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Palermo, Piazza Armerina , Italy

Program Description

Palermo’s rich multicultural history will be the focus of this program, which will explore questions of identity, religion, and art. It will be centered around the city's extraordinary medieval heritage—gold mosaics, muqarnas ceilings, and lofty Gothic spaces—made and commissioned by people from around the entire Mediterranean and further afield. 

Where Cultures Meet aims to understand Sicily’s past (and present) as one of constant migration, travel, conquest, and conversion through the temples, tombs, churches, and palaces of Palermo, Monreale, Cefalù, Agrigento and Piazza Armerina. We will admire one of the largest archeological sites in the world in the so-called Valley of the Temples (Agrigento), and consider the long-lasting impact of Greek culture, thought, and architecture on the people who lived in the Mediterranean. We will visit the massive countryside Villa Roman del Casale (Piazza Armerina) and see its extensive Roman floor mosaics, with their depiction of hunts, sport and episodes from myth and Homeric poems. 

In Palermo, we will consider how the city's Muslim past is alive and brimming with contradictions, even though its material remains are few and far between. Most of what survives, in fact, dates to the Norman period, during which the Christian rulers had to balance the needs and wants of the island’s Greek and Latin Christian, Jewish, and Muslim population. From the Cappella Palatina’s extraordinary muqarnas ceiling, made by artists from Cairo, to the earliest depiction of English saint Thomas Becket in Monreale, Palermo’s history reflects, engages, and articulates the people who came, went and stayed. 

Location Description

The program will be based in the seaside city of Palermo, in northeastern Sicily. A relatively minor town in antiquity and throughout the Byzantine period, Palermo became the capital of Muslim Sicily in the early 9th century. Many of the sites we will visit date from this period and the following one, when Palermo was ruled by the Normans. We will study medieval history—Jewish, Christian and Muslim—in Palermo, supplemented with visits to the nearby cathedral towns of Cefalù and Monreale. 

To understand Sicily’s ancient past, we will take day trips to Piazza Armerina and to Agrigento. At the Roman Villa del Casale in Piazza Armerina, we will admire the extraordinary floor mosaics (particularly famous are the women athletes in ‘bikinis’) and explore questions of identity, wealth, and status. In Agrigento, we will visit Valle dei Templi (Valley of the Temples), a world-famous archeological site that includes eleven temples, tombs, theatres, and houses. 


Cyril V. Uy II | | Philosophy and Religious Studies

Maria Harvey | | SADAH


Accommodation will be provided for students through furnished apartments, all with internet access and full kitchens. Students will be asked to share double rooms. Housing will be in Palermo's city center, so students will be able to walk to sites or access public transportation when needed.

Students will be allocated a per diem for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Several group meals covered by the program as well.

Additional Items to Consider

Americans are currently allowed into Italy. Quarantines are mandatory unless one is vacinated against COVID-19, has recently (less than 6 months) recovered from COVID-19, and/or has had a negative molecular PCR or rapid antigen test carried out within 48 hours of departure. Working phones are recommended, but are not mandatory.

COVID-19 Location Information:

Each country has different requirements upon entry with regard to COVID-19. Please check this website for the most up-to-date information on what is required for the country (or countries) that are part of this program. Please note that this changes often, so we encourage you to check back frequently.


Applicant Criteria

Applicants must have a GPA minimum of 2.0

Some Italian helpful, but not required

Open to all majors and class levels

Application Process

This list serves as an application preview. To apply, students will need to complete the following:

  • Study Abroad Online Application ($40 fee)
  • Short essay 
  • Meeting with Program Director may be required
  • Official transcript required for non-JMU students

Further details and instructions about these application requirements will be available upon log-in. 


Program Open - APPLY NOW for priority

Application Deadline


All dates are tentative and subject to change


ARTH 205: Survey of World Art I: Prehistory to Renaissance (3 credits)

HUM 250: Foundations of Western Culture (3 credits)

REL 300 / ARTH 426: Religion, Art, and Identity in Medieval Sicily (3 credits)

ARTH 490: Independent Study (3 credits)

REL 490: Independent Study (3 credits)

Courses listed here are to be used as a general guideline for program curriculum. *All courses are considered pending until approved by the Academic Department, Program, and/or College.


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