The Charles University – Third Oldest University in Europe
The university has faculties spread throughout the city so when people talk about a single location it’s usually the Karolinum, the headquarters and oldest part of the Charles University. It is not the sort of place that you visit because apart from a small exhibition centre attached to the Karolinum at Ovocny Trh then the rest of the university faculties and grounds are private. The Karolinum is worth a closer look. Located right next to the Estates Theatre you can still see parts of the old Gothic structure including the original chapel.
On April 7th 1348 the Charles University was founded under Royal Charter by King Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor. It was the third European university after Paris and Bologna but soon became internationally renowned. A pretty small syllabus to start with was limited to Liberal Arts, Theology, Law and Medicine and after the University Rector Jan Hus was executed and the Hussite Wars followed into the 1420’s, this syllabus was reduced to just the Liberal Arts.
The Hussite influence continued right up to 1621 when the Rector of Charles University at that time, Jan Jesensky, was executed on the Old Town Square (read the gory details on the 1621 Memorial post) and the Catholic King Ferdinand II and later Ferdinand III are in control. By 1654 the Thirty Years War had been won by the Catholics and the Marian Column constructed on the Old Town Square. This meant tremendous change for the Charles University. Almost at once it goes from a group of private scholars to a government institution and also recovers it’s former faculties of Law, Medicine and Theology but, it also merged with the Jesuit College to form the Charles-Ferdinand University and it retained that name until 1918.
From 1848 it became a true state-run higher education facility. In 1882 the Czech Reformist movement causes the Charles University to split into separate German Language and Czech Language universities (Albert Einstein taught in the German part of the university from 1911-12). In 1918 the Austro-Hungarian Empire ends and Czechoslovakia is formed. Post independence the name is changed back to the Charles University and it moves strongly in the direction of research and development.
Charles University has sought to establish links with many international educational facilities and institutions and runs many semester-based study courses giving international students a chance to experience one of the oldest universities in the world. It’s fairly spread out over the city but all the faculties are easily accessible via the public transport network so really if you are looking for the best place to stay in Prague then be sure where your faculty is located.