The event in Italian history that the students took into consideration was the study of the historical period which led to the drafting of our Constitution and to the choice of the Democratic Republic as a form of government; moreover, the Italian experience has been compared with the same experience in Eastern European countries, which were under the Soviet dictatorship and saw their democratic system mature, starting from the Velvet Revolution up to the drafting of the Constitutional Charters.
Students have also verified how experiences of welcome, openness and recognition of human dignity were born from the local history of Bari and Puglia region in those crucial years of national history after the 1943 armistice.
The study of the last world war was conducted through the stories of the second generation: a collection of testimonies handed down by the children of those who lived in those years as it is possible to see from the works presented by Italian students to their partners.
During the meeting visits to places of resistance were arranged.
An opening ceremony linked to the taste of traditional Italian cuisine and a final farewell party were also organised.
On March 27th 2023, the whole afternoon was dedicated to know Bitetto, its roots and its most important evidence related to the Resistance.
The tour began walking along XXIV Maggio street, the most important street in the historic centre that connects “Porta piscina”, the only surviving door of the ancient medieval town , to the majestic main Church, a jewel in the Romanesque style. Everybody admired the facade with the splendid rose window, the portal and the bell tower.
Afterwards, the group reached the church dedicated to “Santa Maria la Veterana”.
In the square in front of the church, in December 2008 a prestigious winged bronze statue depicting the mythical Icarus was placed. The work was created and donated by the famous American sculptor Greg Wyatt. The church is located in a portion of stratified territory inhabited since the Bronze age; it is part of an important fortified early medieval farmhouse, rebuilt between 1294 and 1302. It was undoubtedly a place of particular devotion to the Virgin Mary for the inhabitants of Bitetto and the neighboring people who flocked there, above all, to invoke the protection of the Divine Mother on the children on the 25th March, the day of the celebration of the Annunciation. The participants admired the frescoes dating back to the first decades of the 15th century, representing the main events linked to the Virgin life and to the Last Judgement. The interior of the church is covered by innumerable frescoed images that can be linked to Giotto’s models of the previous century.
The interesting visit ended walking along a suburban road full of ancient olive trees reaching the Blessed James’s shrine, home of a school of Franciscan monks. The church has a characteristic “volute” façade , built in 1761. The sanctuary is a place of pilgrimage due to the presence, in a crystal urn, of the incorrupt body of Blessed James. The guide explained that in the second half of the fifteenth century, when the city was ruled by Duke Andrea Acquaviva, a Croatian friar, endowed with great spiritual charisma, arrived at the convent. He spent his life helping poor, ill people during the plague. For these reasons and many miracles attributed to him, there is still a process of canonization underway. Even today the Franciscan friars guard the church, a jewel of Baroque architecture, embellished with important artistic works, among which the wooden altarpiece of the main altar.
Behind the church there is a big area where on the 9th of September 1943, just some hours after the signing of the armistice, a clash with a division of Wehrmacht paratroopers cost the lives of 22 Italian soldiers. The Resistance to the Nazi-Fascist occupation united the two cities of Bari and Bitetto, both of which were awarded the Gold Medal of Civil Merit. In both cases, the popular, spontaneous response of civilians in arms to the German attempts at sabotage and reprisals was decisive.
On March 28th 2023 students and teachers reached Bari, the capital of Apulia, by train. From the railway station, walking along Umberto I square and Sparano street, they reached the Norman Swabian Castle. It is a building of medieval origin embellished by Frederick II from 1233 to 1240. In the 16th century, having become the seat of the Sforza family, it was surrounded by a mighty curtain wall with pentagonal towers at the corners.
From there, walking through some of the narrow streets of the historic center, they visited the cathedral first and then St. Nicholas church, two splendid examples of Apulian Romanesque architecture.
The church was built from 1087 to 1197 to house the remains of the saint, stolen from Myra and taken over by Abbot Elia who began the construction of the temple in the most important place of the city. The cathedral named after St. Sabinus was erected between 1170 and 1178 after the model of St. Nicholas church on an ancient cathedral of Byzantine origin.
Walking through the folkloristic narrow streets of the old center, everybody stopped at a historic bakery in the city where they could taste the typical “focaccia barese” a sort of pizza made with yeast bread dough doubled over and dressed with olive oil, oregano and tomatoes.
On the 27th of April 2023 students and teachers met the President of Campo 65, Mr Domenico bolognese, who guided the group during the visit to this historical site of Altamura considered as a place of memory.
Mr Bolognese brought them to a travel throughout space and time to discover the remains of the biggest Italian prison camp during World War II.
They saw some of the remains of this camp, such as the general quarter, the garden and the fountain, the tank tower, the electric cabin, the guard towers, the prisoners, stoned shacks and the remains of the demolished buildings.
The students got familiar with the story of this camp and the lives of the 160 Cypriot prisoners captured by the Italian soldiers in Greece and North Africa during World War II.
The camp, with its 31 hectares, placed between Altamura and Gravina, sadly now is in a complete state of decay. Between 1942-1943 it has been the biggest concentration camp for the allied prisoners (British, South-Africans, Cypriots, New Zealanders, Israeli, Canadian and Australian). Then, from 1943 to 1945 it became a military training camp for the Jugoslav Freedom Army and from 1951 to 1962 a refugee center for Istrians and Dalmatians.
The tour ended with a visit to a series of murals drawn by local artists on the walls of the old courthouse of Altamura.
The message given to all the participants was that everybody has an important duty that is to preserve and take care of Memory sites. The creation of a map of the Memory aims to witness meaningful moments of the passage from war to peace, from tyranny to a free society.
The trip to Camp 65 can be viewed as a travel through memories which highlights the two main historical events of our history of the past century: the Antifascism and the Italian Resistance.
Closely linked to the examination of the historical events that animated the picture of European history in the first half of the twentieth century, modifying its geopolitical structure, according to the current borders – was the visit to Trani and to Castel del Monte.
On 30 March teachers and students visited the Jewish quarter with the Museum of Jewish History and the former Great Synagogue, built in 1247 and which became, in the Angevin era, a Catholic church with the name of the church of Sant’Anna, as well as the Cathedral in Trani.
The visit started right from the Giudecca which hosted a first colony of Jews, who arrived from the Islamic Iberian peninsula around the XII century, then destined to grow, under the Norman-Swabian domination, having earned the monopoly of trade and silk. In this maze of streets, which evoke its history rich in faith and folklore, stands the Saint Anne Museum-Synagogue, which the students and teachers were able to get to know by proceeding through the welcoming area surrounded by educational panels and documents that reconstruct the life of the Jews of the city, to the crypt, which preserves tombstones from the city’s Jewish cemeteries.
Descending towards the sea, the group then arrived in the splendid square, where the immense Cathedral, in Romanesque style, stands out, as if to guard the whole neighborhood and the nearby port. The guide explained that the imposing construction, which today also includes the hypogeum of San Leucio and the lower crypt, was started at the end of the 11th century on the already existing basilica of Santa Maria della Scala, using a tuff stone obtained from the Trani quarries, which gives it a light pink colour, especially at dusk.
Then the group was taken to visit a more cultural and naturalistic place the majestic fortress of Castel del Monte in the Alta Murgia National Park. The castle has been recognized as a World Heritage Site since 1996.
Here the guests were impressed by the admirable and proportionate fusion of Northern European, classical and Arab architectural elements, commissioned by Emperor Frederick II of Swabia, who ordered its construction, by the powerful symbolism of the number eight, which starting from the octagonal shape of the courtyard is repeated in the rooms on the lower and upper floors and in the number of towers.