Cinzia Recca is a lecturer in Modern History at the University of Catania. Her book The Diary of Queen Maria Carolina of Naples, 1781-1785. New Evidence of Queenship at Court has been published in the Queenship&Power series in 2017. She is a well known participant of the Kings & Queens conferences, and other activities of the Royal Studies Network, and also the organiser for this year’s conference in Catania, Sicily. We talked with her about what is coming, and how to prepare for Sicily in June!
Please make sure to include #KQ8 on social media, and follow the conference on the same hashtag if you cannot be there!
RSJ Blog: Hi Cinzia! Thanks for giving this interview and for welcoming the Royal Studies Network to Sicily for the first time! Could you please first tell us a bit more about the upcoming conference, and who is behind all the organisation?
Cinzia: Hi Cathleen, it is a real pleasure to answer your questions. I still remember my article in the first issue of RSJ, my interview for this blog, and it is very amazing how the blog grew more and more in only five years.
I have to confess that I am very thrilled about the upcoming conference; it was during the Portuguese edition July 2015 that I shyly proposed Catania as a possible venue for a future conference and immediately with enthusiasm the proposal was accepted for the 2019 conference .
So, I had 4 years to think about the organisation of the conference; in fact the first step was thinking about a topic. I had several ones in my mind but at the end resilience was the one that fascinated and intrigued me more than others. Nowadays this word is often used as the capacity to react in a positive way to traumatic events of life and so I imagine that examining it in depth, through a royal studies perspective, could be very interesting. The call for papers was a success and a high number of proposals were very interesting.
Another aspect that has been crucial for the organisation was to create a scientific committee, Marcello Fantoni, Fabian Persson, Zita Rohr and of course Ellie Woodacre kindly accepted my invitation to collaborate, helping me to select papers and structure the programme. I am very thankful for their help. Then I thought that creating a mini video about Catania and the University could be an attractive idea to involve people to participate so that during the last day of the seventh edition of Kings &Queens Conference in Winchester Ellie and I officially launched the call for paper showing the video.
From an organisational point of view, I was aware that alone I could not manage anything. I needed an organisational machine because I firmly believe in teamwork so that with the precious help of many persons that work at the University of Catania, we created a Conference website to give all the possible information requested and to register, so they simplified my work.
And last but not least, Officine Culturali , which is an Association in partnership with the University of Catania, is managing all the bureaucratic issues and during this last period a great group of volunteer students is helping me define the last things.
RSJ Blog: This does sound indeed like a well-oiled organisational machine! Let’s talk a bit more about all the “extras” we come to expect – and enjoy – from the Kings&Queens series? What is planned for Sicily?
Cinzia: This year we have an intense programme with numerous panels from ancient history to the contemporary period, analysing the theme also from a multi-disciplinary point of view. Scholars of History, Literature, Art, Drama, Philosophy, and even Psychology will present their contributions. The Conference envisages also three plenary sessions with three great historians, Charles Beem, Francesco Benigno and Munro Price will discuss the themes from three different perspectives even if they are correlated.
As far as social activities are concerned, the Conference Venue will be the Palazzo Ingrassia and the Monastery of Benedictines, respectively of The Department of Educational Science and of Humanities. The Monastery is one of the biggest European religious buildings together with the monastery of Mafra in Portugal. The Monastery of Benedictines being a department site is open for visits and guided tours can be organised. So, the Conference offers a guided tour of the Monastery of the Benedictines on the first day. Sometimes, working inside this building I forget the magnificence and magic atmosphere of the past that you can breathe walking inside the Monastery. We will also have a special opportunity to spend time inside the two cloisters, on the occasion of lunches and for the social dinner.
During the last day of the conference, we are proposing a guided tour of Catania so that before the attendees go back home they could have a general idea of the main attractions of the city.
RSJ Blog: We are definitely looking forward to hearing about royal history, but also to enjoy Catania! Can you tell us a bit more about the Italian state of research in Royal Studies in the last few years? And also a bit about the long and complicated history of Sicily under different monarchical rules – just off the top of my head, I can think of Rome, Byzantium, Arabs, Staufer, Normans, Spain, and Italy – did I forget someone?
Cinzia: The Italian interest in Royal studies in the last few years has increased more and more. Ten years ago when I started my research on Maria Carolina, Queen of Naples, the interest for royal studies was already present but specific aspects of the Court/Kingdom were studied such as political, diplomatic fields, the crucial role of nobility, the magnificence of royal sites. So the interest is gradually augmenting; this also is proved by the fact that during the first editions of King and Queens Conference I was the only Italian to participate while in the last editions the number of Italians increased. Actually, most of the scholars and historians are now expert in Medieval, early Modern history and History of Art.
