The Charles University in Prague was founded by Charles IV. on 7 th April 1348, which makes it the oldest university north of the Alps. The Carolinum complex at the Fruit Market (Ovocny trh) in Prague Old Town has been its centre since the middle ages.
Beginnings of the Charles University
The university didn´t have a central building in the beginning. The lectures took place in churches or monasteries and students lived in their professors´ homes. Several colleges were built for the Charles University later.
The Charles College – Carolinum – was founded in 1366 and it moved to the Gothic house of the royal coin maker Johlin Rotlev in 1386. A chapel was built there and also a big hall for ceremonial assemblies – aula magna. All the other colleges were abolished in 1611 and Carolinum became the central building of the Charles University.
Jan Hus in Carolinum
The famous reformer Jan Hus was a professor and a Master at the university. He held a speech against selling indulgences there. Carolinum became one of the centres of the reformative movement in Bohemia. The Masters of the University took part in announcing the requirements of the Hussite movement in 1420.
About two hundred years later, Czech Protestant nobles gathered in Carolinum before they started the rebellion against Emperor Matthias. It was because the emperor had violated their freedom of belief.
After the Protestant estates were finally defeated in 1620, the Charles University in Prague was punished by Emperor Ferdinand II.: he handed Carolinum over to the Jesuit order. Jesuits put the university together with their own college in Clementinum and made it one school, called “Charles – Ferdinand University”.
The Jesuit order was abolished in 1773, but the university gained its historical name “Charles University” back as late as in 1920.
Architecture of Carolinum
Carolinum was rebuilt in Baroque style by F. M. Kanka in 1718. There is an early-Baroque window from 1687 above the portal in Zelezna Street. It has an inscription saying LEX CIVIUM DUX (The law rules the citizens). The original Gothic Rotlev´s house is reminded by a Gothic oriel window from around 1370.
Big auditorium in Carolinum
The building complex Carolinum consists of 17 houses altogether. There is a statue of Jan Hus in the courtyard. The main hall is the big auditorium, which is used for university ceremonies and graduations. The auditorium wall is decorated with a tapestry, depicting Emperor Charles IV., kneeling in front of St.Wenceslas, the Duke of Bohemia. The same motive can be seen on the Charles University´s seal.
At the present time, Charles University in Prague has many colleges in the city and the Carolinum is used mostly for the academic ceremonies. It is usually not accessible to public, only on the occasion of graduations or open door days.