Wednesday, June 3, 2015

What A Bloody Mess....Al

Alessandro pointing out something in Piazza Maggiore today

 “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.”   ~ Dr. Seuss

"I tell you, Alessandro," I said to my friend today, "every time I take a tour with you, I learn something I didn't know before."

"That is a good thing, right?" he answered.

I first met Alessandro Guidi last summer when he conducted a tour for CulturaItaliana, the school where I studied Italian. He took us on two tours that covered a few of the places I'd already been, but he showed us—and explained to us—much more than what other guides had.  I knew, then, that I had to have him introduce my groups to Bologna.

The porticoes in the Archiginnasio
One of my favorite places is the Archiginnasio, the first and former main building of the University of Bologna. No longer a part of the university campus, it now houses the Archiginnasio Municipal Library and the Anatomical Theater.  (SAY WHAT??)

 Let me step back one second and explain that the University of Bologna is the oldest university in Europe, and there is a lot of thought that it is the oldest in the world. Prior to the building of the Archiginnasio, students and teachers held classes in homes or churches.  Because Bologna was part of the Papal States at the time, the Church was concerned about what and how the instructors were teaching. What better way to control all that than by building a place for them to hold classes?

Coats of Arms

Pope Pius IV commanded construction of the building in the 16th century, and it took just one year for the Bolognese to complete the 140-meter structure.  Contained in it were the School of Law and the School of the Arts (which included everything but law).  There are two levels to the building, the lower one containing an inner courtyard while the upper one contains the classrooms and library.  Allied bombs destroyed parts of the building during WW II, but artisans were able to restore most of it using old photos and paintings.

Apollo in the Anatomical Theater ceiling
Coats of arms line all of the walls in the courtyard and upper hallways.  Former students and professors put them there to commemorate themselves.  (You can see them in a few of the photos.)  The big draw, however, is the Anatomical Theater.

Unlike most of the rooms in buildings in Bologna, the anatomical theater is wood.  The statues, the seating, the ceiling, and the floor are all wood.  Apollo is front and center in the ceiling, and other lesser gods surround him.  Statues of famous physicians such as Hippocrates (below) line the walls.  The marble dissection table was in the middle of the theater, and students sat on wooden benches around the room. The head professor taught from a lectern, and his assistants did the cutting and such. 

"This cutting table is not the real one," Alessandro tells each group.  "Marble absorbs liquids, like blood, so that would not be good to show visitors."

"Do they still have the original?" I asked him today.

"Yes," he replied. "It's at the university, and it's pretty gross."

I bet.  Gag.

The most interesting thing to me about the whole theater, though, is that there is a "secret window" in the room. It's near the ceiling on the wall opposite the lectern.  Anyone glancing at it would think it is just a framed saying posted in that spot.  Look harder, though, and you can see the split in the center where the panel slides apart.  Remember I said that the Church wanted to control the instructors and what they were teaching? What better way than to have a secret window from which a sneaky cleric could poke his head out to catch someone saying or doing the wrong thing.

(SIDE NOTE: That brings to mind, by the way, my high school biology teacher, Sr. Barbara, OSU [May God rest her wacky soul.]  One morning, Sister was not in class when the bell range, and most people in the class sat and talked to someone nearby while we waited...and waited... Finally, about 10 minutes into the class, Sister jumped up from behind her desk [It was one of those big lab desks that was at least waist high.]  "AH, HA!!" she shouted.  "I CAUGHT YOU ALL TALKING."  She then ran to the windows and started asking the birds if they wanted to learn because her students were too busy talking.)

I can't imagine one of the spies running to the windows, but I do have visions of a beady-eyed Franciscan quietly opening the window and slowly poking his nose, cheeks, eyes, and finally head out of the window. Did the professor stumble over words? Did the students straighten up? Did anyone even care?

Today's students would probably hit him with a high-flying book.  When I was in high school and college, I would have been too afraid to try anything, but today I might just take out a pea shooter and bean him.

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