead into the closing minutes of each session of the course was a nice touch as well. This is a wonderful and entertaining course, for me pure delight. THANKS.
Date published: 2014-12-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Great tours-Experiencing Eastern Europe Since I will never visit these Wonderful [laces, and their Beauties , I am enjoying the trips through the great courses. I will buy the next Experiencing Visitation available.
Date published: 2014-12-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from jaw-dropping facts and gorgeous pictures; no ideas Like a travelogue from which anything challenging or controversial has been carefully removed, this course shows gorgeous pictures of medieval cities, and tells some facts about them. The problem with it and why it's ultimately disappointing *TO ME* (and I am not saying it would disappoint everyone) is: there are no ideas presented. One example: the professor said that a city was granted a charter by an emperor. Immediately my mind seized upon this and wanted to understand the social and economic structures behind this fact. What WAS a city, during this time period? How did the medieval city come to be what it was? But such questions were mostly dropped, and I've stopped hoping for them to be thoroughly explored in this course. Overall I'm glad I bought it, and I'll watch all of the lectures. Even the simple facts about medieval cities are fascinating, jaw-dropping at times, and the course is opening up the world of medieval cities for me -- for example -- York ! wow!! I had no idea the cathedral there was so astonishing. But I'll have to find a different course with more depth of intellectual engagement so I can sink my teeth into the historical forces that shaped these cities. No ideas, and certainly no arguments. Rather - the overarching and extremely successful argument made is that one should travel to each one of these cities... I for one am convinced! Thank you to the Professor!! ... but, I don't think you should have held back ALL of your ideas :)
Date published: 2014-11-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course The Great Tours: Experiencing Medieval Europe is an excellent course. Prof. Bartlett is highly knowledgable about these medieval cities and is an outstanding speaker. The photos which accompany the lectures really make the whole presentation come alive. I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2014-11-07
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not so great This course is disappointing. Far too much screen time is spent on Professor Bartlett. He is pleasant and knowledgeable but I find myself distracted by his many awkward hand gestures. The time would be better spent on images of the places he describes and maps to provide context. All of the graphics could be improved.
Date published: 2014-11-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Sumptuous Visuals, Highly Informed Commentary What a joy this course was! It really felt almost like I was part of a tour group, without any of the annoying crowds, long lines, stifling heat, and wariness towards pickpockets that actual tours can entail. Professor Bartlett was a charming and engaging host, and he seamlessly interwove fascinating cultural and historical narrative into the descriptive lectures for each city. And what wonderful visual aids, the fullest of any Great Course that I have taken so far! Numerous color slides and videos were central to each lecture, together with very helpful maps of the areas of each city explored that clearly marked where the most important features we visited were located. I did not realize that so much of these Medieval cities -- including incredibly beautiful buildings and artifacts within them -- remained. Each of the twelve cities explored in this course was a jewel of beauty, its own historical tale a marvel of endurance. Even if you are only an armchair traveler, I am confident you will fully enjoy and relish this wonderful course. I hope personally to encounter Professor Bartlett again. Bravo, Teaching Company!
Date published: 2014-10-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Historical Tour, Not a Vacation Guide Judging by other reviews I have read, some viewers are disappointed because Prof. Bartlett’s series on medieval cities doesn’t provide tourist information. In my opinion, that’s a PLUS. This series focuses on history rather than food and hotels, and is thus more satisfying than the Rick Steves-style travelog (although I have found Rick very helpful for trip planning). In a 30-minute episode, I’m glad that the Prof stuck to the “learning” aspect and left the tourist details to Fodor’s. If you are taking this course in order to plan a vacation, just jot down the items that interest you (or mark them in the study guide), then go to a vacation planning book to work out the logistics. What you DO get in this course is a good introduction to twelve locations in Europe where there is still a substantial amount of unspoiled (or in some cases, rebuilt )medieval architecture. Each chapter has dozens of great visuals; some stills and some video clips, as well as maps and on-screen text. The choice of cities ranges widely over the continent, from England to Croatia. Prof. Bartlett knows these places well, and presents the material in a very user-friendly style (albeit with those quaint Canadian pronunciations). The study guide would have been better if it had included timelines and maps instead of the fairly useless pages of black-and-white photos in the back. I watched about half of the lectures on a big plasma TV and half using the Great Courses app on my iPad. I continue to be bowled over by the excellent picture quality on the iPad’s small screen (and I had no trouble reading the small print on the maps in either video format). The Great Courses has improved its visual production over the past few years, but may have gotten a bit carried away in this course. The split screens didn’t bother me, but the “flame” dissolves got annoying after awhile, as well as the Prof’s little “flying saucer” that floats him around the continent. All in all, this was a satisfying course that left me with a “bucket list” of places I would like to see in person.
