This is the largest wall heraldic complex in the world. There are about 6000 coats of arms, although there were many others before the destruction caused by the bombing of January 1944 (now we can see the empty arches, without the coats of arms, in the side of the palace that was bombed).
The wall decorations of the Archiginnasio palace are basically of two types: the coats of arms of the students and the “memorials”, that are about 140 decorations dedicated to the professors of the Bolognese Studio.
The decoration of the coats of arms was related to the student councils which were elected each year. The student representatives had the right to paint their coat of arms. The coats of arms always decorate the walls in a stated order:the “nationes” (which are the regions of provenience of the various groups of students) were divided in “citromontane” and “ultramontane”, that means below or beyond the Alps. The “nationes” were always arranged according to a certain sequence for the Legisti (law students) and to another one for the Artists. They reached a maximum of 50 nationes for the Legisti and a maximum of 37 for the Artists in the seventeenth century. The representative of a “natio” was not always from that same place, so it was common that a student of a different nationality served as a substitute.
The regulation of the spaces where to affix the coats of arms was up to Gabella Grossa, the Bolognese judiciary that ran the Archiginnasio.
In the seventeenth century there began to be serious problems of space. The artists covered previous decorations, with the obligation to reproduce them as small as possible (for example, we can see Angelo Spannocchio’s memorial in the Stabat Mater Room, which is flanked by coats of arms reproduced in smaller dimensions). Then, this custom was no longer followed.
The “syndici anatomiae” were twenty students who were chosen to attend the public anatomy function in February of each year. These students could affix their coat of arms at their own expense.