Well, now I am in Ferrara fresh from admiring the late Renaissance frescos that adorn the ceilings in the enormous Este Castle, as well as shuddering in the dungeon. Tomorrow I will either look around the other sites in this charming city, or else head for a day in Ravenna. This was the final outpost of Byzantium in Italy and holds an unmatched collection of early churches containing stunning mosaics.
What of Bologna being the first university as Jack queries? Well, it is true that other educational institutions such as the museum in Alexandria, the Madrasa in Cairo and the School of Athens have been called universities but in fact they were not. A true university is a self governing corporate institution with a separate legal personality. In fact, "univeritas" in Latin means "corporation" and not "place of higher education" (that would be "studium generale") and the term has become synonymous educational establishments. Why is this so important? Because with newly developed corporate law, medieval universities could enjoy unparalleled freedom to run their own affairs. They skillfully played church off against state to guard their privileges and rapidly became so influential and powerful that they could pronounce on the running of kingdoms. The Parisian theology faculty in the late Middle Ages was where even popes turned to have their questions answered. They set their own syllabus and exams but their qualifications were recognised all over.
None of the other so-called universities enjoyed this freedom. The museum in Alexandria existed on the will of the Ptolemies who chased them out more than once. It also had no central administrative structure. It was just a club for individual scholars. So was the School in Athens that depended on the prestige of the men teaching there. And Islamic madrasas were highly restricted in what they could teach. Medicine, science, secular philosophy, civil law and even theology were all ruled out in favour of religious law. But European universities taught all these things and more.
For a great deal more on all this see my essay Medieval Science, the Church and Universities.