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Did you know that out of the twenty oldest universities in the world about half are Italian? And that the oldest university of all is Italian?

The word 'university' itself stems from Italian. It was used for the first time at the founding of Bologna university in 1088.

Even more surprising is that the ten oldest universities of Italy were all founded in the Middle Ages, even before the end of the 1300s, so long before most countries had their first university.

Italy is also home to the largest European university, La Sapienza, in Rome.

The first woman in the world to graduate from a university was also Italian. She graduated from Padua university in 1678.

1. Bologna, 1088
The University of Bologna is the oldest continually operating university in the world. It is where the word 'universitas' was coined, probably in 1088, at the founding of the university. Since 2000, the University's motto has been Alma mater studiorum (Latin for "fostering mother of studies").

The university is historically notable for its teaching of canon and civil law and the university was central in the development of medieval Roman law. Until modern times, the only degree granted at that university was the doctorate.

The University counts about 100,000 students in its 23 faculties. It has branch centers in Imola, Ravenna, Forlì, Cesena and Rimini and a branch center abroad in Buenos Aires. Moreover, it has a school of excellence named Collegio Superiore di Bologna.

2. Padua, 1222
The University of Padua (Università degli Studi di Padova, UNIPD) was founded in 1222 as a school of law. It was one of the most prominent universities in early modern Europe. It one of the earliest universities of the world and the second oldest, continually operating, in Italy. As of 2010 the university had approximately 65,000 students.

The first subjects to be taught were law and theology, but the curriculum expanded rapidly to include astronomy, dialectic, philosophy, grammar, medicine, and rhetoric.
From the fifteenth to the eighteenth century, the university was renowned for its research, particularly in the areas of medicine, astronomy, philosophy and law.

On 25 June 1678, Elena Lucrezia Cornaro, a Venetian noblewoman and mathematician became the first woman in the world to be awarded a degree. She graduated in Philosophy. By comparison, at Oxford university women had to wait until 1920 to be allowed to matriculate and graduate in universities attended by male students.

3. Naples, 1224
The University of Naples Federico II (Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II) was founded in 1224. It is one of the oldest academic institutions in continuous operation and also one of the oldest universities to be founded by a head of State. The university was named Federico II in 1987, in recognition of its founder, Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, King of Sicily and Holy Roman Emperor. Most other educational institutions, were, by and large, the product of corporate initiatives.

The King's objective was to create an institution of higher learning that would put an end to the predominance of the universities of Northern Italy, most notably Bologna and Padua, which were considered either too independent or under the strong influence of the Pope. The independence was granted by the Charter, which gave the Emperor the highest authority.

Graduates took a vow to stay loyal to the King and to lecture at the Studium for a minimum of sixteen months and were not allowed to travel and study elsewhere.

One of the most famous students of this university was Roman Catholic theologian and philosopher Thomas Aquinas.

4. Siena, 1240

The University of Siena (Università degli Studi di Siena, UNISI) in Tuscany is one of the oldest and first publicly funded universities in Italy. Originally called Studium Senese, the University of Siena was founded in 1240. The University has around 20,000 students, nearly half of Siena's total population. Siena university enjoyed rapid growth during the twentieth century, passing from four hundred students enrolled between the two World Wars to over twenty thousand students in recent years. At the same time the number of faculties increased from the original Medicine and Surgery and Law to include Pharmacy (1933), Mathematical, Physical and Natural Sciences (1962), Economics (1966), Arts and Humanities in Siena (1970), Engineering (1992) and Political Science (1997). Today, the University of Siena is best known for its Schools of Law and Medicine.

5. Macerata, 1290

The University of Macerata (Università degli Studi di Macerata) was founded in 1290 and is organized in 7 Faculties: communication sciences, cultural heritage, economics, education, law, letters & philosophy and political sciences.

6. Rome, 1303

The Sapienza University of Rome (Sapienza - Università di Roma), formerly known as Università degli studi di Roma "La Sapienza", is a coeducational, autonomous state university. It is the largest European university and the oldest of Rome's three state-funded universities.

In Italian, sapienza means "wisdom" or "knowledge". According to the Academic Ranking of World Universities published by the Institute of Higher Education of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Sapienza University of Rome ranks among the top 30 European universities.

La Sapienza counts 11 faculties and over 140,000 students.

