Friday, October 11, 2013

The Oldest University

The Anatomy Lecture Room, University of Bologna, Archiginnasio.
The University of Bologna is generally recognised as the oldest in the world. Although it's a bit hazy - there are no documents confirming the foundation of the institution - it's generally accepted that it was founded in 1088, and by 1125 was the most important European centre for law studies (eat your heart out, Oxbridge).

The Old

It's possible to visit a building where classes were held from about 1563 until 1803, called the Archiginnasio - it was erected especially as a university building. It was severely bombed during WWII, but has been pieced back together. The students over the centuries left their coats of arms all over the walls of the corridors, stairs, porticoes and vaults, making a colourful panoply.

Archiginnasio, Courtyard
Archiginnasio, Bologna. Tourists, not students, these days.
Colourful hallways of the old University.

Student Coats-of-Arms.
The drawcard of the Archiginnasio is the Anatomy Theatre, lined in wood with a marble-slabbed dissecting table in the centre, where corpses were dissected. The Anatomy Theatre was built in 1637 by Antonio Levanti. It contains statues of famous ancient and Bolognese physicians and a figure of Apollo surrounded by heavenly constellations on the ceiling. The hall has largely been reconstructed after very serious war damage. The Lecturer's Chair consists of a canopy supported by two famous "skinless" wooden statues, signed and dated by Ercole Lelli in 1734 but actually made, at least in large part, by Silvestro Giannotti.

Strangely appropriate figures in the Anatomy Lecture Room.
Remains, bombed in 1944. Before reconstruction, obviously.
Outside the Archiginnasio is Piazza Galvini, presided over by a statue of a famous ex-student, the physicist Luigi Galvini. He discovered electric currents in animals, giving the English language the word "galvanize".

In the tenth and eleventh centuries Bologna helped to sort out argument between the pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, and the city earned the title 'La Dotta' ('The Learned') and a prominent reputation for its law faculties. Outside the church of San Domenico are two curious canopied tombs holding the remains of law professors, one of which is decorated with a carved relief showing a medieval law lecture in session.

But perhaps the most famous alumni of Bologna University? It's hard to choose: Dante, Petrarch, Dürer, Goldoni...or one Nicolò Copernico. Read more of the history here.

Medieval tomb with carved relief of a law class. Some things never change...

The New

Porticoes plastered with flapping papers advertising rooms for rent, English tutoring, political demos, books for sale; young people in grubby but lively bars and cafes, or sitting on the dirty flagstones (what's with that?) in Piazza Verdi. Bookshops everywhere. Yep, a modern university.

Università di Bologna is still going strong.

Sitting on the ground, Piazza Verdi. 
Students News.
The modern University of Bologna.
Student life.

1 comment:

  1. Just to settle any disputes on the "oldest university" tag: