Liceo classico

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A high school in Palermo, the Liceo classico Vittorio Emanuele II, right next the cathedral

Liceo classico (classical lyceum) is the oldest, public secondary school type in Italy. The educational curriculum lasts five years, and students are generally about 14 to 19 years of age. Due its rigorous curriculum and numerous notable alumni, it is often considered the most prestigious secondary school students can attend throughout Italy.

Until 1969, this was the only secondary education track that allowed a student access to any kind of Italian university (including humanities and jurisprudence). It is known as a social scientific and humanistic school, one of the few European secondary school types where the study of ancient languages (Latin and ancient Greek) and their literature are compulsory.


A liceo classico offers a wide selection of subjects, but the central subjects are those related to literature. Several hours are also dedicated to the study of history and philosophy.

The liceo classico's distinctive subjects are history, Latin and ancient Greek. In Italy, Latin is taught in other kinds of schools as well, like liceo scientifico, Liceo delle Scienze Umane and few others with linguistic specializations. However, ancient Greek is taught only in the liceo classico.

Another peculiarity of the liceo classico is how the years of course are called: in all the other Italian five-year secondary schools, the years are referred to with increasing numbers from 1 to 5. In liceo classico the first two years are called ginnasio; the name comes from the Greek gymnasion (training ground). The first year is called "4th year of ginnasio", and the second year is referred to as "5th year of ginnasio" because, until the reform of 1962, this course of study started just after a three-year middle school ("scuola media inferiore"). By 1963, the first three years were suppressed and integrated in the 'unified secondary school', where Latin was mandatory as a subject to access the high schools until 1975. The remaining three years of liceo classico are referred as "1st, 2nd and 3rd year of liceo". However, nowadays this habit is waning, even though the names of the different years are still colloquially used.

This naming system comes from the Gentile reform of the fascist regime, named after Giovanni Gentile, an Italian philosopher and politician, who had planned an eight-year school career (five years of ginnasio and three of liceo) that could be accessed by passing a test after the fifth year of elementary school. There was also another test between the ginnasio and the liceo. Several reforms changed the Italian school system in about 1940 and 1960; the first three years of ginnasio were separated and became an independent kind of school. In 1968, the compulsory test which had to be taken at the end of the ginnasio to enter the liceo was abolished, so the liceo classico got the structure it has today.

In 2010, the Gelmini reform changed the traditional Italian school system, so now students follow this specific pattern of courses that covers a large range of disciplines:

However, nowadays it is common to find licei offering (together with this programme of studies) courses in music theory and history of music or an in-depth course in science or maths, for one or two hours a week every year.

At the end, students must pass the Esame di Stato (until 1999 denominated Esame di maturità) to obtain their certificate.

Subjects 1º Biennial 2º Biennial V year
I year II year III year IV year
Italian language and literature 4 4 4 4 4
Latin 5 5 4 4 4
Ancient Greek 4 4 3 3 3
English 3 3 3 3 3
History and geography 3 3 - - -
History - - 3 3 3
Philosophy - - 3 3 3
Mathematics* 3 3 2 2 2
Physics - - 2 2 2
Natural science** 2 2 2 2 2
History of art - - 2 2 2
Physical education 2 2 2 2 2
Catholic religion instruction or other activities[1] 1 1 1 1 1
Weekly lesson hours 27 27 31 31 31

Notable alumni[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ namely, for students who decide not to follow this course