The University of Padua was established in 1222, thanks to a group of students and teachers that decided to come to Padua from Bologna. They set up a free body of scholars, who were placed in groups according to their place of origin and in turn approved statutes, elected the rector, or chancellor and chose their teachers, who were paid with money collected by the students. Defending freedom of thought in study and teaching became a distinctive feature which today lives on in the University motto: Universa Universis Patavina Libertas.
The introduction of experimental and observational methods combined together with the teaching of theory marked the dawn of a golden age. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Padua became a workshop of ideas and the home to figures who changed the cultural and scientific history of humanity. They include Andrea Vesalio, who founded modern anatomy, as well as the astronomer Copernicus, and Galileo, who observed the skies here.
Padua also vaunts the world’s first university botanical garden and a permanent anatomical theatre, which was built by Girolamo Fabrici d’Acquapendente. William Harvey, who became famous for describing the circulation of the blood, studied in Padua, and in 1678 Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia became the first woman in the world to be awarded a university degree.
The fall of the Serenissima Republic of Venice in 1797 marked the beginning of a dark age. Padua fell and was ruled first by the French and then by the Austrians. Later between the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the University expanded to include the faculties of Engineering, Pharmacy, and Political Sciences together with its traditional faculties of Law, Medicine, Arts and Philosophy, and Sciences.