Date published: 2014-09-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great presentation, less-than-great photo effects. Kenneth Bartlett has again done a fine job with this subject. The lessons progress clearly through each city's old town. Within each city he shows us where we are on a map. The text on the maps is not large, but any student should be expected to look things up on the internet or in an atlas. No problem for us. In fact, in college it would be expected that students do further reading and research. Dr. Bartlett assumes at least a slight knowledge of history and of foreign languages, or that we will look that up as well. These courses are advertised as college level, after all. Alas, we find the production method to be lacking--no reflection on Dr. Bartlett. Between images there is usually a flash or a blur as if the camera is scanning multiple scenes to freeze on the selected image. There are little rushing sounds as the scenes change. This is very distracting and it is unnecessary to use "cute" effects to hold our attention --as if we are children. This trend with TTC is not an advancement, be rather a regression in quality. To summarize: Considering the above caveat on special effects, this course is still enjoyable and is well recommended by us. Enjoy!
Date published: 2014-09-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not mainstream tourist guides DVD and video download reviews. Here's the thing. I use an arbitrary benchmark. If you compare Rick Steves' books and videos to TTC's two "Great Tours" courses — Dr. Hale's GREECE AND TURKEY and Dr Bartlett's MEDIEVAL EUROPE — Steves is more satisfactory for most American tourists interested in Europe. Why is that? Most tourists are pressed for time. When they visit a region, they do so because it is famous for 1 or 2 things. So they want a "top-10" list of possible activities, along with accurate details about practical matters: food, lodgings, time required, cost, transportation etc. The Great Tours courses are not really designed to satisfy these needs. No varied top-10 lists. Very few practical tips. The internet is a far better source on these details anyways. ______________________ So what are they good for? GREECE AND TURKEY is concerned with archeological sites as a means of understanding ancient Greece and Rome along with the Byzantine Empire. Of the two, it is the most "outdoorsy" because many sites only have a few columns standing. On the positive side, Hale is a very enjoyable storyteller. His course gives you a really vivid sense of the geography and beauty of that region. MEDIEVAL EUROPE is focussed on the city as a disruptive new social force during the High and Late Middle Ages #1000-1500#. The Crusades, the rise of royal power and burgeoning international trade also undermine established ways. Since Bartlett is constrained in the cultural area by TTC's pre-existing course THE CATHEDRAL, much attention is devoted to city squares, fortifications and less famous churches. Many of these sites were extensively reconstructed after the devastation of WW II. The overall impression is more diffused than GREECE because medieval sites are scattered across a much wider geographic area with major linguistic and cultural differences. Still, Bartlett too is a good storyteller. _____________________ CONCLUSIONS — They are poor choices if all you want is tourist information. The maps are small, the travel tips cursory and quickly outdated. Most importantly their focus are narrowly defined. Use them to supplement mainstream guides if archeology or medieval architecture are especially important to you. — They are best enjoyed if you are already very familiar with the basics of ancient or medieval history. TTC has plenty of good courses on these topics. — The guidebooks are good additions, but cannot compare with the best-known tourist guides available on the market. They are only memory aids for the courses. — For armchair travelers interested in a fantasy trip, both courses are good. If I had to choose only one, it would be GREECE AND TURKEY. It introduces a whole region in a very memorable way.
