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Daytrip to Krakow

Living in central Europe, everything is pretty close to you – there are several major cities worth visiting, only few hours of drive away. Despite this fact, I have visited Krakow for the very first time this weekend.

I have read several very general articles about Krakow and have realised, one day will not be nearly enough. However, I have decided to stick to the idea of a daytrip and focused on visiting only the downtown area. It is after all a very nice place and if you wear the right kind of shoes, you will manage it just fine. When I was listing the places I wanted to see, I have looked for architecture from different eras. The main square, Rynek Glowny, has a rather historical character and is listed as a UNESCO site. So it is a must-see-place and be warned, you will meet there the whole army of tourists. Then, this huge crowd marches along the Florian Street and mainly the Grodzka Street – down to the Wawel Castle. Going to Krakow and not visiting these places would be a crime, so I took a look as well. I have been sort of looking forward the St. Marys Basillica and the view from the top of its tower, yet it is open only in summertime. What a shame. On the other hand, the church from inside is nothling like you would expected from a gothic cathedral – very glittery and colourful at the same time. If you like to know more about medieval time in Krakow, there is an exciting Underground Museum, where you can walk through catacombs and excavation sites underneath the Rynek. As the time was short and it was not so high on my list, I did not go.

Beside all the historical monuments, I wanted to see something more peacefull and new as well. Surprisingly, the majority of tourists does not leave the axis Florian St – Rynek Gl. – Grodzky St – Wawel. So, you have to literally take few steps aside and behind second corner, you will find yourself among casual people of Krakow. When looking for some new architectural projects, I have found two nice additions inside of the downtown district from the beginning of this millenium – both of them designed by Ingarden & Ewy Architects. So they have a similiar handwriting and are rare examples of modern additions into an historical urban pattern.

The first one, Malopolska Garden of Arts [1], is located in a grid between first and second ring and it about 10min walk from Rynek through a very exciting neighbourhood (no irony here – some historical facades, some modern add-ons, and some greenery as well). The building itself is a large ‘L’ and has two entrances from two sides of a block – one wing houses a library, the other accomodates a cultural center with a garden. Underneath the library, there is a nice cafe as well – and they have delicious cakes there :). If you are entering from the garden site, it is a labyrinth but be brave! It is a very quiet place with no signs of tourists what so ever – mostly young people chilling on beanbags, candle-light, soft music, etc.

The second project, Tourist Info Pavillion [2], can be found directly on the Grodzky Street. It is very simple and narrow volume – really just a pavillion. However, the is very grandiose space on the inside and as it is so much larger than it appears from outside. I  have been very surprised.  The facade looked rather strange from the street – especially if you are just a random tourist passing by. The three peculiar windows are acctually very nice stained-glass.

You should check out the gallery attached below for some impressions. I have took a lot of pictures, yet I cannot upload all of them, so here goes just a short preview of what to expect.

[1] Further information about Małopolski Ogród Sztuki at archdaily.com or are the official site.[2] More about the Pavillion here.

 

 

GALLERY

 

 

Folk architecture, Cicmany.

The enchanting village Čičmany [1] is located in central western part of Slovakia enclosed by mountains Strážovské vrchy. Originally founded in 1272, the village has been declared a national monument of folk architecture in 1977 (Národná kutúrna pamiatka –  rezervácia ľudovej architektúry) due to its unique architecture, traditional clothing and embroidery. There can be found 33 listed objects  – log houses decorated with ornaments in white colour. Through the time, these patterns has developed from simple geometrical drawing into complex art and  have become a part of village´s identity, its trademark and national pride. It took me 25 years to pay this unique place a visit. I have had a good knowledge base going there as I have recently written a paper in school about it [2]. I am not going to bore you with more details. However, my obsession with folk architecture has to be elaborated further. 

I have been frequently asked the question ‘What is there to see in Slovakia?’ and as majority of my friends are foreigners, I have often played a tour guide as well. It is not an easy job to do so here. Slovakia has no pyramids, the number of expectional landmarks is very limited, neither would you find great museums here. Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, is nothing like those other great historic cities in central Europe, e.g. Prag, Vienna or Budapest. I used to be very intimidated by this fact and have struggled for a long time what to show my friends. You have to know, Slovakia has been a part of Kingdom of Hungary, later a part of The Austria-Hungary Monarchy, and has only recently separated from Czech Republic [3]. Therefore folk traditions and local architecture were the only mean to form a national identity and the high culture has been absent for centuries. Yet, I have learned to look at things from different angle when studying architecture. I have reased, folk music and dance, traditional costumes, and vernacular architecture should be considered the greatest Slovak monument with all its intangible aspects and the best part is, they are being embraced even nowadays. 

Folk architecture is very unique and impulsive – it is never finished and constantly changing.[4] It is alive as long as there are people (folk) who maintain those traditions and it becomes extinct when the last member passes on. Unfortunatelly, folk architecture is lacking external publicity. You can read about renaissance palaces, gothic cathedrals, or english gardens – they all follow some specific set of rules, yet the folk architecture is a mystery. It works with random ideas, sometimes even very strange ones. That is the part I appreciate most about it.

However, Čičmany, its urbanism and structures themselves, is the only folk monument which was created based on plan. The majority of current urban pattern is based on master plan proposed in 1923 and most log-houses were constructed in 20th century. The reservation of folk architecture includes all in all 115 objects, 32 are listed on as heritage, yet only 3 houses have been built before 1921. Nevertheless, these objects represent a valuable documentation of original type of rural housing objects in the region, traditional building techniques and for the village characteristic decoration elements with unique emotional impressiveness.[5] Furthermore, the village is a rare example of preserving folk architecture under supervision of conservation experts, including architects and urban planners. Chosen approach to reconstruct the village as a whole unit after the destructive fires in 1907 and 1921 prove the historical and cultural significance of the place even at the beginning of 20th century. It is also one of few conservation projects in the central Europe from this period. We might not have Versailles in Slovakia but we definitely have plenty to offer as well – even some unconventional sights. 

The best part about folk architecture is, you do not need a college degree to understand it. It is quite straight forward, made by people for people, pleasing your eyes. You can check out some samples from Cicmany in the gallery attached below. It is like entering a kingdom of gingerbread houses.

 

GALLERY

 

[1] Čičmany/Cicamny, Slovakia: N 48.956539,  E 18.516933

[2]  Living monuments vs. conservation – conserving heritage in use, case study Cicmany. If you are interested, please contact me and I will email it to you.

[3] The Slovak Republic was founded 1.1.1993. So it has been only 22 years of independency compared to centuries of being governed by other nations.

[4] There are roots of the term living monument.

[5] Some examples of ornaments could be found on p.8 in a Master Thesis of N. Simova (2013) here.

 

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