657 years of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków

May 12, 2021

Jagiellonian University is the oldest university in Poland and one of the oldest in Europe. It boasts a centuries-old tradition, but goes with the times. The motto, “Plus ratio quam vis” means “Reason (means) more than force”.

Since 1817, the university used the name of the Jagiellonian University, in honour of the Jagiellonian dynasty. Previous names include the University of Kraków, Kraków Academy, The Main Crown School, and Main School of Kraków.

The list of prominent people who have studied at the Jagiellonian University is impressively long. It includes the names such as Nicolaus Copernicus, Karol Wojtyła, Jan Długosz, Jan Kochanowski, Marcin Kromer, Mikolaj Rej, Jan III Sobieski, Bronisław Malinowski, Norman Davies.

The university occupies the highest places in the rankings of Polish universities. It belongs to many prestigious associations of best universities in the world, including Europaeum and the Coimbra Group.

Currently the Jagiellonian University has almost 50 thousand students, 689 professors, 3844 lecturers. It boasts a long tradition, but at the same time it is modern. 78 faculties offer courses on each of the three levels of study: undergraduate, graduate and doctoral, according to the Bologna system. The university uses the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS), allowing students to combine studies in Poland with learning in other European Union countries. Recently, traditional paper transcripts and student ID cards have been replaced by electronic equivalents. Students can choose from courses in several foreign languages. They are continually successful in international competitions, receive numerous scholarships.

The history of the university goes back to 1364 when, after many years of efforts for permission of the Pope, King Casimir III the Great founded an institution called Studium Generale. Modelled on the University of Bologna, it was the second – after the university in Prague – institution of this type in Central Europe.

The actual operations began a few years later. The original location was probably the Wawel Castle. Initially, it had three faculties: law, medicine and liberal arts. The fourth and most prestigious at that time – theology – was added in 1400.

After the death of King Casimir in 1370, the university stopped working. Only after 30 years, thanks to the efforts of Queen Jadwiga, it resumed operations as a full medieval university. The professors chose of the co-creator of ideas of modern international law Stanisław of Skarbimierz as the first rector. Colleges where professors lived and dormitories for students were built. The university was the institution of the church, supervised by the Bishop of Kraków.

The fifteenth century and the beginning of the sixteenth are the golden age of Kraków Academy. Its reputation attracted students from all over Europe. Approximately 44 percent of all students were foreigners. It was the period of renaissance of mathematical, astronomical and geographical sciences. Copernicus created heliocentric theory, and Maciej Miechowita published the “Tractatus de duabus Sarmatiis…”, the first systematic description of the lands between the Vistula, the Don and the Caspian Sea. The introduction of teaching Greek and Hebrew languages was a sensation on the European scale.

The decline of the university began in the mid-16th century, when it rejected the Reformation. The numbers of foreign students declined. In the next century, Jesuits sought to dominate the Kraków Academy, supported by king Sigismund III.

Attempts to bring foreign teachers in the eighteenth century also failed. The university did manage to introduce systematic study of German and French. Thorough reform was conducted by Hugo Kołłątaj, introducing a new organisational structure, the first laboratories, Astronomical Observatory, the Botanical Garden, the clinics. Lectures in Polish started, in the spirit of the philosophy of the Enlightenment.

During the third partition, when Kraków became part of the Austrian Empire, the university was threatened with closure. It survived thanks to, among others, professors Jan Śniadecki and Józef Bogucki, who intervened in the case in Vienna. However, the Polish aspect of the university became blurred. The situation did not change after Kraków was incorporated into the Duchy of Warsaw. In 1846, when the city retuned under the Austrian rule, Germanic influence at the university deepened.

The situation improved when Austria was transformed into a constitutional liberal Austro-Hungarian monarchy, in which Galicia gained autonomy. The Polish language was restored as the teaching language. In the early twentieth century, the number of chairs has tripled – to 97. Over 3 thousand people studied at the university, mainly men. Women could take up studies since 1894, at the Faculty of Pharmacy. The legendary first student was Nawojka, believed to study in the fifteenth century, in the guise of a boy.

Second World War was a dramatic period in the history of the university. In 1939, the Nazis, under the pretext of the lecture, gathered professors at the Collegium Novum, and then arrested them and sent to a concentration camp. The university was closed, and its equipment was destroyed, dismantled or transported to Germany. Soon, the underground university began to operate. Secret courses were attended by about 800 students.

In the first academic year after the war began, more than five thousand students began their studies. New organizational units were created, including the Zootechnical Institute. It seemed that the university would slowly return to glory, but Stalinist totalitarianism came. The university, controlled by the Communist Party, lost a number of faculties, including medicine, agriculture, theology, Sports Centre.

In 1956, university self-governance was partially restored and previously expelled professors returned. As part of the 600th anniversary celebration, in 1964, some of the university buildings were renovated, the Jagiellonian Library and Botanical Garden expanded, new Sports Centre and Observatory established.

The history of Jagiellonian University includes opposition against the communist authorities. The wave of protests at the university in 1968 resulted in persecution of participants of protests.

After 1989, the university regained full autonomy.

Today, the university has about a hundred buildings all over Kraków. The oldest buildings, including Collegium Novum (the seat of the rector and deans), Collegium Maius, Collegium Nowodworski, are located in the Old Town .

The biggest investment of the Jagiellonian University in recent years is the expansion of the Third Campus, called 600th anniversary Campus of the Restoration of the University, the location of Research Centre of Natural and Scientific Equipment, faculties of mathematics and computer science, management and communication, biology, and earth sciences.

Part of the university are museums, which for centuries have been accumulating valuable collections of the university. The most important of them – the University Museum, located in Collegium Maius – has instruments of Nicolaus Copernicus, and one of the first globes, on which a new continent was marked: America.


Source: Science in Poland/Foter/NB

Picture: Caroline Byczynski

Main picture: Twitter @JagiellonskiUni

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