The oldest university in central Europe, the Charles University was founded on April 7, 1348 by Charles IV, the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia.
From its foundation it was devoted to studia generalia and the emperor endowed it with all the privileges enjoyed by older European universities. In accordance with medieval conceptions of the academic range of a complete university, the newly established university had four faculties – Theology, Law, Medicine and Arts.
Soon after its foundation, Prague University developed links with the medieval intellectual movements, which were calling for reform in church and society. The defeat of the Bohemian Estates in 1620 and the consequences of the Thirty Years War meant the forced re-catholicisation of Prague University. The university remained a centre of education and scholarship, and its existence acted as a stimulus for Czech national consciousness. The mid-eighteenth century saw the gradual introduction of enlightened reforms, and this process culminated at the end of the century when even non-catholics were granted the right to study. At the same time, German replaced Latin as the language of instruction.
In 1848, the year of revolutions, Prague University once again found itself at the centre of national, democratic and evolutionary upheaval. The subsequent period of absolutism saw the repression of the democratic student movement and the dismantling of a whole series of liberal reforms.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, the university increasingly responded to the political and economic needs of society. The upsurge in Czech national life, science, cultural and political activity forced the Vienna government to divide the university into two institutions in 1882, one German and one Czech, and the dual arrangement lasted until 1939.
It was only with the establishment of Czechoslovak statehood in 1918 that Charles University gained a status, that fully reflected its academic and cultural importance. Its significance was underlined by the fact that the leading representatives of the new state, such as T. G. Masaryk, Edvard Benes and others, came from pre-war faculties of the university.
The Nazi occupation in 1939 came as a massive blow to the university. One of the first repressive measures taken by the Nazis was aimed at Czech sciences, humanities and higher education. On November 17, 1939, Prague University like all other Czech institutions of higher education, was closed by force with a large number of students being interned in a concentration camp. Some students and teachers were executed or persecuted. The German part of Prague university, some of whose students and professors had worked for the break-up of the democratic Czechoslovak state, had been proclaimed a University of the Reich, and, as such, it was abolished in 1945.
After the liberation of Czechoslovakia in 1945, the University began to develop rapidly in all its aspects. However, University life was soon to be disrupted and distorted by the effects of the Communist putsch in February 1948. The putsch led to purges, the end of academic freedoms and harsh repression of all expressions of disagreement with the official ideology. As a result of the role of teachers and students in the Prague Spring of 1968, a new and especially painful wave of purges hit the University and its faculties in the period of so-called normalisation at the beginning of the seventies. Only after the anticommunist revolution, which began on November 17, 1989, was there real change in a situation, which had lasted more than forty years. The appointment of new representatives of a free academic community was legalised in January 1990; this marked the beginning of a systematic effort to remove the forty-year inheritance of deformation in the life of the University as an educational and academic institution.
Faculty of Medicine in Hradec Hralove
Faculty of Medicine in Hradec Kralove started its educational activities on November 25, 1945 as the first university faculty in East Bohemia. Initially, the Hradec Kralove faculty was established as a part of the Prague Faculty of Medicine. Due to their co-operation and assistance it was immediately possible to establish both a high quality teaching staff and an effective departmental structure in Hradec Kralove. The first post-war Czechoslovak president, Dr. Edvard Benes, confirmed this successful development during his visit in 1946. Because of the “Cold War”, the faculty was transformed into a Military Medical Academy for a short time. However, in September 1958, the Faculty returned back to Charles University. For its entire 57 years of existence, the Faculty of Medicine in Hradec Kralove has been among the top Czech university institutions.
The clinical instruction for General Medicine and Dentistry students takes place in the University Hospital.
Scientifically and pedagogically the University Hospital closely co-operates with the Faculty of Medicine.
The University Hospital was founded on the basis of one of the most advanced district hospitals at the same time as the Faculty of Medicine (in 1945). It can be proud of being a leader in many aspects of medical development. For instance the first operations on the heart, performed in Hradec Kralove in the years of 1947 – 1951 by the academician Jan Bedrna, were the start of Czech cardiosurgery. In the year 1952 Prof. Rudolf Klen founded the first tissue bank in Hradec Kralove. In the same year the academician Rudolf Petr is credited with originating the first neurosurgical clinic in the Republic. Starting in 1958 Prof. Jaroslav Prochazka was one of the first to use extracorporeal circulation during open heart surgery. In the year 1967 Prof. Josef Erben began the regular use of haemodialysis – also as the first in this country.