Pisa: University

The University of Pisa is public institution constituted by twenty departments, with high-level research centers within the sectors of agriculture, astrophysics, technology, engineering, medicine, and veterinary medicine. The University has also a close relationship with the Pisan Institutes of the National Board of Research (CNR), with many cultural institutions of national and international importance, and with industry, especially that of data technology. Because of its very long university history and prime quality of studies and research centers all three sections: Università di Pisa, Scuola Normale Superiore, and Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna gained a really prestigious reputation both in Italy and Europe.



The University of Pisa is one of the most ancient universities in Europe, it was founded in 1343 by an edict of Pope Clement VI, but some lectures on law had existed since the 11th century. The papal bull ‘In supremae dignitatis‘, granted by Pope Clement VI on the 3rd September 1343, recognized the ‘Studium’ of Pisa as a ‘Studium Generale‘; an institution of further education founded or confirmed by a universal authority, the Papacy or Empire. The first taught subjects were theology, civil law, canon law, and medicine. In 1355, Francesco da Buti, the well-known commentator of Dante‘s Divine Comedy,  began teaching at the Studium.

The first few decades weren’t easy due to the political situation of the period that saw Pisa being conquered by the Visconti family in 1399 then conquered again in 1406 by Repubblica di Firenze. In 1406 the university was also closed and from the end of the 14th century to the 15th century, the university suffered from the the political events of the period.


In 1473 Lorenzo dei Medici reopened the university and because the number of scholars increased, he ordered the construction in Piazza del Grano of a building where professors could carry out their lectures, the building was later known as Palazzo della Sapienza.

In 1497 the institution was moved to Prato, Pistoia, and Florence following the rebellion of Pisa against Florence. The ceremonial re-opening of the University, on the 1st November 1543, ruled by Duke Cosimo I dei Medici, was considered as a second inauguration.

The quality of the University was furthered by the statute of 1545 and the Pisan Athenaeum became one of the most significant in Europe for teaching and research.

During this era, Luca Ghini was made professor of “Semplici” (botany), who founded one of the first Botanical Gardens, after him the chair was given to Andrea Cesalpino, who pioneered the first scientific methodology for the classification of plants and is considered a forerunner in within the discovery of blood circulation. Galileo Galilei, who was born and studied in Pisa, became professor of Mathematics at the Pisan Studium in 1589.

The important role of the University of Pisa as a state institution became stronger during the Medici Grand Duchy period. A protectionist policy ensured a consistent nucleus of scholars and teachers, moreover, some laws were issued and obliged people who wanted to obtain a degree to attend the Studium of Pisa.


The University’s development continued under the Lorenas. During their domain they managed to complete several accomplishments:

  • They completed the construction of the astronomic observatory (a project initiated by the Medicis),
  • They helped enriching the University Library with important publications,
  • Further developed the Botanical Gardens and Natural Science Museum and;
  • They established new chairs, such as Experimental Physics and Chemistry.

When Tuscany was conquered by the Napolean Empire, the university became a branch of Paris University and the structure of all courses had to follow the French educational guideline. During this period “La Scuola Normale Superiore” was established, as a branch of the “Ecole Normale de Paris”.

The Restoration wasn’t able to cancel the effects of the Napoleonic experience.

The first Congress of Italian Scientists was held in Pisa in 1839; 421 scientists and over 300 experts of various disciplines discussed zoology, comparative anatomy, chemistry, physics, mathematics, agronomy, technology, botany, vegetation physiology, geology, mineralogy, geography and medicine.

In 1840 the director of education increased the number of faculties from five to six (Theology, Law, Literature, Medicine, Mathematics and Natural Sciences) and created the first ever chair of Agriculture and sheep farming.

With the “Second Restoration” in 1851 the university was subject to another political change; in fact, Leopoldo II ruled the union of the universities of Pisa and Siena into the Etruscam Athenaeum. The faculties of Law and Theology were transferred to Siena, while the faculties of Mathematics, Natural Sciences, Medicine and Literature remained in Pisa.

In 1859, after the flee of the Gran Duke, the Provisory Government imposed that all six of the faculties were returned to Pisa.

During the Kingdom of Italy, the University of Pisa became one of the new state’s most prestigious cultural institutions. Between the second half of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries the following prestigious lecturers taught at Pisa:

  • The lawyers Francesco Carrara and Francesco Buonamici,
  • Philologists Domenico Comparettiand Giovanni D’Ancona,
  • Historians Pasquale VillariGioacchino Volpe and Luigi Russo,
  • Philosopher Giovanni Gentile,
  • Economist Giuseppe Toniolo; and
  • Mathematicians Ulisse Dini and Antonio Pacinotti.


During the years of fascism, the Pisa Athenaeum was an active center for political debate and antifascist organization. After the second world war, the University returned to be the its original job: teaching. During the 20th century new faculties were added to the existing ones of engineering and pharmacy, established pre-war, and these were: economics, foreign languages and literature, and politics.

In 1967 the Scuola Superiore di Studi Universitari e Perfezionamento S. Anna was founded which, together with La Scuola Normale, formed a learning and teaching center.

Today, the University of Pisa has 20 departments, with high-level research centers in the sectors of agriculture, astrophysics, computer science, engineering, mathematics, medicine, and veterinary medicine.


Famous alumni of the university include:

  • Galileo Galilei, the founder of modern science,
  • The Nobel prize winners Enrico Fermi and Carlo Rubbia,
  • The poets Giosuè Carducci (Nobel prize winner) and Giovanni Pascoli,
  • The physicist Antonio Pacinotti;
  • The former President of the Republic of Italy, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi;
  • The former Prime Minister Giuliano Amato,
  • The film directors Mario Monicelli, and Paolo and Vittorio Taviani;
  • The writer Antonio Tabucchi and the journalist Tiziano Terzani; and
  • The tenor Andrea Bocelli.