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 secondary school type in Italy. The educational curriculum lasts five years, and students are generally about 14 to 19 years of age.

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 theoretical 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 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 linguistic specialization. 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 5-years 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 (from 'gymnazein', 'being nude', from which 'training the body' and also the spirit through it and, later, also the mind). The first year is called "4th year of Ginnasio", and the second year is referred to as "5th year of Ginnasio" because, till the reform of 1962, it started just after the grade school. By 1963 the first 3 years were suppressed and integrated in the 'unified secondary school', where stood mandatory Latin as subject to access the high schools till 1975. The remaining three years of Liceo Classico are referred as "1st, 2nd and 3rd year of Liceo". However, nowadays this habit is going to decay and they use to count the years the same as the other liceos.

This naming system comes from the Gentile reform of the fascist regime, named after Giovanni Gentile, an Italian philosopher and fascist politician, who had planned an 8-year school career (5 years of ginnasio and 3 of liceo) that could be accessed by passing a test after the fifth year of primary 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 - even though the names of the different years is still colloquially used.

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 years.

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]


Classical Lyceums in Italy[edit]

See also[edit]


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