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University Of Bologna
What would the city of Bologna have been without those first law schools that were to generate a new institution - the 12th century general Studium. And what would Bologna have become without its university?
These questions reveal how the city earned its identity as a centre of excellence for law studies (Irnerio, Pepo, Bulgaro, Accursio…) in its early years. “Docta suas secum duxit Bononia leges”, a Lombard poet sang as early as 1130. “Bologna the learned” began attracting young people from across Europe to its schools, drawn by the authority of its masters or, as Petrarch put it, by the “majesty of the professors”.
The people of Bologna paid homage to these educators by building sepulchral arches in the squares in their honour.
“There are some cities that in themselves would not be so famous, but the number of foreigners that live there, drawn by studies or other reasons, increases their value and their glory; take away the foreigners, and the cities lose their fame. Such is the case of Paris and Bologna…”. And here as early as 1288, it seemed clear even to Bonvesin da la Riva, that there was a close tie between university and city, a fundamental factor of identity which explained its rapid economic and demographical development, demonstrated by the community with the extending of the circle of the city walls.
The local economy benefited considerably from the service industry to financial businesses, from handicraft to all of the sectors necessary to fulfil the needs of the young students. In general, the latter were rich and accompanied by tutors and servants for whom not only room, services and proper board were required, but also booksellers, illuminators, copyists, bookbinders and parchment producers.
“Bologna the learned”, “Bologna the fat” (i.e., “the reveller”), Alma Mater Studiorum; in short, these attributes remained constant over the centuries bringing the city recognition the world over, reinforced latterly by the city’s two magnificent centennial jubilees.
To the ancient Studies of Bologna - or rather to its students - we also owe the official recognition of the student, established in the 12th century, thanks to the imperial protection granted by Emperor Frederick I to those wishing to leave their homeland to study there (“amore scientiae facti sunt exules”).
The rise of the professional profile of the notary, or public officer, and the birth of secular schools of civil law, followed by those of canon law (Decretum Gratiani), were undoubtedly fostered by the upswing of businesses stimulated by urban growth, the general movement towards economic and social development in those centuries, and the reception of Roman law in central western Europe, which became established as the law of the Empire.
Subsequently, when the civic authority took over the control of the university from the teachers, it weakened the original autonomy and strengthened the control of the political powers, both for taking advantage of the teachers’ knowledge and for favouring the student presence. Student numbers in Bologna reached their peak in the 16th and 17th centuries, with a strong component of foreign students that climbed to 35% of the student population and at times counted among its members students even more renowned than the teachers themselves.
The construction of the Archiginnasio building, in which all of the schools were concentrated, represented the tangible sign of a need for the social regulation and confessional control that marked the modern age. This was completed at a time in which the weakening of the law schools - that could still count on masters of the calibre of Carlo Ruini and Andrea Alciato - was counterbalanced by the presence of scholars famous across Europe in the fields of philosophy, mathematics, literature, natural sciences, astronomy and medicine (among others, P. Pomponazzi, G. Cardano, U. Aldrovandi, C. Sigonio, G.C. Aranzio, G. Tagliacozzi, C. Varolio).
The increase of universities in Europe and the desire of governments to stop the peregrination, in order to favour the schools under their control, were among the main causes of a crisis in Bologna that became quite substantial in the 18th century.
The absence of a need for reform led the scientific revival to create a new institution in line with those being established in Europe’s major capitals. As a result, the Academy of Sciences and the annexed institute, instigated by Luigi Ferdinando Marsili and supported by the Bolognese pope, Prospero Lambertini, qualified as an innovative and alternative campus to the fossilized tradition of the Archiginnasio schools.
Thanks to the new institution, the advances it was able to create in civic scientific research (F. M. Zanotti, E. Manfredi, L. Galvani, among others) and the first cautious moves towards employing female teachers (L. Bassi, C. Tambroni...), Bologna guaranteed itself a distinctive role in higher education within the territorial structure of Napoleonic Italy – a reawakening that soon became stifled during the Bourbon Restoration due to watchful ecclesiastic control, apprehensive of potential dangers arising from political involvement of professors and students.
The new phase triggered by the unification of Italy in the 19th century was marked by the renewal of the university, which broadened its educational offering from four faculties to the current 24 and created a multi-campus by expanding into the main cities of Romagna; a high standard of teaching; and a level of student demand that today places it second in the nation.
The celebrations of two jubilees (1888 and 1988) have confirmed the authority of the university and the interest it holds, and have triggered the promotion of initiatives across Europe (Magna Charta Universitatum, the Bologna Process).
Its bond with the city has never faltered; the presence of thousands of young guests from across the world at a university that has renewed itself again and again over nine centuries has established a particular attitude to hospitality, which has become a distinctive quality of the city’s population.
In a recent study it emerged that one of the main reasons why many young people come to Bologna to study—after a quality education (49%)–is because of the fame and the tradition of the university (43%).
Therefore, this is an added value, something that the Alma Mater may proudly claim of possessing over other universities: a universally recognized heritage that makes Bologna the quintessential city of studies.
Article by Gian Paolo Brizzi Photos By Carlo Orsi
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