A walk to Podgórze
Rome has its colourful Trastevere, Warsaw its distinctive Praga, and Krakow its atmospheric, much-loved Podgórze. The right-bank part of the city was created in the 18th century on the initiative of the Austrians, who, following the partition of Poland, took control of the southern part of the country, later known as Galicia. The Free and Royal Town of Podgórze was granted town rights in 1782 and had developed over the years as a counterbalance and complement to Krakow. It was populated with settlers from Austria; the town was bustling with trade and later – like in no other part of Krakow – industry also flourished.
Town within a city
Podgórze merged with Krakow during World War I, but the spirit of independence and a distinct local identity has persisted here to this day. On a Saturday morning it can be sensed instantly by anyone who visits the farmers selling organic food at the Parsley Market on Niepodległości Square outside the local Korona sports club. The colour of the foothills is even more evident on post-Easter Tuesday, when the picturesque hill around the prehistoric Krakus Mound and the neighbouring area around the early medieval St Anne’s Church will host the stalls of the traditional Rękawka fair. In fact, you can experience it on any other day, too, when you venture into the side streets full of unusual artisan workshops and small shops. Podgórze offesr plenty of joy for people who love to walk. Let’s discover them together!
Around the Podgórze market
District XIII Podgórze encompasses the area of the 19th century post-Austrian town picturesquely located between the Vistula River and the lofty hill of Krzemionki partially covered by a park. Its heart beats at the distinctive, triangular Podgórze Market with its monumental, neo-Gothic Church of St Joseph. Today, it’s a symbol of Podgórze, but when it was erected, not everyone liked it. The historian Karol Estreicher, to whom we owe a debt of gratitude for the recovery of several stolen works of art after World War II, wrote about the distinctive tower of this temple that it was ‘a kind of parody of St Mary’s Tower’ and called the style of the building ‘fake Gothic’. As you can see, every generation has its own tastes!
The Podgórze Market often hosts intimate concerts and fairs, including the pre-Christmas Podgórze Fair of Unique Items. An experienced eye will be attracted to the building of the former Podgórze town hall and the characteristic details on the townhouses, especially the relief depicting deer.
Podgórze Market is easily accessible from the Kazimierz district thanks to the Bernatka Footbridge built by the city in 2010. The crossing, admired by lovers and cyclists, has contributed strongly to the revitalisation of the area and has become a gateway to Podgórze: you’ll find plenty of atmospheric pubs and restaurants in the neighbouring streets.
Around the oldest of the mounds
Behind the Podgórze Market, the ground rises, leading towards the majestic Krakus Mound. However, you can as well stray off the main route and discover the colourful stairs at the Tatrzańska Street. This pictorial installation was created a dozen years ago on the occasion of the Artboom Festival; the successive steps are decorated with quotes from writers associated with the city. At the top of the stairs, in the area of Parkowa, Dembowskiego and Stawarza streets, you’ll find a delightful estate of beautiful villas from the end of 19th and first half of the 20th century; the most charming of them, crowned with a soaring tower, is the Mira Villa. Turning to the left, after a few hundred metres you’ll come to a charming meadow bounded by the 11th-century Romanesque church of St Benedict and a round fort that was typical for the Austrian era.
The oldest of Krakow’s four mounds, the Krakus Mound, situated on a hill dominating the surrounding area, most probably functioned as an astronomical observation point. Legend would have it that King Krakus – the mythical founder of the city – was buried there. Regardless of how it really was, the place exudes a remarkable energy. You will observe a particular accumulation of this energy during the Rękawka festival, which falls just after Easter, when the mound is overrun by teams of warriors and re-enactors of medieval traditions from all over Poland. Another unique opportunity for a walk on the mound is the shortest night of the year, when crowds of Cracovians admire the sunrise there. On certain days of the year, the sun rises exactly over another Krakow mound bearing the name of the Krakus’ daughter, Wanda.
Right next to the mound you’ll find the picturesque Podgórze Cemetery, separated from its older part by an expressway built in the second half of the 20th century. On the other side, the hill surrounding the mound drops down a limestone cliff towards the Liban Quarry, where a significant part of the dramatic fate of the Polish Jews took place during World War II.
City of remembrance
During the Nazi occupation, the eastern part of Podgórze was turned into a ghetto for Krakow’s Jewish population. More than 50,000 people lived here crammed for three years, close to the nearby German Nazi concentration camp KL Plaszow, recalled in Steven Spielberg’s memorable film from 1993. Reminders of this tragic history are scattered all over the area, especially in the area of the Bohaterów Getta (Ghetto Heroes) Square, once an auxiliary market of Podgórze, where since 2005 you can see an unusual monument in the form of several dozen cast-iron chairs, which are empty to symbolise the emptiness of the post-war Poland and Krakow after the extermination of its Polish-Jewish residents.
