The Origins of the American Democratic Ideal

A Voyage to Ancient Lands that Inspired the Founding Fathers and Shaped America aboard the Callisto


Ancient Athens was the founding mother of democracy, giving birth to notions of freedom and equality. Some 2,200 years later, when America gained its independence, its democratic system was greatly influenced by the Athenian model, and by the writings of ancient Greek and Roman thinkers, including Homer, Plutarch, Xenophon, Aristotle, Epicurus, Cicero, and Cato. On this journey you will go back to the sources, the places that contributed so much to modern Western culture.

After exploring Athens and its ancient monuments attesting to its glorious history, embark on a cruise to the fabled islands and shores of the Aegean Sea aboard the private yacht-like Callisto, which accommodates just 34 guests. Your destinations include Santorini, where you'll explore the remarkable remains of a prosperous and well-organized prehistoric city; Crete, with the Bronze Age palace of Knossos, and Gortyn, where laws of the city dating to 500 BC were carved on stone slabs for every citizen to read; the sacred island of Delos, seat of the Delian League, which marked Athens’s transition to an imperial power; Ephesus, one of the world’s most glorious archaeological sites; and the unspoiled island of Chios, home of the Adamantios Korais Library, named for the leading Greek scholar of the 18th century, who corresponded extensively with Thomas Jefferson. Before disembarking in Istanbul, explore the ruins of Troy, site of the legendary Trojan War.

Note: This cruise is not exclusive to, nor operated by, Wilderness Travel, who acts solely as agent in booking your reservation with the ship operator. The itinerary, lecturers, and all other arrangements are subject to change at the discretion of the cruise line.


Day 1, Sep 2, 2022
Athens, Greece

Arrive in Athens and transfer to the elegant Hotel King George (or similar), conveniently located on Syntagma (Constitution) Square, the center of the city. Enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.

Day 2, Sep 3, 2022
Explore Athens

One of the world’s most venerable cities, Athens is the capital of Greece and Europe’s oldest city. Its ancient monuments are testimonials to a glorious past that gave birth to democracy and witnessed the origins of many ideas, arts, and sciences that constitute the Western tradition. In the morning, drive to Marathon, site of the great battle fought in 490 BC between the large invading army of the Persian Empire and the much smaller force of mostly Athenian citizen-soldiers that resulted in the improbable victory of the Athenians. After exploring the site and visiting the museum, enjoy lunch at a country restaurant, and then return to Athens to tour the Agora, the civic and commercial center of ancient Athens and the living heart of its democracy.

Day 3, Sep 4, 2022
Athens / Embark

The morning is at leisure in Athens. In the afternoon, visit the Acropolis and its celebrated monuments. Occupied since prehistoric times, the rocky plateau of the Acropolis rises dramatically out of the plain and dominates the modern city as it did in ancient times. The incomparable Parthenon and other temples and structures built in the 5th century BC during the height of Athens’s democracy, represent the highest achievement of architecture and art of the Classical period. Also, visit the Acropolis Museum, which houses an outstanding collection of sculpture. Continue to the coast to board the Callisto and begin the voyage.

Day 4, Sep 5, 2022

Be on deck this morning to admire one of the most memorable sights in the Mediterranean—the white-washed town of Santorini perched on the edge of the 1,000-foot-high palisade of Santorini's volcanic caldera. Known in classical antiquity as Thera, the island was a flourishing trading center inhabited by a prosperous and well-organized society during the Bronze Age. In the late 17th century BC, a massive volcanic eruption collapsed half of the island and buried its main town, now called Akrotiri, in a thick layer of ash and pumice, thus preserving its houses, streets and squares as they existed 3,700 years ago. Excavations have brought to light the town and precious artifacts. After exploring Akrotiri, visit the Museum of Prehistoric Thera, which houses objects from the excavation. Enjoy lunch at a restaurant ashore that provides beautiful views of the caldera, as well as time at leisure for individual activities.

