The Great Tours: Experiencing Medieval Europe

Course No. 3021
Professor Kenneth R. Bartlett, Ph.D.
University of Toronto
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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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Reviews

The Great Tours: Experiencing Medieval Europe is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 60.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Now I want to go back Over the past fifty years my wife and I, and in the early years children, have visited many of the cities featured in this program. We missed many of the important historic and beautiful features identified by Professor Bartlett. This course has stimulated me to pack up and visit the parts of Medieval Europe that skipped in my earlier travel. Just received today a DVD copy of this course that will be a gift to a friend. This course would be an excellent preparation prior to travel in Western Europe or England.
Date published: 2018-11-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not What I Expected I am not sure what I expected, but i have been disappointed with the first eight lectures. I feel the lecturer tries to cover too much in each lecture and as a result you get a quick glance with little or no close-ups of key items that he is discussing and somehow the lecturer is transposed into the majority of the items be discussed.
Date published: 2018-11-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from NOT What I Expected, Nevertheless Excellent Unlike Hale’s Great Tours of Greece and Turkey, this course feels more like a travelogue. From his previous works: “The Naked Archaeologist” and “Museum Secrets”, I expected a less “you are there looking at what a tourist would see” approach. However, from my own travels that one can spend a huge amount of time trying to understand WHAT I was looking at and WHY. So I decided to relax and let Bartlett do the heavy work of putting together all of the background information. It rapidly became obvious that I was learning without effort and towards the end of the course, was pleased to be to intuitively understand “what was what” and why. The presentation approach is somewhat “flowery” at times, but it works and it did demonstrate Bartlett’s devotion to his subject. There are plenty of historical figures familiar to those of us who have taken other historical Great Courses. These help with the context of the course material. I must also carefully add that Bartlett had the patience and/or permissions to take us to places the average tourist would never see or would miss because an object were shown only once or twice a year. For those who will be traveling to some of these cities, he also leaves a number of tantalizing “and, while your are here, it you look behind that wall…” little challenges! Weakness: A lecture introductory map showing the position of each medieval city would be useful at times or perhaps a map serving the same purpose in the back of the guidebook? A copy of the city maps he used for each city would help those who will travel better use this course. SUMMARY: Extraordinarily useful for those who will visit medieval European sites or those interested, but will unable to do so.
Date published: 2018-08-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from More of a travel guide than a lecture series Having visited several of the cities discussed and being something of an armchair traveler myself, generally I enjoyed the lectures. However, I would not universally recommend this Great Course to everyone. With a pair of lectures devoted to each of twelve medieval cities, Professor Bartlett does a fine job as a tour guide pointing out the specific historic sites of each city. He also provides a broad if not deep historical background about each city as well. Professor Bartlett's has a clear and accessible speaking style and is a more than adequate tour guide. (Although I too found some of the graphics a bit unorthodox for a "Great Course" and something of a distraction.) The reason I gave this course only three stars is because of the lack of cohesion between the lectures. Each individual lecture is fine, however, collectively as a "series", they are lacking. If you are planning a visit to York, you can watch the lecture on York and learn some history about York and get some ideas about places to see. However, once the lecturer leaves York and moves on a thousand miles away to Avignon, you will never hear of York again. Or Mdina or Palermo or any other of the other cities discussed in previous lectures. Hence, one may finish the lectures unable to answer the question, what other than a cathedral and several old buildings truly defines the culture and ethos of a medieval city? Why these particular cities? There are a lot to choose from in Europe. Although I enjoyed these lectures, I feel it is important for people to understand this Great Course is less a lecture series and more a compilation of individual travel guides. (By the way, I did watch the Turkey & Greece travel series and found it much more rewarding and cohesive compared to this series.)
Date published: 2018-08-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating topic The professor is certainly knowledgeable and seems very passionate about the topic. Having recently spent a day in Bruges, I now want to return for a longer visit. I am working my way through the other cities at leisure.
Date published: 2018-07-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Bring that tiime to life I really enjoy the commentary. The presenter has a wealth of knowledge to go along with the photos. It's like a guided tour of the cities with the street maps and then the descriptions.
Date published: 2018-03-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fully reveals the actual feel of the cities/towns I can understand the throb of the places and how the citizens lived their daily lives, during the olden days. Prof Bartlett conveys the feelings with correct English and not interjected with "Americanism" Never a dull moment.
Date published: 2017-10-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Great Tours...Medieval Europe Great graphics.....like you are there. Very professional presentation too
Date published: 2017-08-30
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