This unique monument has been a part of Charles University since 1383, when Wenceslas IV, the son of the university’s founder, secured one of the most imposing palaces in the Old Town for use as a dormitory. Today, the Karolinum’s appearance is primarily Baroque. The central interior space, the Aula Magna, is used for commencement ceremonies and other official gatherings. The Karolinum Cloisters are used for exhibitions of contemporary art.
place of the university graduation ceremonies
Since the 14th century this extensive block of buildings houses Charles University - the oldest university in the Central Europe. On the first floor there is a large assembly hall which is used for special celebrations (graduation ceremonies etc.). The baroque facade is a result of the renovations from the year 1718. There is a gallery on the ground-floor.
The foundation of Charles University (Karlova univerzita) on 4 April 1348 counts among the most significant statesmanlike deeds of Charles IV. In a foundation charter he declared that he had established the university so that the inhabitants of the Bohemian Kingdom would not need to beg for alms abroad, could find the feast of knowledge at home and to the contrary could invite foreigners to study in our country. At first, the university did not have a central building. Students lived at their professors’ and also ate with them. The lectures took place in churches, monasteries and also in private. Later various university colleges were established and Karolinum was only one of them. Charles College (Karlova kolej) was founded in 1366 and after twenty years moved into a Gothic patrician house of the mintmaster Rotlev from the year around 1350. Johlin Rotlev donated the house to Wenceslas IV (Václav IV) and he gave the house together with neighbouring houses to the Charles College, which was originally located in a house on the outskirts of the Jewish quarter next to the St. Nicholas Church and its space was really limited. New facilities were built around and extended, out of which the establishment of the university chapel and a large hall for ceremonial gatherings (aula magna) was very important. The medieval reconstruction took many years and thanks to it the university then had auditoriums, lecture halls, flats for teachers and their assistants and also a spa and a prison. In 1611 all individual colleges were abolished and everything was concentrated in facilities of the Charles College – Karolinum.
Master Jan Hus worked there as a professor and rector. Together with his friend Jeronymus He spoke in a public debate against a papal sale of indulgences in the Karolinum auditorium. University masters took part in a declaration of the Hussite reform requirements called the Four Articles of Prague (Čtyři pražské artikuly) in 1420. The Landtag held meeting there several times and in 1618 after the session, the Bohemian Estates set out to Prague Castle to carry out a defenestration of the governors Slavata and Martinic. The university became one of the reform movement centers thus it was punished after the defeat of the Estate troops at the Battle of White Mountain by victorious Ferdinand II by being handed over to the Jesuits. They joined Karolinum with their college in Clementinum.
The present appearance of Karolinum is mostly of Baroque style as it was rebuilt by František Maxmilián Kaňka in 1718. The Baroque style is complemented by preserved and partly newly uncovered Gothic elements. Above the Baroque portal towards Železná Street the early Baroque window was left from the year 1687 with the Latin inscription LEX CIVIUM DUX (Law is the ruler of citizens). The arcade and a Gothic bay window from about 1373 come from the original Rotlev’s house. The latter one was originally a part of the domestic Chaple of Sts. Cosmas and Damian and only the Old Town Hall bay can equal to its grandiosity. The chapel is decorated with emblems of Bohemia, Styria and Moravia as well as of the archbishop Jan z Jenštejna and Johlin Rotlev.
After year 1930 the historical and archeological exploration began, which confirmed that the sights of medieval appearance remained under the Baroque reconstruction. The war stopped those works so the reconstruction did not begin until the 40’s under the leadership of the architect Jaroslav Fragner. The reconstruction involved not only the very historical buildings of Karolinum, but also other houses of the Karolinum block. In total, 17 buildings pertain to Karolinum, including court buildings. Among others there are Bucquoy Palace (Buquoyský palace) and the Opitz House (Opitzův dům) where the painted beamed ceilings were found, then the “Stokhaus” house and others. The most difficult stage of reconstruction finished in late 50’s by an arrangement of the courtyard into its original Gothic appearance with the brick arcades and a gallery. A statue of Jan Hus by Karel Lidický was installed there. The second stage of renovation and reconstruction by Franger concerned the adaptation of adjacent houses and the construction of a new entrance building in 60’s. A Courtyard of Honor was adjusted and in 1975 there was installed a fountain decorated with heraldic lions designed by both, Jaroslav Fragner and the sculptor Vincenc Makovský and carved by the sculptor Josef Wagner.
The central space of interior is a large auditorium used by academic court, who sits there at university ceremonials and student graduations. During the renovation in the years between 1945 and 1950, the auditorium, which was built after the year 1383, was about one third extended and grandstands and chairs for the academic court were placed there. The auditorium has a special corrugated ceiling that provides an excellent acoustics and where metallic ensigns of Czech lands designed by Jan Lauda are placed. Heaters and loudspeakers are fixed into the chandeliers. The main wall is decorated with a tapestry by Vladimír Sychra from the year 1947 and its main motif is Charles IV kneeling before the Prince Wenceslaus. The motif is the same as on the university seal. In front of the tapestry on the left there is a bronze heroic statue of Charles IV, the work of art by Karel Pokorný. On the side wall of the auditorium there is a double choir-loft with organs, decorated with tapestries. A small Gothic portal above the choir-loft leads to a number of chambers. In one of them the University keeps precious charters, seals and insignia – the sovereign university coats. On the other side of the auditorium there is a small chapel projecting to the street with a gothic bay and decorated with a marble monument of the humanist Master Matouš Kolín of Chotěřina from the year 1568. An original staircase decorated with paintings by Richard Wiesner leads to the auditorium from a baroque portal by Kaňka in Železná Street; the second staircase leads from Ovocný trh (the Fruit Market).
Karolinum is a national cultural monument.