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Cornell University School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions

Study tours

The Concept of Time in Parma and Bologna from Copernicus to Cosmology

June 14-22, 2014

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Astronomy and timekeeping have been connected for at least five thousand years. Early calendars were based on three obvious repeating cycles: the solar day, the lunar month, and the solar year. During the Renaissance, astronomers at universities in both Parma and Bologna precisely observed the nature of the celestial bodies, focusing especially on the sun's motion. Even before 1500, Copernicus, then a student at Bologna, became convinced that the geocentric model was wrong—forty years before he published his famous book!

Today, historical astronomical clocks, sundials, analemmas (sun calendars), and solar meridians abound in northern Italy. Cornell astronomers Martha Haynes and Riccardo Giovanelli will lead our exploration of the astronomical basis of time, showing us how the historical devices work and how the concept of time has advanced from Copernican times to today's era of precision cosmology.

Walking the streets of Parma and Bologna and visiting towns and castles in the provinces around them, we'll decipher the sun calendars in the main squares in Parma and in Busseto, the birthplace of Verdi. We will also enjoy other cultural highlights and savor the still-rich connections between the humanities and the sciences in Emilia-Romagna as we contemplate how time and age relate to fine cheese, wine, and the unrivaled prosciutto di Parma.


Martha Haynes, the Goldwin Smith Professor of Astronomy, and Riccardo Giovanelli, who studied astronomy at the University of Bologna, both teach in the Department of Astronomy at Cornell. Internationally known for their work in observational cosmology and studies of galaxy evolution, they are co-recipients of the 1989 Henry Draper Medal of the National Academy of Sciences. They own a small farmhouse in the Apennines and promise to take us to some of their favorite places, most of which are far off the regular tourist circuit.

Program notes

  • Double occupancy: $4,996 per person
  • Single supplement: $469
  • See What's included?
  • See Travel links and resources.
  • Fitness scale: Slightly strenuous. May require extended walking over uneven ground as well as the ability to climb stairs and to stand for considerable periods of time.

Preliminary itinerary

Saturday, June 14: Depart U.S. for Italy

Sunday, June 15: Benvenuti in Italia!

Upon arrival at Milan's primary airport, Malpensa, we'll meet the JetVacations tour director and transfer by private coach to the hotel in Parma, one of the most cultured cities in northern Italy. After checking in, our tour director will give an orientation tour before dinner at a local restaurant. (D)

Monday, June 16: Parma, Soragna, and Busseto

After breakfast at the hotel, we'll enjoy a lecture about Telling Time by the Sun, followed by a guided walking tour of Parma's historical center. The Governor's Palace and the Palazzo del Comune (Town Hall) offer a feast for the eyes! The Parma Cathedral is filled with magnificent Renaissance art, including the fresco of the Assumption of the Virgin in the dome of the cathedral, the culmination of Correggio's career as a mural painter.

After a lovely lunch in Soragna, we'll proceed to Busseto, Verdi's birthplace, where we will visit and decipher the analemma on the central piazza. We'll return to Parma for an afternoon lecture on Celestial Motions and the Astronomical Basis of Time, followed by free time for relaxing or taking a walk to the Parco Ducale, a stunning French-style garden.

At 6:00 p.m. we'll meet for an aperitivo in the Piazza Garibaldi, followed by dinner at a local restaurant. (B, L, D)

Tuesday, June 17: Parma and Torrechiara

After breakfast at the hotel, we'll visit Teatro Farnese, a remarkable seventeenth-century wooden theater that was rebuilt after being bombed in World War II. We'll view Correggio frescoes at Camera di San Paolo before traveling by bus to Langhirano to visit the area that produces some of the world's finest prosciutto. At a local factory we'll witness the painstaking production of this regional ham, one of Italy's foremost gastronomic treats, and enjoy a lunch of regional specialties.

After lunch we'll visit Castello di Torrechiara, with its many towers and its carnival fresco decorations. The castle was built by Pier Maria Rossi for his lover and has a chamber dedicated to love. We'll return to Parma for an afternoon lecture on Modern Ways of Dating the Universe, followed by dinner at local restaurant. (B, L, D)

Wednesday, June 18: Cremona and the Province of Parma

After breakfast at the hotel, we'll enjoy a lecture on Cosmology in the 21st Century before departing by bus for Cremona, a city with a distinguished musical history—the city of Guarneri, Amati, Stradivari, and the violin. In the main square is the tallest bell tower in Italy, which hosts the world's largest astronomical clock. We'll visit the Violin Museum and attend a violin mini-concert.

After lunch at a local restaurant, we'll tour the province of Parma, its flatlands full of walled towns and castles. We'll visit Fontanellato and the Castello dei Sanvitale, a fortress residence in the center of the town with a famous fresco by Parmigianino. We'll return to Parma in the afternoon. Dinner is on your own tonight. (B, L)

Thursday, June 19: Parma, Modena, and Bologna

After breakfast at the hotel, we'll depart for Bologna, stopping en route to visit a cheese factory to learn about the production of the world-famous parmigiano. Then it's on to Modena, where we'll learn how balsamic vinegar is made. We'll have lunch at the vinegar plant Acetaia, where we'll celebrate the many regional flavors of this region: mortadella, prosciutto di Parma, porcini mushrooms, cotechini, culatello di Zibello, balsamic vinegar, and the best handmade stuffed pasta!

After lunch we will reach Bologna, where dusky red buildings, marble-floored ancient porticoes, and wide piazzas contribute to the distinctly Renaissance feel of the city center, a bastion of food, fashion, and culture. Bologna is home to the world's oldest university, the Alma Mater Studiorum, founded in 1088, and notable scholars such as Dante, Boccaccio, Petrarca, and Copernicus (as well as our faculty leader, Riccardo Giovanelli) once walked its streets. After checking in at the hotel in Bologna, we'll attend a lecture on The Precision of Cassini's Meridian, followed by a walking tour of the city and dinner at a local restaurant. (B, L, D)

Friday, June 20: Brisighella, Dozza, and Bologna

After breakfast at the hotel, we'll depart for Brisighella, a small town surrounded by two steep hills in Romagna, famous for olive oil production. We'll walk along the covered Via degli Asini (Walkway of the Donkeys) and enjoy a view of the Torre dell'Orologio.

After lunch at a local restaurant, we'll proceed to Dozza, a medieval hill town with spectacular views of the countryside, whose buildings host more than 100 contemporary street mural artworks. We'll visit the local enoteca (wine bar), located in the Rocca. Back in Bologna, dinner will be on your own. (B, L)

Saturday, June 21: Bologna

After breakfast at the hotel, we'll walk to San Petronio, Bologna's most impressive church, the sixth largest in Europe. We'll see in the floor of the church the meridian line traced by Cassini in 1655. We'll then take a guided tour of Museo della Specola (subject to its reopening), an astronomical observation tower built in the early eighteenth century, transformed today into a museum where you can see eighteenth- and nineteenth-century instruments used for astronomical observations.

You'll have free time in the afternoon or an optional walking tour to the religious compound of Santo Stefano, followed by a farewell dinner at a local restaurant (B, D)

Sunday, June 22: Bologna/U.S.

After breakfast, we'll transfer to the Bologna airport for flights back to the States. Arrivederci Italia!

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