7. Perugia, 1308

University of Perugia (Università degli Studi di Perugia) is a public-owned university and one of the "free" universities of Italy. It was founded in 1308, when Pope Clement V issued Perugia with a document called the Super specula, which made Perugia a "leggere generaliter", giving its degree courses universal validity and recognition. Before that date the degrees awarded were only recognized within the confines of Perugia.

Formal imperial recognition of the University was granted in 1355, when Charles IV, who was in Rome for his coronation as Emperor, awarded Perugia with two diplomas: the first diploma granted the City the permanent right to have a University, and the second diploma granted all people, even those from remote places, free access to, and free return home from the Studium with immunity from all types of reprisal, duty and tax. This unusual mark of favor was given to assist Perugia after the terrible plague years 1348-49.

In the 14th century, the University offered two degree courses: Law and General Arts. Medicine, Philosophy and Logic quickly distinguished themselves from the other Arts although, during the course of the century, they did not succeed in becoming independent faculties.

With the unification of Italy in 1860 the University of Perugia was established under the jurisdiction of the Rector and the Town Council, who issued statutes subject to approval by the Government. The statutes are modelled upon those of Bologna. From 1944 to the present, the University of Perugia has achieved an outstanding reputation as one of the leading Universities in Italy.

University of Perugia has 11 faculties and about 31,000 students.

8. Firenze, 1321

The University of Florence (Università degli Studi di Firenze, UNIFI) is one of the largest and oldest universities in the country. It has 12 faculties and has currently about 60,000 students enrolled. The University of Florence evolved from the Studium Generale, which was established by the Florentine Republic in 1321. The Studium was recognized by Pope Clement VI in 1349, and authorised to grant regular degrees. The Pope also established that the first Italian faculty of Theology would be in Florence.
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The Studium became an imperial university in 1364, but was moved to Pisa in 1473 when Lorenzo the Magnificent gained control of Florence. Charles VIII moved it back from 1497-1515, but it was moved to Pisa again when the Medici family returned to power.

9. Pisa, 1343 (possibly 11th C.)

The University of Pisa (Italian Università di Pisa) was formally founded on September 3, 1343 by an edict of Pope Clement VI, although there had been lectures on law in Pisa since the 11th century.

With the birth of the Kingdom of Italy, the University of Pisa became one of the new state's most prestigious cultural institutions. It offers a wide and renowned range of courses, but it is especially known for its science and engineering branches, which manage very good courses at the BSc, MSc and PhD level. The Computer Science course at University of Pisa was the first one in the area to be activated in Italy, during the 1960s. The aerospace MSc courses (EuMAS, MSSE) are the first in Italy to be offered entirely in the English language. The university now has about 57,000 students (of which 53,000 in undergraduate and postgraduate studies and 3500 in doctoral and specialization studies).

In 2011 the University of Pisa came in first place among the Italian universities, according to the Academic Ranking of World Universities.

The University of Pisa counts some of the most prestigious professor in her history, among which Galileo Galilei, who was born and studied in Pisa, and became professor of Mathematics at the Pisan Studium in 1589.

10. Ferrara, 1391

The University of Ferrara (Università degli Studi di Ferrara) was founded on March 4, 1391 by Marquis Alberto V D'Este with the permission of Pope Boniface IX. The Studium Generale was inaugurated on St. Luke's Day (October 18) of that year with courses in law, arts and theology. After the unification of Italy, Ferrara University became a free university with faculties of Law and Mathematics, a three-year course in Medicine (reduced to two years in 1863-64), as well as Schools of Veterinary Medicine (abolished in 1876), Pharmacy, and for public Notaries. It was the best attended of the free universities in Italy, in the years prior to the First World War the University of Ferrara, with more than 500 students. After World War II, it started to be state-supported and this allowed the opening of many faculties and research departments. Today there approximately 12,000 students enrolled into 8 faculties, and nearly 400 degrees granted each year.

Modena (1175), Pavia (1361), Vicenza (1204), Arezzo (1215) were all founded before 1400, but not continually operating. Modena was closed in the 1590s, Vicenza in 1209, Arezzo in the 15th century and Pavia during the Napoleonic wars and the revolutions of 1848.

Oldest universities of Italy

compiled by Catherine Marien
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