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  • The Italian Classroom

    by Anthony Parente

    Located in the Cathedral of Learning on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh, is a group of rooms uniquely designed and named the Nationality Rooms. Each of the 30 rooms are designed with a specific theme and feel of that culture. With Italians being the largest cultural group in Allegheny County in the State of Pennsylvania, they were the first invited to create a room that best represented their culture. After committees were formed to raise funds and select a design it was decided that the classroom should have the look and feel of a room during the Renaissance period in Italy. With this in mind a design was selected and work began on the interior of the room.

    As you enter the room the first thing you see is the beautiful bay windows. To help keep the rays of sun out, each window has a wooden shutter that can be pulled to shield students from the sun.

    Looking to the rear of the room is a wonderful portrait of Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia. Many may not know that this extraordinary woman became the first woman in the world to receive a degree from a university. She was granted a Master and Doctor of Philosophy in 1678 from the University of Padua.

    Located on the wall opposite the bay windows is a fireplace made from sandstone. This fireplace was once located in an old house in Florence. Set in the fireplace are the words O Lord, Do Not Forsake Me.

    The front of the room contains a very interesting piece of furniture. When closed the piece appears to be an armadio, but when it is opened it reveals a chalkboard for the professor to use while teaching class. On top of the armadio sits the bust of Dante Alighieri.

    In my opinion the most fascinating features of the room are the benches and the architrave. The benches used by students are reminiscent of benches located in a monastery. Each bench has the name of an Italian university and the year it was founded carved on the back. It starts with Europe's oldest university, which was established in Bologna in 1088 and ends with the University of Bari in 1924. Each name and date is a constant reminder to students of the history and dedication to higher education. Like the benches, the architrave also contains names carved into the olive wood. These names were selected by the committee from a list of names submitted by scholars in Italy. Each name is significant to the history of Italy and the World. The names chosen are: Brunelleschi, Da Vinci, San Francesco, Dante Alighieri, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Galileo, Petrarca, Colombo, Tiziano, Machiavelli, Raffaello, Galvani, Verdi, and Marconi.

    The next time you are in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania head on over to the University of Pittsburgh and take a guided tour of the Nationality Rooms and see for yourself the fascinating features and intricate designs that each room possesses.

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