Among beauty and history

Among beauty and history
Firenze
09January2012
Loredana Ficicchia

The American schools in Florence: wonderful places where Shakespeare and the Renaissance is studied

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They began to take their place among Florentine institutions at least 60 years ago. The smallest, blue uniforms with the crest on the sweaters at the International School of Florence, which today has two outposts, in via del Carota and Viuzzo di Gattaia, in the vicinity of Piazzale Michelangelo. The others, in the years to come, distributed in the 24 campuses of cultural institutes for foreigners, which every year hold 800 courses with a student turnover which, at its highest points, reaches that of New York University (1000 students) and Syracuse University with 900 students per year.
There is not much choice for elementary and secondary school students. Their families, transplanted in Italy, nearly always opt for a dual-language school and which is—because one never knows—certified and recognized in the U.S. “Hey, where are you going, si va insieme, aspettami,” yells a sweaty Marc, a boy with a reddish mop of hair, who has just finished kicking a ball in the courtyard of the International School of Florence, up among the magnificent cypresses of the Villa Torri di Gattaia. This year it celebrates its 60 year anniversary, with the student body numbering 400 between the two campuses, with 30 different countries of origin represented and a teaching motto: “to link the classroom experience to the reality of the outside world.” With the International Baccalaureate diploma, they can go to any university in the world. In the meantime, they enjoy guided tours of Florentine museums and in order to do right by Shakespeare, tours to Stratford-on-Avon as well. Among them—and perfectly integrated—are they children of the military personnel of Camp Darby, who take a two-hour bus ride every day from Livorno. ISF is not a confessional school, and yet it distinguishes itself for its intense philanthropic activity which gets the entire student body involved. With a series of projects to benefit Meyer and Tanzania.
The first university platoon, 35 in all, arrived on board a cruise ship sent by Syracuse University which had just opened a branch office in Florence. This happened a half century ago, and since then, every six months, a small squad of students fly to Florence to immerse themselves in Renaissance history and culture, offered in a varied assortment of academic courses, thus bringing together a student population which disembarks in Florence to study in the ex-residence of the Gigliucci Counts (noted inFlorence as the red villa because of the unusual color of its façade), coming from various other American universities. Inside this villa in Piazza Savonarola, at least three generations of Americans have been seduced by the marvels of the Florentine Renaissance. Currently there are 80 courses and 300 students who, every semester, bear witness after having refined their knowledge of Art History, Architecture, Letters, Political Science, Economics, and Italian.Villa Rossa, principal seat of the campus, holds the administrative offices, some classrooms, a coffee bar and a computer lab, but since the 80’s it has grown into Piazzale Donatello, where Architecture courses are held and, in 2006, incorporated Il Villino—a lovely little 19th century villa facing Villa Rossa on the garden side—which holds the library, media lab, some classrooms and faculty offices. Sasha Perugini, the new director of the Florentine branch office of Syracuse University, with pluck carries forth the investment of a few years ago in the cultural exchange between the U.S. and Italy (in 2006 the Florence Art Gallery in Syracuse University was inaugurated) by way of art exhibits which serve both to enhance the context of academic activities of the university and to offer new and different occasions for Syracuse University to encounter the Florentine populace: meetings, conferences, concerts, theatrical performances open to all. But while they celebrate their 50 year anniversary, Sasha Perugini thinks of the future of the Florentine campus. The Florence Study Abroad Program also bears the authoritative stamp of New York University of Florence located at Villa Pietra on the via Bolognese. One of the largest private universities in the United States—with 40,000 students (only 350 in Florence) attending the 18 faculties in Manhattan, Europe, Asia, Africa and South America—landed in Florence in 1994, thanks to the Acton family’s donation of the magnificent villa which still today holds and exhibits the collection put together by Arthur and Hortense, which is distributed among 30 rooms in the residence: more than 5,000 works of art, personal objects and furnishings of which son Harold, writer and esthete, took jealous care. Welcoming the donation, New York University restored the villa, conserving its cultural and cosmopolitan spirit. Among the universities of renown, if not for its list of Nobel Prize winners which attended, there is Harvard University, who hosts the History of the Italian Renaissance Studies Center at its campus in via Vincigliata—a post-graduate research center founded in 1961. We are speaking of Villa I Tatti, which was frequented in the 19th century by the cream of the Italian and foreign cultural elite, thanks to the seductions of an excellent host, the art critic Bernard Berenson. In 1936, before dying, he bequeathed the villa, along with his entire art collection, to Harvard .University. 

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