Historical Highlights in Sicily
2nd November 2017

Over half term, the Oundle School Classics Department took twenty-six Fourth to Upper Sixth Form (Year 10-13) pupils to Sicily.

The visit began with pupils seeing the Riace Bronzes in Reggio di Calabria, two super-human sized warriors rescued from the sea in the 1970s, and described by Nigel Spivey as 'the best Greek bronzes in the world'. They went on to Taormina Theatre with its incredible views over a smoking Etna, followed by a day in Syracuse, visiting the Greek Theatre and the stone quarries to see where the Athenian prisoners of war chiselled away at the rock after their defeat in the Great Harbour in 413BC.

Trip leader and Classics teacher, Mary James commented, “Actually touching the stones which had been worked by men who the pupils have studied in Thucydides was an extraordinary experience.”

After a trip around the Great Harbour in two boats, the group saw the remains of the oldest Greek temple in Sicily and then had the unforgettable sensation of sitting inside the oldest cathedral in the world: Syracuse Cathedral started its life as a Greek temple sacred to Athene in thanks for victory against the Carthaginians in 480BC.

Mary added, “To sit in a church surrounded by original Greek Doric columns, knowing the wealth of history which the building represents, and that spiritualism can remain in a place regardless of religion is indeed a humbling experience.”

The group then visited the ancient site of Morgantina where they were treated to an outstanding guided tour by Rosella Nicoletti, an active archaeologist who knows the site inside out, and who was able to give them a vivid and highly stimulating account of its history and archaeological remains. Piazza Armerina and the outstanding mosaics of the Villa del Casale followed, including the massive corridor of the Great Hunt, picturing animals from all over the Roman Empire being captured and brought on ships for the Colosseum in Rome.

Two huge temple complexes delighted the group on the next day, with the towering pride of Agrigento boasting its wealth and success to anyone coming in from the sea: the Temple of Concord is the best preserved Greek temple in the world. Selinunte gave the group the opportunity actually to stand inside a reconstructed temple, and this was one of the most moving moments for several of the pupils.

On their final day, the group visited the unfinished temple of Segesta: standing alone on a hillside in the middle of nowhere, it has an aura unlike anywhere else. On the hill above is the equally remote Greek Theatre, where pupil George Brettle (17) sang Faure's Libera Me to an enthralled audience, before the whole group was encouraged onto the stage to sing Jerusalem. The final visit was to Monreale Cathedral with its outstanding mosaics: stories from the Bible enliven every wall with intricate detail, and the gold shines in the light from the windows.

George commented, Exploring Sicily in one week we saw so many amazing things: from the "Riace Warriors" to the Norman Cathedral at Monreale and from the Taormina theater to a boat trip around Syracuse. It really enabled us, as classicists, to reaffirm our beliefs about why we love Classics. I would love to thank Mrs James for organizing such an amazing trip.”

Pupil, Zac Freij (18) commented, The trip provided a wonderful opportunity to experience both beautifully preserved sites and statues from the ancient world interspersed with an array of Italian culture. I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to view a civilisation holistically at Morgantina and I learnt a great deal about the interaction of various aspects of public and social life.”

Mary concluded, “This was a trip which gave pupils a real understanding of the spread of history, with highlights from the Bronze Age, both the Greek and Roman eras and the Norman period, all of exceptional beauty and repair, and on an island of outstanding beauty in its own right. We were treated to wonderful food, great hospitality and perfect weather - no wonder so many of us fully intend to return to Sicily and explore its culture and history in even greater detail.”


Background Information on Oundle School

Oundle School is situated in the quintessentially English market town of Oundle, about 90 miles north of London. The School’s buildings, dating from the 17th to the 21st centuries, are dispersed throughout the town, which is, to a large extent, its campus.

The School’s history dates back to 1556, when Sir William Laxton, Master of the Worshipful Company of Grocers and Lord Mayor of London, endowed and re-founded the original Oundle Grammar School, of which he was a former pupil. In 1876, the Grocer’s Company divided the School into two parts; Laxton Grammar School, primarily for the inhabitants of the town, and Oundle School, primarily for pupils from further afield. In 2000, the Grocers’ Company reunited the two schools under the common name of Oundle School and retained the name of Laxton for the day House.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Oundle was put firmly on the map of leading English public schools by its most famous headmaster, F W Sanderson, who established Oundle’s reputation as one of the great science and engineering schools, a reputation still renowned today. In 2016, the School completed its ambitious SciTec project, uniting Science, Mathematics, Design, Technology and Engineering both physically and philosophically, enabling pupils to move seamlessly from theory to practice and from pure science to the achievement of a workable technology. The development includes the ground-breaking Patrick Engineering Centre, a new Mathematics department and an extension to its sixteen state-of-the-art Science laboratories. Oundle has now embarked on a detailed Sports MasterPlan which will significantly upgrade sporting facilities across the School by 2020, incorporating the building of a new Sports Centre housing a fifty metre swimming pool and an eight court sports hall.

There are currently 1110 pupils on roll at Oundle School, with 860 boarders and 250 day pupils. Also within the Corporation of Oundle School is Laxton Junior School, a day school for children aged 4 to 11. 

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