“Underneath the Arcades of Knowledge”

Not long after the first millennium, and within the context of a close-knit community whose vitality is evident even today, Bologna brought forth a remarkably active cultural, scientific and artistic output.  The physical layout of the town, with its many many arcades, was unparalleled and gave rise to an unstoppable source of vigour and growth.  It was here that a unique climate was able to flourish, one in which the pursuit of learning, the exchange of knowledge and opinions, and innovation developed and put its stamp on the town’s second millennium.

The birth of a modern medical school put the science of medicine, following as it did on the town’s pursuit of law and notaryship studies, at the very centre of what we can call a ‘spatial’ platform.  Shot through with history though it is, this platform nevertheless does lend itself to currentness and eagerly invites innovation.  It can and does indeed acknowledge both the joint work of brilliant minds of the past and the urban environment that connected their work, defined by the pulsing arteries of the town’s arcades.

The lively medieval city centre of Bologna will provide the backdrop, the urban context, for the first Festival della Scienza Medica (Festival of Medical Science), from 7 to 10 May, with a concluding follow-up day on 26 May.

Our aim has been to conceive and set up not only a series of events but also to map them out along a well thought out cultural route which will be physically scattered about the town centre.  This way, the charted paths and stops should make for a better and more interesting understanding of the city’s artistic, cultural and scientific clout and of the undisputed influence it wielded both at home and abroad.

The series of events are of merit in and of themselves but our main purpose was to set up a unifying timeframe,  one that can express an original way to bolster people’s appreciation for the culture of Bologna just as much as for Bologna itself.  We did not wish to furnish a quaint  ‘antiquey’ approach to the town but, rather, looked to retrieving a wide-spectrum field of knowledge in which history has played a star role – specifically the history of medicine and the current significance of state-of-the-art medicine.

Many are the institutions that can be called upon to build on this idea, starting from the universities and academies and colleges all the way to civic and non-civic museums, the Carisbo Foundation, the Genus Bononiae Foundation, and the town hall itself.  But called upon they should be in order to consolidate this idea and develop it both within the town and beyond it.  Drawing upon various historical events and facts-and-figures that are tied to the town’s cultural, scientific and artistic make-up (some better known than others) would be a good way to boost interest in the tourist sector, a good way to attract a high-level tourist experience that, over and beyond the classic Rome-Florence-Venice tour, might now aim for Bologna as a prime destination offering an unexpected variety and richness of experiences.

By connecting the historical buildings and sites in a charted network that is reflective of their particular function (scientific and museum), we are looking to create a cultural climate that can work on an annual basis, one that can express a particular and diverse annual  ‘Bologna Season’ under its arcades.

We are thus looking to working on the town itself, working on its sites and locations: a palazzo here, a hall there,  Bologna’s historical buildings and, naturally, its arcades. The arcades in particular are to be understood not just as places for pleasurable promenading or for use to get from one place to another but as ‘spaces’ that invite the forging of relationships, the exchange of facial expressions and conversation, meeting points, and halls of learning.  All of this invites a peculiar kind of narration of the many stories that go into the making of  history – in our case, the stories and perspectives of medical science.

There can be no culture in the absence of remembrance and culture is, moreover, about the sense of the passing of time.  The same goes for medical science, it needs the presence and a firm grasp of history if it is to achieve a deeper understanding and go forward.  It is by understanding its own history that this body of knowledge can develop the kind of awareness which cannot be delegated, nor should it be entrusted, to the otherwise necessary input of digital instruments.

The wide variety and availability of venues, each one selected according to its suitability for any given performance, lecture or other specific requirement, has been a great benefit.  It is indeed fitting that the town’s settings, the town’s ‘urban script’ as it were, are to serve as the backcloth for all the lectures, the telling of true stories, the performances, and medical research presentations.

Bologna can take centre stage as the natural setting for the discussion of the future of medical science, by recalling what occurred there from the XIV century onwards and how it was tightly connected to the development of its society, of the métiers and crafts as well as its industry.

And then we can get to talking about today and the scenario of a longer life, a long life that could only be wished upon until our recent past and which is now almost ‘demanded’ by society.  A society that might be at odds with having to keep up with the fast pace of cutting-edge scientific discoveries in medicine on the one hand, and, on the other, may risk losing sight of principles and contexts that are fundamental for the progress of humanity.

Fabio Roversi Monaco
President of Genus Bononiae. Musei nella Città