Monday, April 7, 2008
This week, Charles University (also known as the Carolinum, in Czech) is celebrating the 660th anniversary of its founding! It is hard to imagine a facility of this kind being around for 660 years! Last weekend, the university held an open house that included a free tour of the facility’s oldest buildings. Some friends and I took the tour and saw some very interesting and beautiful artifacts. I would like to tell a little bit about what we saw on the tour, but first a little background information is necessary about Charles University.
The university was founded on April 7th, 1348 by Charles IV, King of Bohemia and King of the Romans (title prior to becoming the Holy Roman Emperor). Charles the IV is one of the Czech Republic’s most renowned rulers--he was a very innovative and far-thinking man of his times. Charles University bears his name, and is one of the oldest universities in Europe. It was structured on the models of the universities of Paris and Bologna, and had four faculties: law and medicine, the free arts, and theology. Charles University quickly rose to international renown, with students and academics coming from all over Europe. If you would like further background information, please see my website Czech Off the Beaten Path.
Back to our tour on the weekend! The tour took place in the oldest buildings of Charles University. These buildings are just off Old Town Square, on Ovocný tr 5. Wenceslas IV, son of Charles IV, bought a palace, the Rotlev Palace, in 1383 in which to house the university faculty, students, and administrative offices. After renovation, the university was opened at this spot in 1386. There are many aspects from the 1300’s that are still visible throughout the building. You can see, in some spots, ancient windows and doorways that are now closed and/or bricked up—but which still bear the shape of the original architectural designs from that time. Also, there are the traditional arched hallways throughout.
On the tour, we were taken through the cellars which are very old. They sit upon even older foundations of the Romanesque-Gothic style (which the Rotlev palace was originally built on). There were many exhibits and artifacts on display. Some of the most fascinating were bits of statues and pillars from the original palace, and many documents, books and paintings from medieval times. I saw one Bible that had been written by hand, and was beautifully illuminated, from 1400! On one corner of the visible page of this Bible, a small monkey had even been painted! It was very amazing. I was not able to get a picture of this book as it was under glass and the lighting was very dim. Also on exhibit was the original founding charter from 1348! It is so interesting to see things that have been in existence from that time…these were all original documents!
We were also able to see the Great Hall (auditorium) where graduations and other academic functions are held. This room is very large, with a very high ceiling, and is one of the most beautiful rooms in the building. In the front of the room is a famous tapestry of Charles IV, kneeling before Wenceslas IV, and handing him the charter for Charles University. It is also possible to see an oriel window that was originally a chapel window, dating from the mid-1300’s. We were also able to see the maces (something like a baton) of each of the faculties of the university. These were done in gold and jewels, with various insignia and symbols that varied for each faculty.
This tour was completely free to the public, and I’m very happy that I had the opportunity to take the tour and see a very important part of Czech history, which is still in existence today, and is still famous throughout the world!
Have a great day!
© 2008 by czechoffthebeatenpath
All photos property of S. A. Vacik