The University of Marburg is one of the most historic of German universities. It was founded in 1527 during the Reformation by the 23-year-old Landgrave Philipp the Magnanimous as the second Protestant university (the oldest Protestant university existed from 1526 to 1530 in Liegnitz in Silesia). On July 1, 1527, the universale studium Marburgense commenced with 11 professors and 84 students in the former monasteries of the city. The goal of the institution was to educate "learned, able, and God-fearing persons, preachers, and officials for Christian benefit and the good of the common land." In addition to the leading theological faculty, faculties for jurisprudence, medicine, and philosophy were also established from the beginning.
Throughout the first three centuries of the university's changeful history, the number of students vacillated between 30 and 300. In 1866, both the university and the city of Marburg experienced a renascence when the province of Hesse was annexed by Prussia and the Philipps-Universit„t became a royal Prussian university. Within twenty years, the number of students in Marburg quadrupled, while the university premises expanded to include the clinics and institutes for natural science and medicine in the north quarter of the city. The so-called Alte Universit„t (Old University) on Rudolphsplatz, designed in the neo-Gothic style, was completed in 1879 on the site of the former Dominican monastery. A decade later, the Aula was added with its wall paintings depicting the history of the city and university. Over 1000 students were registered in 1887, 2000 in 1909, and 3000 immediately following World War I.
Like most universities in Germany, the Philipps-University underwent a decisive expansion after 1960 as increasing numbers of secondary school graduates sought to pursue a university education. At the same time-if not in the same proportion-the teaching staff was augmented and new buildings erected, including the auditorium and lecture hall building, the humanities complex on the Lahn river, and the university library, as well as the central Mensa (cafeteria), the Studentendorf dormitory, and the Konrad-Biesalski-Haus as the first dormitory for disabled students in the Federal Republic of Germany. In addition, the new complex on the hills above Marburg (the Lahnberge), built to accommodate most of the natural science institutes and the university clinic, was established as a second center for the university.
The long list of significant scholars and scientists associated with the University of Marburg throughout its nearly 500-year history includes the following:
- Denis Papin, the French naturalist and inventor,
- Christian Wolff, der Aufklärer, the Enlightenment thinker whose lectures in all branches of knowledge drew many students to Marburg even from abroad,
- the Renaissance man Johann Heinrich Jung,called Stilling, founder and member of the institute for political science,
- the legal historian Friedrich Carl von Savigny,
- the chemist Robert Bunsen,
- the neo-Kantian philospher Hermann Cohen,
- der physicist Karl-Ferdinand Braun, inventor of the Braun tube (oscilloscope),
- der geophysicist Alfred Wegener, who developed the theory of continetal drift during his time in Marburg,
- Emil von Behring, founder of serology and recipient of the first Nobel Prize for medicine (1901),
- the existential philosopher Martin Heidegger and
- the New Testament scholar Rudolf Bultmann, leading proponent of the demythologization of Christianity.
Among the numerous Marburger students who attained notoriety are the following:
- the composer Heinrich Schütz,
- Michail Lomonossow, Russian Renaissance man and founder of the univeristy of Moscow, who married a woman from Marburg in 1740,
- the Brüder Grimm,
- the Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset,
- the poets Boris Pasternak and Gottfried Benn,
- the philologist Konrad Duden, pioneer of German unified orthography,
- the chemist Otto Hahn,
- the surgeon Ferdinand Sauerbruch,
- the theologian Karl Barth, as well as
- the statesman Wilhelm Liebknecht,
- Rudolf Breitscheid and
- Gustav W. Heinemann, friend of the later much-respected political economist Wilhelm Röpke.
- One of the first woman admitted to the university in 1908 was Gertrud
von Le Fort. Today, over 56 % of students in Marburg are
"I owe Marburg an der Lahn at least half of my hopes and perhaps all of my intellectual discipline," wrote Ortega y Gasset regarding his studies at the Philipps-University. Today, his words continue to motivate the alma mater philippina to develop and improve its scientific and scholarly profile.