The Eger Lyceum is a grand building, indeed. Built to be a university, it was never granted the status its imposing facade demands.
It was not the the architecture, however, that derailed the ambitions of Eger's bishops to make the city one of only a handful in the Austro-Hungarian Empire that boasted a university. That was the doing of the Hapsburg's.
Eger Lyceum (taken from the tower of the Basilica)
It had taken some time for Eger to recover after 91 years of Turkish rule, but recover it did.
By the middle of the eighteenth century it had become a center of learning and could boast public schools, a Jesuit secondary school, a seminary (est. 1705), a law school (1740) and the Episcopal Printing Press (1754).
It was Bishop Barkóczy, a flamboyant and immensely ambitious man, well-known for his patronage of the arts, who took the next logical step and proposed establishing a university in Eger and to this end he employed the services of Ignaz Gerl, a well-respected Viennese architect.
Plans, however, had to be put on hold when Barkóczy was appointed Primate of Esztergom and replaced by Count Károly Eszterházy.
Eszterházy was very different from his predecessor, preferring a more frugal existence, his loyalty was to Rome and not the Royal Court in Vienna. Yet, he recognised the importance of establishing a university and even expanded on Barkóczy's original plan by proposing that it contain four faculties rather than the three his predecessor had envisaged.
Eszterházy immersed himself in the project, assiduously following every stage of construction and ensuring that all costs were paid even if it meant the money came from his own pocket.
In fact, he became so involved that conflict with the professionals he had employed became inevitable, so much so that three architects in all worked on the plan; this goes some way to explaining the mix of Baroque, Rococco and Louis XVI elements evident on the huge building.
It soon became obvious to the Bishop that Vienna was unlikely to allow him to open a university.
Despite this, he soldiered on, establishing in Eger Hungary`s first medical school and overseeing the stunning interior decoration of what he still hoped would be a university.
Three halls were built on the first floor: the chapel, the Examination Hall and the Archdiocesan Library. They are all well worth a visit, not least for their trompe l'oeil painted ceilings and sumptuous furnishings.
A great tower was built to house the observatory, where today you can still view the original astronomical instruments procured for the never-to be-university and find one of only three camera obscura in the world .
The Lyceum's Observatory Tower
But it was all in vain, 1777 sounded the death knell for Eszterházy`s dream, it was in this year that the Ratio Educationis was issued which declared that there would be just one university in Hungary and that it would be in Buda.
So why was Eszterházy prevented from establishing a university?
The answer to this question can be found in the enlightened absolutism of Empress Maria Theresa and Joseph II, the aim of which was to produce good and productive subjects through an educational system sponsored entirely by the state.
Eger Lyceum 1854: Kubinyi Ferenc
The proposed Eger University was a child of the church and as such outside of state control. In the climate of the time, Vienna would not allow this.
So, the Ratio Educationis of 1777 bestowed the lesser status`Lyceum` on Eger`s new educational institution.
Although, Eszterházy failed to get his university, he ensured that Eger acquired a wonderful piece of Louis XVI architecture which continues to amaze and inspire students and visitors alike.
Only from the air can you truly appreciate the majesty of Eger Lyceum