RESEARCH, RESTORATION AND URBAN CONSERVATION
HISTORIC CENTRE OF KRAKÓW
The Historic Centre of Kraków, the former capital of Poland, is situated at the foot of the Royal Wawel Castle. The 13th-century merchants’ town has Europe’s largest market square and numerous historical houses, palaces and churches with their magnificent interiors. Further evidence of the town’s fascinating history is provided by the remnants of the 14th-century fortifications and the medieval site of Kazimierz with its ancient synagogues in the southern part of town, Jagellonian University and the Gothic cathedral where the kings of Poland were buried.
Outstanding Universal Value
The Historic Centre of Kraków, located on the River Vistula in southern Poland, is formed by three urban ensembles: the medieval chartered City of Kraków, the Wawel Hill complex, and the town of Kazimierz (including the suburb of Stradom). It is one of the most outstanding examples of European urban planning, characterised by the harmonious development and accumulation of features representing all architectural styles from the early Romanesque to the Modernist periods.
The importance of the city, which was chartered in 1257 and was once the capital of Poland, is evidenced by its urban layout, its numerous churches and monasteries, its imposing public buildings, the remains of its medieval city walls, and its palaces and townhouses, many designed and built by prominent architects and craftspersons. The value of this urban complex is determined by the extraordinary density of monuments from various periods, preserved in their original forms and with their authentic fittings. Wawel Hill, the dominant feature of the Historic Centre of Kraków, is a former royal residence and necropolis attesting to the dynastic and political links of medieval and early modern Europe. The medieval town of Kazimierz, which includes the suburb of Stradom (chartered in 1335), was shaped by the Catholic and Jewish faiths and their respective cultures and customs.
One of the largest administrative and commercial centres in central Europe, Kraków was a city where arts and crafts flourished, and the culture of East and West intermingled. The importance of Kraków as a cultural centre of European significance is reinforced by its being home to one of the oldest universities of international renown – the Jagiellonian University. Together, these three built-up areas create a cohesive urban complex in which significant tangible and intangible heritage have survived and are cultivated to this day.
Criterion (iv): Kraków is an urban architectural ensemble of outstanding quality, in terms of both its townscape and its individual monuments. The historic centre of the town admirably illustrates the process of continuous urban growth from the Middle Ages to the present day.
The Historic Centre of Kraków retains a high level of integrity. The property has clearly defined, historically stable boundaries that encompass all the elements that express its Outstanding Universal Value, which remain intact and in good condition. The most important of these elements include Wawel Hill with its castle and cathedral, which symbolize the city’s history as a seat of royal and Episcopal power; and the medieval urban layout and historic fabric of two initially separate towns – Kraków and Kazimierz. Moreover, the multiple styles and cultures evident in Kraków and Kazimierz demonstrate the diversity of influences which had an impact on Kraków’s development as an urban complex, and which reflect the roles played in this process by different nations. The property is thus of adequate size to ensure the complete representation of the features and processes that convey its significance, and it does not suffer from adverse effects of development and/or neglect.
The Historic Centre of Kraków is imbued with a pervading authenticity that is manifested in its location and setting, its forms and designs, its materials and substance, and, to a degree, its uses and functions. The topography of the property and the relationship between the River Vistula and the local hills and rock outcrops, best illustrated by the Wawel Hill complex, remain legible. Due to the towns’ medieval charters based on Magdeburg law, which entailed bringing order to the urban layout, the urban clarity and functionality of both Kraków and Kazimierz survive to this day: the few later alterations to settlement plots did not give rise to any changes in the street network. The city’s panorama also remains intact, complete with its distinctive historic landmarks, such as Wawel Hill, the Town Hall Tower, and the individual churches. Contemporary features in the city’s vistas are minor, and are located at some distance from the historic centre. In addition, many buildings and facilities have remained in use for their intended purposes for generations.
The predominantly composite architectural structures represent multiple phases of development and incorporate components from various periods. Modern-day interventions represent a continuation of this historical process. When introduced with respect for the scale and outline of the existing built environment, they do not undermine the ensemble’s authenticity. The property’s rich historic architectural detail (both buildings and urban public spaces) requires rigorous protection and a conscious conservation policy.
Protection and management requirements
The Historic Centre of Kraków, which is under a mixture of public and private ownership, is protected in its entirety by the law. The built environment of Wawel Hill and the urban layouts of the medieval towns of Kraków and Kazimierz (including the Stradom suburb) are inscribed in the National Heritage Register. A substantial majority of the buildings located within the boundaries of the 149.65 ha property also feature individually in the National Heritage Register. The property has been awarded Monument of History status by the President of the Republic of Poland, thus affording it an additional form of protection. This, in effect, has provided a coherent system of legal protection for all of the parts of the property. Since 2010, the Historic Centre of Kraków has also had a 907.35 ha buffer zone to assist in the property’s protection, conservation, and management.
Provisions to protect historic monuments have been introduced to the city’s strategic policy documents. A communal monument preservation programme encompassing the entire city defines the conditions for managing the World Heritage property. Local land development plans being prepared for the property and buffer zone will address protection issues by providing the possibility of managing the transformation of the city’s landscape, public spaces, and small-scale architectural details. Furthermore, a “cultural park” preservation plan for the Old Town specifies thematic areas to be monitored and controlled. The Historic Centre of Kraków is under self-government administration and is managed by its President and City Council. Matters concerning monument protection are handled by a special organizational unit in the Town Hall and by state monument protection authorities at the regional level. The law enables relevant conservation authorities to supervise and intervene in any activities that could potentially result in alterations to the urban layout or to individual buildings within the confines of the property.
In order to ensure efficient and long-term conservation of the property, it will be necessary to strengthen the integration of conservation activities with the general management of the entire municipal area, including the zoning policy, social policy, and sustainable tourism. The regulation of spatial management conditions, as well as the introduction of protection provisions for the World Heritage property and its surroundings in all planning documents, represent an element of the city’s long-term land development planning policy. Regular conservation and continuous monitoring of the condition of individual elements of the urban layout and their mutual relationships in the property and buffer zone represent important elements of conservation and management efforts. To preserve the character of the property, which exhibits centuries of historic and cultural overlaps, the development process should be continued in a permanent and balanced way, corresponding to its existing architectural, urban, and social contexts. The implementation of these goals and task shall serve in the preparation of a Management Plan for the property. This Management Plan, as the integrating document, will enable the coordination of activities within the area of the World Heritage property and its buffer zone.
Mr. Ákos Capdebo
Regional Coordinator, Budapest City Hall,
Városház u. 9-11, H-1052
Tel: +36 1 999 9071, +36 1 327 1450