Medicine at the University of Pavia

While it is unclear whether medical teaching occurred under the edict issued by the Frankish king of Italy Lothar I – so-called Capitularium Lotharii – issued in 825 AD and regarded as the unofficial foundation date of the University of Pavia as the ‘studium’ desctibed in the capitularium was predomaninantly a law school. It is entirely clear, instead, that Medicine was taught very early after the official foundation of the University by the Holy Roman emperor Charles IV in 1361 following new planning and investments in a new ‘ the studium generale’ by Gian Galeazzo Visconti, duke of Milan.

A number of notable figures studied or taught Medicine at Pavia throughout the centuries alongside several ’natural scientists’ such as Lazzaro Spallanzani (1729-1799) who made gigantic contributions to Medicine through his studies on spontaneous generation, regeneration, artificial insemination and respiration or Vittorio Erspamer (1909-1999) who discovered the molecule later named as serotonin, a neurotransmitter with critical roles in the central nervous system, the gastrointestinal tract and inflammation. Outstanding members of the medical school of the University of Pavia included the anatomist A Scarpa (1752-1832), E Oehl (1827-1903) and P Mantegazza (1831-1910) who pioneered the fields of experimental physiology and experimental pathology in Italy and Europe as well, G Bizzozero (1846-1901) and C Golgi (1843-1926) who made ground breaking contributions to the study of blood cells (GB) and the cells of the nervous system as well the red blood cell cycle of the malaria parasite (CG).

A medical Course taught in English

For centuries Medicine at Pavia and other Universities – in Italy and other countries – has been taught in Latin. At the University of Pavia Latin Italian gradually replaced Latin for the teaching of Medicine during the 19th century and has been the sole language in use until 2009. In 2009 the University of Pavia was the first one in Italy to introduce a medical Course taught in English. It did so for two reasons, both of which are rooted in the established tradition of teaching and learning that Italy has nurtured for centuries, namely the ability to offer teaching in a language shared by students and scholars of many nations: a role served by Latin for many centuries and gradually assumed by the English language after the 2nd World War). The result of this process, subsequently imitated and adopted by another 11 Italian Universities 7 state Universities and 4 private ones, is the medical Course known in Pavia as the Harvey Course described briefly in the accompanying and described in full detail in a dedicated Harvey Medical School website.

Image (C Golgi’s ‘black reaction’)

While working for several years in a hospital for poor and chronically sick people 36 km from Pavia (la Pia Casa degli Incurabili in Abbiategrasso), C Golgi was able to retain his research interests and developed a new method for staining neurons (see image, an original brain section stained by C Golgi with his new procedure, named the ‘black reaction’; see image at the top of the page).  Golgi’s new staining procedure enabled an unprecedented level of resolution and is widely regarded the ground work for modern neurosciences.   For this work C Golgi was awarded a share of the 1906 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.

Log In

Create an account