Day 5, Sep 6, 2022

Dock in the morning in Heraklion, Crete. The largest of the Greek islands, Crete is the reputed birthplace of Zeus, and home of Europe’s earliest civilization, the Minoan, which dominated the Aegean world during most of the Bronze Age, starting in 2000 BC. Drive through the island’s striking countryside to Gortyn, an important ancient city and the island’s capital during the Roman period. Gortyn’s remains include the Law Code, stone blocks attached to a public building on which the laws of the city were inscribed. The Code dates from 500 BC. In the afternoon, visit the magnificent palace of Knossos, the largest and most impressive Minoan palace in Crete. Clustered around a courtyard, the palace contains a maze of rooms, passages and stairways that probably inspired the concept of the labyrinth. More than any other palace, Knossos reveals the brilliance and refinement of the Minoan civilization. Walls decorated with frescoes illustrate life as it was 4,000 years ago. Continue to the superlative Heraklion Museum, home to the world’s finest Minoan artifacts.

Day 6, Sep 7, 2022
Delos / Naxos

Disembark in the morning in Delos, the small island that was sacred to ancient Greeks, because it was the birthplace of the divine twins Apollo and Artemis. After the defeats of the Persians in the 5th century BC, and under the leadership of Athens, Delos was the center of the Delian League, the treasure of which was used by Athens for its expansionist plans. After exploring this UNESCO World Heritage site, a vast open-air museum, sail to nearby Naxos, the lovely island that was sacred to Dionysus, the god of the grape harvest, winemaking, and ecstasy. Naxos was a major center of the prehistoric Cycladic culture, and later, a member of the Delian League. Spend time at leisure to explore quaint Chora, the island’s main town.

Day 7, Sep 8, 2022
Kusadasi / Priene / Ephesus, Turkey

Arrive in the morning in Kusadasi, on Turkey’s Aegean coast. Drive to Priene, dating from the 4th century BC, and known today for the exceptional quality of its buildings that convey an excellent impression of a city from that era. Dominating the well-preserved site is the imposing Temple of Athena, a superb example of Ionic architecture. In the afternoon, tour Ephesus, one of the world’s great archaeological sites. Renowned as the center of worship of the mother-goddess Cybele, later known as Artemis, Ephesus was also the site where St. Paul preached Christianity (AD 52-54). See the stunning façade of the Library of Celsus, the Temple of Hadrian, the Theater, and other buildings. Excavations continue and archaeologists have restored the Terrace Houses, giving a glimpse of the daily lives of the Ephesians.

Day 8, Sep 9, 2022

The reputed birthplace of Homer, the island of Chios is known for its beautiful landscapes, historic sites, and old villages. The island is also home to the Adamantios Korais Library. Korais, an 18th-century Greek scholar, corresponded extensively with Thomas Jefferson, and a good portion of the correspondence is housed in the beautiful library, which you will visit in the morning. Continue to the 11th century church of Nea Moni, one of the most important Byzantine monuments in Greece, renowned for its architecture and mosaics. In the afternoon, visit the old villages of Mesta and Pyrgi.

Day 9, Sep 10, 2022

Sail in the morning through the narrow strait of the Dardanelles to arrive in Turkey’s port of Canakkale, which gives easy access to Troy. Excavations that began in Troy in the second half of the 19th century, and which continue to this day, have revealed nine different layers of cities superimposed in rings on a massive mound rising above the “windswept” Plain of Ilium. As Homer recounts in the Iliad, one of these cities is where the Greeks fought the Trojans. After ten years of war, the city of King Priam finally fell to Odysseus’s ruse of the Trojan Horse.

Day 10, Sep 11, 2022
Istanbul / Depart

Dock in the morning in Istanbul. Disembark and transfer to the airport for the return flight home.

Optional Extension

An optional two-day extension in Istanbul is offered, with hotel accommodations and tours of the city’s main landmark sites.



On Santorini, see Akrotiri, the remains of a Minoan outpost, and visit the islands of Delos and Naxos
Tour the Palace of Knossos on Crete, and Gortyn, with its laws inscribed on stone slabs
Explore Ephesus, the remarkably well-preserved Roman city where St. Paul preached
Visit the ruins of Troy, site of the legendary Trojan War


Length: 10 days
Cost From: $6990  
Arrive: Athens, Greece
Depart: Istanbul, Turkey
Lodging: 7 nights aboard a 34-passenger vessel, 2 nights hotel
Meals: All meals aboard ship, including wine, beer, and soft drinks with lunch and dinner
Activity: Archaeology, Cultural Adventures, Walking, Special Interest, Small Ship Cruising
Trip Level:

7-day cruise, cultural explorations, swimming, and walking tours