Studying Italian in Sicily

Welcome to International House Catania!



My name is Alessandro Adorno and I am the director of the Italian department at International House Catania.

I have more than 30 years of experience in this field, both as a teacher, teacher trainer, and school manager. Today I am proud and happy the director of the Italian Department of GIGA-International House in Catania, because Catania is the city where I was born, where I grew up, and where I have always been proud to belong. Here I have tracked back all the motivations that have always driven me to promote the study of the Italian language and culture in Sicily.

Why study Italian in Sicily?

I have always been motivated to make Sicily better known to lovers of the Italian language and culture, to teach them about the enormous cultural heritage of this island, the island of the sun, my homeland, an island overflowing with art, history, and culture. When I started teaching Italian for foreigners in Florence, before founding my first language school in Sicily, it was really inconceivable to me that international students who wanted to study Italian and Italian culture did not have the opportunity to study in southern Italy and in particular, in Sicily.

Up until that time, those who wanted to attend an Italian course for foreigners could only do so in Italian schools located on the Rome-Perugia-Siena-Florence axis, for the most part, and in any case all the language schools were located in the centre and the north of Italy. None existed south of Rome nor in Sicily. 

It was really difficult for me, as a Sicilian, to accept that foreign students who loved the Italian language and culture did not have the opportunity to learn about the enormous cultural heritage that resides in Sicily.

I wanted people to know more about Sicily

I thought it absurd that foreigners who love the Italian language and culture did not know anything about the empire of Syracuse, which at the time of Magna Graecia was an immense empire defined by some as ‘the First Empire of the West’. They did not know that it extended as far as Tuscany where it came into contact with the Etruscans (the period of the Hellenisation of Etruscan culture), as far as Le Marche (the colony of Ankon, today known as Ancona) and Veneto (the colony of Adria). It was an empire so large and powerful that it struck fear into the great Athens to the point that it declared war on it three times. Syracuse’s fame in the days of Magna Graecia drew men of culture from all over and made it a base of art and science. There were men such as Plato who wanted to form his ‘Republic of the Philosophers’ there, Pindar who dedicated verses of poetry to it and Aeschylus who presented his play The Persians for the first time at the Greek Theatre in Syracuse. Indeed, the great mathematical inventor Archimedes ‘of the highest wits, guide and master’ lived in Syracuse too.

I could not believe that foreigners did not know that the first book on gastronomy – the Hēdypatheia, or The Poem of the Gourmet – was written in Sicily in the 4th century BC by Archestratus of Gela.

I thought it was crazy that foreigners did not know about the literary and architectural marvels of the Islamic era in Sicily, from the poems of Ibn Hamdis to the marvellous mosques later converted into Christian churches by the Normans.

I thought it was ridiculous that foreigners did not know that in the Middle Ages the language of the Sicilian Poetic School, in use at the Court of Frederick II, Stupor Mundi, constituted the first Italian literary language. They did not realise that the sonnet was invented in Sicily and that this greatly influenced the Tuscan Stilnovists. Dante himself wrote in his De Vulgari Eloquentia: “We shall first investigate the nature of Sicilian, since we see that the Sicilian vernacular attributes to itself a fame superior to all others: that everything the Italics produce in the matter of poetry is called Sicilian … “ giving recognition to poets of the Sicilian School and showing the importance, not only chronological, of the formulation of a poetic code of the “language of yes” (“quod quidem retinemus et nos, nec posteri nostri permutare valebunt“).

I thought it was incredible that foreigners did not know that the oldest parliament in the world was convened in Sicily for the first time by King Roger II in 1130 in the Palazzo dei Normanni in Palermo.

It was unbelievable that foreigners did not know that the first film with underwater shots was made in Sicily in 1946 by the Panaria Film boys, or that in 1939 Ugo Saitta from Catania presented the first short animated film in Italy at the 7th International Venice Film Festival. His film was the first example of a film with ‘wireless’ animated puppets, entitled ‘Teste di legno’ or ‘Pisicchio e Melisenda’, a forerunner of what would later become cartoons.

I thought it was unacceptable that foreigners did not know that the first democratically inspired happenings came from Sicily and the first protests of a mass socialist movement in Italy, the Fasci Siciliani, took place in Sicily in 1891.

From a literary point of view, I wanted foreigners to know that few regions in Italy can boast such a vast heritage. From the two Sicilian Nobel Prize winners for literature, Pirandello and Quasimodo, to the verist school of Verga, Capuana and Rosso di San Secondo. From Tomasi di Lampedusa with his Gattopardo to the post-war Sicilian writers Sciascia and Vittorini, Brancati to Consolo, Bufalino to Camilleri.

In my opinion it was therefore absolutely unacceptable that instead Sicily was used as a synonym for the Mafia and that Sicilians were automatically stereotyped as being mafiosi, as if it were a genetic distortion. It is humiliating that the spotlight of national and international attention is always on the Mafia and never on the anti-Mafia movement. Unfortunately, we often forget that those who fight on the front line against the Mafia are also Sicilians themselves. Tenacious, proud, courageous Sicilians. 

