The Jagiellonian Library is one of the few Polish libraries which can boast a particularly rich collection of prints and manuscripts devoted to the Orient, broadly understood. The fact demonstrates a centuries-long interest in the East and is the effect of establishing the Faculty of Oriental Studies at the Jagiellonian University – the oldest Polish university. In 1919, Prof. Tadeusz Kowalski, professor of Oriental Studies, was appointed to chair the Department of Oriental Philology, the name of which was changed to the College of Oriental Philology in 1921. In 1972 this research unit received the status of institute – the Institute of Oriental Philology, which eight years ago changed its name to the Oriental Studies Institute.
In the beginning, the research and didactic interests of the Krakow oriental studies under the leadership of Prof. Kowalski covered only the Middle East and languages taught were Arabic, Persian and Turkish. In the 1970s, in the Institute of Oriental Studies, the Indological Studies Unit opened to ensure a continuation of Indological studies that had started as early as the nineteenth century at the Jagiellonian University. Then, at the end of the nineteenth century and in the early years of the twentieth century, new units were created to include research and studies devoted to Japan and China.
The book collection of the Jagiellonian University devoted to eastern themes includes not only printed texts (old prints and contemporary publications) but also manuscripts acquired from individual collectors and researchers as well as various Polish and foreign institutions. It is hard to estimate the total number of objects that can be classified as so-called Orientalia.
The exhibition “Oriental Treasures of the Jagiellonian Library” presents just a few tens of objects representing individual areas of specialization of the Institute of Oriental Studies, one of them being literary texts relating to the Middle East and the Far East: Turkey, the Arab countries, Iran, India, China, and Japan.
Open to the world and other cultures, Polish society was interested not only in its neighbours but also in the distant cultures of the peoples of the East. Therefore, Polish researchers, travellers, missionaries would reach far regions and then report their travels in notes, journals, diaries, or even elaborate treatises. Frequently, these expeditions and their descriptions would become an inspiration for later research studies.
Among the presented objects, both manuscripts and printed texts, the exhibition presents copies of the Quran, dictionaries, prayer books, diaries, historical works, descriptions of lands and various places, treaties, journals, and maps.
The variety of themes and genres of the works shows the unique versatility of interests in the Orient. The Jagiellonian Library’s rich collection of Orientalia undoubtedly constitutes a significant part of our national heritage.
Ewa Siemieniec-Gołaś, Curator of the exhibition
Between 14 and 16 October 2019 the participants of the conference "Languages and Civilisations" are invited to visit the exhibition between the hours 11.30 a.m. and 2 p.m.