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School for Saints and Star Gazers: Krakow's Jagiellonian University

Krakow is aptly called the jewel of Poland.  The stunning Old Town is a veritable open air museum of architecture, which thankfully escaped the wartime fate of Warsaw. 

Not to be missed in the heart of the Old Town is the enchanting Grand College or Collegium Maius of Krakow’s famed Jagiellonian University.  The exquisite late-Gothic arcaded courtyard of this, one of Europe’s oldest institutions of learning and Poland’s premier university, is perfectly preserved.  The courtyard is also the gateway to the Jagiellonian University’s Museum, which offers unique insight into university and academic life in the Middle Ages.  The museum is a treasure trove of unique academic regalia, and scientific and astrological instruments, collected in the museum since 1492.  The museum also boasts the oldest known globe to depict the Americas.

Krakow’s Jagiellonian University is named for Poland’s beloved saint, Queen Jadwiga, who sold her royal regalia and personal jewels to found the Krakow Academy in the late 14th century.  Her son, King Wladyslaw II fulfilled her vision by elevating the academy into a university, which ultimately attracted some of the greatest minds in Europe. 

The Renaissance saw golden era of the Jagiellonian University, attended by thousands of students from all over Europe.  From that time, it was considered on a par with the other great universities in Europe: Oxford and Cambridge, Siena University, and the University of Paris. The Jagiellonian University was the first in Europe to endow independent chairs in Mathematics and Astronomy, considered then very modern and unusual subjects outside the proscribed curriculum of the day.  Both Queen Jadwiga and King Wladyslaw II are buried in the royal tombs of St. Leonard's Crypt beneath the 11th century Wawal Cathedral.

Queen Jadwiga is not the only saint associated with Jagiellonian University.  Pope John Paul II was a graduate, as was the famous astronomer, Nicolas Copernicus.  Today, numerous guided and self-guided tours of the university’s exquisite interiors are available. 

Krakow is a major destination on many Alexander+Roberts Eastern European itineraries, including Grand Capitals of Eastern Europe by Rail.

Posted: 6/19/2015 11:07:00 AM by Alexander + Roberts