of the most dynamic markets for the tourist industry in Europe. You can observe the vivacious development of its international tourist trade at Balice Airport. Aircraft with a full quota of passengers are landing all the time, bringing tourists from Western Europe for a weekend spree or longer stays. Some visitors come for the museums and historic monuments; others are drawn in by the city’s atmosphere, its clubs, pubs, and restaurants. Places on the UNESCO World Heritage List, especially the Wieliczka Salt Mine and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Museum, are favourite destinations with sightseers. Recently there has been increased interest in the wooden churches of Lesser Poland, which are also on the UNESCO List, and they are also attracting large numbers of visitors from China and Japan. One of the key factors fostering the growth of the tourist industry is the fact that Lesser Poland is the birthplace of John Paul II. The Shrine of Divine Mercy at Łagiewniki, which he consecrated on 17th August 2002 during his last pilgrimage to Poland, receives pilgrims from dozens of countries. Research shows that 25% of all the pilgrims are from abroad, mostly from the countries of Europe, but also from the Philippines, Costa Rica, Cuba, Japan, South Korea, the USA, as well as from Ukraine and Russia… So cultural tourism is becoming the chief factor stimulating economic growth in Kraków and its region. The market for tourist services, including investment in hotels and catering, is expanding at a rapid rate, making a salient contribution to the job market and the region’s fiscal resources. The importance of culture and heritage for Kraków’s economic development is rising. The success of Kraków’s tourist trade also means that the city has managed to overcome the consequences of the crisis caused by the experience of Communism. Today Kraków is a fashionable city. The transformation of its image has been effected not only by the prevention of an impending ecological disaster, but also by the swift clearance of its consequences for heritage conservation. This was possible thanks primarily to a special mode of state patronage, in the form of NFRZK, a national fund for the restoration of the monuments of Kraków, established by statutory law. In less than two decades
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very substantial financial resources were provided for the restoration of hundreds of historic buildings and monuments. There has been a dramatic facelift in Kraków’s city centre, as well as in Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter which still a decade ago was symbolic of the predicament of the cultural and material estate of the dispossessed of Central Europe. The city is also trying to revive its multiethnic tradition, forfeited in outcome of the Holocaust. The Jewish Cultural Festival, which has been held every year in June since 1988, attracting large audiences from all over the world, as well as the phenomenon of Kazimierz itself, are expressions of this endeavour. Before our very eyes Kazimierz has turned into a laboratory for the retrieval of the memory of a world that has gone yet is still an immanent part of the Central European identity. Finally there is the most astonishing experience: the reinterpretation of the heritage of Nowa Huta. Today “the Polish Magnitogorsk” is not just a symbol of the Sovietisation of Poland, but the fourth phase of Kraków’s gigantic urban development scheme, and as such transcends the local scope, whilst at the same time enshrining the legend of the struggle to preserve dignity, the legend of Solidarity. No other city in Poland has been so steeped in myth and legend, and yet kept its symbolic dimension as vibrant as Kraków has maintained its medieval city centre. The bugle-call still measures out the rhythm of its everyday life, just it has done for centuries; the Royal Sigismundian Bell tolls on Wawel Hill to comment on the important events in the life of the nation and city. Can a city which has committed itself so intimately to the cherishing of its past meet the challenges of the present-day? There can be no doubt that Kraków is a sparring-ground for a dynamic confrontation between contemporary civilisation and the legacy of its past and its heritage. Heritage means memory, choice, and identity. That is why today Kraków is contributing a new chapter of the Polish legacy to the European and global heritage. After the death of John Paul II in 2005 it was absolutely natural for Kraków to become the guardian of his memory and of his achievements. The diversity, integrality, continuity, authenticity, representativeness, and artistic quality of its architectural heritage – all of these things are crucial for the
significance of Kraków’s heritage, but they also determine its conservation strategy, especially as regards level of complexity. A continuous process of reinterpretation of that heritage is the foundation of this undertaking. In Kraków history predominates over the present-day. This is so also because sometimes we are not able to be as creative in our civilisational achievements as our forebears in Royal Kraków were in the universal scope hundreds of years ago. History is a factor in a city’s development offering many options for the interpretation of its cultural heritage and a variety of meanings for the city: as a process, as its functions, idea, form, and as the mirror of civilisation. The complex fate of Kraków, including its 20th-century experience, confirm Sophie Lang’s observation that cities are never a random occurrence, they are a concept of a higher order. In Central Europe cultural identity has never been something that is fixed for all time; it calls for continuous choice. In this sense, too, Kraków entails features characteristic of Central Europe – trauma and ambivalence. An appreciation of the phenomenon of this city, a broader historical perspective on the changeability of Kraków’s functions within the settlement network in this part of Europe, and its changing meanings are the key to understanding the essence of Europa Minor. Europa Minor has never been beyond the bounds of European civilisation. However, it has preserved its separateness, which today is a value. That value is perhaps most distinct in the fabric of its cities, the specific identity of which is the resultant not only of their geographical location, but above all of the long-term historical process that started in them over a thousand years ago. The 20th century marks the climax and sum of all the conflicts and contradictions at the basis of the development of the fascinating centre of Europe. This is also borne out by the experience of Kraków, a metropolis in the European Core. Kraków’s future depends also on an understanding of the special political, economic, and cultural role of Europe’s historic cities in their bid to return to the ever vibrant, medieval idea of a Europe without borders.
Head of the Chair of European Heritage in the Jagiellonian University Faculty of International and Political Studies; Director of the Kraków International Cultural Centre
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