May 12, 1364 – Polish King Kazimierz III (Casimir) the Great issues a royal charter establishing a university in Kraków, the capital of Poland at that time.
While there are already some thirty universities in operation in Europe, this is the first university in Poland, and the second oldest in Central Europe. Charles University in Prague was founded some twenty years earlier, in 1348.
The university has no buildings, the lectures are held in various buildings around the city. After Kazimierz’s death in 1370, his successor Louis I of Hungary has no interest supporting the Polish university, so the few professors and students move to Prague or other universities. The kings change, however, and in 1390s, the new king and queen – Władysław II Jagiełło and Jadwiga of Anjou – decide to revive the university and succeed. Jadwiga even bequeaths part of her private wealth and estate to the university.
The following year, 1400 King Jagiełło donates to the university a house he bought near the edge of the city, and inaugurates reopening of the university on July 26, 1400, with 206 students enrolled.
That building has been renovated several times over the centuries, but its basement and part of the walls still stand and are part of Collegium Maius – the museum of Jagiellonian University (Uniwersytet Jagielloński).
Collegium Maius might look not that impressive from the street – just a long brick wall, with a massive iron door, though the oriel window from 1430 adds a bit of visual interest.
Once you walk through the door, you’ll see the view in the featured post above – a broad courtyard flanked by beautiful arcades on all sides. The photo below is taken of a group just beginning a tour.
The university guidebook states:
“Discussions took place in the shade of the cloisters and students and professors would meet here.”
Can you imagine talking about literature or philosophy sitting on those benches?
You can see the courtyard without seeing the museum. The entrance to this part of the museum is free of charge.
But wouldn’t you want to go see this room?
Even if you decide 12zł (about $3 US) is too much to pay, Collegium Maius is open free of charge on Tuesdays between 3pm and 6pm from April to the end of October, and from 2pm to 4pm between September and March. The free tours, however, are shorter than the paid tours and are not accompanied by a guide.
Here are a few highlights of what you can see at Collegium Maius:
The Old Libraria – The Library
The ceiling of this 16th century library is not bewitched to look like sky, it’s merely painted and mimics university libraries in Buda and Salamanca. The library walls are lined with cabinets with some of the oldest books in the university collection. The “working” library for the use of students is located elsewhere, of course.
Believe it or not, this room is still used for the monthly meetings of the university senate.
Stuba Communis – Professor’s Common Room
Stuba Communis, built in 1430, and featuring three massive oak tables used to be a dining room and a place where faculty met and had their meals twice a day. The spiral staircase in the middle was made in the early 18th century.
Nowadays the room still serves as the reception hall some time. For instance, the official dinner in honor of Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth took place in this room.
Over the centuries, and thanks to the generosity of various donors, including professors and alumni, the university has acquired a large collection of valuable objects. Some of them are on display at the Treasury.
The two crossed scepters you can see at the Treasury Queen Jadwiga’s scepter from early 1400s and Cardinal Zbigniew Olesnicki scepter from mid 15th century.
These two scepters have been the university’s shield since the 15th century. The crown which is nowadays part of the shield was added in the 17th century.
Underneath the scepters in the back you can see a 16th century armillary sphere known as the Globus Jagellonicus which is believed to be the first globe showing the American continent.
The treasury also includes other interesting and precious objects including a 17th-century anatomical model, and the Nobel Prize Medal for Literature donated by Wisława Szymborska who received it in 1996.
Nicolaus Copernicus or Mikołaj Kopernik was a student at the university from 1491 to 1495. Little is known about his time at the university, but a few objects in the room belonged to the university in his time, like the Celestial Globe from 1480.
The Aula – Assembly Hall
This heavily decorated and ornate room is one of the oldest parts of Collegium Maius and was originally a theology lecture room. Nowadays the room might be used for faculty promotions, granting of honorary degrees, or concerts.
Don’t forget to look up at the ceiling while you’re in the Aula.
To get to the Professors’ Garden you need to walk down the Long Hallway adorned by 16th-century frescoes.
Back in the 15th century the garden was used to grow fruit and vegetables, and included an enclosure for farm animals. Nowadays it’s just a pleasant place of reflection.
Location and Tickets
Collegium Maius is located at 15 Jagiellońska Street in Kraków’s Old Town district.
It is open Monday through Saturday. Except for Tuesdays it is open from 10am to 2:20pm. On Tuesdays between April and October Collecium Maius is open to 6pm, and the last entrance is at 5:20pm.
Tours in English are conducted at 1pm.
Tickets are 12 zł ($3 US) for adults and 6 zł for seniors and students. Children under 7 are admitted free of charge.
As I mentioned above: Collegium Maius is open free of charge on Tuesdays between 3pm and 6pm from April to the end of October, and from 2pm to 4pm between September and March. The free tours, however, are shorter than the paid tours and are not accompanied by a guide.
How did the Kids Like Collegium Maius?
My son visited Collegium Maius with his Jagiellonian University summer camp group, and said later it was “cool.”
My daughter thought the courtyard reminded her of Hogwarts from Harry Potter, and really liked the Aula (Assembly Hall) which apparently reminded her of lecture rooms in Monster High. She actually insisted I take a picture of her there.
So yes, I’d say the kids did like Collegium Maius.
I hope you liked this little trip to Collegium Maius.
Feel free to use the photo below as a pin to add it to your Pinterest board of places to see, or follow our Poland | Kraków (Cracow) board with nearly 100 pins.
Where to Stay in Kraków
There are plenty of hotels, hostels, B&Bs, and apartment rentals in Krakow, though at high season you may have trouble finding a place at the last minute. Kraków is becoming more and more popular with tourists.
We stayed for the first week at one of the Sodispar Luxury Old Town Apartments, and the second week at the Sodispar Bracka Residence. Review will be coming soon, but we can say outright we very much liked both.
Invitation to #WeekendWanderlust Link Up
#WeekendWanderlust, hosted by Chris & Heather from A Brit and a Southerner, Jessi & Tara from Outbound Adventurer, Ashley from A Southern Gypsy, Justin and Lauren from Justin Plus Lauren, and yours truly, is a collaborative effort to share travel blog posts, and to discuss all travel-related things.
The hosts organize each week a link up through which travel bloggers from around the world can promote their posts, in exchange for a promise to give some attention to other travel bloggers. (One of the rules for linking up is to comment on three linked up posts.)
If the link up is still open, feel free to add a link to one of your posts below, then comment on at least three other linked up posts.
If you leave a comment on this post, I will reciprocate with a comment as soon as I can!
Also, don’t forget to join the #WeekendWanderlust chat on Twitter, every Saturday, at 11am EST, 3pm GMT, 11 pm SGT. See the list of upcoming topics on Travelogx.