1088 is widely considered the date in which free teaching began in Bologna, independently from the ecclesiastic schools. At the end of the 11th century, masters of grammar, rhetoric and logic began to apply themselves to law in Bologna.
From the 14th century the schools of jurists sat alongside the so-called "artists", scholars of Medicine, Philosophy, Arithmetic, Astronomy, Logic, Rhetoric and Grammar. The teaching of Theology was instituted in 1364. Dante Alighieri, Francesco Petrarca, Guido Guinizelli, Cino da Pistoria, Cecco d'Ascoli, Re Enzo, Salimbene da Parma and Coluccio Salutati all studied in Bologna.
In the 15th century Greek and Hebrew studies were instituted, and in the 16th century those of "natural magic",experimental science. The philosopher Pietro Pomponazzi upheld the study of the laws of nature against the traditionalist position of Theology and Philosophy. A representative figure of this period was Ulisse Aldrovandi, whose contribution ranged from pharmacopoeia to the study of animals, fossils, and marvels of nature which he collected and classified.
In the 16th century Gaspare Tagliacozzi completed the first studies of plastic surgery. The golden era of Medicine in Bologna coincided with the teachings of Marcello Malpighi in the 17th century, using the microscope for anatomic research.The University's fame had spread throughout Europe and Bologna was a destination for many illustrious guests including Thomas Becket, Paracelso, Raimundo de Pegñafort, Albrecht Dürer, san Carlo Borromeo, Torquato Tasso and Carlo Goldoni. Pico della Mirandola and Leon Battista Alberti also studied in Bologna, devoted to canonical law. Nicolas Copernicus began his astronomical observations while studying pontifical law here.
With the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, the University promoted scientific and technological development. In this period came the studies of Luigi Galvani who, along with Alessandro Volta, Benjamin Franklin and Henry Cavendish, was one of the founders of modern electrotechnical studies.
Following the establishment of the United Italian State came a period of great prosperity for the University of Bologna, in which the figures of Giovanni Capellini, Giosuè Carducci, Giovanni Pascoli, Augusto Righi, Federigo Enriques, Giacomo Ciamician, and Augusto Murri stand out.
In 1888 the eighth centennial of the University was celebrated, with a grand ceremony in which all the world's universities convened in Bologna to honour the mother of all universities. The ceremony became an international festival of studies, as the universities recognised their common roots and ideals of progress and tolerance in Bologna.
The University maintained its central position on the scene of global culture until the period between the two wars, when other countries came to the forefront in teaching and research. It is called on to forge relations with institutions in the world's most advanced countries, to modernise and expand its activities. Among the many challenges which it has met with success, the University is committed to the European dimension leading to the innovation of the university system.