Austria Poland

“Collegium Maius,” or, “COPERNICUS WAS HERE”

Day Two of our time in Krakow began with a walk back into the center of town to meet in the shadow the church I wrote about previously. A few people went in, as we had a bit of time to kill, but I’m still using that as a teaser for an upcoming post – I didn’t actually go inside the church until our last day in Poland.
Instead, we headed across town towards the Collegium Maius, the heart of the ancient Jagellonian University.

The building was a bit hard to find – the exterior is largely covered in scaffolding at the moment, which you’d think would make a good landmark-descriptor sort of thing, but there’s another building across the street that’s also covered in scaffolding. Once you get inside, though, there’s a lovely little courtyard to see. Notably, those little doors above the big door to the library open up every hour, and a parade of wooden statues goes past to mark the hour.
If you go through that door, into the library, you’re greeted with some cool sights – the library is still intact, with a few token books, although anything of actual value has been moved to the climate-controlled sections of the new library elsewhere in the city. Still, the rotating lectern1 is a cool little bit of history.
And the ceiling of the library also looks very cool – it was painted blue to look like the sky, and then a while later someone decided that it needed clouds, as well.2
Now, the fun thing about this building3 is that it used to be structured rather differently – every room was accessible only from the interior courtyard. That was a bit inconvenient for giving tours through the museum that the central level had been converted to, so they punched a few holes in the walls and installed doors. This staircase was an earlier form of that, dating back a couple hundred years.4
Now, in case you haven’t figured it out from the title, one of the big claims to fame of the Jagillonian University is that Copernicus was a student there. There’s a full room devoted to him in the museum, showing a bunch of the equipment he would’ve learned to use as a student there.
This one, locked up in the vault, is the earliest known depiction of the Americas on a globe. It’s not super accurate – South America is in roughly the right place, but North America is somewhere south of Madagascar.5 Still, they tried.6
The second vault also contains quite a few awards, donated to the university by their winners. This is, I think, the first time I have been within two feet of a Nobel prize, an Olympic gold medal, and an Oscar, all at once.7
Now, I’m not saying that those other things weren’t impressive, but I think my favorite was the signed picture from Neil Armstrong, given to the university to celebrate Copernicus’ 500th birthday.
Our tour ended in an old lecture hall, beautifully decorated. It’s still used today, though instead of classes they use it for the various ceremonies that a university faculty gathers over the 700-plus-year lifetime of an institution.
And we’ll end on a picture of a sassy statue, on a church a short distance away from the Collegium. I have a weakness for sassy statues, okay?

  1. One of only, like, ten in the world, or something. 
  2. I like to imagine it was an art major, desperately trying to figure out what to do for their capstone project. 
  3. Technically speaking it’s actually a collection of buildings, but they’ve been glued together by a mix of mortar and cutting holes in formerly-exterior walls to create doors. 
  4. It’s still in use, though – there are administrative offices up there, and while we were in the room someone came down the staircase, producing a lovely chorus of creaks. 
  5. In case you’re wondering about the names, one is labelled “America” and the other “The New World,” though I can’t remember which was notated as which. 
  6. There’s a scaled-up version in another room, where you can see more easily that the creator’s perspective on mountains was “who cares where they are, they look more professional than ‘hic svnt dracos,’ so I’m using them to fill blank space, instead.” 
  7. To my knowledge, it’s also the first time I’ve been within two feet of any of the three. 

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