Oldest universities in Europe

It is difficult to point to the oldest continuously functioning university in each European country. What should we count as the founding year: the year the establishment became a university or the year when its predecessor, let’s say a school or a seminary, was first founded? What if a particular university was founded by a foreign power when it ruled over the area? What if the university was closed for a century, is it still the same university then? These and many other questions regarding this matter seem subjective to me so this map depicts my answers to them.

I chose a maximum of 50 years of a gap for a university to be considered in continuous operation and, to be honest, even 50 years is a stretch but it seems to be as good as a period as any. Each particular case is anyway unique and boy don’t get me started on Napoleon. Most of the universities on the map, however, fall far below the 50-years mark, so a 40-years or a 35-years mark wouldn’t make much difference.

The dates you see on the map are the earliest dates when teaching occurred in universities’ predecessors, be it academies, schools, seminaries or whatever. Why? Why not if a certain establishment naturally evolved into a university?

There are a few interesting cases we should look at, though. One of them takes place in the country of Revolutions and Reforms – France. Starting with the University of France system in the 19th century, going through the divisions of the 1970s and the reunifications of the 2010s, the University of Paris has undergone so many transformations that if you put all of them in a chart it would look more complex than a chart of everyone who ever played in Black Sabbath. I decided to consider the current University of Paris to be a legitimate successor to the one founded in 1150 and recognised by the king in 1200 (hence, 2 dates on the map) because it is still a continuation of the old university, although only a part of it. If you think that it is not, then either the University of Toulouse or the University of Montpellier would be your best bet if you ever need to name the oldest university in France. Even then you’d have to choose between the date the schools were found and the date when they were recognised by the Pope, which was a big deal back in the 13th century. You can also say that any of the originally 13 and now 11 universities into which the original University of Paris was split is its legitimate successor.

Universities of Zadar in Croatia and Pécs in Hungary claim to be very old but they can’t claim continuous operation, with the first one not operating for 192 years and the second one for at least 150 years.

The University of Helsinki was originally founded by the Swedes in Turku (Åbo) then moved by the Russians to Helsinki after the Great Fire of Turku. Is it still the same university? I’d say yes. If you don’t agree, the same university would still take the crown, just the founding date would move from 1640 to 1828.

EDIT: The University of Tartu claims to have its roots in the university founded in 1632, however, this university was closed between 1710 and 1802, which is a 92-years gap. Nonetheless, if we take 1802 as the founding date of the current university, it would still take the crown in Estonia when it comes to the oldest continuously functioning university in the country. That’s why you see 1802 and not 1632 on the map. Thanks to r/kaugeksj2i and r/GOKOP for pointing that out, so I could fix the map.

Enjoy the map and if you don’t agree with its contents because your university logo has another date on it then unfortunately I can’t help you. If you got substantial proof, though, leave a comment below. Always glad to be rightly proved wrong. Actually, if you like the map, leave a comment too, it would make my day better.

If you have a suggestion on what map I should do next, submit it here.

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