Seventh Scientific Meeting of the
CLAssification and Data Analysis Group
of the Italian Statistical Society
Università di Catania (Italy) - September 9-11, 2009

The University of Catania from its origins to the 1800s

On October 19th of 1434, Alfonso of Aragon, monarch of Spain and Sicily, officially confirmed his approval for a Studium generale for the city of Catania with the following sentence:”Placeat providere et privilegium concedere quod Studium generale fiat in Civitate Cathanie, cum civica sit ad hoc aptissima et fertilis Placet”.
But only on April 18 of 1444, the pontifical approval, necessary for the activity to begin, was given by Pope Eugenio the IVth, to the four fundamental sections of: Theology, Civil and Canonocal Law, Physics (Medicine) and Philosophy, and Liberal Arts (Literature), with the right to confer degrees, bachelorships and grant licenses. The economic needs of the Studium were provided for by the King in the form of a grant. Initially, the university was located in a building that had previously been used by the city’s intermediate schools till 1684, when it found adequate lodging on the premises of the San Marco Hospital. But the disastrous earthquake of 1693 destroyed much of Catania, and San Marco as well. The Studium recommenced its activity forty days after the earthquake, this time housed in barracks at the port. The work of re building on the foundations of the old San Marco began in 1696, resulting in the actual building in which the Rectorate is found today. The inner court yard and colonnade of the new building were designed by the architect Giovan Battista Vaccarini. The university of Catania was conferred of the Siculorum Gymnasium’s exclusive authority to confer legally valid degrees, following the model of the University of Bologna but differed from it in that all the administrative power was given to the Church. For the students, civil and penal offences were judged not by the ordinary judges but by the Rector himself, who often pronounced rather leniently. The Rector was elected annually by the senior students.
The student aspiring to the laurea was required to pass a 24 hours exam, and discuss the puncta. The score of the puncta was done in secrecy. The ceremony consisted in the handing out of books to the new graduate, first closed and then opened, the placing of a beret on the head of the student and of a gold ring on his finger, followed by the kiss of peace and a blessing. The Studium was particularly rejuvenated by the attention given by the Austrian government with the diploma decreed by Charles of Bourbon in 1737.
In 1779, another reform abolished the role of Rector and lectors were obliged to use Italian language and students with their heads uncovered during repetitions. Due to the fact that King Ferdinand the 1st in 1805 decreed the university of Palermo and Messina, the role of Catania Studium declined with the drop of the number of students. Because of the initiative of Ferdinand II, worried about the fermenting revolutionary independence movement that had begun to form in the Sicilian universities, that obliged students to attend the university to which had been assigned the province from which they came, the number of students of the Studium raised up. After the 1860, under the Savoy, the Sicilian universities passed under the jurisdiction of the State. In 1862 the University of Catania was forced to submit to the De Sanctis law that demoted it to a secondary level. Only after an initiative of the municipal councils and provinces of Etnean regions, who had managed to unite themselves in the effort to meet the indispensable needs of their institution, the Studium regained its status of primary level university.