Date published: 2014-07-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Outstanding "Great Tour" Having already taken the Great Tour of Greece and Turkey with Professor Hale, expectations for this tour were very high and, for the most part, met or exceeded. This was my first course with Professor Bartlett, and I found him to be very engaging and informative. I am buying the Italian Renaissance set with a course from Professor Bartlett and one from my favorite, Professor Kloss. While some of the cities were lesser known and not likely to be on as many travelers' itineraries, the lectures on them were fascinating nonetheless and definitely piqued my interest to include them on my first European trip -whenever it happens.
Date published: 2014-06-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Needs a Hard-Copy Map for each City I very much enjoyed the choice of cities and all the details. I hope to go to these places. It would be a terrific help walking around the city if the handbook had the Maps shown on the screen; just in black-and-white would be fine. I'd write my own little notebook keyed to the maps.
Date published: 2014-05-28
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not up to Prof. Bartlett's usual standards This course is a mixed blessing. Although we loved his course on the Italian Renaissance, we were disappointed about this course. If we had viewed this Great Tours course first, we would never choose another of his courses. If you just want to see what's there in the cities he describes, go for it, because it's fuller than ordinary travel guidebooks can picture. If you want to hear some of the history and legends, he can give you that, too. But we could not carry away as much from the course as we usually can because of the lack of organizing schemas that maps and time lines and other integrators can provide. He had the hard task of naming and integrating many facts about times and periods, locations, places, buildings, and events. And he was good on naming, but weaker on the integrating part. We often felt disoriented when we listened for a few minutes and couldn't get anything out of a section. This is not typical for him. Some awkward features: ---Pretending he was giving travel advice to "you" on a real trip ---Overusing superlatives and artificial enthusiasm about every place ---Using a map application that is hard to view ---Not using maps or diagrams of squares of buildings ---Using multiple images on a screen and then cutting away quickly ---The scene-in-scene views of him on a flying carpet amidst a city scene
Date published: 2014-04-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very informative I love to travel to Europe and enjoy "walled cities" in their medieval splendor so I was looking forward to seeing this course. The combination of visual and graphics kept my interest totally and more important, my husband's who is much more hard to please. I have one previous course by this instructor which was in the early days of The Great Courses and while he was very informative, his speaking delivery was not as entertaining. But has he changed for the better! I was kind of hesitant to try him again but within the first 10 minutes of the initial lecture I was glad I did. If you enjoy beautiful scenery and lots of interesting facts about these cities, take the trip with Professor Bartlett. You won't regret it.
Date published: 2014-01-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very good, not great I was less impressed than some other raters, but I did enjoy the course. I have all of Bartlett's courses (most audio only) and do think he is a very good history professor. I enjoyed his regular history courses a bit more than this one. A few negatives (to me): I have been to Europe many times, but some of the towns he explored are rather obscure (Mdina, Palermo, Dubrovnik, Malta, Krakow, etc.) and would not be towns I would visit. Visually the course is a bit strange. In spite of it being "tours" there are lots of scenes of Bartlett just wandering around the stage. Further (IMO) some of his clothing is unusual and distracting. Also the "history" part of the course is selective, not comprehensive (within the limits of time) so it wasn't really well-rounded enough for me. Also, when I travel, I like to know about people and culture - even language, food, etc. rather than mostly buildings. I'd also like more compare/contrast on these towns. I found the lectures on Bruges interesting (I have been there, and the town does have an interesting history, falling into disrepair, then being "re-discovered."). York was a good choice. Two in France (Avignon and Carcassonne, near each other) were a bit redundant. I would suggest Strasbourg instead, a bigger contrast and fascinating city. Overall, it is a well-conceived course. I imagine it would be a treat to travel with Bartlett and be in his presence in these places. He enjoys himself and his material. and so will you. I agree on B+ grade.
