Bologna is home to the world’s oldest university in continuous operation - founded in 1088 - and one of the many schools in the university is a medical school. You might not think that a medical school would be an attraction worth seeking out, but the historic Anatomical Theatre of the Archiginnasio alone is worth the trip.
The Archiginnasio is a university building, originally constructed in the 16th century, that served for many years as the primary university building. Today, it houses the largest municipal library in the region, but the main attraction is the Anatomical Theatre. Built in 1637, it’s a gorgeous room paneled entirely in spruce with a coffered ceiling. The seating is amphitheatre-style, and the seat from which a professor would deliver lectures more closely resembles a throne or a preacher’s pulpit than a teacher’s desk.
There are niches in the walls of the Anatomical Theatre of the Archiginnasio, in which you’ll see carved wooden statues of historic physicians. Of particular note are the carved statues on each side of the professor’s chair - they’re carved as if they have no skin, to make their muscles visible. The enormous table in the center of the theatre’s floor may look pristine now, but this is where the dissections of both human and animal bodies took place during lessons.
The Archiginnasio building is on one side of the Piazza Maggiore, right in central Bologna, and it’s free to visit, making it a perfect - if slightly off-beat - addition to your itinerary in this lovely city.