University of Parma – A millennium of history

The University of Parma has a thousand-year history – which has its roots in the concession of Emperor Otto I – and is full of great personalities.

The origins

Parma, a Roman colony since 183 BC, has always had political importance thanks to its central geographical position between the Po Valley, Liguria and Tuscany: a location that has favoured intense economic and socio-cultural exchanges. During the Byzantine period it assumed the name of “Chrysopolis” (city of gold), probably because it was the seat of the Treasury. Parma maintained a relevant position both during the Lombard and Carolingian age. The news of the Parma meeting between Charlemagne and the learned monk Alcuin in 781 seems to allude to a cultural vocation of the city: it is a fruitful event for Europe since it constitutes the premise of the Palatine Schools, the first contribution to the cultural and political renaissance of the West.

The University in the early Middle Ages

In the early Middle Ages there were already schools of liberal arts in the city of Parma gradually showing a propensity for the deepening of legal culture, also thanks to the impulse of the cathedral church. The historian of law Ugo Gualazzini recognized in the granting of the “potestatem eligendi sive ordinandi sibi notarios” by Emperor Otto I to Bishop Uberto (the diploma, dated 962, is currently preserved in the bishop’s archive), the institutionalization of public high schools of right. This vocation, together with the presence in the city of prominent masters, are well documented later in time (11th -12th century) by the writings of illustrious intellectuals: St. Pier Damiani (pupil and teacher in Parma schools), Anselmo da Besate (called the Peripatetic), Donizone di Canossa.

For example, the verses of the latter in the “Vita Mathildis” (1115) assume a particular importance: “As Greeks do, Parma is still called Crisopoli, which in Latin means city of gold, as if to say that it excels in grammar and that all seven arts are cultivated with passion in it “.

Therefore, the German historian Ernst Dümmler rightly states that the city has been the celebrated seat of studies in Europe since the 11th century, when students from Italy and from beyond the Alps flocked there; this is the case of Lamberto il Seniore, who came from the Diocese of Liège to complete his studies at Drogone di Parma and subsequently with Sinibaldo Fieschi, the future Innocent IV, and Simone de Brion, the future Martin IV. Furthermore, a number of teachers left Parma to teach in Italian and European universities; among them we must cite Giovanni Buralli who, after having read dialectics in Parma in 1230, becomes, with the name of Fra ‘Giovanni da Parma, one of the most distinguished professors of the University of Paris.

The various editions of the municipal statutes (1255-1347) provide in several points to regulate the activities of schoolchildren, teachers, doctors, thus witnessing the solid roots of Parma as city of study, whose legitimacy, according to doctrine, is guaranteed by a ” privilegio ab immemorabili “.

The difficult years under the Visconti

With the crisis of the municipal institutions and with the affirmation of various lordships (14th century), the Studium suffered heavy repercussions: the jurist Riccardo Malombra, as well as Bartolo da Sassoferrato, defend its survival and its qualification as “Studium Generale”.

The presence in Parma of Francesco Petrarca, who in the 1940s enrolled his son Giovanni in the “Studium” under the guidance of the jurist Gabrio Zaninoni, also demonstrates the cultural qualification of the city, which was a constant destination for intellectuals.

Once becoming part of the state of Milan, Parma sees its “Studium” suppressed by Galeazzo Visconti (1387) who clearly favors the one in Pavia. These decades are very difficult. It is with the domination of Niccolò III d’Este that we assist to a rebirth of the University.

The reworking of the statutes of the doctoral and student colleges and the regular drafting of matriculation dates date back to the first half of the 15 th century. In this period, distinguished professors hold chairs of law and among them the canonist Niccolò de Tedeschi (known as “Abbas Panormitanus”).

The rebirth, however, is short-lived following the return of Parma under the Visconti and Sforza dominations. However, the cultural “humus” is so consolidated that humanists such as Beroaldo, Ugoleto, Grapaldo, artists such as Correggio and Parmigianino work in Parma. The art of typography also establishes itself.

Between the Farnese and the Bourbon Houses

With the advent of the Farnese family, after 1545, there is a great revival of cultural policy: the magnificence of the dukes favours the design and construction of architectural works aimed at transforming Parma into a European capital.

The studium, run by the Jesuits, is endowed by Ranuccio I (1602) with enormous means, privileges for teachers and students, efficient structures, including the Collegio dei Nobili, intended for the training of the ruling class not only from Parma: an institution that sees its maximum splendor in the 18th century, with the influx of students from all over Italy (among them we can remember Beccaria and the Verri brothers).

The Bourbon dynasty, which succeeded the extinct Farnese house in 1748 and a brief Austrian interregnum, not only continued the cultural policy of its predecessors, but through the issuance of the “Constitutions for new royal studies” (1768) gave complete regulation to the entire education sector, from primary schools to universities; it also founded the institutions indispensable for the development of civil society, such as the Palatine Library, the Museum of Antiquities, the Botanical Garden, the Meteorological Observatory, the Academy of Fine Arts.

The University was equipped with physics cabinets, anatomy theaters, a Veterinary School.

At the time of Don Filippo, Don Ferdinando and Minister Du Tillot (second half of the 18th century) the city, called “little Athens of Italy”, saw intellectuals with a European profile at work: Etienne Bonnot de Condillac, Claude François Xavier Millot, Paolo Maria Paciaudi, Carlo Innocenzo Frugoni, Prospero Valeriano Manara, Angelo Mazza, Carlo Castone di Rezzonico.

