The foundation of the University of Catania, the oldest in Sicily, dates back to 1434, when the king of Spain, Alfonso of Aragon (who was also King Alfonso I of Sicily) authorised the establishment of a Studium generale with the privilege of issuing legally valid academic titles - baccellierati, licenses and degrees - in the four core disciplines of theology, canon and civil law, physical (medical) and joint philosophy, liberal arts (literature), the papal recognition arriving ten years later from Pope Eugene IV.
Prior to this, the main centres of education were in Palermo, Messina and Trapani. However, none of them held the jus doctorandi or the right to grant degrees which could only be given by the Pope. In 1444, the first four faculties of Medicine, Philosophy, Canonic and Civil Law and Theology and Arts were established. Students began to attend classes in 1445, however it was not until two centuries later that the university gained its own establishment in Piazza Università. It still stands in the Piazza today, in the former grounds of the hospital of St. Mark’s. The former building was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1693 and students were left without a place to continue their study. In the interim period before it was rebuilt, the resourceful students, unperturbed by such events and endowed with infinite determination, transferred classes to wooden huts near the harbour. The new building, designed by Giovan Battista Vaccarini, is a magnificent monument of Baroque architecture.
The University of Catania was not only structurally powerful. It also held the exclusive right by Royal Decree to grant degrees within the Reign of Sicily. Although the hierarchical power of the university was in the hands of the Church, the Rector, an elected student in his last year of studies, had the power to put students on trial.
25 Chimes of the Cathedral bell marked the beginning of the academic year. Throughout the year, a porter marked daily any professor absence. The figures were then taken to a notary who subtracted a day’s wages from their pay. At the end of his studies, a student was awarded his degree in the Cathedral as well as a gold ring and a blessing from the Archbishop. Although this ceremony and many other traditions have fallen into disuse, the academic structure of the university is still as strong today as it was in the first half of the 15th century when it started out with just ten students.
Today the university buildings are spread throughout the city, with a contrast between the modern, hi-tech “University City”, and numerous historical buildings in the old city centre. It offers an attractive portfolio of academic titles and is committed in the creation of a “laboratory” where the ancient Mediterranean culture meets the new technologies, in order to offer advanced training experience. Students wishing to take an undergraduate degree will find our university to be a high quality educational institution. Excellent departments and support services are offered throughout all of our university sites in Catania, Syracuse and Ragusa. Here, students may also discover a culturally dynamic environment suitable for growing as students and individuals as well.