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Academia Petrina

Location: N56° 38` 59.6", E23° 43` 44.8"

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Under the influence of the enlightenment ideas spread in the 18th century, the last duke of Kurzeme – Peter von Biron in 1772 announced to the landtag that he has decided to found academic gymnasium in Jelgava city. There was only a Jesuit school in Jelgava with grammar, poetics and rhetoric departments, but it had ended its function after the expulsion of Jesuits from Jelgava in 1759. 

The foundation of the academy was given to the member of Berlin academy – Johann Georg Sulzer, who proposed to make two classes – literature class for teaching German, Latin and Greek languages, including mythology, geography, history, and science class for teaching physics, math, science, nation history, philosophy, natural rights and speech. The estimated time of studies in each class was two years. The teaching was done by nine professors (theology, law, philosophy, physics, math, history, rhetoric, Latin language, and Greek language) and teachers who taught German, French and English languages, also music, dancing, fencing and equestrianism. The administration was done by Professor Council.

On the 8th June on 1775, Duke Peter signed an order about the foundation of academic gymnasium, but the grand opening of the high school was held in Peter’s day – 29th June, 1775. Nominally the school rector was Duke Peter, vice-rectors changed each year as a result of rotation. First vice-rector in 1775 was Johann Melchior Gottlieb Beseke. Salary of a professor was 500-800 Albert thalers, salary of a teacher – 250-300 Albert thalers. On the first semester in 1775, 17, but on the second semester – 28 students started their studies, but until 1795 – 241 student, including 32 foreign students, were receiving their education in Jelgava gymnasium.

In January of 1773, Duke Peter gave a gift to the academy – his old palace building on Palejas street, which was pulled down, and until 1775 the new building in baroque style with classicism features was built after the project of duke’s architect Severin Jensen (since the 1952 it is the building of G. Eliasa Jelgava history and arts museum).

Without the teaching premises on the first floor there was also a dancing and fencing hall, professor council meeting hall, but on the second floor there was a festival hall, two auditoriums, library and a punishment cell. Astronomic observatory was installed in the two story tower dome.

In 1773-1774, Johann Georg Sulcer invitation letters with dukes’ authorisation were received by the famous philosopher Immanuel Kant and enlightener Johann Gottfried Herder, but they did not become the professors.

Gymnasium received the name of AcademiaPetrina, in honour of Duke Peter Biron. AcademiaPetrinane received the status of a University, although it had many prerequisites. The study programme and time was shortened, therefore the academic degree after the completion of studies was not granted. After some time AcademiaPetrina becomes a simple gymnasium, where some of the famous neo-Latvians are studying – K.Barons, Ā.Alunāns, the first president of the Republic of Latvia J.Čakste, painter Ģ.Eliass, etc.

Gymnasium in this form finished working during the WW I, when it was evacuated to Taganrog, where it was reorganized a work school. The gymnasium building suffered in 1919, when it was burned down by retreating Bermontian – library archive, collections burned down, etc.

In 1922 Jelgava classical gymnasium is founded, and old academic gymnasium building is given to it. When soviet army approached in 1944, Peter’s gymnasium burns down again.
Building reconstruction works were done in 1949.-1951, reconstructing it to its initial external formation with the dome tower closing.

In 1952 museum is formed in reconstructed AcademiaPetrina. Today the inner planning of the building is adjusted to needs of Ģederts Eliass Jelgava history and arts museum. In 1975, museum received name of district’s painter Ģ.Eliass.