The townhouse on the corner where Targowa Street meets the square once housed a pharmacy where the Polish pharmacist Tadeusz Pankiewicz organised help for the ghetto residents in existential danger. The meticulously reconstructed interior confronts visitors with both the reality of the years 1941–1943 and the later, post-war memory (and for a long time, unfortunately, the seeming oblivion) of Krakow’s Jews.
Take just two steps further, along the subway passage under the railway tracks, and you can discover the area of the post-industrial district of Zabłocie begins. It’s particularly famous for the factory at 4 Lipowa Street, which once belonged to the German industrialist Oskar Schindler, who saved the lives of 1,200 Jewish workers during the war by employing them first in the production of enamelware and later in the manufacture of munitions. The original factory building now houses a branch of the Krakow Museum with a much-visited exhibition documenting the period of Nazi occupation in Krakow.
Zabłocie and the effects of revitalisation
Since 2011 the MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow has been housed in the post-industrial building next to the factory immortalised in the film Schindler’s List. Designed by Italian architect Claudio Nordi, the elegant building has retained the distinctive saw-tooth roof present on posters advertising exhibitions at the museum. In addition to exhibitions devoted to various phenomena and currents of contemporary art, there is a café and a specialist bookshop with art albums.
In recent years, Zabłocie has become a place of dynamic social change, transforming itself from a dilapidated, post-industrial district into a densely populated space with numerous loft apartments, trendy clubs and restaurants. The newly created objects include the facility of the Krakow Andrzej Frycz-Modrzewski Academy or the small park, the charming Stacja Zabłocie with its signature small pavilion.
Ring of cultural institutions
The revitalisation programme of Zabłocie is part of a wider, multi-year strategy to revitalise the right bank of the Vistula. This far-reaching policy was marked by milestones in the form of erecting the seats of cultural institutions: from the Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology, located in the Dębniki district, through the multifunctional ICE Krakow Congress Centre, the award-winning Centre for the Documentation of the Art of Tadeusz Kantor Cricoteka (2/4 Nadwiślańska Street), to the aforementioned MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art.
A few years ago, enthusiasts of Krakow’s right bank enjoyed the inauguration of a separate Podgórze Museum established in a townhouse at 51 Limanowskiego Street. The district’s cultural attractions has been further extended by the establishment of a new seat for the KTO theatre in a building at 50 Zamoyskiego Street, which harkens back to the tradition of the Wrzos Cinema that once existed there. A unique feature of this development is the opening roof in the form of a circular aperture-like opening with a diameter of 7 metres. On bright summer evenings you can literally watch performances under a starry sky!
The culture-oriented strategy will be culminated with the creation of Planeta Lem. Literature and Language Centre in the former Salt Depot building at 8 Na Zjeździe Street. It is Poland’s first multifunctional literary centre and a showcase for Krakow as a UNESCO City of Literature; this facility is planned as a meeting place for residents and a space for literary events and festivals. The building will house a multimedia exhibition devoted to the timeless thoughts of the Planeta’s patron Stanisław Lem, who was associated with Krakow for most of his life, as well as a multimedia library, rooms for cultural events, a bookshop and a café; there will also be an adjacent garden on site.
The project, prepared by the renowned Warsaw studio JEMS Architekci, involves the creation of a ‘digital castle’ inspired by the world-famous work of the author of Solaris. The Planeta Lem facility will consist of distinctive, interconnected cubicles and towers-periscopes alluding to the towers of old Krakow. It will seamlessly envelop the existing 18th-century building where salt from the nearby Wieliczka mine was once stored.
Podgórze in the urban heritage conservation strategies
The entire area of the old Podgórze is located in the buffer zone of the UNESCO World Heritage Site and is part of the Historical Monument ‘Kraków – Historic City Complex’, which strictly determines the possible forms of new development. In addition, there are plans to establish there the Old Podgórze Cultural Park with the Krzemionki in the near future. The proposed regulations are intended to bringing order to the aesthetics of public spaces and reconcile the perspectives of residents, entrepreneurs, club and café owners as well as tourists in a neighbourhood that has experienced rapid growth in recent years.
Podgórze is an area for the connoisseurs of Krakow, a district where the authentic pulse of city life can be felt like nowhere else. It’s worth savouring this atmosphere carefully and without hurry!