Culture courses


“InIn Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance…”

Orson Welles
Intellectuals, politicians, writers and ordinary people have always been fascinated by this country, the cradle of classical civilization, which, during the Renaissance, gave the world unrivalled masterpieces of art, that delighted the heart with the magic of Bel Canto, but which has also known several obscure episodes in its history. The profound contradictions of the “Bel Paese” have not escaped the watchful eyes of historians, intellectuals and artists of any time. It is the task of professional historians to deal with such a complex history. Our intention is to introduce you to some of the many souls that populate this nation, because to understand a people and their language you have to have an idea of their past and a vision of their present. The aim of these culture courses is not only the study of the language but also an in- depth discussion of history, culture, literature, art, language and society to let you discover the past and present of this controversial land, home of true creative geniuses as well as daring improvisers. Culture courses can be combined with your language course but can also be booked separately.

Speaking without words:
Italian ‘sign language’ and gestures

Italians love to talk with their hands – in fact we use almost 250 gestures in daily conversation. When we talk, we move our hands in the air, making distinctive signs, our faces take on strange and amusing expressions and our bodies make strange contortions. A shrug of the shoulders or the raising of an eyebrow can say more than a thousand words. In order to help you to understand what goes on in a crowded Italian square or when you find yourself among Italians, we will illustrate the most commonly used gestures, in a way that will help you to enjoy using this other ‘Italian language’.

The pursuit of perfection:
Greek Art in Sicily

Sicily is the cradle of an ancient history with its roots in the centuries when the Greeks were dominant. The breadth of that culture, art and tradition still fascinates and astonishes us today. The signs of their presence are still visible – in their temples, their theatres, their culture, the language and in all the customs and traditions that time has not eroded. You can take yourself on this long, marvellous journey, across the centuries, suspended between history and myth, and explore the most significant periods of Greek culture in Sicily.

The story of matter and colour:
the mosaic

For the Greeks, μουσαικόν (musaikòn = mosaics) were the art of the Muse. Small fragments of differently coloured decorative materials (and later gold and precious stones) were patiently assembled by divine hand, to give life to vivid pictorial compositions. Even today, after many millennia, they are astounding. Sicily is mosaic heaven, you can find wonderful Roman and Byzantine mosaics, prestigious works of enormous value. Among these are the mosaics of the Villa Romana del Casale, considered the greatest archaeological discovery of the 20th century and an invaluable milestone in the story of art. There, entire mosaic floors of a richness and variety unique in the world, have been preserved intact. Then there is the immense mosaic cycle in the magnificent cathedrals of Cefalu and Monreale; and the precious interior decorations of the church of the Martorana, the Cappella Palatina and the Stanza di Re Ruggero in the Palazzo Reale.

Two worlds combined:
Arabo – Norman Art

The Norman era created in Sicily a period of cultural opulence and political and religious tolerance which made possible a cultural fusion, whose testament can be seen in the Cappella Palatina in Palermo and the cathedrals of Cefalu and Monreale. These are all timeless monuments capable of arousing great awe and emotion even after almost a thousand years. Goethe, who mainly appreciated its ancient remains but also understood the dynamic of its critical thought, said that ‘Without Sicily, Italy creates no image in the soul: here is the key to everything’. A century later Guy de Maupassant described the Cappella Palatina as ‘the most beautiful in the world, the most precious religious jewel dreamt up in the human mind and executed by the hand of an artist.’ Together we will explore these important works of the Arab-Norman period – and other masterpieces still unsurpassed today.

Island of contrasts:
History of Sicily


” Sicily is an island. Few islands have played a larger or more sustained role, over such a long period of history, and none which are of such modest proportions.” The English historian,Moses Israel Finley starts his History of Ancient Sicily by defining the island as a ‘continent in miniature’. Our journey through the history of the island will allow us to discover this ‘small continent’ for ourselves; desired, fought over, conquered and governed by many different nations. Some of these had nothing in common with its culture, but over time became ‘Sicilians’ and made Sicily their home. This island full of the glories and splendour of the past, which once guaranteed unlimited wealth to its inhabitants and rulers, is now one of the most backward and economically depressed areas of Europe.

