The University of Padua (Italian Università degli Studi di Padova, UNIPD), located in Padua, Italy, was founded in 1222. It is among the earliest of the European universities and the second oldest in Italy. As of 2003 the university had approximately 65,000 students.
The student body was divided into groups known as ‘nations’ which reflected their places of origin. The nations themselves fell into two groups: the cismontanes for the Italian students and the ultramontanes for those who came from beyond the Alps.
From the fifteenth to the eighteenth century, the university was renowned for its research, particularly in the areas of medicine, astronomy, philosophy and law. This was thanks in part to the protection of the Republic of Venice, which enabled the university to maintain some freedom and independence from the influence of the Roman Catholic Church. During this time, the University adopted the Latin motto: Universa universis patavina libertas (Paduan Freedom is Universal for Everyone). The university had a turbulent history, and there was no teaching in 1237-61, 1509-17, 1848-50.
The Botanical Garden of Padova, established by the university in 1545, was the second such garden in the world, and is the oldest which remains to this day on its original site. In addition to the garden, best visited in the spring and summer, the university also manages nine museums, including the renowned Museum of History of Physics.
Since 1595, Padua's famous anatomical theatre drew artists and scientists studying the human body during public dissections. It is the oldest surviving permanent anatomical theatre in Europe. Among the students was illustrator Andreas Versalius, author of De Humani Corporis Fabrica (1543). The book triggered great public interest in dissections and caused many other European cities to establish anatomical theatres.
The University became one the universities of the Kingdom of Italy in 1873, and ever since has been one of the most prestigious in the country for its contributions to scientific and scholarly research: in the field of mathematics alone, its professors have included such figures as Gregorio Ricci Curbastro, Giuseppe Veronese, Francesco Severi and Tullio Levi Civita.
The last years of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century saw a reversal of the centralisation process that had taken place in the sixteenth: scientific institutes were set up in what became veritable campuses; a new building to house the Arts and Philosophical faculty was built in another part of the city centre (Palazzo del Liviano, designed by Giò Ponti); the Astro-Physics Observatory was built on the Asiago uplands; and the old Palazzo del Bo was fully restored (1938-45). Obviously, the vicissitudes of the Fascist period - political interference, the Race Laws, etc - had a detrimental effect upon the development of the university, as did the devastation caused by the Second World War and - just a few decades later - the effect of the student protests of 1968-69 (which the University was left to face without adequate help and support from central government). However, the Gymnasium Omnium Disciplinarum continued its work uninterrupted, and overall the second half of the twentieth century saw a sharp upturn in development - primarily due an interchange of ideas with international institutions of the highest standing (particularly in the fields of science and technology).
In recent years, the University has been able to meet the problems posed by overcrowded facilities by re-deploying over the Veneto as a whole. In 1990, the Institute of Management Engineering was set up in Vicenza; then the summer courses at Brixen (Bressanone) began once more; and in 1995 the Agripolis centre at Legnaro - for Agricultural Science and Veterinary Medicine - opened. Other sites of re-deployment are at Rovigo, Treviso, Feltre, Castelfranco Veneto, Conegliano, Chioggia and Asiago.
Recent changes in state legislation have also opened the way to greater autonomy for Italian universities, and in 1995 Padua adopted a new Statute that gave it greater independence.
As the publications of innumerable conferences and congresses show, the modern-day University of Padua plays an important role in scholarly and scientific research at both a European and world level. True to its origins, this is the direction in which the Institution intends to move in the future, establishing closer and closer links of co-operation and exchange with all the world's major research universities.