The Palazzo Bo is a historic building in Padua that serves as the seat of the city’s University. Is main claim to fame is being the seat of the first ever permanent anatomical theatre. Both Galileo Galilei and Copernicus studied here.
Palazzo Bo Padova
Address, opening hours and adnission
Address: Via 8 Febbraio, 2 – Padua. Tel: +39 049 8275111 (switchboard) or +39 049 8273047 (reservations for guided tours).
Already in the 13th century there were buildings on the site now taken up by the Palazzo Bo. It is likely that architectural elements of some of these buildings are still incorporated in the present palace.
It is certain that in 1364 an inn called Hospitium Bovis was located here. The sign of this inn featured an ox (“bo”). The name is either refers to the nearby butchers’ district or to a cattle market that used to be held in the area. In 1405 the Carrara family is supposed to have donated the palazzo to their favourite butcher.
Till 1492 there were university buildings all over the city, but in that year they were all united in the Palazzo Bo.
The University got ownership of the palazzo in 1539.
Around 1550 the architect Andrea Moroni started enlarging the building. The main part of the present palazzo, including the huge courtyard, was his work.
What to see
The Palazzo Bo is the seat of the first ever permanent anatomical theatre. Its inauguration took place in 1595 and it was used until 1872. The idea for this innovation belonged to the anatomist Girolamo Fabrici D’Acquapendente. In the past wooden theatres that could be dismantled and moved were used. It consists of six elliptical wooden floors with a total of 300 seats around a central anatomical table.
The most important space in the Palazzo Bo is the Aula Magna, initially a dining room, but later transformed into an aula used almost exclusivelyby law professors. The only exception was Galileo Galilei. It was frescoed by Carlini in 1854. Between 1938 and 1942 Gio Ponti oversaw a renovation of its interior decorations.
The Old Courtyard (Cortile Antico), with its tall medieval clock tower, is an elegant 16th-century cloister that is generally attributed to Andrea Moroni. Not everybody agrees and some historians claim its architect was Sansovino.
Sala dei Quaranta
The Sala dei Quaranta is thus named because it is decorated with the portraits of 40 famous foreign students. In this room you can also admire the desk Galileo used to teach from in the Aula Magna.
In 1813, the Palazzo Battaglia was added to the complex. In 1910 a new wing for the Faculty of Jurisprudence was built and in 1934 a new courtyard (cortile nuvo) was created by Ettore Fagiuoli. This latest addition was part of a bigger renovation, much of which was the work of Gio Ponti.
Although academic papers were written as early as 122, the exact date of foundation of the university is not clear. This is because initially, wha tis now the university, was no more than a congregation of teachers and students.
The university was initially divided into two parts, one for locals and one for foreigners. In 1399 a more logical division, according to subject matter, took place. There was a university for law students and another one for artists (which included the philosophy and medicine).
All over the university you can see the coats of arms of students and professors that taught or were taught here between 1542 and 1688.
One of the doors leading to the Cortile Antico is called the Atrium of Death. When an important professor dies, his coffin is placed in the middle of the courtyard. Students file past the coffin, which is then raised into the air three times by eight students.