“I know nothing, I saw nothing…”:
the mafia


“…Tell me if it is possible to imagine the existence of a criminal association so vast and organised, so powerful that it comes to dominate, not only half of Sicily, but even the United States of America; and with a boss who stays here, in Sicily.”. Thus wrote Leonardo Sciascia in 1961, a profound connoisseur of all things Sicilian, and the first person to speak openly of the mafia in a literary text. The mafia is certainly one of the most studied and discussed phenomenon in the history of Sicily. In our short trip we want to reveal its beginnings; how it spread; and the mechanisms through which it has penetrated the economic, political and social fabric, not only of Sicily, but of the whole of Italy. We will move beyond the clichés, so that we can begin to understand how a small island has produced a phenomenon so big, but where the outlines, even today, are still blurred and obscure.

Lets read some Italian literature together


The novel never ceases to thrill, amaze and arouse our emotions with its inexhaustible capacity to tell the story of mankind. Vargas Llosa observed that literature can force a dialogue between people, and increases a ‘sense of openness to the collective human experience across time and space’. Using literature in class is a proven way to engage students and provides excellent opportunities to express opinions and personal views. For this reason, we want to share with you some of the best moments in our literature, and to share the most significant literary works, from our cultural heritage.

Italians: a nation of
saints, sailors and… singers


Music touches every one of us, evokes emotions and stimulates the imagination, awakening memories, driving away boredom and creating a sense of well-being. It’s easy to imagine how it can be useful in a class studying Italian as a foreign language. Music ‘is for the soul, like water is for the body’. Working with music means being stimulated, having fun and letting go. The songs, using colloquial language, offer a rich variety of expressions and words, and they are a useful and quick way to memorise expressions and idioms, and are very useful for improving pronunciation.

History of the Italian Language

The course proposes to offer a broad historic overview of the structure of Italian and to provide knowledge of the principal lines of development of Italian. We will concentrate on the written language from its origins to today, focusing on the pressures both to conserve and to innovate, and the tensions within our language. The proposed programme will allow students to embrace the development of the language through a selection of texts, to understand the linguistic choices and styles of the chosen authors and to appreciate their historic, cultural and literary significance.

History of Italy from the unification

We will cover the journey Italy took from 1861, the year in which it was declared the Kingdom of Italy, to the present day. The history of Italy is rich with events and milestones. Through studying these we can appreciate how the Italian character has been formed — and better understand its historic roots. We will present an overview of Italian history covering the most significant and formative events, some of which have signposted the story of our nation.

Italian Literature: from the late 1800
to today


We will explore together the most significant movements in Italian literature, starting with the late 19th century, continuing through the 20th century and the years of post-war reconstruction, through the experimental avant-garde to post-modernism, and finishing with contemporary literature. The literary movements covered will include analytical realism, critical realism and neo-realism. We will examine the writing and poetry of the most relevant authors of the 20th and 21st century, analysing representative texts, and through these writings, you will gain a wide appreciation of the development of Italian society, culture and style from the last century to today.

Sicilian Literature: from 1900 to the Present Day

Sicily is not only a recurring theme within Italian literature, it also has a cultural, geographical and historical uniqueness. There is a specific Sicilian narrative, which works not only through its distinctive characters, places and authors, but also because it expresses a genuine ‘Sicilianness’, a real passion for and relationship with the land, with an intensity that only a few writers can successfully capture. This Sicily, a melting pot of historical experience, has straddled different cultures and can be seen as a metaphor for the entire human condition. Told through a variety of voices and seen clearly but painfully, it comprises a very strong and vital literary tradition.

Andrea Camilleri:
From novel to film


It’s undeniable that Andrea Camilleri and his novels have succeeded in bringing Sicily to the far corners of the world. Who doesn’t know about the tough but charming Commissario Montalbano? The novels, written in a mix of Italian and Sicilian, bring to life the ‘theatre’ of Sicilian existence, the way that Sicilians thrive when their passion and their environment come together. Dry humour, astute investigative work mixed with local colour, rich descriptions of cooking and the island itself, plus the crazy and melancholic character of the inspector, are the principal ingredients which characterise the series of Moltalbano novels.

A journey into the Italian cinema

Studying a language through film is undeniably one of the more amusing and stimulating ways of learning. Cinema is where you can hear real colloquial Italian, and discover how Italians really speak in daily life. There’s even the possibility of learning new words heard in their real context, and how and when you use certain expressions. At the same time films can sharpen your capacity to listen and to understand. We will analyse together scenes from a few of the most representative films of contemporary Italian cinema.

Culturforum has been offering Italian Language and Culture Courses since the year 2000 in Cefalù, picturesque fishing town on the northern coast of Sicily

Corso Ruggero, 55
90015 Cefalù (Palermo), Sicilia, Italia

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