I touched amazingly smooth and white marble table which was sitting comfortably in the middle of Anatomy Theatre in Archiginnasio Palace. It took me back to XVII century, when the theatre was built for students of the oldest university in Europe to teach anatomy empirically through dissection of human and animal corpses. The dominating colour in the theatre is brown, the room is completely made out of spruce wood and appears to be rather warm and pleasant. I sat on a bench were students were sitting during the lecture and tried to imagine how this lecture could go, what they saw and what they learnt.
Were they allowed to help or only watch? Could they do parts of the post-mortem examination by themselves in order to uncover mystery of human body and learn how it works? How many of them passed out during the examination and could not continue studying medicine because their level of tolerance was exceeded? How many survived and perused further studies to become great medics saving lives of many and contributed towards development of medicine? How many of them did finish studying but never became great doctors?
I admire doctors for their ability to remember so much information about our incredible bodies, for their willingness to help and cure. And I am somehow scared of them for looking at me like an interesting example they would love to study given the chance. Not all of them are psychopathic maniacs with one thing in mind of course and like many others I do not like going to my doctor – who like being ill after all, but every time I am seeing one I am incredible thankful for the help I receive.
The Anatomy Theatre was firstly built by Antonio Leventi in 1637 but undertook several modifications and between 1733 and 1736 it took the shape we can see today. Amazing wooden decorations observed on the walls are works by Silvestro Giannotti – the statues represent famous physicians of Ancient times – Hippocrates and Galenus and local scientists like Mondino de Liuzzi and Gasparo Tagliacozzi. The two statues attached to the teacher’s chair, carrying the canopy, are the work of Ercole Lelli – well-known artist who was working creating anatomical displays made of wax. I haven’t noticed first, but then suddenly I realized that their muscles were exposed, not always a nice view form more sensitive people, but amazing when you know when they were made.
Sadly, the theatre was almost completely destroyed during Second World War by an air raid on 29 January 1944. Luckily many pieces survived and the theatre was re-built using many original features, giving us a rare opportunity to find ourselves in the middle of the building which was a birthplace of a respected academy.
The Anatomy Theatre is a truly amazing place to discover when you are making your way through Archiginnasio Palace, looking at lavishly decorated walls, arches and staircases, dripping with endless number of student’s and university staff coats of arms. Being there was a true privilege and I felt very lucky to be able to do that.