History

The University of Padova is one of Europe’s oldest and most prestigious seats of learning: it is a multidisciplinary university which aims to provide its students with both professional training and a solid cultural background. A qualification from the University of Padova is a symbol of having achieved an ambitious objective, one that is recognised and coveted by both students and employers alike.

The University was established in 1222 after a group of students and teachers decided to come here from Bologna. They set up a free body of scholars, divided by place of origin into nationes, in which students approved statutes, elected the rettore (rector, or chancellor) and chose their teachers, who were paid with money the students collected. Defending freedom of thought in study and teaching became a distinctive feature which today lives on in the University motto: Universa Universis Patavina Libertas. The introduction of empirical and experimental methods together with the teaching of theory marked the dawn of a golden age. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Padova became a workshop of ideas and home to figures who changed the cultural and scientific history of humanity. They included Andreas Vesalius, who founded modern anatomy, as well as Copernicus, and Galileo, who observed the skies here. Padova also vaunts the world’s first university botanical garden and permanent anatomy theatre, which was built by Girolamo Fabrici d’Acquapendente. William Harvey, who was the first to describe the circulation of the blood, studied in Padova, and in 1678 Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia was the first woman in the world to be awarded a university degree.

The fall of the Serenissima Republic of Venice marked the beginning of a dark age. Padova fell under the rule of first the French and then the Austrians, passing through Italy’s tumultuous Risorgimento, which also shook the University.

Between the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the University expanded to include the Faculties of Engineering, Pharmacy, and Political Sciences, together with its traditional Faculties of Law, Medical School, Arts and Philosophy, and Sciences.

The advent of Fascism curtailed the University’s values of free thought and cultural independence. Its professors swore allegiance to the regime, after which the approval of Italy’s racial laws and the expulsion of Jewish professors opened one of the darkest periods in the University’s history. Rector Concetto Marchesi woke the University from its slumber and, at the height of the Nazi occupation, made a courageous appeal to the students to fight for the freedom of Italy. For its sacrifices in the name of Freedom, the University of Padova was awarded a gold medal for military valour, the only university to receive one.

During the post-war period, the University opened Faculties of Education, Agricultural Sciences and Psychology, and, in the 1990s, Faculties of Veterinary Medicine, and Economics and Business Administration. In the 20th century, the University of Padova produced great literati such as Diego Valeri and Concetto Marchesi; engineers like Giuseppe Colombo, the “master of celestial mechanics”; mathematicians such as Tullio Levi Civita; the jurists Alfredo Rocco and Livio Paladin; the philosophers Luigi Stefanini and Enrico Opocher;
and doctors like Vincenzo Gallucci, who carried out the first heart transplant in Italy. The new millennium opened with some important discoveries, particularly in medicine, biomedicine, engineering and aerospace technology.

Cultural heritage

At the origins of modern medicine (pdf file) - a lecture by Giorgio Zanchin