Sicily is a land of contradictions but a magnet for the soul!

Sicily is a place where fire beats water (as happens on the Aeolian Islands where fire comes out of the sea!). It is a place where bitter flavours in cooking are associated with sweetness (think of the famous dish caponatina). It is an island where the eruption of Mount Etna destroys everything that stands in its way, but on the other hand spouts volcanic ash into the air which makes an excellent fertiliser. Sicily is an island where the Mafia and fighting against the Mafia share the same territory.

Sicily has 7 UNESCO sites, 2 Nobel Prize winners for Literature, an archaeological, artistic and monumental heritage of over 2,500 years, an enormous cultural heritage bequeathed to us by the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Normans and the Spanish. The island has beautiful natural scenery that ranges from the Aeolian Islands to the volcano Mount Etna, from the dozens of nature reserves to the marvellous countryside where excellent local produce is grown. Everything is GMO-free because Sicily is also GMO-free and therefore its oil, wines, cheeses, vegetables, fruit etc. are all products of excellence that create a gastronomy that has scents and influences from ancient Greece, the Arabs and the Spanish. This easy-going island is where the 3 monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) have lived together peacefully for a long time. We can therefore say that Sicily represented the world’s first true melting pot!

You have to come here to learn and understand!

We want to break down stereotypes with honesty, integrity and pride in the history of this island. We wish the world would stop using the word ‘Sicily’ as a synonym for the Mafia. I wish that when I travel around the world and say ‘I am Sicilian’ or ‘I have been to Sicily’, people would not automatically respond by saying ‘mafia’ but would react by exclaiming ‘Oh, Sicily… the first multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society in the world’, ‘Oh, Sicily… where poetry was born’, ‘Oh, Sicily… where food is still genuine and tastes authentic’.

Unfortunately, most people do not know about these things, they only know about the Mafia. We do not want to deny anything and we humbly fight against this stereotype on a daily basis, but Sicily is so much more than the Mafia and that is what we want the world to know. 

Since 1992, I have been passionately dedicated to promoting Sicily’s cultural heritage and the study of the Italian language and culture. All our efforts are aimed at offering not only the opportunity to study Italian but also to give an unforgettable learning, cultural and human experience here in Sicily.

Study Italian in Catania, why?

A Mediterranean soul

Catania is a city with a strong Mediterranean soul. If you are the type of person who is not happy to stay in a touristy place and just skim the surface of Mediterranean culture, this city is for you. If you want to have an authentic experience in a dynamic, imaginative, vibrant, dramatic, chaotic city…in other words in a real city…. studying Italian in Catania is a great choice for you!

Between the sea and the volcano!

Catania is often called the ‘daughter’ of Etna, the city of the tenacity and stubbornness of its black elephant, the city of dark lava contrasts with the blue of the sea and sky. However, Catania is not for everyone, but it is for those who love the Mediterranean way of life! This city has been destroyed many times throughout its history by lava or earthquakes but each time it has resurged (its motto is ‘Melior de Cinere Surgo’), thanks to its enterprising spirit and revival.

Mirror of the Mediterranean

The streets of Catania show the signs of ancient history that began with the Greeks from Naxos who founded it in 729 B.C. and gave it the name Katané. Next came the Romans who built one of the largest amphitheatres in the Roman Empire (today only partially visible due to various historical events) and a complex thermal system. Traces of Swabian-Norman medieval Catania remain in the apse of the Cathedral and in Ursino Castle, built by Frederick II of Swabia in the 13th century. The historic centre of the city is dominated by Sicilian Baroque architecture, a meticulous form which evolved in the 17th and 18th centuries after the destruction caused by the 1693 earthquake in south-eastern Sicily. Catania is therefore a city stratified by time.

Vibrant leisure and entertainment

While studying Italian in Catania you will not only be exposed to ancient history but also to the many other attractions that the city has to offer. Catania is a coastal city and therefore perfect for beach lovers. Its coastline is divided between rocks and old lava stone with a beautiful transparent seabed to the north of the city, and a long sandy beach where you can swim or bask in the sun, stretching south of the city.

Apart from the sea and sun, this student city vibrates with culture from its university to the Vincenzo Bellini opera house. There are also several theatres, cinemas, and art exhibitions that take place in many of its most beautiful palazzi and squares throughout the year.

A different experience which is authentic!

Studying Italian in Catania will also expose you to lots of difference scents! The smell of fresh fish at the ‘Piscarìa’ (daily fish market), of roasted meat in Via Plebiscito and of delicious pastries and ice cream from the many local cafés. Catania will awaken your five senses in a wholly Mediterranean atmosphere.

The Italian department of International House Catania, with its vast experience teaching foreign languages, offers all of this. Are you ready for an off the beaten path experience, different from the usual, traditional destinations?

You might also be interested in:

foreign students learning the Italian language at the IH Catania school


An ancient Greek statue in front of the temples. The Grantour of Sicily route organized by the IH Catania school


A beautiful garden at the home of the Italian language teacher who offers teaching in Home Tuition mode


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