Bologna: Anatomy Theatre, Anatomical Wax Museum, Palazzo Poggi

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Welcome to the historical town of Bologna where we will visit the oldest anatomy dissection theater at the University of Bologna. The University of Bologna founded in 1088 has such rich history and is the oldest university in the Western world. Transitioning from the urban centers of Florence to the quieter town of Bologna was an interesting experience. Just a day ago we were walking the streets of Florence which were lined with designer shops and boutiques. Arriving in Bologna was a bit shocking, suddenly there were no tourist vendors approaching you every second or large shopping markets on every street corner. The town felt so compact and decorated by restaurant windows and historic venues.

Our first stop before visiting the Palazzo dell’ Archiginassio was standing before the statue of Luigi Galvani, the father of neurophysiology. Galvani was largely known for experimenting on frog legs which tested the relationship between the muscular and nervous systems. The term galvanize is set in context with the theme of leaping into action or springing into action just like a pair of frog legs. A short lecture at the statue of Galvani then followed by a visit to the anatomy dissection theater. Upon entrance, we can see the central dissection table made of marble with a contemporary piece lying on top. The theater has an oval shape with wooden benches and a central stage like backdrop with two muscular sculptures standing atop the podium. Sitting on the same benches as anatomy students in the 19th century was so mind-boggling. Dissection theaters like these have really shaped the art of teaching anatomy.

The following day our group visited the anatomical wax museum and Palazzo Poggi museum at the University of Bologna. We had an elaborate lecture by Professor Alessandro Ruggeri who showed us the collection of pathological wax models. Visiting this museum was very unique because for the first time we saw wax models depicting pathologies such as scarlet fever, smallpox, and megalogastria in heavy drinkers, bone malformations, liver cirrhosis, gallstones, and more. What a wonderful concept of introducing pathology to medical students at the university. Not only do they see a 3-D wax model with immaculate detail, but can also understand the underlying anatomy involved. Truly revolutionary!!

Our last venue in the city of Bologna was the Palazzo Poggi museum which houses obstetric models made of terracotta that depict difficult fetal positioning in the womb. These models were made to instruct midwives on the different fetal positions that they could possibly encounter during delivery. Along with the obstetrics models the museum contains Ercole Lelli’s horseshoe kidney and Clemente Susini’s Venerina.

I had a wonderful experience visiting two great historic venues that I like to describe as the anatomical Disneyland for students studying health and science. At last we were able to truly connect art and anatomy on the Italian peninsula. Our next stop is the city of Padua.



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