With the exception of the Chianti country excursion which all students participate in as a kind of conclusion to our Orientation program, the Institute organizes a series of optional excursions every semester.
PISA & LUCCA
These two relatively nearby cities hold many treasures and surprises for the visitor. Each with their own illustrious history and monuments, they also emanate a particular feeling which derives from their unique character.
The Institute bus goes first to Pisa, where students can see the beauty of the Arno, which they know as the river of Florence, as it traverses another important town on its way to the sea. A visit to the center of town culminates in the Piazza dei Miracoli, where not only the famed tower, but also the cathedral and historic civic cemetery are located. Although everyone has seen photographs of the tower, the impact of the real life experience of the monuments in the piazza is always extraordinary.
Pisa is home to one of the two historical universities of Tuscany, founded in 1472. In this university Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) taught Physics, thus starting an important scientific tradition that still continues in Pisa today. At the end of the XIX century the town extended outside the boundary of the old town-walls.
Pisa suffered from great damages during World War II. The quarter south of the river Arno was completely destroyed. Much of the urban shape of the town, as we see it today, is due to recent development.
Lucca enchants the visitor. Closed within its XVIth century walls, its stone streets and monuments seem to whisper its glorious history, which left it with the harmonious urban texture that is renowned in Tuscany. An independent Republic until 1799, Lucca was famous for its good government and serene environment. Its hinterland was dotted with towns that remained fiercely loyal to the “capital”. Its Romanesque churches adorn the many piazzas, and its large traffic free pedestrian zone comforts the sightseer. The visit to Lucca usually culminates in a bike ride around the 4.2 Km of the city walls, still intact and coverted to a ribbon-like city park by Napoleon’s sister, Elisa Baciocchi, who ruled the town from 1800 to 1812. Its favourite son is Giacomo Puccini, but also boasts the birthplace of Luigi Boccherini.
SIENA & SAN GIMIGNANO
A day which transports the student into the Middle Ages, with all its magic and charm. The monuments of these cities will remain imprinted on the imagination: the Campo di Siena, one of Italy’s piazzas most celebrated for its beauty, and the rich urban texture, still expresses the distinctive character of this ancient city, originally Etruscan, and fiercely proud of its traditions to this day, as the annual Palio, the bareback horse race in the Campo, testifies. The cathedral is considered one of the most artistically impressive in all of Italy.
San Gimignano, with its forest of medieval towers, is renowned for its beauty, its crafts, and its winding medieval streets. For a brief time it was the seat of a tiny city state (from 1199 to1354), and the magical Tuscan countryside can be admired best from this hilltop vantage point. Dante was as guest here in the year 1300.
Ravenna lived its moment of glory in the period from the V to the VII centuries. It briefly took the place of Rome as the capital of the western part of the vast Roman empire, was then the capital of the Ostrogoths who caused the fall of Rome, and then of the Byzantine protectorate under Justinian.
From that early Christian period remain the many churches containing the famed gold leaf mosaics which astound the visitor with the sheer extension and dimensions of these works, and their beauty and antiquity. Students can visit workshops where restorers and modern day mosaic craftsman still perpetuate the ancient mosaic techniques. Fully eight monuments in Ravenna have been declared Patrimony of Humanity by UNESCO, all dating from the V and VI centuries.
Today Ravenna is a charming small Italian city, capital of the Romagna region.
In addition to the extraordinary wealth of ancient mosaics, an important monuments to visit is the tomb of Dante, who died here in 1321 while in exile from Florence. Ravenna still refuses to give us his remains to his native city.
The optional excursions have a charge of around $50, which includes transportation, guides and monument and museum entrance fees.