The University "Suor Orsola Benincasa" is an old monastic fortress, situated on the slopes of Sant' Elmo Hill, overlooking Naples and its Gulf.

This ancient convent, covers a surface of 33.000 square metres on which stand eight buildings including two churches, cloisters and hanging gardens, remains of two monasteries founded between the XVIth and the XVIIth century by the Neapolitan mystic to whom is today dedicated the University.

Suor Orsola was a particularly significant figure in the religious panorama of the Neapolitan counter-reform; considered as the expression of a militant and basically autonomous religiousness that the institutional church gradually succeeded in bringing back within the limits of a strict obedience to the ecclesiastical authority; thus transforming the independent retreat of Benincasa and her relatives into a lay congregation, under the control of a male religious order.

The settlement is easily recognizable, from an architectural point of view, because it doesn't grow out of a prearranged plan, but it brings with it the chaotic nature of the following overlappings. The leading element of this area of the fortress is the Church of the Immaculate Conception, founded by Orsola in 1580 and restored in the 1700s by Rocco Doyno.

When the Congregation's control passed in the hands of the Theatines, they persuaded Orsola to put together the oblates and a new strict clausura order which became the female St. Gaetano's counterpart. The project, espressed by the mystic in her will, played its part and after her death in 1620 the construction of an impressive hermitage for her Romites began.

The new wing is characterised by a broad and coherent architectural plan, complying with the rules established by the Council of Trent. Actually, the central part, made up of three 'U'-shaped buildings around a charming cloister, is hidden from the outer views by a twenty meters high tufa massive wall.

The destiny of the monastic fortress changed after the Unity of Italy, when the Hermitage of Suor Orsola eluded the law on the state confiscation of the religious orders' assets because they considered as "Pious works of a lay character".

To further strengthen this acknowledgement - brought into force by a judicial case with the Ecclesiastical Fund - a free school was founded. Inaugurated on 10th July 1864, thanks above all to the commitment of Emilio Beneventani, who ruled the lay gouvernment of Suor Orsola (replacing the Government of the Oblates) for more than twenty years, until his death in 1887. With just 32 girls, in the 70s the school hosted 500 female students, formed by a nursery class, five elementary classes and a teaching course of three classes. There was a room for housework assigned to a special teacher and consisting of teaching dressmaking, embroidery and millinery, to which was then added the production of artificial flowers.

Since 1871 French, bookkeeping, acting and choral singing have been taught and in 1878 a telegraphy course was set up.

In 1891, Adelaide del Balzo Pignatelli, Princess of Strongoli joined as Honorary Inspector and in 1901 became the Sole Director. The pedagogical commitment of the Princess was shared, until her death, with Antoinetta Pagliara who bequeathed her private collection of furnishings, paintings and great value antiquities to the Institute, later placed into an interesting museum which is now situated in the ancient hermitage.

Such an educative project was completed in 1885, with the establishment, by the Royal Decree, of the Faculty of Education and recognised officially at a par in 1901 together with those of Rome and Florence. About a century later, with the Reform Decree published by the Official Gazette no 264 of 11/11/1995, the Faculty of Education was reformed by the constitution of the University Institute "Suor Orsola Benincasa" and the activation of the Faculty of Education Sciences.

Alongside the establishment of this Faculty, the Institute, on the basis of the competences inherited and developed over time, established the Faculty of Letters and, more recently (1998/1999), the Faculty of Law.

In 2004, by Dean's Decree published in the Official Gazette no 157 of 7/7/2004, the Institute University turned into the University of Studies Suor Orsola Benincasa.

Currently, the University with its 3 Faculties - Faculty of Education Sciences, Faculty of Literature and Faculty of Law - offers six three-year Degree Courses - (Business administration and Green Economy, Education Sciences, Communication Studies, Technological and scientific fundamentals of Cognitive Psychology, Modern Languages and Culture, Sciences for Cultural Heritage. Tourism, Art, Archaeology), six Bachelor's Degree Courses (Business and Public Communication, Administrative planning and management of policies and social services, Archaeology and History of Art, Foreign Languages for International Communication and Cooperation, Psychology: Human Resources, Cognitive Ergonomics, Cognitive Neuroscience, Pedagogy and lifelong learning: school, community, territory), two single-cycle Master's Degree Courses (Primary Teacher Education Sciences and Law). Every degree course presents peculiarities as compared to the regional formative offer and this distinctiveness is due to the uniqueness of its formative path or to its great level of specialization or professionalisation.

In the 2011/2012 academic year, a five-year Master's Degree Course in Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage (LMR/02) has been activated. The distinctiveness of such a course of study is the students' simultaneous achievement of the Degree Certification and the Professional Qualification to be a restorer of artistic heritage.

The formative offer is complemented by three postgraduate schools of specialization (School of Specialisation in Archaeological Heritage, School of Specialisation in Historical and Artistical Heritage, School of Specialisation in legal professions) and several Seminars of specialisation, Graduate Courses, Masters, and Doctoral Studies. Moreover, in the 2006/07 academic year, e-learning training courses have been activated, on the basis of the competences developed during years of experimentation in the innovative didactics.

The formative activities are well integrated with a dense cultural activity which historically characterises the identity of the University and has always performed a central role in the cultural development of the territory, as well as with the research activities carried out in the twelve laboratories/research centres and in the centres of excellence CRIE (Research Centre on the European Institutions) and SESA (European School of Advanced Studies).

In this sense, the University of Studies Suor Orsola Benincasa has tried to develop and interpret its scientific-cultural patrimony in the light of the contemporary challenges; thus, re-interpreting its role and competences in terms of openness and support for innovation. Actually, particularly attention has to be paid both to the efforts related to the re-organisation and modernisation policies of the five seats, in full respect of tradition and attention to the person and to the community, and to the interaction policies with the territory and the world of work developed thanks to a strong integration between theoretical and practical education, by means of the activation of laboratories, traineeships and curricular internships.

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