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Tondo ceramico raffigurante Santa Caterina d'Alessandria (logo dell'Ateneo)
Antico sigillo
Cortile del rettorato
Particolare di affresco - cortile del Rettorato
Dipinto delle celebrazioni del 750° anno accademico - 1990
Busto raffigurante Leopoldo







On the 26 December of 1240, the podestà of Siena Ildebrandino Cacciaconti signed a decree imposing a tax on those citizens who rented rooms to students in order to fund the incomes of the maestri of the Studium Senese. This is one of the very first examples of a Studium being financed by the city-state.

Its components consisted of a School of Law, a School of Grammar and a School of Medicine; the latter in particular would acquire a notable prestige in just a few years and numbered among its maestri Pietro Ispano, the illustrious physician and philosopher, personal doctor to Emperor Federico II, who was elected pope in 1276 under the name of Giovanni XXI.

In 1252, Pope Innocent IV, in a show of support, granted the Studium’s faculty and students the privilege of tax exemption. In the years that followed, measures were drawn up by the city authorities to allocate resources and provide protection and assistance to all those who came to Siena in order to study.

The occasion to increase their prestige and attract a larger number of pupils and professors presented itself to the Studium in 1321, when one of the students of the Alma Mater of Bologna was accused of kidnapping a young woman and then sentenced to death by the magistrates of Bologna. A great protest was unleashed by the student body of the universitates against the local authority, partly at the instigation of the Law lecturer Guglielmo Tolomei, at which point Siena stepped in, and thanks to the generous funding provided by the municipality, the Studium Senese was prepared to accommodate the young men who were abandoning the Studium Bolongese en mass. The city of Siena realised that the University was a very important cultural and political hub, one that should be safeguarded.

Through its various strivings, whether it be appealing to illustrious educators, or convincing them to stay, Siena was finally promoted to the status of Studium Generale. It was officially recognised by Charles IV, under whose protection it was granted privileges and immunity, sheltering both docents and students against attacks from the magistracy.

Casa della Sapienza was later built as a centre combining classrooms and student housing whose fate went hand in hand with that of the Studium. It had been proposed by bishop Mormille in 1392 and was completed twenty years later with its first occupants taking up residence in 1416 at the price of fifty gold florins for room and board. Though the city by that time had lost much of its original splendour as the plague of 1348 had left its mark, intellectuals and scholars were still drawn to it from all over Europe.

Year in and year out the list of great maestri who taught at the Studium grew longer and longer, and it is thanks to the farsightedness of these professors that the great innovations of the age, like the printing press, made their way into the city.

After the fall of the Republic of Siena in 1555, the city authorities ask their conquerors, the Medici, to preserve the academy. Under Francesco and later Grand Duke Ferdinando, reforms were made with new statutes and new preogatives. The post of Rettore or Chancellor, elected by students and city magistrates, was also instituted.

Under Lorraine rule the academy managed to acquire the vast library of the illustrious economist Sallustio Bandini. But crisis was imminent. When the French occupied Tuscany they eliminated the Studium Senese in 1808 and the doors of the University were not opened again until after the restoration. The return of the Grand Duke coincided with the resumption of the University’s activities. During the Risorgimento, Sienese students organised groups which were openly patriotic. They publicly expressed their dissent and in April of 1848, three professors, one assistant and fifty-five students formed the Compagnia della Guardia Universitaria to participate in the battle of Curtatone and Montanara. The troop’s flag is still preserved in the Chancellor’s building. All of this passion for the new republic could not but trouble the Grand Duke and in the end he closed down the School of Medicine permitting only Law and Theology to continue.

The Sienese academy recovered from this unfortunate situation after 1859, thanks to initiatives by the city’s private enterprises and a series of legislative acknowledgements that boosted the reputation of the School of Pharmacy and that of Obstetrics (and consequently the School of Medicine itself) while the old hospital Santa Maria della Scala was transformed into General University Hospital. Some time later in 1880 , the Law Faculty established the Circolo Giuridico or Legal Circle, where issues pertaining to law studies were examined in depth through seminars and lectures.

In spite of the fervour, in 1892 the Minister of Public Education, Ferdinando Martini, launched a proposal aimed at suppressing the Sienese academy’s activities. Siena perceived this as a declaration of war and was backed immediately by a general tradesmen’s strike, the intervention of all of the town’s institutions and by a genuine uprising of the population – all of which induced to minister to withdraw the project. Having escaped this danger, the town went back to investing its resources in the university setting up new degrees and new faculties. Monte dei Paschi financed the construction of the biology department – a task which was then repeated one hundred years later – while the Italian academic world was in apprehension over repeated legal proposals, among which was the Minister of Public Education Guido Baccelli’s plan which sought to impose autonomous financing, thereby penalising the smaller academic institutions.

The 19th century witnessed the constant growth of the University of Siena, escalating from four hundred students between the wars to more than 20 thousand in the last few years.

In 1990 the Sienese academy celebrated its 750th anniversary. University Chancellors from all over Europe attended the November 7th inauguration of the academic year to pay tribute to an institution that had dedicated itself for more than seven centuries to the cultivation and diffusion of knowledge.


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