Which great metropolis boasts the largest green area in its center, except for New York, naturally? It’s Kraków! The area – entirely grassy – covers an enormously huge space of 48 hectares and used to serve as cattle pasture as little as one hundred years ago. The last cattle grazing took place here in 2011. It’s Błonia Park, the pride and joy of every Cracovian – a place where they can sunbathe, picnic, play badminton and Frisbee. And when the evening comes, they may look at the sun setting over Kościuszko’s Mound while engaging in positive thoughts.
text: Kasia Pilitowska
photo: Kacper Kałużyński
In Kraków, there is more than forty parks jointly covering the land of 318.5 hectares. This vastness, including Błonia and Planty (the green belt), comprises merely 1% of the city’s entire area. Considering the fact that Warsaw has got twice as much green area adapted into parks, Cracovians have nothing left but to fight for green gardens and get them back! Let’s brace ourselves and fight with blankets and picnic baskets!
Sooner or later, every resident of Kraków ends up in Jordan Park. Earlier as children, who revel in building sand castles, and later as parents who joyously watch their children do things they used to do. Is there anybody with no memory of the labyrinth of paths leading to the heart of the park – a tiny square surrounded with pedestals with busts of individuals with stern faces. Who hasn’t at least once “accidentally” plunged into a pond or sledded headlong down the hill during winter? Who’s had the pleasure of eating jelly with whipped cream from “Okrąglak” and who, hiding behind hedges, experienced first, passionate love encounters or simply played truant?
The creation of the park was initiated by dr. Henryk Jordan – it covers the area of 22 hectares and is located exactly where the 1889 national exhibition of industry and agriculture took place. At the beginning, not only were there lawns, trees (a few thousand of them were planted) and wooden pavilions, but also playing fields, running and exercise tracks and playgrounds. The park was designed in the shape of a triangle by Bolesław Małecki. The Rudawa river, which used to flow alongside Błonia (today’s 3 Maja street), indicated the triangle’s base; the triangle’s left side bordered a racetrack and the right side adjoined fortifications. The main path of the park led to a tiny but impressive square with an enormously huge tree in the middle and the display of busts of famous Polish writers, artists and national heroes, e.g., Jan Długosz, Jan Kochanowski, Mikołaj Kopernik, Tadeusz Kościuszko and Adam Mickiewicz.
Nowadays, the park serves recreational purposes, encouraging children and young adults to develop their passion for sports. New volleyball and soccer fields, climbing walls, a skatepark and a renovated pond with small boats perfectly fulfill the needs of every generation of Cracovians. Recently, new busts have been displayed as part of “Great Poles of the 20th century” cycle. There is a bust of marshal Józef Piłsudski, cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, priest Jerzy Popiełuszko and Pope John Paul II. Unfortunately, nothing much happens in this second most popular (after Planty), historic park in Kraków. In the past, however, the cultural and sport life of the city was flourishing nowhere else but here!
Having been forgotten until recently, Bednarski Park experiences real renaissance. Located in Podgórze, on the hillside of Krzemionki, the area enchants with its somewhat wild beauty and unusual location in a picturesque hollow among white limestone rocks. This most beautifully situated park in Kraków gives visitors an opportunity to admire the city’s landscape. You can get there easily from Rynek Podgórski by taking Parkowa street and climbing a set of stony stairs. In the north, the park adjoins Zamoyskiego street and Krzemionki. Its old part is being described as neoclassical in style while the new one is modernist with picturesque arrangements.
The park was founded in 1896 by Wojciech Bednarski, a teacher and creator of Towarzystwo Upiększania Podgórza (Podgórze Beautification Society). It’s worth mentioning that he was the one responsible for the arrangement of trees, paths, recreational fields and playgrounds in a modern fashion. Soon after the public opening of the park, its purpose became similar to that of Jordan Park. Every year during spring, various recreational activities and competitions were organized for children and youngsters, shows of gymnastics and fitness were commonly held. Besides, every opening as well as closing of a school year or recreational season was highly celebrated. It may come as a surprise that, right after the end of the war, theatrical shows such as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” were staged in the park.
Luckily for Cracovians, the district of Podgórze has been deemed a historical site that is now protected in its entirety. Hence, the potential of this enchanting green territory can be used more successfully. After one hundred years, the park is regaining its past glory thanks to city activists. Recently, Bednarski Park has been a host of the Biker’s Day during which two thousand enthusiasts of cycling gathered to picnic together. Moreover, summer open-air movie shows have been organized here. Now, more and more people come here to relax, play badminton or petanque. The residents of Podgórze are slowly getting back what they were given more than one hundred years ago by Bednarski.
