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Polymath Matej Bel born 330 years ago

FAMOUS Slovak-Hungarian polymath, regional studies scientist, teacher and rector Matej Bel was born on March 22, 1684 in Očová. Matej is featured on the UNESCO calendar, has a memorial room in Očová and the university in Banská Bystrica is named after him.

FAMOUS Slovak-Hungarian polymath, regional studies scientist, teacher and rector Matej Bel was born on March 22, 1684 in Očová. Matej is featured on the UNESCO calendar, has a memorial room in Očová and the university in Banská Bystrica is named after him.

In 1707, he graduated in philosophy and theology from Halle University in Germany. He was the rector of Evangelical Secondary Grammar School in Bratislava until 1714, and a priest of the German evangelical church there. In Halle, he adopted the idea of a new strain of Protestantism, called Pietism, directed against the superficiality of the Catholic Church.

In addition to being a pioneer in the Enlightenment, Bel taught Asian languages and focused on practical subjects, like physics, botany and geography. He published a textbook on rhetoric and a four-language Latin-German-Hungarian-Czech dictionary. He also composed liturgical songs and wrote poetry.

However, his most crucial work was a four volume regional, historical and geographical exploration of the Kingdom of Hungary, which first appeared between 1735 and 1742. Numerous expert collaborators assisted him on the project. The resulting work, titled Notitia Hungariae Novae Historico-Geographica (Historic-geographical Knowledge on Period Hungary), covers a vast section of today’s Slovak territory, complete with maps made by prominent Slovak cartographer Samuel Mikovíni. King Charles III (later Emporer Charles VI) funded the project and honoured Bel with a noble title. The book remains a unique source of information on the history, geography, ethnicities and social aspects of the Hungarian Kingdom, and is available today on the internet.

The recently published Slovak Encyclopaedia was named the Enyklopédia Beliana, after Bel.

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