Bologna can surprise on so many levels! First of all – it’s Italy, which I felt in love with after visiting Rome few years back, secondly – the town is still not spoiled and local, thirdly – you can walk under about 38 kilometres of amazing arches and porticos avoiding any kind of weather you have to deal with and last but not least – you can admire the town from one of the two towers sitting comfortable in the middle of the centre of Bologna, after conquering 498 steps to get to the top that is! Apart from that Bologna has the oldest university in Europe!
Fascinated by the University of Bologna history and the list of names of people who attended I just could not pass on the opportunity to visit its first premises located at the Archiginnasio Palace. I knew about the famous Anatomy Theatre since my sister, who basically employed herself with a task of organizing our long weekend trip, mentioned it during one of our long phone conversations and I really wanted to visit it, but when we got to the Archiginnasio Palace I was more surprised with its incredible interiors than I was expecting.
First of all – the Anatomy Theatre took me back in time offering unspoiled insight into the life in the Enlightenment era, when the university life was buzzing with new discoveries in science and medicine. What I really loved about the room was the fact that it was made not only to be useful but to show what for it was established – the famous “Spellati” guarding the professor’s chair did not leave much to imagination. The fact that at that time anything what was made was made not only in order to serve it purpose but to look beautiful always amazes me.
From one side I really like doing my research, but not very much in debt, as I like the place to surprise me, from the other I love when someone else is taking over and leads to another fascinating discovery. I love gathering information about the place when I am there and taking as many pictures as I possibly can. I like using travel guides in a simple way – they give me an indication of what might be interesting and I can do the rest. It does not mean I am going to see every possible tourist attraction available, it means I have more potential destinations to choose from.
The Archiginnasio Palace was established in 1563 to give the new born university first proper and permanent residence. Of course the University of Bologna has earlier history, which starts as early as 1088 but it took few centuries for the academy to be fully established. The building was used to concentrate in a single location all the civil and common law schools together with philosophy, mathematics, physics, medicine and natural sciences – in other words Legisiti and Artisit together under one roof.
There is a dark side to this as well. In 1563, when the move to the new building was made and the first lessons provided, was the same in which the conclusion of the Council of Trent launched a revolutionary programme in order to recover the Church’s influence in the blooming cultural and social life in Italy. There was a great rush in finishing the building on time as the idea of moving the centre of Bologna into right direction was already planned and carried out by Cesi. So the university got its permanent place under the circumstances of the Church trying to stay relevant and cast their influence further, into the science.
First the famous Neptune fountain and square were created, followed by the Ospedale della Morte (Hospital of Death) founded in 1565, which was a part of Archiginnasio and now is a house for Civic Museum. The whole project was finished with the Bianchi Palace (1565-1568) which can be found on Piazza Maggiore.
Ten classrooms, originally with independent access used by academics were situated on a first floor. There are as well two large halls – one for the school of Artisi (today main reading room of the library) and another for the Legisti, called Atabat Mater Hall.
The most impressive feature of the building is hovever its lavishly decorated walls, callings, stairs and arches. This unique collection of inscriptions and memorial monuments of prominent professors of the university, surrounded by thousands of coats-of arms and names of students is giving a proper testimony of the glory and historical meaning of the place. The students attended classes here from XVI to XVIII century!
In 1803 the permanent seat of the University was transferred to the Poggi Palace and the site was used for some years for religious primary schools. Later on it became the seat of the City Library and the holdings of the library are estimated to about 800.000 books and pamphlets, 2.500 incunabula, 15.000 sixteenth-century books, 12.000 manuscript, 50.000 letters and 15.000 drawings and designs. This impressive collection makes it the most prominent library in Bologna.
I am not going to tell you that you must visit it, but I hope if you are in Bologna, you will. For me personally, visiting such a place is like being given an opportunity to breathe the same air as the students who were here to develop their skills and made their own personal mark in the world of science. And this is something I do admire.
For more information on how to get here and the admission price, go here.