Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, King of Sicily and Holy Roman Emperor established the University of Naples as the Studium with an Imperial Charter, on 5 June 1224. In recognition of its founder, the university was named Federico II in 1987.
It is one of the oldest universities to be founded by a head of State; this was at variance with other educational institutions, which were, by and large, the product of corporate initiatives. The King’s objective was to create an institution of higher learning that would put an end to the predominance of the universities of Northern Italy, most notably Bologna and Padua, which were considered either too independent or under the strong influence of the Pope. The independence was granted by the Charter, which gave the Emperor the highest authority. He hired professors, who would become royal employees paid through royal funds. Moreover, the Emperor himself examined candidates and conferred degrees. Consistent with this rather rigid, centralized establishment, students and academic personnel were not allowed to travel and study elsewhere. Graduates took a vow to stay loyal to the King and to lecture at the Studium for a minimum of sixteen months. The foundation of the university was carried out within the framework of an administrative reform pursued by the Emperor with the objective of training bureaucrats loyal to him and capable of keeping under check local nobles whom he distrusted. Thus, a strong motivation was to create a political tool for the Emperor to pursue his policy and counteract papal influence. However, Frederick’s love for learning was an equally strong motivation. Nevertheless, during the Emperor’s reign, the university closed down and had to be re-founded twice, in 1234 and in 1239. After Frederick’s death the university lost most of its splendor and faced a period of severe instability being shut and re-founded by the successive rulers.
The Angevins, who took control of Southern Italy in 1254, maintained the centralized structure established by Frederick, but the motivations changed somewhat. Indeed, the Angevins held the Kingdom of Naples as the Pope’s vicars, while papal influence had become strong in ruling Italy as a whole. The strict rules of Frederick II were upheld; thus, no Neapolitan scholar could teach outside Naples for at least a year after graduation. A stiff fine was imposed upon those who broke this rule. Graduates from other universities had to undergo a qualifying examination by a royal commission or by the King himself, before being allowed to teach. However, the practice of re-examining foreign graduates, before granting teaching privileges, was not unique to Naples. Reciprocity was most unusual even with the highly respected British universities such as Oxford and Cambridge. What made Naples unique was that qualification to teach had to be granted by royal decree. Under the Angevins the primary remit of the university did not change. It remained primarily the training of royal administrators; but lawyers were trained to write anti-imperial acts rather than edicts to counteract papal influence. But the Angevins fostered interaction with the existing (mainly religious) schools and the creation of new ones. A new school was established in the Dominican convent of ‘San Domenico Maggiore’ where, towards the end of the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas, one of most illustrious alumni of the university of Naples, studied and subsequently taught before moving to Paris. During the Aragonese domination of the 15th century (1442-1501) the humanities became the primary focus of higher education in Naples, when the religious establishment dominated the university. The university was closed and reopened in 1465 following an agreement between King Ferrante and pope Paul II. But troubles were not over yet and the university was closed again in 1490. After several years, characterised by war and political turmoil, in 1507 the university opened again in the Convent of ‘San Domenico Maggiore’. This became the venue of the university for more than a century. In 1616 was moved again to the ‘Palazzo degli Studi’ (the building that, today, hosts the National Archeological Museum) until 1777. During the 17th century the University of Naples suffered the general decadence of European universities, failing the attempt to enforce the Statute of the University of Salamanca. Educationally, Naples became dominated by mediocre private and religious organizations.
The Eighteenth century
The short Austrian period (1707-1734), particularly during the last phase of the viceroy, was characterised by an upsurge in academic activity that continued during the ensuing Bourbon domination, started with Charles III. The university regained its role as the only centre of higher education in the peninsular South (Sicily had its own Universities). It is worth remembering that in those years Giovanbattista Vico taught at the University of Naples. In 1777, after the dissolution of the Jesuits, the university was moved to the ‘Collegio del Salvatore’, the former house of the ousted congregation, which is still owned and in use by the university nowadays. Throughout the second half of the 18th century the University of Naples had a considerable role in the remarkable cultural development of the Kingdom. Some of the teachers, among whom Antonio Genovesi, were active in the Enlightenment movement and a new class of intellectuals and civil servants was formed. Many academics contributed to the Jacobin revolution of 1799 and were instrumental in organising the administrative structure of the short-lived Neapolitan Republic.
During the Bourbon restoration the university lost momentum again and private schools became dominant as provider of higher education in Southern Italy. By 1860 the university included six schools (Theology, Law, Arts, Medicine, Mathematics and Natural Sciences). However, the pace of its development cannot be compared with British, French and German universities. But 1860 became a turning point since the return from exile of Francesco De Sanctis and his appointment as director general for education and as minister the following year. He revolutionised entirely the statute and the staff of the university, bringing its level up to modern European standards. At this time the Schools of Theology was closed. During the subsequent years, the ambition of De Sanctis pushed the university towards excellence in Europe; he introduced rules that made the University of Naples different from other Italian universities. However, following the unification of Italy of 1861, these differences were doomed to disappear and the law of 1877, introduced by minister Coppino, conforms the University of Naples to the general structure of Italian universities, as laid out by the Casati law of 1859. Following the cholera epidemic of 1884 new town-planning initiatives extended the university compound from the ‘Cortile del Salvatore’ southward, towards corso Umberto I. Many buildings (such as the convent of San Marcellino, adjacent to the ‘Cortile del Salvatore’, the old Jesuits’ seat) were converted to university facilities. The central university building, that dominates corso Umberto I, between piazza della Borsa and piazza Nicola Amore was completed in 1912 and today it hosts the Senate House and part of the School of Law.
The Twentieth century
The University of Naples survived the years of World War II. Though often bombarded, it did not undergo severe damage; however, after the armistice of 8th september 1943 and the guerilla warfare put up by the insurgent Neapolitans, retreating German troops set some university buildings on fire. Following this disastrous period, other university facilities were taken over for some time by the occupying Anglo-American forces. The Fifties and Sixties saw an expansion of the university and entire schools were moved into newly developing areas such as Fuorigrotta, on the North-Western periphery of the city, where the School of Engineering was located in a dedicated new building, and on the hill of Camaldoli where the Medical School occupies a very large area. Since the year 2000 a new, very large compound, named the Monte Sant’Angelo Complex, located in the area of Fuorigrotta, has hosted the Schools of Mathematics, Physics and Natural Sciences, Biotechnological Sciences and Economics. Although new universities have been established in Southern Italy and in the Campania region, student enrollment in Naples increased steadily in the Seventies and the early Eighties to over 100,000 making the University of Naples one of the largest in the country. Nowadays the university is made up of thirteen schools, eightytwo departments, an academic staff of more than 3,000 individuals and an administrative staff of more than 4,500. Current student enrollment is still about 100,000.