The history of Krakow’s Strzelecki Park is closely linked to one of the oldest associations in the world (!), the almost seven hundred years old Fowler Brotherhood that specializes in organizing shooting competitions. The gardens were created around shooting galleries and the houses for members of the brotherhood were built in the vicinity to bring the community closer and serve a recreational purpose. Until the opening of Jordan Park and Krakowski Park, Strzelecki Park had been the second green area (after Planty) where residents of Kraków liked to spend their free time. It hosted numerous cultural events, theatrical shows (actors from Teatr Stary played here during one season), balls, festivals, carnival masquerades and concerts of military bands. Today, looking at the simple area of the park, it’s difficult to imagine what used to stand here, next to the building of the Celestat (the seat of the brotherhood). There was a barn house, little palace, arbor, bowling alley, concert hall, café and a restaurant in which Cracovians encountered waiters in tailcoats for the first time. This spectacular and modernly designed garden hosted the first public New Year’s Eve celebration in 1840.
The contemporary Strzelecki Park covers a small patch of land near Lubicz street and features an open-to-public Neo-Gothic little palace owned by the Brotherhood – Celestat. It’s also possible to visit a residential building with a target dating back to the beginning of the 20th century. Even though the park is one of the 19th century historic Krakow’s parks – next to Planty, Krakowski Park, Jordan Park and Bednarski Park – it has fallen into oblivion and is completely neglected by people. This fact is exceptionally sad when we take think that, in the past, the park attracted Cracovians who, unafraid of practicing shooters, enjoyed their walks, had picnics, and heeded their children playing with sticks and stones.
Founded by Stanisław Rehman, a city counselor and confectioner, Krakowski Park became the favorite place of Cracovians looking for a high-quality entertainment. The park covered seven hectares of land and was created on the model of Viennese public gardens. In order to please even the most fastidious visitors, the park had a restaurant, confectionary and café, arbors, concert bowl, artificial ponds for boating, open-air swimming pool, slide, small zoo and a theater.
Due respect should be paid to the theater which, once upon a time, gained the greatest popularity of all theatrical venues in Kraków. It could house up to 850 spectators and bore various names: Teatr Letni (Summer Theater), Teatr Ludowy (People’s Theater), Teatr Rozmaitości (Variety Theater). Surprising as it may seem today, performances were changing every two weeks! One of the first puppet theaters in Kraków, designed in fashion of the famous Kasperltheater in the Prater, Vienna, was opened especially for children. There was also a hippodrome with horses, swings and carousels. Sounds like a fairy-tale, doesn’t it? Though, if we mention that the park offered options to row, canoe, stretch on exercise fixtures, swim, go bowling, roller skate or ice skate and play cricket, tennis or water polo – it’s becoming pure science-fiction!
And what do we have now? Where are those hectares of green land so perfectly tailored to the needs of city residents? Admittedly, there is a concrete pond with an artificial island in the middle, but it’s useless. The park’s size has been dramatically reduced after its part was turned over to developers. Eventually, the place is no longer as enchanting as it used to be – its main visitors being students who hurry to make it to classes every day. Some attempts have been made at reviving the park’s past glory. For example, the Breakfast Market was organized here during last year’s summer – it changed the area into an idyllic place where Cracovians had a chance to tuck into local delicacies while sunbathing on a lawn.
Established in the 16th century by Just Ludwik Decjusz in Wola Justowska, Kraków, Decjusz Park is a green area adjacent to a Renaissance little palace – Decjusz’s Villa. Originally, the park was supposed to serve as a resting place for Just Ludwik Decjusz – a secretary to the Polish king Sigismund I the Old. Two Italian architects, Jan Cini and Zenobiusz Zanotti, were responsible for the design of the place. The Villa was located in the Eastern part of a hill with its front facing the city. When it comes to the park/garden area, it was probably divided into two parts: a larger Renaissance garden and the so-called “giardino segreto” (a secret garden). Both gardens were ideally complemented by ponds on the side of the Rudawa river. Everything was topped with adjacent hills overgrown with trees. Unfortunately, the troubled history has not spared this place either. The majority of trees was destroyed by troops garrisoned here during World War I. Out of the old trees that once grew in the park, only hornbeams and lindens have remained to this day.
