The Aula Magna constitutes in fact the original Library of the Institute of Sciences. The first public Library in Bologna, opened in 1756.
Its creation owes much to the involvement of Pope Benedict XIV, the Bolognese Prospero Lambertini, who personally chose the design produced by Carlo Francesco Dotti, of a vast Library, rectangular in plan (35 x 11 metres). The building backed the North side of Palazzo Poggi and the façade, with its three arcades, constituted a harmonious extension of the contours of the sixteenth century building.
The Aula Magna has a vault supported by four large columns embellished with corinthian capitals, that lend it an almost cathedral-like appearance. It is furnished with sumptuous eighteenth-century shelving of solid walnut with decorative walnut inlays, and is further decorated, above the level of the shelving, by terracotta busts of illustrious figures from classical times.
The design of the shelving is traditionally attributed to Ercole Lelli, while the woodworking is by Carlo Dal Pozzo; the busts bear testimony to the skills of eighteenth-century Bolognese moulders, such as Petronio Tadolini, Filippo Balugani and Filippo Scandellari. The hall retains to this very day the charm and atmosphere with which the architect strove to imbue it. Contained within its bounds are approximately 30,000 volumes, all printed between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, many of which belonged to the very same Pope Lambertini who bestowed on the Library his entire personal collection of books, numbering around 25,000 items.
The Library of the Institute of Sciences became the University Library when the University decamped from its premises at the Archiginnasio to Palazzo Poggi in 1803. The name Aula Magna reflects not only its considerable dimensions, but also the use of the Hall from 1803 to 1930 as the Assembly Hall of the University. In the 1990’s the room was fitted out as a venue for meetings, conferences, concerts and exhibitions.