Napoleon and Marie Louise

In the Napoleonic period the University underwent the vicissitudes of other university institutions. It should be remembered that Giandomenico Romagnosi, who graduated from the University of Parma, was called in 1805 to hold the chair of Universal Public Law in the Faculty of Law.During the Restoration and the settlement of Marie Louise of Austria (1816) the University resumed its traditional configuration.The enlightened government of the Duchess adds the institutes of Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Obstetrics to the existing ones, strengthening the Veterinary school. The University boasted illustrious professors such as the philologist and poet Angelo Mazza, the orientalist Giovanni Bernardo De Rossi, the doctor Pietro Rubini, the physicist Macedonio Melloni, the scholar Pietro Giordani, the physiologist Giacomo Tommasini and others. It is the period in which the city is also enriched by the Bodoni printing house, the graphics of Paolo Toschi, the pedagogy of Giuseppe Taverna, the music of Giuseppe Verdi and other composers.

Nevertheless, following the riots of 1831, to which students and teachers (Gallenga, Melloni, Sanvitale) adhere, the Duchess suspended teaching activities at the University, moved the Faculty of Law to Piacenza, divides the Faculty of Philosophy into two sections.In 1859 the University resumed its activities in full, even if some Faculties were mutilated by decree of the pro-dictator Luigi Carlo Farini. A phase of adjustment follows and sees once again the City committed to protecting its University.

The present days

After having regained the qualification of first grade University in 1887, the Faculties of Law, Medicine and Surgery, Physical, Mathematics and Natural Sciences, Veterinary and Pharmacy are active in Parma throughout the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. Starting from the end of the 19th century, the University began its further development process, which grew decisively in the 20th century.

Having overcome the moments of difficulty that occurred in the Fascist period, development resumed with force after the Second World War, also thanks to the active and constant work of the city in defense of its University institution. In fact, there has been a significant and progressive increase in the training offer, and it is in recent years that the University, from the main location of the courses in the headquarters in via Università, has started a progressive diffusion in the city fabric.

In 1965 the Faculty of Economics and Commerce (founded in the academic year 1954-1955 based on the first floor of the central building of the University) moved to its current location in via Kennedy, also thanks to the donation of the land by the Municipality of Parma, while the Faculty of Education was founded in 1964, which later became of Letters and Philosophy from the 1989-90 academic year. In 1986 the Faculty of Engineering was established, more recently those of Agriculture (a.y. 1993-94), Architecture (a.y. 1999-2000), Psychology and Political Sciences (a.a. 2005-06). Also worth mentioning is the establishment, in 1998, of the European College of Parma (now the European College Foundation).

From the seventies the University expanded: in the Pilotta complex, in via Cavour, in Borgo Carissimi, up to viale San Michele.

Between the seventies and the eighties the University proceeded with the acquisition of the agricultural area of 77 hectares, in the southern area of the city, on which the current Science and Technology Campus would rise. Thanks to important state fundings, the first structures intended as halls and laboratories for the Chemistry, Physics and Biology hubs are built there.

In the eighties, thanks to the generosity of the entrepreneur and patron Pietro Barilla, the campus of the Faculty of Engineering developed: Barilla donated eight billion lire in two tranches – the highest donation from a private individual to a public university in the history of the country – for the construction of the teaching center of the faculty, which since then has trained highly professional technicians capable of promoting and managing technological innovation.

Over time, the Campus has been enriched with numerous complexes for advanced teaching and research, study spaces, libraries, canteens and sports facilities. Today the Science and Technology Campus is the heart of development and innovation for the whole territory: there are four scientific departments (Engineering and Architecture; Food and Drug; Chemistry, Life Sciences and Environmental Sustainability; Mathematical, Physical and Computer Sciences), various research centers, the Technopole of the University, essential for the connection between research and production fabric (the “labs” of the University’s partner companies also find space in research activities), and numerous sports facilities managed by the University Sports Center (CUS Parma) available to students and citizenship.

In its millenary activity, in the evolution that has characterized its development, in the perspectives that outline its future, the University of Parma constantly manifests its institutional mission: to be a place of study and research oriented both to education and training of young people and the harmonious development of the society in which it is involved.

As regards the training offer, the constant increase in attractiveness is particularly significant, also due to the important process of requalification and expansion of the number of courses, started on the basis of a continuous dialogue with the world of work, at the local, national and international level. In line with this concept, some of the new courses of study activated were carried out through a strong synergy with other universities in the Region.

We must also mention the wide diffusion of cultural initiatives for scientific dissemination defined as “Third mission” and the intense cooperation activity within the European Union programs and other international projects, with a strong impulse towards internationalization.

All this, the numerous services for students (advising and guidance, computer labs, the language center, libraries and study halls, foreign language courses, the possibility of studying abroad and several online services), attention to quality teaching, innovation, research quality and the needs of the labor market make the University one of the most important and well-known university centers in Europe.

Source: University of Parma


European Higher Education Organization

European Higher Education Organization is a public organization carrying out academic, educational and information activities on higher education in Europe. The EHEO general plan stresses that: Higher education systems require adequate funding and, as an investment in economic growth, public spending in higher education should be protected. The challenges faced by higher education require more flexible governance and funding systems, which balance greater autonomy for education institutions with accountability to stakeholders. Thus, EHEO plans: improve academic and scientific interaction of universities; protect the interests of universities; interact more closely with public authorities of European countries; popularize European higher education in the world; develop academic mobility; seek funding for European universities.

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