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Jagiellonian University (Krakow, Poland)

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Address: ul. Gołębia 24, 31-007 Kraków

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      22.01.2012 15:53
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      A Great Old University

      Since moving to Poland I have taken a lot more interest in my surroundings and the historical nature of towns and cities in this country. Warsaw University is full of historical treasures and great to stroll around in the summer months but there is another special university campus that is fascinating to look at architecturally and has so much history attached to it. The complex I am talking about is the Jagiellonian University in Krakow.

      History, history and more history...........

      In the days of King Kazimierz the Great the university campus didn't really have a base; so called departments were dotted around all over the place in Krakow. The original site that Kazimierz the Great wanted for his World of Academia was the town of Kaziemierz, the area where the Jewish quarter later stood. While waiting for buildings to be constructed law was taught on Wawel Hill while medicine was taught in the home of apothecaries and physicians. King Kaziemierz died and even after six years had passed the campus remained unfinished and the new King, Louis the Hungarian, wasn't interested in having a university in Krakow - he wanted to build one in Pécs, Hungary. Funds were by then already depleted, the campus was soon abandoned and became no more than just a name.

      Queen Jadwiga, daughter of Louis showed more interest in the project and often sent envoys to other European universities to report on what was happening in other countries' academic worlds. She even opened a department of theology after receiving permission from the Pope at the time. After her death in 1939 she left all her personal riches to the academy and her husband King Wladyslaw Jagiello, re-founded the academy and called it the University of Krakow in 1400. It was moved from the original spot in Kaziemierz to the old Jewish quarter in the old part of Krakow that is the Old Town today.

      From 1400 onwards the university campus had many changes and produced many fine scientists, writers, politicians and theologians. Not forgetting famous astrologers like Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543). Another famous name you might recognise is Karol Wojtyla who studied Polish literature before swapping over to theology and starting out on the long journey to becoming Pope John Paul II.

      In the I9th century Krakow University received a new title - Jagiellonian University. It is the oldest and largest of Krakow's 17 universities and has nearly 40,000 students and hundreds of buildings spread all over the city. If you follow me on this short journey, I will pick out what I consider to be the highlights.


      Let's start with Collegium Maius

      The oldest building in Krakow's University Campus is Collegium Maius (Great College) and one of my favourites. Fragments of the large 14th century limestone building have survived from 1400 when the site was first purchased on the corner of Anny Street and Jagiellonska Street. Over the next 70 years, the university bought the remaining buildings on what was the Jewish market square and joined them together. In 1492-7 they were unified in Gothic style in red brick and pale limestone. The covered walkway of the courtyard is typical of medieval universities, as is the projecting windowed balcony, designed to light the refectory lantern.

      The building has been renovated many times. A particularly invasive 19th century neo-Gothic makeover was changed by extensive alterations in the 1950s and 1960s. The Nazis plundered almost all the interiors, now mostly reconstructed from photographs using period artefacts from elsewhere.

      The well at the centre of the courtyard shows the coats of arms of Krakow, Poland, Lithuania and Anjou. The 'Professors' Steps' run above the spot where treasure (presumably hidden by Jews) was found in 1494. It included a giant black diamond, which now adorns the reliquary containing St Stanislaw's head in Wawel Cathedral.

      At 11am and 1 pm every day, the modern clock over the Portal booms out the student hymn 'Gaudeamus Igitur' and little figures from the university's history trundle around a walkway. This is a special feature and although it is kitsch to look at I really like the novelty value of this.

      The middle floor of the Great College is worth looking around as it serves as a museum. Its treasures include royal sceptres, an Oscar, a Nobel Prize, moon rock, the first Globe to show North America and astronomical instruments belonging to Copernicus. There are rooms showing the lifestyles of professors' throughout the centuries and the ceremonial halls are still used to greet visiting dignitaries and to grant doctorates.

      The tour is standard and generally takes about 40 - 60 minutes. Booking in advance is recommended. I purchased my ticket from the office which is at the entrance from the top floor of the courtyard. Check that the tour you are paying for is in the correct language as they change from day to day as do the times of the tours.

      The museum is open Mon-Fri, 11am - 3pm. On Saturday from 11am - 2pm.

      There are a few rooms on the ground floor of Collegium Maius that allow visitors to perform a few experiments of their own, If you like joining in and having a go then I suggest you purchase a ticket at the gift shop opposite the entrance. It is a lot of fun - here you can experiment with sound waves and astronomy sits side by side with computers and GPS. One room is dedicated to alchemy, with retorts, flasks, pots, magical diagrams, strange powders and dead animals.

      The Ancient and Modern Science Rooms are open Mon - Sat from 10am until 2.30pm.

      Now, the main administrative building is the Collegium Novum. Translated means 'New College,' because it dates from 1883-87 so it is relatively new. Neo-Gothic in style this building extends over the medieval walls and the site of the Bellows Makers' Tower. The tree in front of the building was planted in 1919 to celebrate the first anniversary of Polish independence. Close by there is a romantic statue of Copernicus with his long hair flowing and holding an astrolabe. He looks in a revolutionary mood in this pose. There are no guided tours around this building but you are allowed to wander the halls which are huge and spacious during office hours. My husband really liked walking around this part of the college as it reminded him of all the years he worked with councils in UK. The building has a sort of official and council air to it. I thought it was okay but I was a bit disappointed that we weren't allowed to enter the Aula Magna. This is a dazzling lecture hall where sometimes concerts and conferences are held. You can peep through the windows but are not allowed inside. A big shame as this has to be one of the best examples of neo-Gothic halls in Europe. I could see giant paintings hung from the walls what looked to be like scholars and possibly kings but I really wanted to go inside and scrutinise the art work and take photos. There is a huge plaque outside the hall and this is to commemorate November 6th, 1939 when professors were rounded up by the Nazis and sent to concentration camps. Although the Nazis aim was to eradicate all Polish learning they didn't succeed because some professors escaped and set up small schools in private houses where they taught illegally.

      Finally, Collegium Nowodworskie: a university building that has no special provision for tourists but you are allowed through the gate to walk around the courtyards. It's worth a stroll as the courtyard is Baroque with many open arcades and has a very graceful feel to it. Originally it was a secondary school associated with the university and was built in 1638-43. Since 1949 it has housed the Medical School. There is another gate which leads from this courtyard into the next but it was locked. Historically, the reasoning behind the locked gates was that the Rector's Law was binding inside the university campus while Town Law was binding outside. Students who were fugitives from Town Law were allowed to move safely between university buildings through these gates.

      Above, are all the college buildings I think worth looking at but there is one more building which is worth a peep and this is the Collegiate Church of St Anne's. The Baroque church replaced the Gothic one built by King Jagiello in 1407. There isn't a lot to see apart from the main altar and the charming monument to Copernicus in the transept. I got the feeling that this building is for commemorative purposes mainly, like when famous professors and students die. I did notice quite a large collection of souvenirs that belonged to students who became saints, kings and astronomers and also that black flags were flying outside so somebody famous must have passed away but there wasn't anyone around for me to enquire who had actually died.

      So there you go - the Jagiellonian University;a university that has outlived the Commonwealth Kingdom of Poland - Lithuania, the Free City of Krakow and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. There are admission charges to enter a couple of the buildings but they are not expensive. I think we paid 16 zloty (just over £3) each to enter Collegium Maius and the museum and 7 zloty (over £1.25) for the interactive exhibition on the ground floor of Collegium Maius. Time wise for viewing - I would give yourself a good hour for each of the buildings and probably 40 minutes for St Anne's Church. Well worth the time and effort.

      * Parts of this review have been posted on other sites. This is a full update.*

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