JU Logo
Walk through...
Main page
-Rectors / Senate
-Faculties / Other Units
-International Relations
-Investments / Bidding
-Libraries / Archives
-History / Museums
-Development / Promotion
-Bulletin board
Jagiellonian University, ul.Golebia 24, 31-007 Kraków
Saturday, 19th August 2006
The Past and the Present


In 1364, after many years of endeavour, King Casimir the Great received permission from the Pope to establish a university in Krakow, the capital of the Kingdom of Poland. It was the second university to be founded in Central Europe, after Prague in 1348. Soon afterwards other universities were established in the area: in Vienna (1365), Pécs (1367), Erfurt (1379) and Heidelberg (1386).

However, the Studium Generale in Krakow, as the school was then called, started functioning practically only in 1367. It consisted of three faculties only: liberal arts, medicine and law, as Pope Urban V did not grant permission to establish a faculty of theology, regarded as the highest ranking discipline. Similarly, he refused to grant such a permission to the Universities of Vienna, Pécs and Erfurt.

Following the pattern adopted at the Universities of Bologna and Padua, the students had the right to elect the Rector. The University was most probably given accommodation at the Royal Castle on Wawel Hill. King Casimir's premature death in 1370 and the total lack of interest in the University demonstrated by his successor, King Louis of Anjou (King of Poland and Hungary), led to its gradual collapse.

The University (or the Academy, as it was called then) was restored owing to the endeavours of Queen Jadwiga, who pleaded its case with the Pope in Avignon and later bequeathed her personal effects to the University, which was re-established in 1400, after its benefactress's death. Henceforth it was a full medieval university, consisting of four faculties. As it followed the pattern of the University of Paris, its Rector was elected by the professors only. Colleges with accommodation for the professors and dormitories for students were founded.

The entire medieval world was based on a hierarchical system, with religious matters considered most crucial. Therefore the medieval university mirrored it in its structure, and thus liberals arts, that is philosophy, held the humblest position. A student began his studies at the liberal arts faculty, and only when he had completed the course he could continue at one of the other faculties, of which the faculty of theology was considered the highest one. Similarly, a university professor's career started at the arts faculty and could be crowned with a professorship in theology. This hierarchy also meant that that the remuneration of a professor of theology was considerably higher than that of other professors.

The Golden Age

The restored Krakow University soon established itself in the world of learning. Its first Rector, Stanislaw of Skarbimierz (d. 1431), the author of the famous work De bello iusto, is today regarded as one of the founders of international law. Another Rector, Pawel Wlodkowic (ca. 1370 - ca. 1435), argued successfully at the Council of Constance that it was inadmissible to convert heathens by force.

In the second half of the fifteenth century the Krakow schools of mathematics and astrology flourished. Their most eminent representatives were: Marcin Krol of zurawica (1422 - before 1460); Marcin Bylica of Olkusz (1433 - 1493), who later became the chief astrologer to King Matthias Corvinus in Buda; Marcin Biem (ca. 1470 - 1540), who devised a reform of the Julian calendar; Jan of Glogow (1445 - 1507), the author of numerous mathematical and astronomical tracts, known all over Europe; Wojciech of Brudzewo (ca. 1446 - 1495), the master to many students who later became eminent scholars in other European universities. In that period, in the years 1491 - 1495, Mikolaj Kopernik (Nicolaus Copernicus) studied liberal arts in Krakow. In his later years he made it clear that he was greatly indebted to Krakow University. The high academic status of the University was reflected in the fact that in the years 1433 - 1510 as many as 44 per cent of the students came from other countries than Poland.

Among those who studied in Krakow were such renowned scholars as Jan Virdung of Hassfurt (a professor at Heidelberg University), Johann Vollmar (a professor at Wittenberg), and the leading lights of the astronomical school in Vienna - Konrad Celtis, Erasmus Horitz and Stefan Roslein. Krakow, together with Seville and Toledo, was a major centre for the study of alchemy, in which mainly professors of medicine were involved, such as Maciej Miechowita (1457 - 1523) and Adam of Bochen (? - 1514). The renown of Krakow in the field of alchemy most probably contributed to the legend that Doctor Faustus sojourned in the city.

