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Palazzo Bo in the 20th century

Work started on the new area of Palazzo Bo in 1932 with the demolition of the remaining surrounding buildings.

In fact, between the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, Palazzo Bo was expanded and its final layout was completed. From the initial layout of the Hospitium Bovis, the University expanded until it took up the entire block between Via Cesare Battisti, Via Otto Febbraio, Via San Francesco and the Riviera dei Ponti Romani. It incorporated important buildings but also old houses that were adapted for the purpose, as well as courtyards dotted here and there in what became a real “labyrinth” of structures.

Carlo Anti, chancellor between 1932 and 1943, and the architect Gio Ponti, together with professor Giuseppe Fiocco and the architect Ettore Fagiuoli, contributed to redesigning the university during those years, by restructuring a number of existing buildings, building new structures and decorating Palazzo Bo, the university’s main seat, as well as other locations with sculptures and paintings.

Ponti, who played a central role in restyling Palazzo Bo, called some of Italy’s greatest 20th century artists to come and work with him on the project. These included Arturo Martini, who made the Palinuro statue in 1946, situated in Palazzo Bo’s main entrance hall (the so-called “Atrium of Heroes”), which was dedicated to the partisan commander Primo Visentin. Visentin was a graduate of Padua’s university and died during the resistance movement against fascism. Other artists invited to help with the restyling of the university included Filippo De Pisis, Achille Funi, Ferruccio Ferrazzi, and Gino Severini.

The new area was built around the New Courtyard (also known as the “Littorio” Courtyard), which had been created by Ettore Fagiuoli, an architect from Verona. The students’ frescoed lecture halls overlooked this courtyard. Today, the stele of Gio Pomodoro can be seen inside the New Courtyard, dedicated to Galileo Galilei, in addition to the piece of contemporary art by Jannis Kounellis, which recalls the gold medal awarded to the University of Padova for its commitment to fighting for the resistance, as does the wall plaque next to it. From the courtyard, the monumental “Staircase of Knowledge”, frescoed by Gio Pointi with the help of Giovanni Dandolo and Fulvio Pendini, leads to the chancellor’s quarters and the gallery, which links the new part of Palazzo Bo to the old part.

The chancellor’s apartment begins here, an area that was once dedicated to the association of professors. Gio Ponti designed every single detail of this space, from the pattern on the flooring, to the small tables, armchairs, coat hooks, magazine holders, lamps, the doors and even their handles.

The chancellor’s quarters included the chancellor’s study, which still today acts as an office for the university’s main representative, the dining room, the reading room and an area next to the kitchen that was designed to offer an alternative place for professors and their wives to socialise. Ponti furnished the room with the fireplace, on the other hand, as a place to play cards. On this fireplace, the model of the Venetian ship commissioned by Giovanni Poleni (1685-1761) really stands out. He had this built during the time he taught shipbuilding at the university.

Next to this section of the building, there is the “Hall of the academic college” (or “Archive”), home to a number of carved cabinets and shelves which were decorated by the Flemish artist Michele Bertens between 1698 and 1704 and once made up the library in the Benedictine monastery of Saint Giustina. Currently, the shelves hold the student archive from 1805 to 1866, including their personal files with the last exams and oral exams taken from 1816 to 1866.
The “College Hall” is next to the basilica which is part of the remains of Giovanni Poleni’s experimental physics theatre. This area was designed by the architect Ettore Fagiuoli, with the interiors and furnishings redesigned by the architect Gio Ponti. The large hall was divided into three separate naves with two rows of columns plastered with red stucco. Its walls feature the fresco by Pino Casarini (1897-1972) which celebrates the university’s political history, from 8th February 1848 until the war in Ethiopia (1935-36) and in Spain (1936-39).From the basilica, you reach the “Senate Hall”, a room enriched by its large table designed and carved by Eligio Polidori, a designer from Milan. The banner of the University of Padova can be seen between the windows. This banner was donated by the women of Padua in 1892 and, on the wall in front of the entrance, there is an alcove with a mosaic by the artist Gino Severini. In the antechamber leading to the Senate Hall, there are portraits of the university’s various chancellors, from the reunification of the Veneto region with the rest of Italy until today.
The official exit (and entrance) to Palazzo Bo’s “new” area is characterized by the large door overlooking Via Otto Febbraio, built in 1922 with bronze taken from canons used in the First World War and featuring the names of students who died in the conflict.

THE ANCIENT PALAZZO BO