School days in Banská Štiavnica
From neophytes to experts
In past times, the essence of success at school was to remember every word of what was taught. This applied to both church and state folk schools, but also to higher-level confessional schools (lyceums and grammar schools), which opened in Štiavnica later, and had courses on grammar, rhetoric, syntax, languages, etc. The linking of theory with practice came about with the opening of a school intended to produce mining experts. It was founded in 1735 in Vindšachta (Štiavnické Bane), and its first professor was Samuel Mikovíni, who made this school into a top educational institution. The school was later moved to Štiavnica.
Historians differ on what year the famous Mining Academy was established (1762, 1764, 1770). One thing is certain, however: we can be grateful for its creation to the Empress Maria Theresa, her husband Francis I, and their advisory council, among them counsellor Gerard van Swieten, first of all. The Academy, with its departments of Chemistry and Metallurgy, Mathematics, Mechanics and Hydraulics and, finally, the Theory and Practice of Mining Works, gained such an excellent reputation that Antoine F. De Fourcroy, a member of the French National Convention, suggested using the Academy as a model for structuring the Polytechnic School in Paris in 1794. Well-known European scientists, such as Volta, Savaresi and Tondi, worked in the laboratories of Štiavnica’s Academy. Thanks to a thorough linking of theory with practice as well as use of the most progressive teaching methods, school graduates were real mining experts, in demand even in distant foreign countries. For example, based on Sultan Muhammed’s decision, at the beginning of the 19th c., Ján Knechtl became the executive director of all mining plants in the Ottoman Empire.
Foresters, lace makers, merchants
In 1807, Francis II ordered that the Mining Academy include forestry in its programme of studies. From February 12 1809 until his death in 1832, professor Henry David Wilckens was the sole instructor of all the classes in forestry science for an annual salary of 1,500 golden coins. In 1846, a separate forestry faculty was created, and the school began to use a new official name: the Mining and Forestry Academy. However, there were other interesting schools in the region. At one time, there were schools of drawing, trade, and crafts in town, and also, the State vocational school and a school for women. In the central part of Hodruša, there was a State lace-making school, and in Piarg (part of Štiavnické Bane), a wood-carving school. After the closure of the Mining and Forestry Academy and the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, higher education did not return to Štiavnica until the end of the 20th c. Two departments of natural sciences of the Matej Bell University in Banská Bystrica and the field office of the Faculty of Architecture, Slovak Technical University, Bratislava, were opened here. Only the latter is still in operation. In 2008, the Jan Albrecht Music and Art Academy was founded in Banská Štiavnica.
Sweet fruits of the academic field
When Maria Theresa was deciding whether to place the first mining academy in Prague or Banská Štiavnica, it is said that she chose Štiavnica partly because she did not want the students to be disturbed by the allurements of a big city. But the local students outsmarted the Empress so extensively that the traditions the students founded are still a source of amusement today.
It was exceptionally hard to study at the Mining Academy. Strict rules had to be followed; any misconduct could have been punished by imprisonment for several days, or even expulsion from the school. But besides classes and rules, the life in the schools offered amusement as well. Students founded societies, where they followed certain rules of behaviour (Bursenschaft). Their meetings had internal rules, which applied to admission of new students, but also to the farewell programme for graduates, who said goodbye to the school and town through what is even today called the “Valetants’ parade” (valetant – local name for a graduate). The graduates walked through town from the Town Hall to the Academy. On their hats, they wore ribbons, the number of which reflected the number of years they had spent at the Academy. Graduates who “had managed” to retake courses had the most ribbons. The “Valetants” sang the song “The old student is wandering away into the world” merry as could be because the first-year students carried their luggage. Students of the Mining Academy were the originators of the famous Salamander parade, which they transferred from pubs and society clubs to Štiavnica streets. And although the Mining Academy is long gone, the Salamander parade lives on. Since 1988, it has been the highlight of the annual celebration of Miners’ Day. Masses of people watch the parade of representatives of mining societies, professional associations, and former mining towns in Slovakia and abroad. The most attractive, however, are the locals dressed in costumes depicting famous people from the town’s history.
Teachers – celebrities
The history of Štiavnica’s schools is rich with famous names. For example, one of the teachers was Christian Johann Doppler, who described the famous phenomenon of wavelength change. Alessandro Volta, inventor of the electric battery, conducted experiments here. Padre Imrich Erdösi, who played a crucial role in winning the battle of Branisko (revolutionary years 1848/49) taught at the grammar school. The list of celebrities is truly long, made up of both teachers and graduates of the Academy.
It is no accident that a certain English company hired several Academy graduates to work at their mines in America in the 19th c. The Academy was of an exceptional quality; for example, it educated four future main chamber earls, the same number of royal administrators, 26 royal counsellors, one world-famous mineralogist and university professor in Budapest – Jozef Szabó, and one professor of the polytechnic school in Prague – Karol Korzistka. Furthermore, Leopold Anton Ruprecht was a student and, later, teacher at the Academy as well. He was the pioneer of metallization of soils and was considered one of the most renowned chemists in the world even long after he died. Ruprecht supervised the building of the first amalgamation smelter in the world. Another successful graduate, Franz Joseph Müller von Reichenstein, discovered a chemical element – tellurium. He managed to do so in Transylvania in 1782, where he analysed gold-bearing ores. He first considered the tin white crystal metal to be bismuth sulphide. When he realised his mistake, he spent three years analysing this rare semimetal. However, Franz Joseph was still not able to identify it, and called it names such as “aurum paradoxium” or “metallum problematicum”. He sent a sample of it to Martin Heinrich Klaproth, the discoverer of uranium, zirconium and cerium. The German chemist managed to identify it as a new element. He called it tellurium, and attributed the discovery to Franz Joseph Müller von Reichenstein.