Collegium Maius and the Jagiellonian University
ul. Jagiellońska 15
Founded by King Casimir the Great (Kazimierz Wielki) in 1364, the Jagiellonian is Poland’s oldest university, and in this part of Europe it is second only to Prague in terms of antiquity. Its oldest building, Collegium Maius, is over 500 years old.
The Jagiellonian University, founded as the Academy of Kraków in 1364 by King Casimir the Great (Kazimierz Wielki) is Poland’s oldest university, and in this part of Europe it is second only to Prague (1348) in terms of antiquity. After the death of its royal founder, the academy fell into decline. We owe its revival in the 15th century to Queen Jadwiga (1373–99), today a saint, who obtained a permit to set up the lacking prestigious Faculty of Theology from the pope, and bequeathed funds for the renovation of the university in her last will and testament. Her husband, King Ladislaus (Władysław) Jagiełło presented the Academy of Kraków with a house on the corner of today’s św. Anny and Jagiellońska streets, where lectures were resumed in 1400. In the 15th century the premises were expanded by being merged with the adjacent buildings, and the impressive Collegium Maius was created with a quadrangle surrounded by an arcaded gallery
At the time the university attracted students from all over Europe. It was especially famous for the teaching of law, mathematics, and astronomy. The astronomer Nicolas Copernicus, who went on to be the proponent of the modern, heliocentric vision of the Solar System, studied here in 1491–95. According to legend, a few years later, the arcane knowledge of magic and sorcery was acquired here by Doctor Faustus and the Polish master alchemist Twardowski. At a similar time, Nawojka, the legendary first female student, is rumoured to have received an education here, albeit in male apparel, as women were not allowed to study at the University until many years later.
The academy experienced another heyday in the second half of the 19th century. It has been known as the Jagiellonian University, in homage to its royal founders, since 1817 when it attracted Poles from all the three partitions to study in the Polish language. These were the halcyon days of both the mathematical and natural sciences, and the humanities. The Jagiellonian maintained its high position also in the 20th century, despite the political turmoil of the People’s Republic of Poland. Famous 20th-century graduates included Nobel Prize winners Ivo Andrić and Wisława Szymborska, and Karol Wojtyła, the future Pope John Paul II.
Collegium Maius is a magnificent example of Gothic architecture. The ground floor is taken up by the lectoria, where instruction was held, and the rooms of the first floor – Libraria, Stuba Communis, and the Assembly Hall – serve important functions of the University to this day, as they are the venues of the sessions of the Senate, elections of rectors, and important meetings and conferences. Until the end of the 18th century, Collegium Maius was home to the professors of theology: doors to their residences can still be seen in the quadrangle.
In the 20th century, the Jagiellonian University decided to establish its museum here, and to make it a shelter for the academy’s collection of art and memorabilia, and of scientific instruments. The so-called Copernicus Room houses, among others, a unique set of astronomic and astrological instruments from the second half of the 15th century.
Be sure to see:
- original Gothic portal of the main entrance
- the bay window of Stuba Communis (the common room, where professors used to eat meals together)
- the arcaded quadrangle with the grand “professorial” stairs leading to the first floor balcony, and the crystalline vaulting of the gallery
- historical well
- the Porta Aurea: the Gothic entrance to the library
- contemporary clock with a procession of figurines representing important people in the history of the Jagiellonian
- scientific instruments and insignia of the rectors, an Arab astrolabe from 1054, the Jagiellonian Globe: the first to chart the recently discovered America
- the Oscar statuette entrusted by film director Andrzej Wajda, the Nobel Prize medal presented by the poet Wisława Szymborska, the gold Olympic medal from Robert Korzeniowski
- the generally accessible Professors Garden
- Collegium Iuridicum (ul. Grodzka 53): one of the oldest buildings of the Jagiellonian University, built early in the 15th century for lawyers, hence its name
- Collegium Novum (ul. Grodzka 24): built in the 1880s as the seat of the university authorities and the venue for the most important moments in academic life; this is where doctorates and honorary doctorates are conferred
The quadrangle of the Collegium Maius can be visited every day until dusk
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