Clementinum - Karlova Street 1/190, Old Town


Karlova Street 1/190, Old Town

Male order of regular clerics the Society of Jesus (the Jesuit order) was founded in 1534 in Paris by St. Ignatius Loyola. The Jesuits who were mainly focusing on education in school, religious administration, missionary work, art and science, spread quickly around the whole Europe and in 1556 they came to Prague by invitation of Ferdinand I. Habsburg to help him to strengthen his anti-reformation policy. They settled in a Dominican monastery of St. Clement in the Old Town (hence the name Clementinum), destroyed by the Hussites in the 15th century and falling apart ever since; the Dominicans got the St. Agnes monastery Na Františku in return. The Jesuit Order opened a college in the monastery and started to hold philosophy and theology lectures there. In 1562 the Prague Jesuit College gained higher education rights, in 1616 the emperor Matthias I gave it proper university status, in 1622 the Jesuits were put in charge of the Prague (Charles) University due to the rising recatolization after the defeat of the Estates rebellion and in 1654 the emperor Ferdinand III. decided to merge both universities into one – Charles-Ferdinand University.

As the importance of the Jesuit Order in Czech political and cultural life grew, the Clementinum complex expanded too so eventually it became the second biggest architectural complex in old Prague after the Prague Castle; gradually it occupied space of 32 houses, seven courts, three churches, a monastery and a few gardens so its total surface area was almost 2 hectares. The current early and peak Baroque to early Classicist building is enclosed by four long two-storey outer wings which surround five courtyards divided by inner wings. The complex was formed by numerous lecture rooms and halls, a theatre, printing room, an observatory, administrative and supply buildings, accommodation facilities, custom houses and also religious buildings (mainly the church of St. Saviour, church of St. Clement and the Italian Chapel of the Assumption of Our Lady).

The oldest part of Clementinum is the wing that leads into Křižovnická street, built after 1653 based on the plans of C. Lurago; the construction was then continued by F. Caratti and G. D. Orsi de Orsini. Other wings were built by 1726 based on a plan by F. M. Kaňka. Apart from these, many other people participated on the construction and decoration of Clementinum such as the builders M. Allio, P. I. Bayer, M. Fontana, D. Bossi and K. I. Dientzenhofer, stone-masons F. della Torre and G. B. Passarini, stuccoworkers G. B. Cometa and T. Soldatti, painters P. J. Brandl, I. Raab, J. Kramolín, J. J. Heintsch, K. Tausch, J. Hiebel and V. V. Reiner or sculptors J. J. Bendl, M. B. Braun, F. M. Brokof, M. J. Brokof and F. O. Quittainer – basically everyone who was anyone among the artists in Prague of that time. The façades are early and peak Baroque, more decorative on the street side and more plain on the insides. Dominant features of the complex include the Clock Tower, the Observatory Tower from 1722 with a statue of Atlas above the third courtyard (it is 52 metres high, there are 172 steep stairs leading to the top; also see the Prague Meridian), the building of the former printing works, early Baroque fountain in the cloister and a number of free standing sculptures. Thirteen sundials are unique too.

Inside premises of Clementinum are a perfect example of Jesuits‘ approach to architecture. While the private, administrative and supply parts are very simple and plain, the public areas such as the corridors, classrooms, chapels or the library are richly decorated to celebrate the religion and the order. In the basement early and peak Baroque vaults were preserved while on the upper floors there are also Classicist vaults and flat ceilings. Stucco modelling of the ceilings, wall and ceiling fresco paintings with themes from the lives of saints, allegorical and biblical motives, stone and wooden scultptures and reliefs are all very impressive too. From such a number of richly decorated rooms, a few stand out such as the Chapel of Mirrors from 1724 (today used for concerts), the main library hall with an illusionary dome of the Wisdom church from 1727, the summer refectory (a study room at present time), Rococo Mathematics Hall with a collection of historical globes, Music room, Rococo Mozart Hall (the former Chapel of St. Eligius) or the Rococo chapel with an alter of St. John of Nepomuk.

At the height of its fame Clementinum formed a city within a city and the Jesuit Order was a strong force in the political life of Czech countries and indeed the whole Europe. Jesuit science flourished as well; it aimed to minimize the contrast between the traditional Aristotelian science and rapidly developing new sciences and its discoveries. The most important natural scientist of the 18th century in the Czech countries was father J. Stepling whose major contributions included starting the weather recording at the Observatory Tower of Clementinum in 1752; the recordings at Clementinum are one of the longest ones in the world thanks to him and his student A. Strnad. Important Jesuit scholars living in Clementinum also included theologist R. de Arriaga, mathematician J. Kresa, writers B. Balbín and B. Bridel and others.

In 1773 Pope Clement XIV. abolished the Jesuit Order as it became far too influential and was getting in the way of Enlightenment reforms. Clementinum then served as the philosophical and theological faculty of the Charles-Ferdinand university and Archbishop’s Seminar, after the university split up in 1882 the Czech part remained there and since 1930 until present time libraries have been located there; it is the seat of the National Library and the State Technical Library in the east wing. During the whole 18th and 19th centuries there weren’t any major architectural changes in Clementinum, in 1924-29 architect L. Machoň with the help of the sculptor O. Gutfreund and others made sensitive and cultivated alterations for library purposes by which they marked the modern approach to historical monuments restoration. Clementinum has been a national cultural monument since 1995. – The Society of Jesus was re-established already in 1814 but Jesuits did not come to Bohemia again until 1853.

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