The Krakow Alma Mater was also a leading centre for the study of geography. Its most outstanding geographer was Maciej Miechowita, also a prominent physician and historian. He was the author of the notable and widely translated Tractatus de duabus Sarmatiis (1517), which provided the first systematic description of the lands between the Vistula, the Don and the Caspian Sea. In the early sixteenth century Krakow University was the first in Europe to teach Greek, and Hebrew soon afterwards.

From the Dawn of Grandeur to Kollataj Reform

In the first half of the sixteenth century the Krakow Academy rejected the ideas of the Reformation. Censorship by both the Bishop and the Rector effectively eliminated from Krakow all printed matter regarded as heretical. A small group of professors who supported the Reformation left the city, and the University, which adopted a strictly scholastic approach, gradually ceased to attract large numbers of students. Consequently, dormitory halls for German and Hungarian students were closed, and only Polish and Lithuanian students continued to study in Krakow. Also, the number of young noblemen at the University steadily declined, as the Polish nobility had gained the rights to hold important offices irrespective of academic requirements. Young noblemen interested in learning began to study abroad, particularly in Bologna and Padua. The Krakow Academy still boasted a number of eminent scholars, both Polish and foreign, it introduced lectures on Copernicus' fundamental work De Revolutionibus in the years 1578 - 1580, and among its graduates in that period were the famous writers Jan Kochanowski, Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski, Marcin Kromer and Mikolaj Rej, yet the golden age of the University was coming to a close.

In the seventeenth century the Academy - involved in a violent conflict with the Jesuits who, supported by King Sigismund III, attempted to control it - increasingly conservative and scholastic, lost international academic status. It shared the nation's declining position on the European stage. However, in spite of adversity, the Academy managed to establish a wide network of associated schools, known as "Academic Colonies". The first of them was its own secondary school, Nowodworski College, founded after the reform of the teaching system in 1586. But the Academy also experienced the siege of Krakow by the Swedes in 1655 and was plundered after the surrender of the city. The few notable academics at the Academy were only locally known. Among them were Jan Brozek (1585 - 1652), an outstanding mathematician and propagator of Copernicus' theory, and Stanislaw Pudlowski (1597 - 1645), who devised an universal measurement of length. In the late seventeenth century the University was rightly proud as its former student became King of Poland as John III Sobieski.

In the eighteenth century the University continued to decline, yet some symptoms of change became gradually apparent. The systematic teaching of German and French was introduced, as well as lectures in Polish law, geography and military engineering. In 1748 the Chair of Natural Science was established, yet attempts to attract foreign lecturers failed. It was only the National Education Commission, and particularly its inspector, Hugo Kollataj, later the University Rector, who managed to accomplish fundamental reforms at the University, which was then renamed the Main Crown School. A new organisational structure was introduced and a number of academic facilities were founded, such as the astronomical observatory, the botanical gardens, clinics and laboratories. All lectures were in Polish, and scholars educated at foreign universities in the spirit of the Enlightenment were appointed professors, to disseminate Enlightenment ideas among students.

The University community was actively involved in the Kosciuszko Insurrection of 1794, while the University authorities donated virtually all its valuables to the national cause.

The Struggle for Survival

The third and final Partition of Poland posed a serious threat to the very existence of the University, but fortunately it was saved by the intervention of Professors Jan sniadecki and Jozef Bogucki in Vienna. However, the University was subjected to the process of obliterating its Polish character and to its gradual reduction to the secondary school status. This threat disappeared after Austria's defeat in the war with France in 1809, when Krakow was incorporated into the Duchy of Warsaw. Yet the city was subjected to centralising policies within the Duchy, and later, when it had the status of the Free City of Krakow (1825 - 1846), to a number of restrictive and harassing acts from the 'protector' powers. In 1848 Krakow was again incorporated into the Austrian Empire, but after long years when the University had been regarded by the government in Vienna as a 'hotbed of revolution and anti-government political activities', it gradually became a self-governing body and regained the right to teach in Polish. This was certainly achieved in the result of the process of political liberalisation within Austria and followed the granting of autonomy to Galicia, the part of Poland under Austrian rule. It was the beginning of another golden age for the University, which had been renamed the Jagiellonian University in 1817.

