Archiginnasio of Bologna

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The palace seen from the inner courtyard

The Archiginnasio of Bologna is one of the most important buildings in the city of Bologna; once the main building of the University of Bologna, it currently houses the Archiginnasio Municipal Library.


The anatomical theater, built in 1637

The construction of the Archiginnasio dates back to the 16th century, when Piazza Maggiore was drastically remodeled under papal orders; the Fountain of Neptune was built during this same period. The construction of the Archiginnasio was commissioned by Pope Pius IV through the papal legates Charles Borromeo and Pier Donato Cesi during the years of the Council of Trent, who then entrusted the project to Antonio Morandi (known as il Terribilia), who finished the construction between 1562 and 1563. The goal of this project was to create a single place where various faculties, which at a that time were dispersed throughout the city, could be taught.

The Archiginnasio was the main building of the 'Studium', as the University of Bologna was first called, from 1563 until 1803, when it became the location for the Institute of Science.

In 1838, one section of the Archiginnasio was given to the Archiginnasio Municipal Library, the largest library in Emilia-Romagna. It houses important historical, philosophical, political, literary, artistic, biographical and bibliographical texts as well as an extensive section dedicated to Bologna's culture. The library holds around 35,000 manuscripts and incunabula, among other objects. Upon entering, visitors are asked to hand over all bags and writing materials which can be picked up when leaving.

The building itself[edit]

The building is made up of two levels with a lower portico and inner courtyard that surround the former church of Santa Maria dei Bulgari. The upper level houses the study rooms of the legisti (students who studied civil and canon law), and the artisti (students of other subjects such as philosophy, literature and medicine). It is accessible by two staircases, separated by a study area. Each of the legisti and the artisti had ten classrooms in their respective wings, however only the legisti, who were considered the university's top students, had their classrooms in the main hallway.[1]

The walls of the building form an enormous heraldic complex, made up of seven thousand coats of arms hanging on its walls. The honor of putting a coat of arms on the walls was reserved for those students that participated as heads of the nationes.[2] The coats of arms indicate the home country or city of the student, along with the student's name. They were fortunately spared from the destruction ordered by the republican government in 1797 and the Allied bombings during the Second World War.

Anatomical Theater[edit]

The upper level still houses the Anatomical theater of the Archiginnasio, which was built in 1637 by Antonio Levanti. It is shaped like an amphitheater and made from fir wood with a coffer ceiling, decorated with statues. As a result of Allied bombings on January 29, 1944, the room suffered extensive damage, but was subsequently restored using pictures and paintings of the intact theater. It is overlooked by the ornate seat of the professor, topped by a baldaquin and supported by the statues of two naked and skinless men, known as "gli spellati" (the skinned ones), made by Ercole Lelli. The numerous sculptures that decorated the walls represent doctors from ancient and modern times: the busts are of people considered of lesser importance, while the most revered are represented in full. The two main statues, from left to right, represent Hippocrates and Galen, the most prominent physicians of Greece and Rome, respectively. Another statue on the wall opposite the chair represents a medic holding a nose in his hand: it is a portrayal of Bologna native Gaspare Tagliacozzi, an early pioneer of rhinoplasty.


  1. ^ Touring Club Italiano 2000, p. 125. "A questa divisione corrisponde l'organizzazione del palazzo: la parte meridionale era occupata dagli studenti di diritto... mentre la parte settentrionale era riservata agli studenti in arte[.]" ("This division corresponds to the organization of the palace: the southern section was used by the law students... while the northern section was reserved for students of the arts.")
  2. ^ Touring Club Italiano 2000, p. 126-7. "Il diritto di far disegnare il proprio stemma era riservato esclusivamente a quegli studenti che rivestivano un ruolo di rappresentanza in seno agli organismi dell'Università[.]" (The permission to design one's own coat of arms was exclusively reserved to those students that filled the representative role in the University's system.")


Image gallery[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 44°29′32″N 11°20′37″E / 44.49222°N 11.34361°E / 44.49222; 11.34361