Padova, Italy: University Town

Padova, Italy: University Town

October 28, 2019 11 By Stanley Isaacs


Like the rest of the Veneto,
Padova was ruled by Venice from the 15th century
until Napoleon came, about 1800. Chafing under Venetian rule
for four centuries seemed only to sharpen
Padova’s independent spirit. And that spirit survives at
its prestigious university. Nicknamed
the brain of the Veneto,” it was founded in 1222,
one of the first in Europe. Renowned in its day,
it was a haven for free thinking and attracted intellectuals
from far and wide. 400 years ago,
the great scientist Galileo, notorious for disagreeing with
the Church’s views on science, enjoyed that academic freedom. He called the 18 years
spent on the faculty here the best years of his life. Everywhere you look
there are memories of illustrious
alumni and professors, and within these
historic lecture halls is Europe’s oldest surviving
anatomy theater, from the late 1500s. Back then, medical students
would pack these steep balconies to watch professors
dissect human cadavers. This was allowed by
the government and the Church as long as the cadavers were
convicted foreign criminals. This remarkable theater is
an example of the importance placed on science
during the Renaissance. With 60,000 students, Padova’s university
is always lively, and you’re likely
to stumble onto some kind of
spirited school event. A unique ritual is
the post-graduation roast. Friends gather around the new
grad and the pranks begin. The gang presents a giant poster
with a generally crude caricature of the graduate
and a list of embarrassing personal stories
for all to see. [Singing in Italian] Then friends sing
the catchy but obscene local university anthem,
reminding their newly esteemed friend
not to get too stuffy. Loosely translated,
♪ You may be a doctor ♪ ♪ A doctor ♪ ♪ But you’re still
just a… ♪ ♪ Go… yourself,
go… yourself ♪ Finally,
there’s the playful send-off, like a rude birthing
into the real world.