The foundation and the Napoleonic period
On 18th October 1810, Napoleon signs a decree establishing an «academic residence» for university students in Pisa: it is in this way that the Normale of Pisa comes into existence.
The Napoleonic decree of 18th October 1810, concerning "public education establishments" in Tuscany, established an "Academic student residence" in Pisa for university students. Twenty five places were made available for students of the Faculties of Arts and Sciences, with the aim of creating a branch of the Parisian École Normale Supérieure.
The Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa was thus established at the behest of Napoleon. The term "Normale" refers to its primary teaching mission, that is, to train high school teachers to transmit the "norms", to educate the citizens to obey the laws laid down by the Emperor.
On 22nd February 1811 the first call was issued, but the Pisa-based Normale began its activity only in 1813, when the first students of Arts and Sciences attended the Scuola.
The first site of the Normale was the convent of San Silvestro in Pisa: it was a student residence halfway between a military order and a convent, in which the life of the students was characterized by strict disciplinary regulations. Following the French model, the Scuola was entrusted to a "Director", assisted by the "Sub-director" and by the "Economo", in charge of administration, supervision of studies and the preserving of order.
The Normale was reserved at that time for the best students selected at the end of their high school course, aged between 17 and 24, who during their two years of studies also obtained degrees at the faculties of Arts and Sciences of the Imperial University. The students were obliged to take additional courses: they were supervised by four "ripetitori", chosen by the Director among the students of the Normale, who “repeated” the university lessons daily and coordinated the "conferences", the seminars of that time. With this qualifying training, after graduation the students committed themselves to teaching in secondary schools for at least ten years after obtaining their degree.
The Napoleonic Scuola Normale was destined to have a brief lifespan, however: the only academic year was 1813/14, during which the physicist Ranieri Gerbi was its director. In fact, on April 6th, 1814, Napoleon signed the declaration of his abdication, and the return to the Tuscan throne of Grand Duke Ferdinand III coincided with the closure of the Scuola, despite the various attempts to save it for the sake of its function.