BRATISLAVA, then called Pressburg, Pozsony or Prešporok, was long without a university. After a short period in the 15th century, there was no education of this kind and local councillors had been pressing for 30 years to found one in their hometown.
In 1878, Emperor Franz Jozef I. received a memorandum with the plea to establish a university here. However, other Hungarian cities applied for a university, like Košice, Debrecén, Györ or Pécs, and so the government returned to this issue seven years later, when, as it turned out, universities in Pest and Vienna were overcrowded. Education minister Agost Trefort filed a proposal with the Hungarian parliament to open a medical school in the former coronation city immediately.
However, the law regarding the founding of the university was passed only in 1912, and it was not until 1914 that the university, named after St Elizabeth Hungarian (of Thuringen) who is alleged to have been born at the Bratislava castle, according to some historians (which is not proven) started its activities.
The Hungarian Royal Elizabethan University’s location was the result of a compromise in 1913: the law and philosophy faculties should have been located in the city centre, while the faculties of medicine and natural sciences were to be built on plots outside the city. However, World War I postponed the construction of the university, and students were taught in provisional premises. The law faculty was opened in 1914/1915, the philosophical faculty in 1917/1918 and the medical faculty in autumn 1928.
However, the split of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the wake of WWI and the establishment of Czechoslovakia caused the university to be closed in 1919, based on a law from June of that year. It was partially moved to the Hungarian city of Pécs, and a new university, named after J.A. Comenius, was founded in Bratislava instead.
What has remained, however, is the library that turned 95 on October 10. It was formed from the library of the Elizabethan University, and was the only scientific library in Slovakia at the time. The original library included documents from several Bratislava-based institutions; books from historical libraries, the former Public City Library in Bratislava, an old Jesuit library and Jesuit secondary school in Bratislava; as well as the complete library of the Slavonic Institute that operated in Bratislava since 1827.
It had the right to a statutory copy, which enhanced its collections a great deal. After difficult years during the war-time Slovak State when the ruling Hlinka’s Guard gave orders to drop progressive literature and replace it with fascist and religious literature (when part of the library fund was saved, however, the law from 1959 boosted its importance as one of the state university scientific libraries). In the next 30 years, its collection grew to 1,600,000 copies. Presently, it is comprised of 2,650,000 library units, including, apart from classical books, also audio-visual and electronic documents.
The big complex of several historical buildings in Michalská, Ventúrska and Klariská streets comprises the multi-functional cultural and library centre (that also organises concerts and events), The Office of the Council of Europe, the UNESCO centre, the UN deposit library and NATO and US information centres.
Over 95 years, tens of thousands of students, scientists and intellectuals have entered it, and five generations have already been nurtured by its wealth of information.
1. Dec 2014 at 0:00 | Compiled by Zuzana Vilikovská