The only house in the Medieval Citadel of Sighisoara that strikes a discordant note with the architecture of the burg, being built in an amalgam of styles in which Art Nouveau predominates, reveals to us the life of a great entomologist recognized at European level, Karl Robert Petri (1852-1932), the one who collected and studied over 46,300 cockroaches from Romania and all over the world.
“In the Medieval Citadel of Sighişoara, this house stands out, known as Casa Petri, a house that resembles a small castle, it was built in the 19th century. The Petri family lived here, and one of the great intellectuals, Karl Robert Petri, was a teacher at the School of Deal and was also one of the most famous biologists that Sighisoara gave him. He studied natural sciences in Germany, later returned to Sighisoara, became a biology teacher at the Deal School, at the Evangelical High School. He is known today as one of the most famous specialists in Transylvania of those times in the field of studying insects and especially beetles. This house has a more special architecture compared to the rest of the city, there are Art Nouveau and neo-Gothic elements that adapted very well to what a newly built building meant, it’s like an old mansion or an old castle. Karl Robert Petri had no descendants, and the house now has other owners,” Nicolae Teşculă, director of the History Museum in Sighişoara, told Agerpres.
He showed that, in the 19th century, most exceptional young people received a scholarship in Protestant universities in the German area, where they studied their favorite subject and later studied theology, as was Karl Robert Petri.
“They returned to Transylvania because they had a stable job, in the sense that they could work at the evangelical schools that were next to the evangelical churches in the Transylvanian cities, and at the end of their lives, in order to have a slightly more lucrative job, they became priests in different communities. And so, for example, among the teaching staff of the School in Deal we had two bishops if we think of Georg Daniel Teutsch and Georg Paul Binder, who, in the 19th century, were important bishops of the Evangelical Church in Transylvania. And Petri returned and showed his passion for cockroaches, wrote many studies and was recognized by the academic community throughout Europe as one of the best specialists in this field. It is a rather narrow field of activity. The Library of the Museum in Sighişoara preserves numerous documents and works of this famous biologist/zoologist”, Nicolae Teşculă pointed out.
Since there is little information in Romanian about the life and work of the entomologist Karl Robert Petri, I turned to a biographical article written by Dr. Eckbert Schneider (Rastatt) in Schäßburger Nachrichten (News from Sighişoara – an informative brochure of the Saxon community that appears in Heilbronn in Germany), in the December 2007 issue.
Thus we learned that the famous entomologist Karl Robert Petri was born on December 17, 1852, in Sighisoara, in the family of Professor Michael Petri. After graduating from the gymnasium in Sighisoara, he studied natural sciences and theology in Jena, in Germany, where he had as teachers, among others, the botanist Eduard Strasburger and the zoologist Ernst Haeckel. Then, transferring to the University of Leipzig, he obtained the title of “Doctor philosophie” in 1877, after which he returned to Sighisoara, where he was a teacher at several schools, and from 1894 until his retirement in 1916, he worked as director of the Secondary School in Sighisoara.
In 1885, he married Mathilde von Sachsenheim and collaborated with numerous scientists from the country and abroad, being a corresponding member of the Hungarian Entomological Society.
Karl Robert Petri’s most important work is “The beetle fauna of Transylvania based on the research carried out until 1911” (Siebenbürgens Käferfauna auf Grund ihrer Erforschung bis zum Jahr 1911), in which he described 4,763 species of beetles with their were found, being a unique work so far in Romania.
From the “Schäßburger Nachrichten” we also learn that, throughout his life, the entomologist from Sighisoara gathered an impressive collection of beetles, which includes 46,300 specimens, which he bequeathed to the Transylvanian Society of Natural Sciences in Sibiu in 1932. this entering the heritage of the Museum of Natural History in Sibiu.
“When, 75 years ago, at the end of 1932 (the article was written in 2007 – no), Karl Petri’s collection was taken over by the Museum of Natural History in Sibiu, Arnold Müller, the curator of insect collections at that time , appreciated that this collection was ‘a truly royal gift’ that Petri made to the Transylvanian Society of Natural Sciences at the end of his life. (…) In Sighisoara, the childless couple lived in the villa on Tischlergasse no. 32. From his study, from the window at the corner of the city wall, where he kept his collection, he had a wonderful view of the wooded area surrounding the city. (…) His main interest was the world of beetles from Transylvania, which he researched in his spare time, making an intensive collection in his countless trips to the hills and especially to the Carpathians. Petri was not the first to research the world of the Transylvanian beetle, but he remained unsurpassed in this field of internal nature research. As early as 1885, he published ‘The results of entomological excursions in the area of Sighisoara’ in the program of the Schäßburg Gymnasium (the German name of Sighisoara – no)”, the cited article states.
It also mentions that the approximately 46,300 copies have been well cared for, are precisely labeled and are kept in 140 boxes.
“Although most of Petri’s specimens were collected by himself, the collection also contains a rich comparative material from all over Eurasia. This came through long-term exchange relations with contemporary researchers and collectors from the country and abroad and, therefore, it is a scientific and cultural asset of supra-regional importance. The collection also has a special documentary value because it contains numerous type specimens, i.e. collection objects, after which the first description of the species was made. The collection is still in its original state in the Museum of Natural Sciences in Sibiu”, the quoted source added.
In a later publication, called “On the state of the coleopterous fauna in the Sighisoara area” (1891), Petri provided the first summary of his research related to the beetles in the Sighisoara area, listing 1,688 species, some extinct, but also four species that “were us in science”.
“Besides his activities aimed at the general research of the beetle fauna in Transylvania, Petri referred to several genera of the beetle family, which is extraordinarily rich in species and forms, on which he worked throughout the world. He described more than 30 new species of weevil from Europe, Asia, Africa and South America, as well as numerous new diverse species from other beetle families. (…) Petri has 38 scientific works in the form of independent publications, as well as publications in various professional magazines”, we also learn from the biography of the entomologist, made by the German publication 75 years after the death of Karl Robert Petri.
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