Reggio Emilia, Italy is located in the central portion of the country, between Bologna and Parma. A short drive to the west takes you to the Ligurian Sea (considered part of the Mediterranean Sea); while a short drive to the east takes you to the Adriatic Sea. Italy is known for its history and culture, and while there are numerous cities in the country that have greater international appeal and recognition, Reggio Emilia has a lot to offer as well, even if on a smaller scale. And when we say small, we mean children!
Many are familiar with the Montessori and Waldorf schools unique approach to early childhood education. But just as important to the cultivation of young minds is the Reggio Emilia approach. While predated by the Montessori and Waldorf schools and borrowing some tenets from each earlier method, the Reggio Emilia approach has its unique aspects as well. Focusing on what captivates and interests the individuals themselves, Reggio Emilia teachers work in collaboration to help the children maintain those interests, as well as build upon them to create a unique, well-rounded child. The teachers stay with the children for three years, thus further easing the transition in growth and then also not allowing for the student to become too dependent on one person. The idea was born of World War II after all the destruction suggested that there needed to be a new approach that was quicker and tailor-made to spark positive feelings and direction in potentially emotionally-affected children of war.
While the population today is well under 200,000, the city is known for its beautiful architecture, much of which has a religious bend. There are more than a dozen religious edifices considered historic works of art and one of the most prominent is the Basilica della Ghiara. The Basilica was built in response to an image of the Madonna that allegedly caused a man who was born deaf and mute to gain the ability to speak and hear. Its construction began in 1597 and was completed in 1619, shortly before its consecration. The design is attributed to the architect Alessandro Balbi, and its uniqueness starts with a Greek cross that is highlighted by a massive lantern. The interior is adorned with gold, marble and large paintings that depict women from the Old Testament.
The Town Hall of Reggio Emilia is the first place where Italy’s Tricolore flag was officially flown. Formally adopted in 1946, the Tricolore actually dates back to the late 18th Century. The colors of the flag are often associated with certain images: green represents the country’s plains and hills; white represents the snow-capped Alps; and red represents the blood spilled in the wars of the Italian Independence that were fought between 1846 and 1866. There is also a religious interpretation of the colors: green for hope; white for faith; and red for charity – collectively these are known as the three theological virtues.
Whichever interpretation you prefer, both speak to the richness of the culture and history that is a part of Reggio Emilia. More than the history of the flag or its great architecture, the city is well-known for its agricultural roots, and its progressive, global interactions in business and banking. Its foundation in alternative childhood education assures that Reggio Emilia is also known as a socially progressive city. With a combination of a rich history, modernism and forward-thinking action, Reggio Emilia is a city for the ages – and for the future.