Vol 60 No 2 2020
Cooke's Tour of Venice
Padova (Padua), the leading University in Europe during the Renaissance In the 1500s and 1600s
A University was established in Padova in 1222. Its fame as a centre of medical learning was dramatically boosted by the appointment of Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564), at the age of 23, as Professor of Anatomy and Surgery in 1537. In 1543 he published his ‘De Humani Corporis Fabrica’ that became a milestone in the history of Art as well as Science.
The fame of the Medical School of Padova was continued by outstanding Professors. The last of these was Giovanni Battista Morgagni (1682-1771). After he retired, its fame waned as other Centres of Excellence emerged.
During this period Padova was ruled by the Doges of Venice. In the late 1400s the Doges instructed their merchants to recruit staff for their University. The attractions for staff were that they were well paid, they were not restricted in what investigations they could do, and they had freedom of speech and freedom to publish their findings.
Elsewhere in Italy the Church law prevailed. This did not allow freedom of thought or speech. Harsh penalties were imposed on anyone who disobeyed these laws.
Let us visit Venice to see the powerhouse that supported Padova.
The city state of Venice was a republic, but it had a head of state who was called a Doge (Duke). From the 13th to the 16th Century, it became a wealthy and powerful city as a result of its sea trade. The city of Venice was built in swampy land in the estuary formed by a number of small rivers that drained into it. The estuary was partly protected from the sea by a naturally occurring land wall that formed a lagoon that had some areas that were deep enough to take seagoing ships.
Centuries ago, the local mainland inhabitants fled to the islands in the swamps to escape from the advancing barbarian tribes as they passed on their way to attack Rome, causing the collapse of the Roman Empire. The Venetians, as these people were called, finally decided to live permanently on the islands in the swampy estuary. They drove millions of tree trunks into the mud of the islands in the swamps and then laid trees on top of this to form a platform on which the buildings could be constructed. The result was a series of islands with a broad canal—The Grand Canal—connecting them. There was a deep water seaport as well that provided protected anchorage for their trading ships.
The Palace housed a law court where the Doge heard cases and dispensed ‘justice.’ Condemned prisoners would be taken across the Bridge of Sighs to the dungeons. This would be their last view of the outside world. The top floor of the Palace was the living quarters for the Doge. From the balcony in the middle, the Doge could watch his merchant ships leaving in the Spring for their trading voyages, and returning in Autumn laden with goods for sale.
Venice from the harbour. From right to left: The prisons. Connecting the prisons to the Doge’s Palace was the Paglia bridge (lower arrows) and the Bridge of Sighs (upper arrows)
A corridor in the dungeons. It would have been a grim place if you were on the other side of one of these strong, padlocked doors.
The Paglia bridge crosses the small water way that separates the prison from the Doge’s Palace.
A photo taken from the Paglia Bridge shows the small canal that divides the Prisons from the Palace. Tourists are being rowed in gondolas by gondoliers.
The view through one of the stone ‘windows’ on the Bridge of Sighs looking to the Paglia Bridge, the Basin and St. George’s Church on the other side of the Basin
A closer view of the Doge’s Palace made of pink marble. The Doge lived on the top floor and could view the harbour from the balcony in the middle.
The Doges and the Venetian citizens were used to seeing big ships pass from the port to the sea and back, but what would they have thought of th big cruise ship passing, let alone the other three that were moored in the docks further to the right and out of sight.
A Piazzetta is a small square that leads off a bigger one, in this case the Piazza San Marco. The granite column on the left has the winged lion of St. Marc – the symbol of Venice. The one on the right has St. Theodore – the patron saint of Venice before St. Marc. The building on the right is the National Library of Venice. The lower level houses expensive restaurants. The canopy covers a live band that adds to the sounds of the area.
Looking down on the Piazza San Marco from the balcony of St. Marc’s Basilica on a beautiful Sunday morning in October 2017. The tourists are just beginning to arrive. Around three sides of the square there are arcades for walking. These house restaurants and shops. The restaurants have tables and chairs in the Piazza. Would you like to join me for a cup of coffee at the innermost blue table of the restaurant that I have marked with a black arrow? I chose this one because it gave an unimpeded view of the people, the clock tower and the Basilica.
Having spent a few hours enjoying the sights and sounds of Venice on the second day of my visit, it was time to return to the Piazzetta to catch a ferry to my hotel. There I collected my luggage and walked to the nearby railway station to catch a train to Padova.
The clock tower with two large figures that beat the bell with hammers on the hour. Below the bell is the winged lion of St. Marc. The large clock face is at the bottom of the photo. The clock tower was strategically placed so that the hands of the clock can be seen from the Basin.
The Basilica of St. Marc as viewed through one of the arches of the arcade. The tall Campanile (bell tower) is beside it. Originally it was built to identify approaching ships. It also served as a landmark to guide ships entering the harbour.
I hope you will join me for a tour of the Medical School of Padova in Part two of this Cooke’s Tour.
by Dr. Robin A. Cooke
Emeritus Editor of the IAP News Bulletin