While the longstanding goodwill resulting from the wartime contributions of Canadians helped prepare the ground for the creation of the Cortona School, the seeds were first planted in 1992 when archaeologist Helena Fracchia, a University of Alberta classics professor, began excavating a Roman-era site a few kilometres outside the town walls near the village of Ossaia. That excavation soon became the location of a U of A archaeology field school that continues to bring Alberta students to Cortona each summer.
"The reason that the opportunity to establish the new school emerged was the good working relationship that has evolved since we started digging here," explains Dr. Fracchia. "The people of the town saw that we did quite a lot with very little, and they liked the way Canadian students interacted with the local residents."
The Cortona School is a truly collaborative effort, with the town supplying classroom and office space, as well as instructional equipment and supplies. The University looks after the academic standards, the administration, and provides the lecturers. Dr. Fracchia, who is the School's director, has her office in a wing of the town's elementary school. Classroom instruction takes place in an annex to the town's historic San Agostino Church, which was built in the 13th century.
The School in Cortona was officially opened in the spring of 1999 when a U of A group led by (former) President Roderick Fraser and (former) Dean of Arts Pat Clements visited Cortona on March 27. The Alberta visitors received a warm reception with pomp and ceremony befitting a royal delegation - the welcome featured trumpeters, archers and a variety of citizens dressed in colorful costumes of the early renaissance. ("It was breathtaking," recalls Dr. Fracchia.)
The host for the ceremonies was Cortona's then mayor, Ilio Pasqui, who had visited Edmonton in the fall of 1998 to sign the protocol of intent that formally established the School. Recalling the School's opening, he says that the reception given the University of Alberta visitors reflects the importance his town attaches to its flourishing relationship with the U of A.
"The friendship is still very strong," says former mayor, Dr. Emanuele Rachini, who places the goodwill firmly into the context of the "tradition of friendship from the end of the War." He also stresses the fundamental importance of the dig that Dr. Fracchia began in 1992, and which his town now helps fund. "It is a very important collaboration," he says, "because all that we know about Cortona romano comes from the University of Alberta excavations at Ossaia. With the academic semester of the University of Alberta here in Cortona, now we have an even stronger link."
Source: Rick Pilger, New Trail, Autumn 1999