Constructed in 1594 by Girolamo Fabricius Acquapendente, the anatomical theater at the University of Padua’s Palazzo del Bo is the oldest surviving dissection arena in the world.
The elliptical-shaped theater has six tiers carved from walnut with space for 300. Each bears down on the other so that students would have had a good view of the dissection table which is still in place, where dissections were performed on cadavers until 1872. Famed anatomist Andreas Vesalius practiced here, as did generations of early medical practitioners. This 16th inscription still remains visible: “Hic locus ubi mors east gaudet succurrere vitae,” or “This is a place where the dead are pleased to help the living.” A room alongside the theater displays historic surgical tools.
In addition to the architectural masterpiece of the anatomical theater, the Palazzo del Bo itself is a stunning place to visit. One of the oldest universities in Europe, it is overflowing with history, and you can find relics from its greatest lecturer — Galileo. His chair and lectern remain preserved in place.
Know Before You Go
Accessible by guided tour only.