Each semester, UMN students in Florence spend one week in Sicily in order to achieve a better understanding of Italy’s regional differences by exploring one of the richest Italian regions, in terms of history, art, culture, landscape, and, of course, food!
Located in Taormina, the study tour is rich in activities and excursions: every morning, the students have class at Babilonia, a beautiful Italian language school, and in the afternoon, they usually have excursions and group dinners or homestay dinners. Of course, they also have some free time to enjoy the amazing beach of Isola bella.
Here are some highlights of the week long excursion…
An Excursion to Syracuse and Noto:
Students go on a day-long excursion to Syracuse and Noto. Syracuse’s Neapolis archaeological park is breath-taking, especially the 5th century BCE Greek Theater (with a 16,000 person capacity) and for the Orecchio di Dioniso (Dionysius’s ear), a 23m-high and 65m-deep artificial cave that Caravaggio named after Dionysius, who was said to have used the almost perfect acoustics of the grotto to eavesdrop on prisoners.
In the afternoon, students go to Noto, the amazing Baroque city which is known around the world for having been totally destroyed by the Sicilian earthquake of 1693. However, after the disaster, the city was re-built into a masterpiece of Sicilian Baroque style. The tufa stone many buildings are made of nowadays assumes a honey color under the sunlight, a common shade in Sicily!
Exploring Catania, and a visit to the LIBERA Anti-Mafia Association:
Following a walk through the historic city center, which includes a glimpse at Catania’s street food scene and fish market, students meet with lecturer Renato Camarda to discuss the impact of illegal activities on the local economy. The lecture addresses various topics, like the history of the Mafia and the role it played during and following World War 2, in addition to its relation to the Allied army and its infiltration into Sicily. As a journalist and activist for the LIBERA Anti-Mafia Association, Renato has been working on a BBC documentary film about the Allies and the Mafia. The final part of the lecture focuses on today’s Mafia, its future, and its infiltration into the financial sector.
Hiking on Mount Etna:
The excursion to Mount Etna is always one of the highlights of the study tour. Students really enjoy the possibility of experiencing this kind of adventure: the opportunity to hike the tallest active Volcano in Europe with expert guides. Furthermore, at this time of the year, the mountain is covered with snow, which provides for even more majestic scenery.
Locals call it a muntagna which means “the mountain” in Sicilian dialect. For centuries, the volcano has been considered the beating heart of this land and a sort of protective mother that never sleeps, feeding her children with products from the land. In fact, the land surrounding the volcano is extremely rich in vegetation, and many areas have been turned into vineyards.
Etna is strongly linked to the life of its inhabitants. This majestic volcano has been idolized since ancient times and has contributed to the personality and culture of its people. The volcano features in many mythological stories and is even mentioned in The Odyssey.
The groups reach Etna by bus, passing through the characteristic villages that surround the volcano. As they climb higher, surrounded by orange and lemon trees, things begin to change, especially the colors and vegetation. Suddenly, the trees become taller and the land becomes black. From the top of the mountain, Etna looks like an alien landscape.
Visiting a small, family-run business:
The students also visit the Baratta family’s cheese business, a Sicilian company which is considered to be one of the best family cheese businesses in Catania’s province, and has succeeded thanks to the great passion and the commitment the family put in over the years. It has been a family business for 3 generations, and is one of the leading companies that produces cheese from organic cow milk in the area.
Roberto welcomes the students to the cheese factory, where they are given a guided tour of each phase of the cheese-making process, from the raw milk stage to the final cheese product. Then they move to another section of the building, where Roberto talks about the history of the company, the challenges he and his family have faced, and the importance of quality and passion in business.
One of their main achievements is making cheese from the milk of the Ragusa cows, which are considered to produce the best quality milk in Europe, scarce, but extremely high in protein. Another element that makes this company really successful is the trust the community has placed in them because of their professional approach.
After a Q&A with the CEO, students had the chance to taste their award winning cheese!
~Francesca Pannozzo & Andrea Colombo, ACCENT Florence
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