If you’re looking for a unique thing to do in Bologna, you absolutely have to check out the Teatro Anatomico!
Located within the Archiginnasio of Bologna, the Anatomical Theatre, or “Teatro Anatomico”, is an amphitheatre-shaped hall designed for 16th century medical students to study anatomy.
You don’t have to be interested in medicine to appreciate the beauty and history of the hall; the artistry that went into it is worth visiting alone.
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Bologna’s Teatro Anatomico
Bologna’s Anatomical Theatre should be a must-do for anyone visiting this historic city in Italy.
For an inexpensive and interesting thing to do in Bologna, I highly recommend going to see the Anatomical Theatre – Europe’s first anatomical theatre used for anatomy education and dissections.
Within the Anatomical Theatre, students observed the dissection of human cadavers and it’s believed to be the first learning classroom theatre of its kind.
You’re able to sit on the benches in the hall, just like students did in the past.
The large marble slab table is in the middle of the room where the cadaver would lay for all to see, surrounded by tiered seating so everyone could see the dissection without obstruction.
I guarantee it’s unlike anything you’ve seen before, and although it is a tad bit creepy, it’s fascinating to think of what once went on here back in the 1600s.
The hall is covered in spruce wood and decorated with two orders of statues for twelve famous physicians: among them are names including Hippocrates and Galen.
You’ll feel as though you’ve stepped back in time as soon as you walk through the doors.
Every corner of the Anatomical Theatre is elaborately decorated.
There are carved sculptures of physicians throughout the room, as well as two anatomical models sculpted in 1734 on either side of the lecturer’s chair called “Spellati” or “Skinned Men” with their muscles exposed.
Don’t forget to look up! There is a carved figure of Apollo surrounded by astrological symbols. There is also the anatomy representation of a woman, who is being offered a thigh bone by an angel, instead of being offered a flower.
It makes you wonder why there was so much effort put into the ceiling…when in reality, it was only the cadaver who would be looking up at it.
It is said that the medical lector carried out anatomy lessons – often male – which lasted for days as the body laid on the table in the middle of the theatre. Each part of the body was dissected and studied.
Where did the bodies come from that were used in anatomy lessons?
I did wonder where the bodies used in anatomy lessons were sourced.
There were a number of statutes regulating the number of bodies and who supplied them. It was more organized than I thought.
Most of the bodies used were from those who had been hanged or poor people who would’ve otherwise been buried by the city free of charge. There are also rumours of students roaming the city in search of people who suddenly died.
Bologna’s Anatomical Theatre was once destroyed
The Anatomical Theatre was bombed during WW2 but was rebuilt after the war. Fortunately, the original wooden sculptures were retrieved from the ruins and were reused in the construction of the Teatro Anatomico and were even placed back in their original positions.
In fact, Bologna was hit quite heavily during the war. There are photos showing bombing damage to the city and Archiginnasio, located outside the theatre.
The Anatomical Theatre has gone several restorations over time, but the biggest was (understandably) the bombing during the war on January 29th, 1944.
Four hundred and sixty eight 500-lb bombs dropped on Bologna that day.
About Bologna’s Archiginnasio
The Archiginnasio is also the world’s oldest university containing countless magnificent classrooms, decorated in ornate paintings, wood sculpting, and vaulted ceilings.
It houses the legacy of thousands of students who studied within these walls, and houses the largest collection of coats of arms – a stunning 7000 of them all over the walls.
Bologna’s Archiginnasio is free to enter – and you’ll probably get some sort of Harry Potter vibes when you peer into the courtyard. It’s a stunning building and you can feel the history within these walls.
P.s. Don’t miss out on seeing the beautiful Stabat Mater Hall and stunning Archiginnasio Municipal Library. You can’t go into the library but you can peer through the doorway and it appears it goes on forever. What I would give to go in there and open a book! Your ticket covers entry!
Teatro Anatomico tickets and opening hours
Tickets to the Anatomical Theatre can be purchased in person or online for 3 euros and is open 10:00 am – 6:00 pm six days a week (closed Sundays).
Booking is recommended and is mandatory for Saturdays, holidays, and groups.
You can purchase tickets on-site. We waited no more than 5 minutes to purchase our tickets (card only, no cash). There is a maximum capacity within the Anatomical Theatre which we appreciated so it wouldn’t be crowded.
You can also opt to purchase tickets for a guided walking tour of Bologna which includes a visit to the Teatro Anatomico!
Getting to the Anatomical Theatre
The entrance to Bologna’s Anatomical Theatre isn’t really obvious. If you’re in Piazza Maggiore, it’s to the left of San Petronio Basilica. Follow the walkway under the portico until you reach the Archiginnasio. You’ll likely see a few people walking in and out.
Walk up the giant staircase and turn left. You’ll see a desk in the corner where tickets are sold. You can also browse for small souvenirs and postcards.
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