The Scuola Normale of Pisa was formally founded on the 18th of October, 1810, by a Napoleonic decree which dealt with “places of public instruction” in Tuscany, a province of the French empire since 1807. The three regions of the Arno, Ombrone and Mediterraneo formed one of the Academies of the Imperial University housed in Pisa, and together opened an “academic residence” for university students. Twenty-five places, publicly funded, were reserved for students in the humanities and sciences to form a subsidiary of Paris' École Normale Supérieure. The new institution was closely linked to its parent institution in Paris. The shared name “normale” refers to the mission of the school, which was to train middle and high school teachers able to convey “norms” in a context where training teachers was still strongly connected to “forming” citizens loyal to the laws and the emperor.
On February 22, 1811, the first competition for 25 new students was announced. Although they were selected on September 4 of that year, it was not until 1813 that the Scuola Normale in Pisa truly started its activities. The first students, housed in the Convent of San Silvestro, were enrolled and a set of Disciplinary Regulations for the academic residence was established.
With the French model as a basis, the “Grand Master” appointed a “Director”, “Assistant Director” and “Secretary”, who took care of the administrative functions of the school. Two “Inspectors” kept a careful eye on academics and student discipline. A “Chaplain”, two “Caretakers” and other “Servants” were at the disposal of the boarding school student, whose daily life was regulated by rigid laws similar to those in a convent or a military order.
The best secondary school students, between 17 and 24 years old, were selected by competition and admitted to the Scuola Normale. During their subsequent two years of study at the Scuola Normale , these students attended the regular courses at the Imperial University in Pisa as well as completing special assignments and attending additional courses. They were aided by four “Tutors”, chosen by the director from amongst their peers, who reviewed the university lessons on a daily basis and arranged conferences. After completing this “qualifying internship”, the student, who had pledged to teach for at least ten years in a secondary school, would receive his degree.
The brief lifespan of the Napoleonic Scuola Normale – the only academic year was 1813/14, during which the physicist Ranieri Gerbi was its director – was tied to the fate of its founder; on April 6, 1814 Napoleon signed his abdication.