When asking a class of students to consider all the world’s wonderful landscapes and land features, there are certain images that are likely to stand out in their minds – coursing rivers, sun-blessed beaches, towering mountains and dramatic volcanoes among them. Italy’s southernmost region, Sicily, has all of these and more, making it perfect for a geography-based educational trip. Home to Europe’s tallest active volcano and some of the Mediterranean’s most striking coastal areas, this is certainly a place to inspire learners and to demonstrate the power of the natural world, as well as the power of mankind to alter that world. Whether exploring coastal ecosystems or investigating the effects of agriculture and deforestation over centuries, there are endless possibilities for learning projects – and here are some of the best places to start.
The region’s most famous land feature, and one of the most striking sights students on an educational trip will see in Sicily, is undoubtedly Mount Etna, a 3,329 metre high stratovolcano that towers over the island’s eastern coast. Its eruptions have been famous since ancient times, when Greek storytellers explained its near-constant volcanic activity with tales of Zeus trapping a fearsome monster called Typhon beneath it.
The mountain is not purely a source of destruction, however, as its volcanic ash makes the soil highly fertile, thus supporting Sicily’s rich agriculture. This relationship between the volcano and the local population is one interesting possibility for a geographical case study to be made while on an educational trip, although Etna is not the only kind of volcano that can be seen in Sicily. To the north of the island, the Aeolian Islands (themselves a volcanic arc) are home to Stromboli, a volcano nicknamed the ‘Lighthouse of the Mediterranean’ for its bright eruptions, while off the southern coast is an underwater volcano named Ferdinandea.
Lemons, oranges, olives, nuts, grapes and their derivative products are the chief exports of Sicily, as well as fish and non-consumable products such as chemicals, textiles, leather goods and ships. Understanding the land and climate is key to understanding human industry and civilisation in many places, but especially in Sicily, where the pleasant climate and fertile volcanic ash have a significant impact on agriculture. Its status as an island is also important for anyone considering Sicily’s port towns and the industries associated with them. The importance of the island’s roads is another angle that students could consider while on their educational trip, as they play a vital role in all of its industries, and recent road improvement work has had far-reaching implications. These learning opportunities will be all the more immediate and real for being right in front of students’ eyes – and all tempered by Sicilian sun, fascinating culture and great food!