I wish that the Kings & Queens Conference 8 in Catania could pique even more scientific curiosity and interest of royal studies from Italian historians and scholars.
The other question about the History of Sicily cannot be answered shortly. A very good example of the History of Sicily has been recently re-published by Lord John Julius Norwich, Sicily. A short History from Ancient Greeks to Cosa Nostra, Coronet, 2015. Lord Norwich returns to a subject that inspired his first book fifty years ago and he writes a richly nuanced Sicilian political history in a very interesting and attractive way.
More, I firmly agree with Francesco Benigno, who in the introductory chapter of History of Sicily edited with Giuseppe Giarrizzo, states that Sicily is an Isle but not isolated, it has been and it is still a bridge between Europe and Africa, between Western and Eastern. Sicily during the epochs has been continuously a land of conquest, it was fought over by Phoenicians and Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans, Goths and Byzantines, Arabs and Normans, Germans, Spaniards and French for over a thousand years. All the rulers tried to keep it in their domains, so continuous struggles to conquer and keep the isle played a crucial role in the rise and fall of the world’s most powerful dynasties. And Sicilians belonged to all of them and every time they had to adapt to the new rulers, laws and way of life. Resistance and resilience were of course two attitudes that the Sicilian population developed along the epochs.
RSJ Blog: There is still so much to learn for me about Sicilian history! Aside from the conference, could you please also tell us a bit more about Catania and Sicily – there are probably a lot of people adding a few days to do some sightseeing, or just some relaxing at the beach! What should we not miss, which drinks are en vogue at the moment, what do we have to absolutely experience?
Cinzia: During my course of History of Sicily during the early modern age, I often quote an excerpt of Journey to Italy of J.W.Goethe written in 1817:
Italy without Sicily leaves no image in the spirit. It is in Sicily that is the key to everything “[…]” The purity of the contours, the softness of everything, the soft reciprocity of colours, the harmonious unity of the sky with the sea and the sea to the land .. . those who saw them once, own them for life.
Usually Sicily was the last stop of the travellers who went on the Grand Tour since the mid- eighteenth centuy. There are so many attractions to see and visit in Sicily: discovering the precious ancient ruins, and see stunning sights such as in Siracusa, Agrigento, Taormina, Piazza Armerina, Selinunte Palermo. Noto is amazing for its baroque buildings. Of course, too much to see and probably a week could be not enough to visit everything.
But, even if the conference has an intensive programme I should reccomend to plan time to visit Catania. Catania is the second largest Sicilian city and it has a population of around 300.000. Visiting Catania is quite easy, as the old town centre is relativley small. An ideal starting point would be the main square, Piazza Duomo- Duomo Square and the Cathedral dedicated to Saint’Agatha, the city patron saint. The Cathedral stands with its baroque structure that incorporates some Roman columns taken from the amphitheatre, and where three Aragonese king are buried: Frederik II, Louis and Frederik III. In the same square it is possible to observe Amenano Fountain and Elephant Palace, and La pescheria (fish Market).
Stesicoro Square with a Roman Amphitheater is also worth visiting as well as the main street of the old town Via Etnea (Etnea Street), La pescheria (Fish Market,) the old fortress of Castello Ursino, built by Frederik II of Hohenstaufen in the 13th century, Via Crociferi Street, the opera house Teatro Massimo Vincenzo Bellini, dedicated and built to the memory of the famous composer.
For the lovers of the seaside, Catania offers several beaches, Playa with sand, Scogliera with rocks and San Giovanni Licuti beach with lava sand and rocks.
And of course I suggest enjoying the typical food and drinks: things such as tasting the Catanese specialities (arancino, cipollina, cartocciata, bolognese, granita …), taking a drink in the Theater quarter near Teatro Massimo Square. And if there is still time available, an excursion to the volcano Etna and the little villages close to the sea, such as Aci Trezza and Aci Castello are worth a visit, too.
RSJ Blog: Don’t forget to pack comfortable shoes! Sounds like you’ll be walking around quite a bit! Cinzia, thank you for doing this interview! Is there anything you’d like to add?
Cinzia: Thank you so much for giving me the possibility to present briefly the upcoming Conference and Catania, I wish all the participants to have a pleasant stay. See you soon!!