In the inter-war period
Before World War I, Krakow was known as the Polish Piedmont: it played the informal role of a cradle of Polishness, a centre integrating Polish national and cultural life and the spiritual capital of the country. Important events in the city’s history which took place after the province of Galicia gained autonomy, such as the second funeral of King Casimir the Great at Wawel, the funeral of Adam Mickiewicz and the unveiling of his monument in the Market Square on the centenary of the bard’s birth, as well as the spectacular celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Grunwald, not only helped to nurture the patriotic feelings of the city residents, but also maintained the significance of the city itself.
THE GERM OF INDEPENDENCE
The outbreak of World War I quickly developed from an inevitable armed clash between the conflicted European powers into a war of nations who saw the conflict as an opportunity to regain their independence. It was in Krakow, as the cradle of Polish patriotism, that statehood was slowly born: it was from this city’s Oleandry Park that six days after the outbreak of war Józef Piłsudski and his soldiers set off towards the territory of the Russian partition in order to provoke an uprising there. After four years of conflict, Krakow was the first liberated Polish city. The changing of the guard on 31 October 1918 in the now-gone guardhouse by the Town Hall Tower on the Main Market Square marks the beginning of a new era in the history of Poland.
The Piłsudski Mound, raised after the Marshal’s death in 1938 on top of the Sowiniec Hill overgrown with the beautiful Wolski Forest, became a symbol of independence. Many Cracovians keep in their family archives photos of their grandmothers and grandfathers pushing wheelbarrows of earth to form the mound.
Luckily, the city wasn’t damaged during the war – the Russian army was repulsed at the very beginning of the war (the place where their offensive was halted is commemorated by an obelisk on the Kaim Hill, located on the road to Wieliczka), and the front line was located far away from Krakow. At the very beginning of the conflict, the military hospital at the Wrocławska Street hosted the prominent Austrian poet Georg Trakl, who served at the front as a paramedic. After a few weeks, he committed suicide.
After the restoration of independence, Warsaw became the undisputed capital of the Second Polish Republic, while Krakow was supposed to become an important cultural centre. The first years of independence were economically difficult and prevented rapid development of the city, however, the measures started under Juliusz Leo’s presidency to modernise and enlarge the city were continued. It is to this mayor, who died in 1918, that the residents owe the idea of the Greater Krakow, i.e., the radical expansion of the city borders to make them include the neighbouring municipalities. On the eve of World War II, Krakow had more than two and a half times as many residents as at the beginning of the century. A third or more of the residents belonged to the Jewish minority.
TRIUMPHS OF MODERNISM
Outstanding public buildings designed by, among others, Adolf Szyszko-Bohusz (the PKO building, Feniks, the Visual Artists’ House) were constructed In the inter-war period: the corner of the Starowiślna and Wielopole streets saw the construction of a reinforced concrete building of the ‘Bazar Polski’, known as the Press Palace, which for years housed the editorial offices of various newspapers, while the Wawel Royal Castle, still under restoration, was fitted out with an apartment for President Ignacy Mościcki, which was a symbolic tribute to the former capital of the country.
AROUND THE THREE BARDS AVENUES
However, the unquestionably greatest architectural project of the inter-war period in Krakow was the Trzech Wieszczów (Three Bards) Avenues. The idea of creating a representative inner-city boulevard on the site of the peripheral railway, dismantled in 1911, was born before World War I, but the avenues achieved their greatest splendour in free Poland. It was then that several monumental buildings were erected, strengthening Krakow’s status as a leading academic centre: the Classicist edifice of the AGH University of Science and Technology (1924–1935, designed by Adam Ballenstedt and Wacław Krzyżanowski) with characteristic sculptures of miners and steelworkers at the entrance, and the seat of Jagiellonian Library (1939, designed by Wacław Krzyżanowski). It was also then that the construction of the Main Building of the National Museum began, which, however, was not completed until 65 years later (designed by Adolf Szyszko-Bohusz).
In the post-war period, Trzech Wieszczów Avenues were downgraded to a regular traffic route. They became the main north-south route cutting through the centre of Krakow, with tens of thousands of vehicles passing through every day, which blurred the original representative function of this artery. Perhaps the future will bring a change to this situation – and Krakow will regain its true midtown.
To the west of the line of the Trzech Wieszczów Avenues, some chic residential districts were developing: Stara Krowodrza with its quarter of magnificent Modernist tenement houses in the area of today’s Inwalidów Square, the villa district of Cichy Kącik, or Salwator charmingly situated on the slope of St Bronisława hill and known as the ‘garden city’. In one of the Salvator villas, the painter Jacek Malczewski died in 1927.
BETWEEN SCIENCE, COMMERCE AND INDUSTRY
The aftermath of World War I saw the inauguration of the AGH University of Science and Technology, currently Poland’s leading technical university, the Higher School of Commerce, while Poland’s most important scientific institution, the Polish Academy of Learning, was already operating in the city. In 1933, the distinctive Józef Piłsudski Bridge, which the residents called the ‘tortoise”’ was opened, facilitating the crossing to the other side of the Vistula into the heart of the Podgórze district. It is the oldest bridge still serving the people of Krakow.
A few new factories were built – mainly on the right bank of the Vistula, around Podgórze (including today’s Zabłocie and Płaszów districts). The city couldn’t compete industrially with nearby Upper Silesia, so its character didn’t change much: Krakow remained a bourgeois and commercial city, fighting for its position not only with Warsaw, but also with Poznań, Gdańsk, Katowice and Lviv.
KRAKOW’S PANTHEON AND THE BEGINNINGS OF TOURISM
Apart from the funeral of Józef Piłsudski at Wawel Hill, the city saw an equally or even more important event, namely the reburial of Juliusz Słowacki. The poet died in Paris and was buried in the Montmartre Cemetery; although attempts to rebury him on the centenary of birth, in 1909, failed, Słowacki’s funeral at the Wawel Hill finally eventually took place in 1927, thanks to the involvement of Marshal Piłsudski. The poet’s remains were laid to rest in the crypt of the National Bards on Wawel Hill. During the funeral, Piłsudski uttered the famous words, ‘On behalf of the Government of the Polish Republic, I instruct you, gentlemen, to bring Juliusz Słowacki’s coffin to the royal crypt, for he was equal to kings.’
Equally important events were the funerals of the aforementioned Jacek Malczewski and the composer Karol Szymanowski in the Crypt of the Deserved on Skałka Hill, also known as the Pantheon of the Deserved, which saw the burials of Stanisław Wyspiański, Adam Asnyk and Józef Ignacy Kraszewski, among others. Krakow was becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination and an important point on the map for cultural tourism: the city’s monuments were increasingly attracting not only school trips but also foreign tourists.
Many of the Krakow’s intangible heritage traditions date back to the inter-war period. Played from 13 February 1838, the Hejnał Mariacki trumpet call began to be broadcast daily at noon on the national radio. In 1936, the city began to organise Days of Krakow, a competition for the most beautiful Krakow Christmas Crib was inaugurated, and the tradition of a Lajkonik parade was launched.