By Charles Tanford & Jacqueline Reynolds

Piazza Maggiore, Bologna

Bologna itself is an impressive city, with broad arcaded streets, many closed to private cars. It is the site of the first real university in Europe, which, politics and pestilence notwithstanding, has flourished more or less uninterruptedly to the present day. The university began as a community of professors and scholars without a permanent home (despite the presence of as many as 10,000 students), but a regular building was eventually constructed in 1563. The university remained there until 1803, when the move to its present site outside the city center was made.

The old university is in the Palazzo Archiginnasio, located on the Piazza Galvani behind the Basilica San Petronio. Escutcheons of former rectors and professors densely cover the courtyard, surrounding vestibules and staircases. Most of the building is now occupied by a modern library, but the historical parts have been restored to their original state and are open to the public. The most interesting part is the anatomical theatre, originally built in 1637, leading off a gallery overlooking the courtyard. It is a spacious rectangular room, built entirely of wood, with only three tiers of seats. Statues of Hippocrates, Galen, and other doctors/anatomists of antiquity line the wall, and there are busts of prominent local physicians. A centerpiece of the room is the lecture podium with an impressive canopy supported by statues of skinless human bodies in which the musculature is clearly exposed to view. The visitor should apply to the Porter’s lodge for admission.

Luigi Galvani and Guglielmo Marconi are well-remembered Bolognesi. There is a statue of Galvani in the piazza named after him.