Imagine a bird's eye view of history. Want to see it? Play this animation.

School days in Banská Štiavnica

It seems the heartbeat of student life has pulsed steadily in Štiavnica since at least 1375, the date of the first written mention of a Štiavnica school. That document tells how a student was punished for theft. However, there were people who made a better contribution to the reputation of the schools in Štiavnica, for example, Milo Urban, Sándor Petőfi, Andrej Sládkovič, Pavol Dobšinský, Július Pántik, the Vášary sisters, and the 12 graduates of the Mining Academy who were invited to serve the Sultan Muhammad in the 19th c. The quality of Štiavnica’s schools used to attract famous scientists from all over the world.

Building of the first mining school in Vindšachta (Štiavnické Bane today), founded in 1735. Education in the school was free; students even received 102 gold coins annually. Resource: Lubo Lužina

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.

Padre Imrich Erdösi leading the victorious army in the Battle of Branisko. Resource: István Gál: Piaristák a szabadságharcban (Piarists in Fight for Freedom)

Salamander parade in present times. Resource: L. Lužina