Commonly referred to as Il Bo, the historic seat of the University was a building that incorporated the Hospitium Bovis, an inn ‘at the Sign of the Ox’ ( ‘ox’= bue, or bo) which stood alongside various butchers’ shops.
Padua University was founded in 1222 as the result of a spontaneous association of students and teachers from Bologna, who had come to Padua looking for greater intellectual freedom. Initially, the body was actually made up of two ‘universities’ (a word which at the time had the same meaning as ‘guild’): the Università degli Ultramontani brought together all students from outside Italy, and the Università dei Citramontani brought together those from inside Italy. Then, in 1399, the organisational division within the university was changed to one based upon the subjects taught. This resulted in the creation a Università degli Artisti (for students of philosophy and medicine) and a Università di Giurisprudenza (for those studying law).
In the second half of the sixteenth century, the Bo was substantially enlarged by Andrea Moroni, an architect who worked widely in the city. It was then that the main body of the palazzo took on the form we see today. This included the Cortile Antico [Old Courtyard] with its double level of columns. The numerous family crests within that courtyard are those of members of the university; right up to the end of the seventeenth century, it was traditional for both students and teachers to be commemorated in this way.
The most important rooms within the building include the Anatomical Theatre and the Main Hall; this latter was part of the original Hospitium Bovis and would then be used as a lecture hall for jurists (though Galileo was also allowed to teach there, given the huge numbers of students his lessons attracted). Since the middle of the nineteenth century, the Hall has been used exclusively for ceremonial occasions; the present decoration of the ceiling and the internal layout was the work of the architect and designer Giò Ponti (in 1942).