Date published: 2014-01-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not just education - a performance This course satisfies on several levels. The instructor is a comfortable speaker, presenting information in an engaging, down-to-earth manner. The course covers a lot of history - things people will be familiar with plus many lessor known but entertaining facts and stories. Lovers of architecture and art will be delighted, and arm chair travelers like me can experience the next best thing to being there. For those planning actual tours of any of these cities, this course is an excellent planning guide for what to see, the best routes to take, and even cafes to kick back and get refreshments. I watched this on a small screen DVD player and found that the street maps were a bit small. For those to whom it might matter, the maps would be more effective on a larger screen. I thought the cinematography was excellent - a real leap forward for the Teaching Company in terms of sophisticated photography and visual effects..Sometimes too many images were shown on the same screen, which reduced the individual impact of each one. But that is really just a minor quibble. This course is beautiful, informative, and fun. I bought it for my husband as a Christmas present, but I really gave myself a gift too!
Date published: 2014-01-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Total Enjoyment with Lots of Learning This course is more than a travelogue; it's an excellent overview of 12 extremely interesting cities, presented in a masterful way. I learned a great deal about each place. I enjoyed the overview of each city and then the tour of many impressive and interesting sites in each. Seeing the cities as they now appear made the history come alive for me. I enjoyed these lectures with my family over dinner each night. I prepared meals typical of the places being studied. We were delighted with this course because of Dr. Bartlett's excellent presentation and the visuals contained in the course.
Date published: 2013-12-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Outstanding Tour Guide, Unusual Places! One of the strengths of this briskly-paced course was the inspired selection of cities for our guided tour of the Middle Ages. Instead of choosing the obvious locales of Paris and London, the professor selected sites ranging from the islands of Sicily and Malta to Eastern Europe (Kraków and Prague), the Balkans (Dubrovnik), southern France (Carcassonne and Avignon), northern Spain (Barcelona), Northern Europe (Bruges and York), Germany (Rothenburg), and Italy (Siena). This was a splendid variety of regions, cultures, and artistic styles. Professor Kenneth R. Bartlett offered expert commentary on the twelve medieval cities. The presentations unfolded as if we were on a walking tour of the cities. As our guide, Professor Bartlett offered frequent “insider tips” for a deeper appreciation of the cities. It was impressive that the scope of the tour went well beyond the Middle Ages to stress artistic developments occurring in later stages of the development of the cities, especially the Baroque era. As a scholar, Professor Bartlett represents the finest in traditional historiography from Jacob Burckhardt, as he works closely with primary source materials. And one essential primary source for us to understand the past is the surviving physical evidence of cities. The only weakness of this course was in the production values. There were too many instances of multiple images appearing on the screen simultaneously. This course needed more full-screen images to convey the details described by the tour guide. Another problem was that the city maps were too small for the viewer to read clearly, and there were no timelines other than the lecturer’s recounting of hundreds of years of cultural change in the cities. Astonishingly, there was no clear visual identification through maps of the current nations in which the cities are located! While there was good amateur film footage of the various sites, the course is recommended primarily for the expert commentary of the lecturer. Professor Bartlett speaks with good feeling about the different cities. Above all, he recognizes the importance of preserving our cultural heritage in cities, which offer us a window into the lives of people who shared many experiences no different from our own…even in the Middle Ages. Course Grade: B
Date published: 2013-11-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Europe on < $6 a city (better than $5/day in 60's) Fabulous visit to great European cities. I've visited 3/4 of the cities covered and the video revisit brings back marvelous memories and introduces so many new sites and treasurers that my wife and I are crafting a trip for next year to visit some of the new cities and several of those visited over the last 48 years. If you have any interest in history, art, architecture, or travel I commend this course to you. Dr. Bartlett winds a capturing tale of medieval life in Europe. Caution, this is 9 hours of "can't stop watching" instructive entertainment -- plan to set aside most other activities for a day or two! Got it yesterday, finished today, just ordered a second copy as a birthday gift for my son and his wife!
Date published: 2013-11-30
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