Coming to the end of this 3-part series commemorating 650 years at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University.
The Collegium Maius Museum: We watched the 11am clock show and at that time bought a ticket for the next English museum tour at 1pm. You have to go on a guided tour in a small group, which is offered a few times a day. Our tickets were 12 Polish Zloty (PLN) each (senior discount), about $3.75; normal adult price is 16 PLN (about $5) and children 6 PLN. See Part B next post for the tour.
It was a great tour, which took about an hour and a half, although the allotted time was one hour. Our guide was excellent, fluent in English and a really remarkable fount of knowledge and information about her topic, which is very broad—anything and everything to do with this university, all the contents of all the rooms, the people and artists involved etc. Our group asked many questions and she was able to answer pretty much all of them in detail. Security was tight getting in, and then a guard followed the group and closed doors behind the group as the people exited each room.
Universities in those days were closely linked to religion and this is still very Catholic in tradition. Religion dictated what they could do. Originally the professors were celibate and lived and ate together like monks, showing the importance of religion. Later, they could marry and live outside the university.
They started with three core areas: theology, philosophy and law. Then they added medicine and physical sciences.
It’s a really beautiful building with gorgeous rooms, mostly upstairs, such as the Library and the Green Room. This is an incredible collection of old university artefacts (furniture etc), plus many instruments. The Library houses a great collection of old books in neo-Baroque bookcases. The nobility of that time played a large role in donating money that allowed the university to be built and for it to buy all these things. On the tour, our guide named many of the benefactors over the years.
Many famous names are linked to the university but (for us) Copernicus is the greatest—with his link to astronomy and cartography 100 years before Galileo. He knew about the earth being round, and about planets travelling in ellipses even. He had 4 brothers who all studied here too. His Polish parents moved to Scandinavia, but the boys came back here to study because the university had the reputation in astronomy and the right equipment—the earliest is from the Moors in 1064. In the small Copernicus Room the guide pointed out discs, globes and other instruments that Copernicus would have used. Much of his original paperwork is now in Sweden at the Uppsala University Library.
Many famous Poles studied here and achieved great things in the world of science, arts, and literature. For example, Marie Curie and Chopin. Chopin’s piano is there in the Green Room, the one on which he actually gave a concert.
We went on the tour to see the museum but actually much of the space is still used, which is amazing. The Senate meets monthly in the Library; they eat in the Stuba Communis (dining room), which is still used for ceremonial meetings (such as signing agreements with other institutions). Built in 1430, it still has 3 tables in a horseshoe shape; and they use the ornate Aula, or Jagellonian Hall, for university award ceremonies—it’s the oldest and one of the most beautiful lecture rooms of the university.
There are many things of note. The museum has the first globe, which shows North America, but in the wrong place, right at the South Pole! Globes were always done in pairs—celestial and terrestrial. One set had universities and intellectual centers marked. And one globe even had Madagascar marked.
A collection of clocks, of measuring instruments—like weights and measures—and of old telescopes reminded us of the collections in Arts and Metiers in Paris. There are some priceless treasures and we can understand why security is tight.
They also have a wonderful collection of tapestries, art works, painted ceilings, portraits of people related to the university, some stained-glass windows that would have been lost if not saved here, and some wooden madonnas.
We also saw the original charters of the university. First, the Latin model where students elected the rector and then the French model where the professors elected the rector.
In fact, there is so much in there that’s it’s difficult to assimilate in one visit.
This tour got us thinking about the role of universities and teaching/knowledge in our modern world. It’s a great tradition for universities to follow intellectual pursuits and to try and preserve both knowledge and artefacts. Passing on knowledge and learning is so important and that’s one role of universities. We wonder about the future; with all the digital age stuff, will we lose track of what’s real and not, and of the actual truth. With all these online courses, universities are losing control of passing on the knowledge. Is it potentially the start of the end of the importance of universities? We sure hope not!