The Golden Age Returns

Once again the University became a major academic centre. Scientific achievements of the time included the work of the following professors: the chemist Karol Olszewski (1846 - 1915) and the physicist Zygmunt Wroblewski (1845 - 1888), who were the first to liquefy oxygen and nitrogen from the air in 1883, and later also other gases; the physiologist Napoleon Cybulski (1854 - 1919), who explained the functioning of adrenaline; the anatomopathologist Tadeusz Browicz (1847 - 1928), who identified the typhoid microbe; the physicist Marian Smoluchowski (1872 - 1917), the author of major works on the kinetic theory of matter; the chemist Leon Marchlewski (1869 - 1946), who conducted research on chlorophyll; Paulin Kazimierz zurawski (1866 - 1953) and Stanislaw Zaremba (1863 - 1942), whose outstanding research gave origin to a new school of mathematics; their work was further developed by their eminent disciples.

The awareness of Poles of their own history was largely shaped by the works of the illustrious Krakow historians, particularly by Michal Bobrzynski (1849 - 1935) and Jozef Szujski (1835 - 1883). Other famous scholars were Kazimierz Morawski (1852 - 1925), who specialised in classical studies, and Leon Sternbach (1864 - 1940), a specialist in Byzantine studies. The Law Faculty played an important role in developing legal procedures, and its most prominent members were: Edmund Krzymuski (1852 - 1928), professor of penal law; Fryderyk Zoll Jr (1865 - 1948), professor of civil law; Stanislaw Wroblewski (1868 - 1938), professor of Roman and civil law.

The above were only some of the many outstanding professors of the time. What is most important, the high academic achievement of the University was largely due to a considerable expansion of its infrastructure. The number of chairs increased threefold, so that by the last academic year before the First World War there were ninety seven of them, while the number of students in the same year was over three thousand. They were mostly male, but in 1897 first female students were admitted to study pharmacy. They were gradually accepted by other faculties; the last of them to admit women was the Law Faculty in 1918.

The Difficult Twentieth Century

After Poland achieved independence in 1918, the number of Polish universities increased from two (Krakow and Lvov) to five, as the Universities in Warsaw and Vilnius were restored, and the University in Poznan was founded. The academic staff of those schools was largely drawn from the resources of the Jagiellonian University. In the inter-war years Krakow University was considerably expanded. New clinical facilities for the Faculty of Medicine were built, and a modern building to house the Jagiellonian Library was completed. New departments were established, such as the Department of Pedagogy and the Slavic Department in the Philosophy Faculty, and the Physical Education Department in the Faculty of Medicine. However, the University was also affected by the deep political divides within the Polish society of the time and by the overwhelming economic depression. Many political conflicts between students of widely different political views often resulted in violence. The Senate of the Jagiellonian University repeatedly protested against the authoritarian rule of the government, particularly against the trial of opposition politicians at Brest in 1931, as well as against limiting the Universities' autonomy. The Great Depression in the years 1930 - 1934 severely affected the finances of the young Polish state, which resulted in drastic cuts in expenditure on education. Financial strictures meant that the University lost five chairs in 1933. However, the decision concerning the chairs to be abolished was of a political nature, and affected the chairs headed by professors who supported the opposition political parties, like Professor Stanislaw Kot, whose Chair in History of Culture was abolished.

Nonetheless, in spite of difficulties, the Jagiellonian University maintained its high academic reputation. Professor Tadeusz Banachiewicz (1882 - 1954), mathematician, astronomer and geodesist, devised a new method of mathematical calculation, known as Cracovian calculation. The Krakow School of Linguistic boasted such outstanding scholars as: Jan Rozwadowski (1867 - 1935), Jan los (1860 - 1928), Kazimierz Nitsch (1874 - 1958) and Tadeusz Lehr-Splawinski (1891 - 1965). Other major academic achievements were the School of Differential Equations, developed by Tadeusz Wazewski (1896 - 1972), a disciple of Stanislaw Zaremba, which became internationally recognised after the Second World War, and the School of Analytical Functions, developed by Franciszek Leja (1885 - 1979). Other notable academics were: Konstanty Michalski (1879 - 1947), specialist in medieval philosophy; Rafal Taubenschlag (1881 - 1958), professor of Roman law; Adam Krzyzanowski (1873 - 1963), professor of political economics; Tadeusz Sinko (1877 - 1963), professor of Classics and writer on classical culture; Roman Dyboski (1883 - 1945), professor of English literature; Wladyslaw Konopczynski (1880 - 1952), historian, a great expert on the eighteenth century period.

