Bologna is home to the oldest university in Europe, and the city owes much of its youthful vibrancy and thriving cultural life to the formidable student population, concentrated in the lively University Quarter. Tour this area to discover its cache of cafes and clubs, along with fascinating historic museums and university buildings.
Bologna’s university was established in 1088, and has hosted some of Europe’s finest minds over the centuries, including Renaissance scholars Mirandola and Alberti, astronomer Copernicus, and the artists Durer and Borromeo. The university houses a number of museums, including an Anatomy Museum, Herbarium, Physics Museum, Museum of Anthropology, Wax Museum, Museum of Zoology, and the excellent Astronomy Museum. Most are located inside the elegantly frescoed Palazzo Poggi, the university’s seat after 1803. The University Quarter is one of Bologna’s most fascinating neighborhoods, and it’s a highlight of any city walking or bike tours. Combine a visit to the University Quarter with a tour of Bologna’s historic center to visit top sights like Piazza Maggiore, the Basilica di San Petronio, and the Two Towers.
Things to Know Before You Go
- A tour of the University Quarter requires some walking, so wear comfortable shoes and dress for the weather.
- Kids especially enjoy the eclectic museums and informal atmosphere in this area.
- Some university museums aren’t wheelchair accessible; confirm in advance.
- The area is thick with cafés and restaurants, perfect for a quick snack or meal.
How to Get There
The University Quarter centers around Via Zamboni, a 10- to 15-minute walk east of Bologna’s historic center. You can easily reach the area on foot from the Bologna Centrale train station or Piazza Maggiore in the city center.
When to Get There
This student-dominated neighborhood is especially vibrant during the academic year, which runs from October through May.
Highlights of Bologna’s University Quarter
Palazzo Poggi is the heart of Bologna’s university, but there are a number of historic buildings linked to the university. The Collegio di Spagna and the Collegio dei Fiamminghi Jean Jacobs are testimony to the various colleges that once housed students from across Europe. Next to the churches of San Francesco and San Domenico, the Glossators’ Tombs demonstrate the social prestige university professors historically held; the Museo Medievale holds a collection of depictions of professors with students from centuries ago. In front of the Church of Santa Maria della Vita, the arcades of the Ospedale della Morte is where students of medicine would find corpses to study anatomy in the Palazzo dell'Archiginnasio next door. Finally, the Biblioteca Universitaria has been a public library since 1756.