Despite its relatively small size, Decjusz Park is popular among Cracovians who eagerly visit it to rest on impeccably maintained wide lawns. The park’s situated only a short bike ride away from the city center – it suffices to skirt Błonia and follow the river. In its vicinities there is also a zoo, Piłsudski’s Mound, and Las Wolski Forest. A Jordan Garden has been created for the youngest; Bronisław Chromy’s private gallery offers a spot to sit and drink coffee while Decjusz’s Villa is a seat of the International Conference Center.
Polish Pilots Park
Polish Pilots Park takes up the land that had belonged to Czyżyny (a village near Kraków) for many centuries. From 1864 to 1869, Austrians were building a fort here that was later named “Pszorna” and belonged to the second ring of fortifications of Kraków Fortress. In 1912, “Rakowice-Czyżyny” – one of the first permanent military airports was built to the north of the fort. Its unusual land form full of valleys and hills, Polish Pilots Park (renamed from The Park of Culture and Recreation three decades ago) owes to cleaning works in the former fort. Trees comprising a green wall that surrounds the park were planted by students of the Agricultural University of Kraków and inhabitants of Nowa Huta in the 1950s as part of the so-called “communal deed”. One of the more interesting and characteristic elements of the park are impressive and quite old weeping willows. They grow either alone or in picturesque clusters.
For a couple of years now, the park has been attracting students and teachers, parents with children and grandparents with grandchildren. It’s all thanks to Stanisław Lem Garden of Experiences – a seasonal open-air exhibition with a few dozen educational installations. Additionally, visitors may enjoy a playground, playing field or Nike bike and running paths. There is an educational trail mainly devoted to the subject of dendrology with elements of history, geography and ornithology. The park also makes a perfect destination for every dog owner!
This only five-hectare park is one of the youngest green areas in Kraków, originated by local activists. They had a noble purpose of creating a public park in Dębniki that would resemble the once existing gardens near Lasocki Palace. One of the park’s sides adjoins Czechosłowacka and Czarodziejska streets, the other borders Tyniecka steet. Here, everyone may admire beautiful, historic Cracovian buildings, e.g., St. Norbert’s Convent, Lasocki Palace, Wawel and Kościuszko’s Mound. Lasocki Palace, an example of the Neo-Renaissance architecture, was owned by the Lasocki family which bequeathed the territory for the park to the city one hundred years ago.
The park is a real gem – visitors feast their eyes on every paved path, every wooden bridge and fancifully designed arbor. The only reasonable thing to do here is to sit down on a blanket and take out victuals from a picnic basket. The carefully selected plants such as ramblers and woodbines, but also spots full of tiger lilies and hills perfect for winter sliding transform this park into something unique. Although it’s surprisingly rarely crowded, some people think about is as the perfect example of an urban park.
The Botanic Garden of the Jagiellonian University is one of the oldest parks in Kraków and the oldest botanical garden in Poland. It was established in 1752, the time when Hugo Kołłataj was reforming the Kraków Academy. Together with zoological and mineralogical rooms, the garden was supposed to constitute an educational facility for the newly established Department of Natural History and Chemistry. Originally, the garden was small, covering the area of approximately 2.4 hectares; the arrangement of plants was assigned to a Viennese gardener – Franciszek Keiser. At that time, the Baroque French garden was created with the collection of decorative and medicinal plants as well as a pond with an artificial island. A curiosity worth mentioning is that garden’s greenhouses are in possession of the most extensive collection of orchids in Poland (almost 500 varieties at present), and the collection of sago palms – the largest and oldest in this part of Europe.
We’re not going to write here about the significance and beauty of this garden. First of all, it’s the best place to face the most challenging questions from childhood: Does cocoa grow in cans on a tree? What does vanilla look like? Can I have my finger bitten off by a carnivorous plant? Does buckwheat grow in the ground? Only there will you find the answers to all of these (and many more) questions!
Frolicking on a green lawn is exquisitely pleasant and, even though the inhabitants of Kraków do not have too many parks, the ones they do have are unusual and diverse. Let’s pack our picnic baskets with delicacies and fill bottles with lemonade, take our blankets, books, unread magazines and off to parks! Let’s enjoy listening to bird songs and immerse ourselves in the pleasant smell of grass and wild flowers. Let’s make use of what we have until it’s turned into a concrete jungle of houses!