The Jagiellonian University was dramatically affected by the German occupation of Poland. On 6th November the Nazis ostensibly invited the University professors and other teachers to a lecture by Obersturmbannführer Müller. The lecture turned out to be a trap. 144 University staff were arrested by the Gestapo, together with some students, 21 professors of the Academy of Mining and others, and sent to a concentration camp. In total 183 persons were imprisoned. The University was closed, its property dismantled, destroyed, looted or sent to Germany. The University suffered losses also from the Soviets. Among the Polish POWs murdered at Katyn and Kharkov were fourteen Reserve Officers - University teachers and graduates. Yet the other university staff resolved to persevere in the face of adversity. University courses were taught in a clandestine way, flaunting the strict Nazi ban on all but the most basic education. During the war period this underground university had about 800 students.

The years 1939 - 1945 had a devastating effect on the University. 34 University professors and other staff died in the concentration camps of Sachsenhausen, Dachau and Auschwitz, as well as in Kharkov, Katyn and other death camps, the victims of both the Nazis and the Soviets. By 18th January 1945, which marked the end of the Nazi occupation of Krakow, the University laboratories, libraries and teaching facilities had been largely destroyed or taken away to Germany, research had ceased, and academic contacts had been severed. However, lectures began in February 1945, with over 5000 students registered. It seemed that this was the period of both reconstruction and rapid expansion. The first three post-war years were promising. Many academics who had been forced to leave Lvov and Vilnius or those who could not returned to Warsaw, virtually flattened by the war, found employment at the Jagiellonian University. Krakow professors were actively involved in the settlement of Western Poland and in preparing materials for the post-war peace conference, which, however, never took place. The University opened new departments, among them the Co-operative Department and the Institute of Zootechnics, and decided to build the new Collegium Chemicum.

However, the year 1948 marked the beginning of the worst period in the University post-war history. Stalinism cast its ominous shadow also on higher education. The Polish United Workers' Party was in full control of every aspect of University life. Some professors were dismissed, among them the world-famous philosopher Roman Ingarden (1893 - 1970), the historian Wladyslaw Konopczynski and the economist Adam Krzyzanowski. The University was forced to part with its printing house and with a number of its Faculties - of Medicine, Pharmacy, Agriculture, Forestry, and Theology, as well as with the Department of Physical Education and the Co-operative Department. Those faculties were either transformed into new self-contained schools of higher education or incorporated into other schools. In the effect of those changes the University was stripped of all autonomy and research was severely inhibited. Nonetheless, even in that gloomy period the University boasted a number of outstanding professors such as: Stanislaw Pigon (1885 - 1968) and Juliusz Kleiner (1886 - 1957), professors of Polish literature; Henryk Niewodniczanski (1900 - 1968), professor of physics, who founded the study of atomic physics in Krakow; Jan Dabrowski (1890 - 1965), professor of history; the botanist Wladyslaw Szafer (1886 - 1970); Wladyslaw Wolter (1897 - 1986), the founder of the Krakow School of Penal Studies; Jan Gwiazdomorski (1899 - 1977), excellent expert in civil law; Stefan Szuman (1889 - 1972), one of the most outstanding Polish psychologists. Already at that period Karol Wojtyla, the last Associate Professor appointed at the Faculty of Theology, and later Pope John Paul II, began to establish his reputation as a philosopher and theologian.

The great change which came with the end of Stalinism in 1956 affected the University, as it did the whole country. The professors who had been dismissed were allowed to resume their jobs, and the University self-government was restored, the government, however, reserving the right to extensive control, particularly concerning academic promotion.

In 1964 the Jagiellonian University celebrated its 600th anniversary. The occasion was marked by a major expansion programme in its infrastructure, which included new buildings for the Institutes of Physics (where a section was provided - temporarily, as it was then intended - for the Institute of Mathematics), Biology and Zoology, Geology and Modern Languages. The Jagiellonian Library and the Botanical Gardens were extended, a new Astronomical Observatory was built as well as the new facilities for the Department of Physical Education, and a number of minor projects.

