Founding the university
The founding of the University in 1364, painted by Jan Matejko
In the mid-14th century, King Casimir III the Great realised that the nation needed a class of educated people, especially lawyers, who could codify the country's laws and administer the courts and offices. His efforts to found an institution of higher learning in Poland were rewarded when Pope Urban V granted him permission to set up a university in Kraków. A royal charter of foundation was issued on 12 May 1364, and a simultaneous document was issued by the City Council granting privileges to the Studium Generale. The King provided funding for one chair in liberal arts, two in Medicine, three in Canon Law and five in Roman Law, funded by a quarterly payment taken from the proceeds of the royal monopoly on the salt mines at Wieliczka.
Development of the University of Kraków stalled upon the death of King Casimir, its founder, and lectures were held in various places across the city, including, amongst others, in professors' houses, churches and in the cathedral school on the Wawel Hill. It is believed that, in all likelihood, the construction of a building to house the Studium Generale began on Plac Wolnica in what is today the district of Kazimierz.
After a period of disinterest and lack of funds, the institution was restored in the 1390s by King Władysław II Jagiełło and his wife Saint Hedwig, the daughter of King Louis of Hungary and Poland. The royal couple decided that, instead of building new premises for the university, it would be better to buy an existing edifice; it was thus that a building on Żydowska Street, which had previously been the property of the Pęcherz family, was found and acquired in 1399. The Queen donated all of her personal jewelry to the university, allowing it to enroll 203 students. The faculties of astronomy, law and theology attracted eminent scholars: for example, John Cantius, Stanisław of Skarbimierz, Paweł Włodkowic, Jan of Głogów, and Albert Brudzewski, who from 1491 to 1495 was one of Nicolaus Copernicus' teachers. The university was the first university in Europe to establish independent chairs in Mathematics and Astronomy. This rapid expansion in the university's faculty necessitated the purchase of larger premises in which to house them; it was thus that the building known today as the Collegium Maius, with its quadrangle and beautiful arcade, came into being towards the beginning of the 15th century. The Collegium Maius' qualities, many of which directly contributed to the sheltered, academic atmosphere at the university, became widely respected, helping the university establish its reputation as a place of learning in Central Europe.
Golden age of the Renaissance
The main assembly hall of the university's Collegium Maius
For several centuries, virtually the entire intellectual elite of Poland were educated at the university, where they enjoyed particular royal favour, often being provided with game from the royal hunt to satisfy their needs at mealtime. Whilst it was, and largely remains, Polish students who make up the greater part of the university's student body, it has, over its long history, educated thousands of foreign students from countries such as Lithuania, Russia, Hungary, Bohemia, Germany, and Spain. During the second half of the 15th century, over 40 percent of students came from outside the Kingdom of Poland.
The main baroque entrance to the university's Collegium Iuridicum
The first chancellor of the University was Piotr Wysz, and the first professors were Czechs, Germans and Poles, many of them trained at the Charles University in Prague in Bohemia. By 1520 Greek philology was introduced by Constanzo Claretti and Wenzel von Hirschberg; Hebrew was also taught. At this time, the Collegium Maius comprised seven reading rooms, six of which were named for the great ancient scholars: Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, Galen, Ptolemy and Pythagoras. Furthermore, it was during this period that the faculties of Law, Medicine, Theology and Philosophy were established in their own premises; two of these buildings, the Collegium Iuridicum and Collegium Minus, survive to this day. The golden era of the University of Kraków took place during the Polish Renaissance, between 1500 and 1535, when it was attended by 3,215 students in the first decade of the 16th century, and it was in these early years that the foundations for the Jagiellonian Library were set, with the addition of a library floor to the Collegium Maius. The library's original rooms, in which all books were chained to their cases in order to prevent theft, are no longer used as such. However, they are still occasionally opened to host visiting lecturers' talks.
As the university's popularity, along with that of the ever more provincial Kraków's, declined in later centuries, the number of students attending the university also fell and, as such, the attendance record set in the early 16th century was not again surpassed until the late 18th century. This phenomenon was recorded as part of a more general economic and political decline seen in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, which was suffering from the effects of poor governance and the policies of hostile neighbours at the time. In fact, despite a number of expansion projects during the late 18th century, many of the university's buildings had fallen into disrepair and were being used for a range of other purposes; in the university's archives there is one entry which reads: 'Nobody lives in the building, nothing happens there. If the lecture halls underwent refurbishment they could be rented out to accommodate a laundry'. This period thus represents one of the darkest periods in the university's history and is almost certainly the one during which the closure of the institution seemed most imminent.
