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Historical building, Bologna

Archiginnasio: Attraction informations

The Archiginnasio, together with the Fountain of Neptune, is one of the many public works designed on behalf of Pope Pius IV during 1560 to reaffirm the power of the church over the city of Bologna.

Built in 1563, it gathered in one building all the seats of the University that until then were spread around the city inside great monastic buildings such as the ones in the churches of San Domenico and San Francesco.

The architectural design is by Antonio Morandi, Bolognese architect called “il Terribilia”. The legend tells us that its completion took little time: the reason for the urgency in its construction was to finish the project before the completion of the Church of St. Petronius by Arduino degli Arriguzzi, that was designed to be even bigger than the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Rome. These expectations were not fulfilled, as can be easily seen nowadays: standing under the portico, with the Archiginnasio at our backs, it is impossible not to notice the unfinished transept of the church.

The courtyard of the Archiginnasio

When going inside the Archiginnasio one is immediately welcomed by its main courtyard where, until recently, the treacle was produced under the eyes of the highest authorities of Bologna. This miraculous medicine was made of over 60 different plants following a secret recipe.

The building is divided in two parts: the right-hand side reserved to law students and the left-hand side dedicated to the artists, namely students of all other subjects gathered together under the name of Arts.

Walls and ceilings are decorated with the coat of arms of student’s families who wanted to be remembered, as attending the Bolognese University was something to be proud of. The decorations on the ceiling suddenly stop at the opposite side of the main entrance. This interruption is due to a bombing on January 29th, 1944 which completely destroyed the whole side of the open gallery.

The rooms on the first floor

On its first floor we find the Anatomical Theatre, the Archiginnasio Library and the room of the Stabat Mater. This last room was in its times a lecture hall for law students and owes its name to Rossini’s Stabat Mater concert, hosted here for the first time. The library, still open, is now part of the libraries belonging to the University of Bologna and conserves some of the most ancient and important manuscripts of the city’s history.

As for the Anatomical Theatre, it is maybe the most interesting site of the whole building. Used for anatomy lessons, it still shows the marble table for the performing of autopsies in the middle of the room. Students would gather around the corpse and teachers held the lessons while sitting at their desk. The wooden decorations of the room, enhanced by the portraits of ancient doctors such as Galen and Hippocrates, were restored after the damages caused by the bombing.

Going into the theatre and looking upwards towards our left side an old inscription is easily seen. This inscription is crossed by a line hiding a window: behind this window a member of the Inquisition would observe the lessons, assuring himself that its contents followed the Churches dictates.

A real masterpiece in the theatre are the two “scuoiati (the skinless) by Ercole Lelli: two human bodies represented without skin ornate the professor’s seat, and are the expression of the link between art and science. The rigor of their details is such that they were used during the lessons.

The Allegory of Anatomy is enthroned over the ledge, sustained by the skinless statues; in it, a cherub offers a femur to the opulent lady, a definitely more appropriate gift than a simple bouquet of flowers.

In 1803, under Napoleon, the building ceased to be the seat of the University, as a dissociation from the church’s power, and it moved to its current position in Via Zamboni.

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