The Bologna Anatomical Theatre is Unique in Europe

Last week, I was lucky enough to spend four days in the historic city of Bologna. Our days in Italy were dedicated to seeing as many sights as possible, and the Archiginnasio is one of the most prominent buildings in the city centre of Bologna. Inside, it hides one of the oldest anatomical theatres in the world. It turned out to be one of the most unique pieces of architectural heritage in Europe.

What was the Archiginnasio di Bologna?

The Archiginnasio, built in the 16th century, was once the main building of the University of Bologna. The University of Bologna itself is considered to be the oldest university in the world. Pope Pius commissioned the construction of the Archiginnasio to create a single place to teach many different faculties, which at a that time were dispersed throughout the city. The building stopped being used as a university in 1803 and was shortly re-purposed as a primary school. From 1838 onwards, the Archiginnasio became the seat of the municipal library.

Coats of Arms As Silent Traces from Long Gone Students

The ceilings, walls, and staircases of the Archiginnasio are decorated with inscriptions and monuments commemorating the masters of the ancient university, as well as thousands of different crests or coats of arms and students names. Quoted from the Archiginnasio official website:

The coats of arms were put there to reinforce the idea of authority and power of the institution: as in the gallery of noble palaces the paintings celebrate the splendor of the family, as so in the University the heraldic decorations emphasized the history, the prestige of the academic tradition, while the inscriptions and the mottos were an invitation to the intellectual and moral elevation.

The Story Behind the Anatomical Theatre

The historical anatomical theatre of the medical school in Bologna was first built in 1636. It has the form of an amphitheatre to offer the best views for anatomy lessons. The theatre is completely made of wood, including the richly decorated ceiling. The walls display wooden statues of ancient physicians like Hippocrates. The white marble dissection table, used for both humans and animals, is placed in the middle of the room.

During Wold War II, The theatre was almost completely destroyed by the bombardment of Bologna. Thankfully, it was rebuilt by using recovered pieces from the rubble. It is one of the few historical theatres in Europe that can still be viewed by the public.

Sign of the Times: Questionable Books in the Lecture Halls

Unfortunately, it was impossible to visit the library, renowned for its collection of antique manuscripts and rare books. However, we did get to see one of the historic lecture halls in the Archiginassio; the Stabat Mater Lecture Hall. Today the room is used for conferences, but there were still plenty of interesting books to look at. Most were related to scientific disciplines like chemistry, physics and zoology. We also found some very interesting books about ‘women’s education’, involving topics of virginity and marriage. Silly ‘scientists’!

We also found some very interesting books about ‘women’s education’, involving topics of virginity and marriage. Silly ‘scientists’!

I hope you enjoyed this post. Bologna is definitely one of the most beautiful and intriguing cities I’ve managed to visit so far. The city is a goldmine in terms of cultural heritage. It was simply incredible. I can’t wait to tell you more about all the places we explored in the next blog posts. See you soon!


5 thoughts on “The Bologna Anatomical Theatre is Unique in Europe

  1. Wow, that lecture hall looks amazing – so many old books! I think I now need to find a conference that’s at least loosely connected to my research in Bologna so I can spend some time in it 😉

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