Decline and near closure after the partitions
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After the third partition of Poland in 1795 and the ensuing Napoleonic Wars, Kraków became a free city under the protection of the Austrian Empire; this, however, was not to last long. In 1846, after the Kraków Uprising, the city and its university became part of the Austrian Empire. The Austrians were in many ways hostile to the institution and, soon after their arrival, removed many of the furnishings from the Collegium Maius' Auditorium Maximum in order to convert it into a grain store. However, the threat of closure of the University was ultimately dissipated by Kaiser Ferdinand I of Austria's decree to maintain it. By the 1870s the fortunes of the university had improved so greatly that many scholars had returned. The liquefaction of nitrogen and oxygen was successfully demonstrated by professors Zygmunt Wróblewski and Karol Olszewski in 1883. Thereafter the Austrian authorities took on a new role in the development of the university and provided funds for the construction of a number of new buildings, including the neo-gothic Collegium Novum, which opened in 1887. It was, conversely, from this building that in 1918 a large painting of Kaiser Franz Joseph was removed and destroyed by Polish students advocating the reestablishment of an independent Polish state.
The university around 1930
For the 500th anniversary of the university's foundation, a monument to Copernicus was placed in the quadrangle of the Collegium Maius; this statue is now to be found in the direct vicinity of the Collegium Novum, outside the Collegium Witkowskiego, to where it was moved in 1953. Nevertheless, it was in the Grzegórzecka and the Kopernika areas that much of the university’s expansion took place up to 1918; during this time the Collegium Medicum was relocated to a site just east of the centre, and was expanded with the addition of a number of modern teaching hospitals – this 'medical campus' remains to this day. By the late 1930s the number of students at the university had increased dramatically to almost six thousand. Now a major centre for education in the independent Republic of Poland, the university attained government support for the purchase of building plots for new premises, as a result of which a number of residencies were built for students and professors alike. However, of all the projects begun during this era, the most important would have to be the creation of the Jagiellonian Library. The library's monumental building, construction of which began in 1931, was finally completed towards the end of the interwar period, which allowed the university's many varied literary collections to be relocated to their new home by the outbreak of war in 1939.
On November 6, 1939, following the Nazi invasion of Poland, 184 professors were arrested and deported to Sachsenhausen concentration camp during an operation codenamed Sonderaktion Krakau. The university, along with the rest of Poland's higher and secondary education, was closed for the remainder of World War II. Despite the university's reopening after the cessation of hostilities in 1945, the new government of Poland was hostile to the teachings of the pre-war university and the faculty was suppressed by the Communists in 1954. By 1957 the Polish government decided that it would invest in the establishment of new facilities near Jordan Park and expansion of other smaller existing facilities. Sadly, as was typical for the period, construction work proved slow and many of the stated goals were never achieved; it was this poor management and disregard for the university's future that eventually led a number of scholars to openly criticise the government for its apparent lack of interest in educational development. On the other hand, a number of new buildings, such as the Collegium Biologicum, were built with funds from the legacy of Ignacy Paderewski.
By 1991 Poland had thrown off its Communist government and in that same year the Jagiellonian University successfully completed the purchase of its first building plot in Pychowice, Kraków, where, from 2000, construction of a new complex of university buildings, the so-called Third Campus, began; its completion is currently planned for 2015. The new campus, officially named the '600th Anniversary Campus', is being developed hand in hand with the new LifeScience Park, which is managed by the Jagiellonian Centre for Innovation, the university's research consortium. Public funds earmarked for the project amounted to 946.5 million zlotys, or 240 million euros. Poland's entry into the European Union in 2004 has proved instrumental in improving the fortunes of the Jagiellonian University, which has seen huge increases in funding from both central government and European authorities, allowing it to develop new departments, research centres and better support the work of its students and academics.
The Jagiellonian University maintains an academic partnership with Heidelberg University, Germany's oldest university. In particular, there are close ties between both Heidelberg's and Kraków's law schools. In conjunction with Heidelberg and Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, the Jagiellonian University offers specializations in German law.
In the English-speaking world, the Jagiellonian University has international partnerships, among others, with the University of Cambridge, the University of Melbourne, the University of Chicago, and the University of California, Los Angeles. In the French-speaking world, partners include the Sorbonne, and the University of Montpellier. Other cooperation agreements exist with Charles University Prague, the University of Vienna, the University of Tokyo, Saint Petersburg State University, the Technical University of Munich, and the Free University of Berlin.