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The Story of "La Sapienza"

The University of Rome "La Sapienza" can show a very specific birth certificate since it saw the light on April 20th, 1303 through an edict ("Bolla") by Pope Boniface the VIIIth,The story of La Sapienza: Pope Boniface VIII who established a General Center of Studies (Studium Generale) in which people could carry out studies "in quarumlibet scientiae facultatum". The Center involved scholars from all Nations in Europe. This new Studium was established along the earlier School called "Studium Curiae" or "Schola Palatina".

This had been funded in 1218 by Pope Honorius the IIIrd, to be located within the papal Court and directed to transmit knowledge in the area of church studies. The first century of life of this new "Studium Generale" was certainly not an easy time, for the Popes had moved to Avignon and had abandoned the Eternal City. Thus, the keen competition from other Universities in Italy made life harder than expected for the new "Studium".

It is therefore the reforming action of one of the later Popes, Eugene the IVth, that brings once more new strength and (most importantly) the protection of the Church on the Academic Establishment in Rome. Pope Eugene, in fact, emitted another "Bolla" on the 10th of October 1431, entitled "In Supremae", in which he elected a Chancellor plus four administrators, chosen among the Senate of "twelve roman citizens", to operate alongside the University Rector. He further allocated the extra funds produced by an additional "wine tax" of three soldi (on the wine imported into the City) to buy a few buildings close to the Church of St. Eustache, right in the heart of Rome and near the place where, two centuries later, the palace of "La Sapienza" (the Wisdom) will be built.

The story of La Sapienza: S. Ivo seatIn such buildings all the subjects taught at the "Studium Generale" were reunited and the different teachers made to collaborate with each other on organizing the teaching. In the following four centuries the development of the University followed a pattern of decays and new rebirths that alternated with each other. In the XVIth Century the actual Palace of "La Sapienza" started to take shape and was finally opened in the next century, in 1659, by Pope Alexander VIIth, who also opened the nearby Church of St. Ivo, one of the most splendid achievements of the genius of Francesco Borromini. The end of that century, however, sees a sad declining of the University which is increasingly taken away from a direct running by the Church.

It will therefore be only the following Century, thanks the developments of the Enlightenment in the whole of Europe, that the University, together with all the other European Universities, will receive new life and new strength. With a new document signed directly by him, Pope Benedict XVth, on October 14th 1748, decided to be again in charge of the running of "La Sapienza" and made again valid the earlier directives by Pope Leo the Xth which, among other things, prevented professors to take up additional, external duties which would prevent them to be fully involved in their teaching duties. He further ordered that the University Rector should visit the various Schools of the University at least once a week, that he should prepare annually a yearly schedule reporting the days of classes and the daily hours during which they should occur. The papal ordnance also determined the number of University chairs, separated the medical subjects from those of the Philosophy School and started teaching new subjects like chemistry, mathematics and experimental physics.

It is indeed in the year 1756 that, for the first time, a solemn official ceremony delivers the "Diplomi di laurea", gained with merit and honour, to two students who had been determined to be the best "after examination".
At the opening of the following century, in the year 1804, Pope Pius the VIIth, with a Decree named "Urbes dum menti nostrae" creates the new chairs of Natural History and of Mineralology. He also initiated the beginnings of a scientific laboratory and started the collection of minerals in what was going to become the now rather magnificent Museum of Minerals.

When the city of Rome fell to the French occupation, the rulers issued an Imperial Decree the 17th of March 1808 which established the Faculties in the number of five: Holy Sciences, Law, Philosophy, Medicine with Surgery, Philology and "Subsidiary" Sciences. After Waterloo, Pope Pius the VIIth turned again his attention to our University, and, in 1815, he established the chairs of Medicine and Surgery with annexed clinical wards, the chairs of Zoology, of Algebra, of "Sublime" Geometry and of Introductory Calculus. In the year 1817, with a decree "Motu Proprio" the same Pope founded, on October 23, the School of Engineering and initiated the teaching of Statistics, Hydraulics and Architecture. Pope Leo the XIIth, using the founding Decree named "Quod Divina Sapientia Omnes Docet", establishes Rome and Bologna as the seats of the two primary Universities of the State of the Church.

The story of La Sapienza: University La Sapienza todayIn the year 1870, when Rome was taken over by to the newly created Italian State, the "Sapienza" relinquishes its status of University of the capital city of the State of the Church and becomes the University of the Capital of the much larger Italian State. The founding of the Medical Teaching Hospital named after the Italian king "Umberto 1°" starts in the year 1888 and is completed in 1903. Nearly 30 years later, on October 31st 1935, the newly built seat of the "Sapienza", the University campus mainly designed by the architect Marcello Piacentini and located between the new Teaching Hospital and the historical cemetery of "Verano", is opened to students and to academic activities It is the real beginning of the more recent history of the University of "La Sapienza" as we know it today.

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