After receiving a degree in literature in 1941 from the Scuola Normale of Pisa, one of the country's most prestigious universities, he was called to military duty in Albania as a lieutenant. On September 8, 1943, the date of the armistice with the Allies, he refused to remain in the Fascist Italian Social Republic, and took refuge in Abruzzo, in Scanno. He subsequently managed to pass the lines and reach Bari, where he joined the Partito d'Azione (and thus the Italian resistance movement).
In 1946 he married Franca Pila. That same year, he obtained a degree in law from the University of Pisa and began working at the Banca d'Italia. He also inscribed to CGIL, a member of which he remained until 1980.
Ciampi chose the Vitruvian man of Leonardo da Vinci, on the symbolic grounds that it represented man as a measure of all things, and in particular of the coin: in this perspective, money was at the service of man, instead of its opposite. The design also fitted very well on the bimetallic material of the coin.
He usually refrained from intervening directly into the political debate while serving as President. However, he often addressed general issues, without mentioning their connection to the current political debate, in order to state his opinion without being too intrusive. His interventions have frequently stressed the need for all parties to respect the constitution and observe the proprieties of political debate. He was generally held in high regard by all political forces represented in the parliament. The possibility of persuading Ciampi to stand for a second term as President - the so-called Ciampi-bis - was widely discussed, despite his advancing age, but it was officially dismissed by Ciampi himself on 3 May 2006, just a few days before his mandate expired. Ciampi resigned as President before the swearing-in ceremony of his successor, Giorgio Napolitano.
As President, Ciampi was not considered to be close to the positions of the Vatican and the Catholic church, in a sort of alternance after the devout Oscar Luigi Scalfaro. He has often praised patriotism, not a common feeling in Italy because of its abuse by the Fascist regime; Ciampi, however, seems to want to stress self-confidence rather than nationalism.