I didn’t know much about Bologna before I decided to go there.  I didn’t know it’s history, it’s traditions, it’s layout or transportation systems, but I did know two things:

1) Bologna is the capitol of the Emilia-Romagna region and thus the self-proclaimed capitol of Italian food

2) In Teatro Anatomico, the Anatomical Theater of the oldest European University, they used to dissect human corpses for educational purposes.

Teatro Anatomico is inside the Archiginnasio Palace, the first permanent building of the University of Bologna that joined all of the disciplines in one space in 1563, instead of them being scattered in buildings across the city.  The entrance to the palace is in the square behind Piazza Maggiore, under a portico of 30 arches.  When I was there in December there were no lines, no crowds, just a simple sign outside naming the building (which is now one of the most important city-run libraries in Italy) and the hours.

I climbed one of the two large staircases, not really sure where I was going.  The loge wraps around the central courtyard, but I don’t remember a thing about the courtyard.  I was too distracted by the walls!

In the space between each arch was a plaque honoring one of the university’s historically-significant professors and around each one were dozens and dozens of small coats of arms!  They seemed to be hung all over, filling every space, in all colors and types with little rhyme or reason. I later read that each one represented a student who had attended the university in the 16th – 18th centuries, both Italians and those from abroad.  It was a chaotic, colorful mess!

…And a beautiful memorial :)

I still, though, had no idea where I was going.  There didn’t seem to be many people about and I hadn’t seen any signs for the teatro anatomico since entering.  I strolled down opulently-decorated hallways and finally came to the library entrance, where I asked the gentleman stationed there.

When I entered the anatomic theater, the first thing that struck me was how small it was.  I know that doesn’t really make sense – it couldn’t be much bigger and still allow everyone to see what was going on in the central table – but it surprised me for some reason.

The theater was built in 1637 so that medical students could learn by observing dissections of human corpses.  Statues and busts of famous and notable Italian and Bolognese physicians adorn the walls, as well as two “skinless” statues on either side of the professor’s chair and two full-size statues of Hippocrates and Galen, the most prominent physicians of Greece and Rome, respectively.

Just before leaving I reached over the balustrade surrounding the dissection table to get the view of Apollo on the ceiling that a corpse would’ve “seen”…

Nice view for a dead guy, huh?

For hours and directions, CLICK HERE.




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Turning my obsession with Italy into something I can pretend is constructive. Italy travel tips and stories for everyone.

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