The University of Padua motto Universa Universis Patavina Libertas declares its commitment to freedom for all. The freedom of thought and opinion has characterized the University of Padua since its inception. The University of Padua came to be when a group of students from Bologna rejected their institution and left due to an increased amount of pressure and control placed upon its students.
Under the Venetian Republic, the University of Padua maintained a profile of profound freedom and tolerance. Religious freedom, which guaranteed protection from the repressive policies of the Counter-Reformation, allowed the city to host students and educators from all over Europe suspected of heresy. We find highlights in its belief in pure academic freedom in the nostalgic words written by Galileo Galilei shortly before his death in 1642, recalling his time in Padua as; the best eighteen years of my life.
On February 8, 1848, the students of Padua joined a group of local citizens in the revolt against the Austrian Empire, launching the Risorgimento in the First Italian War of Independence and the Expedition of the Thousand. Additionally, in 1943 Rector Concetto Marchesi invited the students of Padua to fight against Fascism during the annual academic inaugural speech that became “a declaration of war by the University of Padua to the oppressors of Italy.”
For its role in The Resistance, the University of Padua is the only Italian university awarded the gold medal for military valour; “for those who came to learn civility, the University of Padua knew to turn away from conspiracy and war before all others. They knew neither tiredness nor to bend in the face of fury, persecution or torture. The youth of Padua screamed a curse upon its oppressors, launching a challenge until triumphant liberation. The University of Padua is a temple of civil faith and a garrison of heroic resistance.”
When Gio Ponti refurbished Palazzo Bo in 1942, he instructed Universa Universis Patavina Libertas would hang above the Academic Senate benches in the Aula Magna.
Torre del Bo (The Bell Tower of Palazzo Bo)
Once used as a call to lessons, today, the only sounds heard from the bell tower of Palazzo Bo occur when mourning the death of one of its professors (rito dell’alzabara). It is the historical context that the chiming of this bell holds the greatest of significance. On February 8, 1848, the bell tower rang out as a voice of the students in reaction to their dissatisfaction against the Austrian Empire.
The bell continued to ring for a short period, sounding off during the first notes of Vispa Teresa, sung by the Goliardia as a counter-reaction to that of the municipality.
Inauguration of the Academic Year
Characterizing the years following the Second World War, with a need for fun and entertainment, the University students of the goliardia expressed their playful side away from the darkness. During the inauguration of the 1945/1946 academic year, an air of good-natured began with jovial mockery.
At the beginning of the ceremony, a large gathering of students came together in the Aula Magna of Palazzo Bo. The noise was so loud that it filtered out all other sounds, while professors continued lessons in unperturbed earnest. The ceremony ended with the intonation of the Gaudeamus igitur by numerous goliards who paid homage to the University Rector by presenting him with a hen (gallina padovana) distinguished by the tuft of feathers crowned upon its head.
During the inauguration ceremony of the 1951/1952 academic year, students again crowded the Aula Magna of Palazzo Bo. Most notably, this year, they interrupted the Minister of Public Education into silence with their whistles and shouts. Lead by a harsh reaction by Rector Guido Ferro. Consequently, granting access to a limited number of students by invitation only accompanied by a valid identification.
The Giustinianea Festival
The Giustinianea Festival is a day free of lessons, decided by the university body and celebrated on a day that allows for a three-day weekend for students, staff and faculty. Its name most likely derives from the Justinian Code taken from the sixth-century book of Roman law that lists all legal holidays.
The first trace of the Giustinianea Festival dates back to 1817, during the Austrian occupation of Padua, when King Francis I sent the governor of Venice and the University Rector a 21-paragraph text that listed precise rules and dates for the universities in Lombardy and Veneto to follow. The university and its students had already begun to adhere to a general sense and desire for reform, asking for more information on specific dates and about the new regulations.
The response was swift. “The dates listed are feasts of obligation, Christmas and the day on which the patron saint of the country falls. In addition, the Rector may grant the Giustinianea Festival by posting a notice on the walls of the University.”
Some rectors began using this day to visit the cities of noblemen, turning the Giustinianea Festival into an annual event. In 1866, Veneto became part of the Kingdom of Italy, and the tradition remained until the end of the first half of the twentieth century, marked on the academic calendar and announced a few days in advance at the discretion of the University Rector.
The University Academic Senate established and approved the dates celebrating the Giustinianea Festival during the post-war period.
The Rites of the Alzabara (Il rito dell’alzabara)
Although viewed as jovial and traditionally well spirited, Goliards had profound responsibilities. When a professor died, the Goliards ushered the coffin into the Ancient Courtyard behind the headmaster, raising it three times and escorted the casket outside the walls of the Palazzo Bo as the bell of the tower rang in mourning, referred to as the Rites of the Alzabara (Il rito dell’alzabara)
Goliard activities have all but disappeared, but the respect felt towards the value of academic educators has grown, accentuating the institutional aspect of this ceremony.
The Tribune Election (L’elezione del tribuno a botte)
Rectors had a reputation for being tough on the Goliards, as was reflected during the battle of the tribunal elections. The tribune was the highest rank in Goliard’s hierarchy, granting them the right to speak during the inauguration ceremony of an academic year. Until 1951, the tribune was select from a group of third-year medical school students who had yet to take their final anatomy exam. Candidates adorned themselves with beards, and on the morning of the election would hold a battle in the Anatomy Room, declaring the winner as whoever reached the chair first, pushing and fighting their way through until the professor arrived.
Stopping future battles, the University Rector declared the Anatomy Room off-limits to the Goliards. Later, elections decided who would be the next tribune.