Where can you visit classrooms from more than two dozen countries in the span of less than 30 minutes? Check out the Cathedral of Learning Nationality Rooms at the University of Pittsburgh!
Here you can find rooms dedicated to France, England, Africa, Israel, Germany, Greece, India, Russia, Turkey and many other faraway lands.
One of Pittsburgh’s coolest and most underrated attractions, these rooms can be found on the first and third floors of the Cathedral of Learning.
The cathedral is a 42-story tower. At 535 feet, it’s the second-tallest classroom building in the world, behind only a structure at Moscow State University that stands a whopping 787 feet tall.
Each nationality room is modeled after a typical classroom or meeting place from the original country.
Actual classes at the university take place daily in almost all of these rooms. You can stop in and view the rooms for free, provided there’s not a class going on at the time.
Construction on the nationality rooms began back in 1938 and continues to this day, with a number of new rooms still in the works. I was able to visit most of the 31 rooms, aside from a few that were in use.
Pictures of the Cathedral of Learning Nationality Rooms in Pittsburgh
Here’s the Czech room, which is built to resemble a room from the Charles University of Prague.
I like the sleek simplicity of the room. There aren’t a lot of distractions as you look toward the front, except for the bronze portrait of the first Czechoslovakian president and the words “Pravda Vítězí,” which means “Truth Will Prevail.”
Each desk has a heart-shaped hole. Who knew Czechs were all about love?
I present to you the gorgeous Austrian room. Now this is a room I’d love to have class in.
Take a wild guess which room features marble columns and a design from the 5th century B.C.?
That would be the Greek room, of course. The ceiling has sunken panels and the backs of the chairs are inscribed with the names of Greek towns.
The most impressive globe I’ve ever seen, in the Polish room.
The French classroom contains royal blue chairs and artwork on the wall. The professor’s chair is supposedly a replica of one found in the Louvre.
See the Ten Commandments in Hebrew on the oak door of the Israel Heritage classroom.
Some of the rooms aren’t ideal for large classes. The Russian room, for instance, is just a long table. The artifacts in the cabinets are cool, though.
Dedicated in 1989, the African Heritage room resembles an 18th-century Ghana ceremonial courtyard.
This is one of my favorite rooms from a visual perspective, although the seats aren’t particularly comfortable. If you have class in this room, bring a cushion.
Confucius says, “Visit the Chinese classroom to see me!”
Chalkboard graffiti in the Chinese room from some disrespectful blogger. (Actually, there was lots of writing on the chalkboards – these are classrooms, after all.)
Does this room scream “Sweden!” to you? Me neither. It’s designed to look like a peasant cottage, with paintings on the ceiling and back wall and a brick fireplace.
A couple of really unattractive dudes with wild hair reign over the Yugoslav room.
The Turkish room has some eye-popping artwork.
The largest nationality room is the English Room, which is modeled after the British House of Commons.
It actually has several relics from the original House of Commons that was destroyed in a World War II bombing.
The smallest is the Irish room, which features limestone masonry, arched windows with colored glass scenes from Irish schools, and wolfhound heads on the chairs.
Here’s another room with stained glass windows. The Hungarian room is small but boasts some cool toys and window designs.
The Indian classroom is another room with uncomfortable seats but loads of interesting cultural elements, from the Quran to images of men praying.
This room is based on a 4th-9th century AD courtyard from Nalanda, a Buddhist monastic university.
The Japanese room is very zen, with a lot of straight lines, natural light, and simple colors. This room was designed like an 18th-century house of a farmer or small community leader.
The Ukrainian room has some cool dishes on display.
Dim lighting and a weird green color scheme make the Norwegian room a strange place to be.
I went to the Lithuanian classroom to celebrate part of my heritage. There’s a whole lot of wood in this room, used because farmers and villagers from the country made their own sturdy furniture out of wood.
A mosaic of colored glass decorates the back of the Romanian room.
The iron gates were made in Romania and brought here specifically for this room, which was designed in Bucharest.
In 2019, the Philippine room was added to the building. That marked the 31st different nationality room in the Cathedral of Learning.
The most recent rooms added prior to that were the Korean room in 2015 and the Swiss room in 2012.
The Philippine room took 20 years to become a reality. The tiny Filipino population in the Pittsburgh area persisted and was able to raise the money to make the room happen.
History of Nationality Rooms and the Cathedral of Learning Hours
The number of rooms continues to grow over the years, ever since post-World War I Chancellor Dr. Bowman had the idea to establish a set of nationality classrooms to honor the various cultures that settled in Pittsburgh. By 1957, a total of 19 classrooms had been established.
You can find the Cathedral of Learning at the intersection of Forbes Ave. & Bigelow Blvd. in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
There’s no cost to see the Nationality Rooms, unless you want to take a guided tour, which are offered during the spring and fall semesters. They cost $3-5 for a mini-tour, or $6-10 for the full tour.
Cathedral of Learning hours are essentially anytime during the school day. The rooms are used by classes from morning until night, so you’ll just have to pop in whenever you can.
Any rooms that are being occupied by students cannot be visited at that time. You can visit on your own anytime the building is unlocked, which is normal university hours.
If you want a personal or audio tour, see the tours page for more information.
Also read about the debate over whether Pittsburgh is in the Midwest or East Coast.
Which Cathedral of Learning Nationality Rooms are your favorites?