Sicily and Italy - Cultural Crossroads: Spring 2018

The Department of Classical Studies is always ready to engage students through experiential learning and coming face to face with the past. As such, we were happy to once again offer a Study Abroad course (CLAS 390/695) to visit the archaeological sites and museums in Sicily and Southern Italy. The department had not been to Southern Italy in a while and it was time we went back. Sicily and Southern Italy have long been a crossroads for many cultures for thousands of years. Sicels, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Franks, Normans, Italians – they all called this part of the Mediterranean home and so visiting these lands provided a unique opportunity to see how all these cultures affected the land and how they interacted with each other (peacefully and violently) from antiquity to the modern day. The course was co-offered with the department of Anthropology in conjunction with their archaeology program, and a total of sixteen students and four faculty members departed from Toronto to explore this wonderful landscape.

We arrived bleary-eyed (after a long layover in Munich) in the city of Palermo and began our explorations. An early highlight was the Punic Necropolis (city of the dead) of La Cuba. Students got to go down into tombs that still contained material and skeletons attesting to the lasting impact of the Carthaginians in the area. This continued with a look at the ancient city of Solunto, but we then took a “hard turn” to look at the wonderful Cathedral of Monreale. Dating to the 12th c. CE, the wonderful paintings and mosaics are a testament to the power of the Norman kings of Sicily. We then went to visit the Greek Temple at Segesta, with stops to visit the beautiful statue of the Dancing Satyr that had been found by fishermen, and the island city of Motya – most famous for the superlative statue of a charioteer found by archaeologists. We then drove to the see the many temples and wonderful sculptures from Selinunte and the high-peaked city of Herakleia Minoa. We then had to dodge the Giro d’Italia stage in Agrigento, but the logistical headaches were worth exploring this massive site with its impressive architecture. Our last stop in Sicily was in Syracuse – a beautiful, modern city, but with material from all periods of history. We were particularly happy to get in to see the “Burial of St. Lucy” by Caravaggio.

We then went by ferry (crossing the same waters where Odysseus escaped the monster Charybdis) to the mainland and Reggio Calabria. At this point we were joined by our departmental friends and experts in Italian history and archaeology Dr. Monica D’Agostini and Mr. Andrea Parodi. From there we went to the highlight of the trip – a visit to the city of Pompeii. Although it was pouring rain all day we were there, everyone was so excited to walk the streets, see the houses and contemplate what happened to the people on that fateful day when Mt. Vesuvius erupted. Nowhere makes the past come alive quite like Pompeii. The next day was another highlight when we went to the Naples Museum, as it was full of sculpture and other objects that the students had been studying for years. A quick stop at the imperial dining cave of Sperlonga and we then got to Rome for three and half days to walk that great city and see all that we could before heading back home to Canada.

This was such a great trip, with many of the students vowing to return again. While we see what we can in three weeks, there is always much more to experience. You can have a look at some of the things we did see with our slide show, knowing that this is just a taste of what you can experience on these trips when we walk in the footsteps of history. Where will we go next? Stay tuned to find out ...