Sicily's Art and Architecture: From Magna Graecia to Stupor Mundi


Sicily's strategic position in the centre of the Mediterranean made it a vitally important conquest for numerous civilizations and cultures, each of whom contributed to the island's extremely rich and varied art and architecture. This course will start with the arrival of Greek colonists from the eight century BCE and continue through to the death of the King of Sicily and Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II, in 1250. En-route we will also study the cultural legacies of the Greeks, Romans, Muslims from the Near Middle East and the Maghreb, and the Normans.

This short introductory course will highlight some of the key works produced during this fascinating period of Sicilian history, including: monumental Doric Greek temples and superbly-sited theatres, and a profusion of notable ancient Greek bronzes, coins, and pottery; the beauty of Archimedean maths and its multiple applications; the vast late Roman villa near Piazza Armerina with its extraordinarily well-preserved floor mosaics; followed by the resplendent Byzantine mosaics of the sublime Christ Pantocrator at Cefalù, and Norman Palermo's exquisite Palatine Chapel, to the magnificent Monreale cathedral; the fascinating and architecturally advanced Siculo-Arabic Zisa Palace; finishing with the remarkable proto-Renaissance court culture of Frederick II, known by many as Stupor Mundi or Wonder of the World, while also being reviled by successive popes and excommunicated on three occasions.

Programme details

Courses starts: 31 Oct 2023

Week 0: Course orientaion

Week 1: Greek City States and Doric Temples

Week 2: Manipulating Marble, Bronze, and Clay

Week 3: Archimedes, Roman Sicily, and Rome Hellenized

Week 4: Norman Sicily under the Rogers: Building Multi-Cultural Splendour

Week 5: Norman Sicily under the Williams to the Court Culture of Stupor Mundi


Students who register for CATS points will receive a Record of CATS points on successful completion of their course assessment.

To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from the January 1st after the current full academic year has been completed. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.


Description Costs
Course Fee £140.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


Dr Philippa Joseph

Dr Philippa Joseph is an art, architecture, and design historian, whose research covers artistic and cultural exchange across Europe and the rest of the Mediterranean basin, especially between Andalucía and Sicily, and with the Maghreb and Near Middle East. Dr Joseph also has an academic interest in twentieth-century Italian design and society. In addition to teaching at OUDCE, Dr Joseph is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research (University of London), a lecturer for Martin Randall Travel in Italy and Spain, a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of History Today, and enjoys giving public lectures to local history groups and societies. 

Course aims

  • Provide a cultural framework and historical context for understanding the art and architecture of Sicily and what makes it unique.
  • Identify key works of art and architecture in from 2,000 years of Sicily’s rich cultural history, from about 750BCE to 1250CE.
  • Introduce the most important peoples and civilizations that contributed to Sicily's rich history and stunning artistic and architectural legacy during this period.


Teaching methods

This course will consist of a weekly, one-hour live discussion session, which will assume that all students will have seen the pre-recorded lectures for that week’s class, which will have been previously made available to students to view in their own time.

Each week, two or three highly-illustrated lectures (each of about 20 to 30 minutes' duration) will be made available some days in advance of that week’s live group discussion and questions.

Class materials will include full slides lists for each lecture, scanned articles and/or book chapters relating to each week's lectures and key topics of discussion, as well as lists of suggested further reading.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

  • understand and distinguish the key aspects and periods of Sicily's cultural history, from about 750BCE to 1250CE;
  • recognize and be able to interpret some of Sicily's most famous buildings and artefacts;
  • have developed an appreciation of what makes Sicily's artistic and architectural legacy important and unique.

Assessment methods

A short formative piece (250 words), outlining a proposed topic for the summative assignment. The summative assignment (750 words) can take the form of book review, a critical visual analysis of a building or work of art, or an ekphrasis.

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form - Declaration of Authorship form


We will close for enrolments 7 days prior to the start date to allow us to complete the course set up. We will email you at that time (7 days before the course begins) with further information and joining instructions. As always, students will want to check spam and junk folders during this period to ensure that these emails are received.

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an enrolment form (Word) or enrolment form (Pdf).

Level and demands

This is an introductory course, which seeks to highlight the key periods of Sicily's rich multi-cultural history and legacy. No prior knowledge of Sicily's history, architecture, or art is required, but the course will require intellectual engagement with a diverse range of arts, ideas, and periods.

This course has five CATS points assigned to it. Five CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of five two-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every two hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)