In 1968 students at the University were actively involved in political protests against the regime, which was followed by repressive measures against the most active protesters and some of the staff, particularly those of Jewish origin. Some academics decided to emigrate from Poland, among them Professor Stefan Ritterman and Associate Professor Jan Gorecki, both eminent specialist in civil law. Still, when compared with the situation at other universities, repressive measures at the Jagiellonian University were considerably limited. This was certainly due both to the University authorities, who firmly defended the fundamental principles of academic ethics and co-operation, and to virtually all the staff.

In later periods the University also took actions to defend academic freedom and human rights and firmly maintained its academic standards. In 1981 the Senate commission, chaired by Rector Jozef A. Gierowski, prepared a draft of a new University Bill. Eventually, it provided the basis for the democratic and liberal University Act of 1982.

As in the past six centuries, in the more recent times the Jagiellonian University also abounded in eminent academics. Among them were the professors who died in the last three decades: Adam Vetulani (1901 - 1976) law historian; Stanislaw Nahlik (1911 - 1991), professor of international law, well known in Europe; Jerzy Kurylowicz (1895 - 1978), internationally known linguist; Karol Estreicher Jr (1906 - 1984) and Tadeusz Dobrowolski (1899 - 1984), art historians; Kazimierz Wyka (1910 - 1975), brilliant literary critic and professor of Polish literature; Kazimierz Kordylewski (1903 - 1981), discoverer of the dust moons of Earth; Jan Zurzycki (1925 - 1984), molecular biologist; Kazimierz Guminski (1908 - 1983), the 'father' of the Polish School of Theoretical Chemistry; the above mentioned mathematicians Tadeusz Wazewski and Franciszek Leja, as well as the mathematicians Stanislaw Golab (1902 - 1980) and Jacek Szarski (1921 - 1980).

Modern University

The organisational structure of the Jagiellonian University is unique in Poland. It consists of thirteen faculties, three of which form Collegium Medicum, that is: the Faculties of Medicine and Dentistry, Pharmacy, and Health Protection. It is the only University in Poland which has medical faculties. Those faculties, removed from the University on January 1, 1950, following the Soviet model, were re-incorporated in 1993. The University has also a number of extra- and inter-faculty units which serve the whole academic community. Courses taught in foreign languages and lectures by visiting foreign academics have been increasingly integrated into the syllabus, for instance, lectures in mathematics at the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics, or lectures given at the School of Foreign Laws (German, American and French) at the Faculty of Law and Administration and the School of Medicine in English. The high academic standards at the Jagiellonian University are confirmed by the fact that for several years now almost all faculties have received the highest A category in the official classification by the Polish Committee for Scientific Research. In the year 2000, the Jagiellonian University was placed at the first position in the ranking prepared by the Youth Educational Monthly Perspektywy, and in 2002 was placed at the first position in the rankings prepared by prestigious weeklies Polityka and Wprost.

The old Jagiellonian University, with its centuries-old tradition, is also a young and innovative school. It is constructing its new extensive and modern campus, called the Third Campus, between the districts of Zakrzowek and Pychowice, only four kilometres from the city centre. In 1999 the Biological Research Centre was opened, and in 2002 the Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, with the most modern infrastructure in Poland, and the Institute of Environment Protection were opened. The construction of the buildings to house all faculties of natural and theoretical sciences and the Faculty of Management and Communication is under way.

The Rector and the Deans have their offices in Collegium Novum, built in 1887, located in the Planty Gardens, among other University buildings which make up the Krakow 'Quartier Latin'. The cynosure among them is Collegium Maius, which was the first college with accommodation for professors (after 1400), and which in the nineteenth and in the early twentieth centuries housed the Jagiellonian Library. Now it accommodates the unique Jagiellonian University Museum, with its excellent collection of old scientific instruments and University treasures, and its gallery of professors' portraits, as well as the only permanent interactive exhibition in Poland. It bears witness to the fact that the University is the oldest Polish institution which has continued in spite of all political calamities which Poland suffered in the past.

Prof. Stanisław Waltos, Ph.D.

Editors in charge of this page.
  Wersja polska Search Addresses Hotels Kraków Poland Links Alma Mater

Contact to persons in charge of JU website.

Last modified: 22-07-2004 13:21