Unique, diverse and beyond a doubt of "outstanding value to humanity" - but what do the Polish UNESCO World Heritage Sites say about Poland and its history? With this selection from the 14 Polish UNESCO sites, Culture.pl explains how five of these monuments survived on territory that was invaded, pillaged, occupied and absent from the geopolitical map for over a century
Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork
A medieval brick castle and seat of the Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, Malbork Castle was the economic, military and administrative centre of the wide-ranging Teutonic Order. It stands as ''the largest castle in the world (surface area), and the largest brick building in Europe''. Situated in northern Poland on the Nogat River, founded around 1270 by the Teutonic Knights, the castle "represents the drama of Christianity in the late Middle Ages, stretched between extremes of sanctity and violence", according to UNESCO. It personifies the forced baptism of the Baltic people and the colonization of their tribal territories, which played a vital role in the history of Europe.
Upon the signing of the Treaty of Toruń in 1457, which brought the wars between Poland and the Teutonic Order to an end, Malbork Castle passed to the Polish crown and remained in use for three centuries virtually unmodified from its medieval form, serving as an administrative headquarters, a central arsenal and a temporary royal residence. It suffered damage successively during the Thirty Years' War (1618-48), the Polish-Swedish War (1655- 60) and the Nordic War (1700-21), but its robust basic structure remained intact. After the first partition of Poland in 1772, it became a bastion of the Kingdom of Prussia and was modified to serve as a barracks. Around the 1800s, when artists and intellectuals began to take an interest in the castle, it was designated a historic monument. Severely damaged in the final stage of the Second World War, its exemplary reconstruction also makes it a monument to the work of conservation, both in its social aspect and as a scientific and artistic discipline.
The site was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997. The Malbork Castle museum offers special night tours, light and sound shows and hosts exhibitions. To see more visit the website: Malbork Castle Museum
Centennial Hall in Wrocław
The multi-purpose recreational building was constructed on a Wrocław island between 1911 and 1913 according to innovative architect Max Berg's plans, when the city was part of the German Empire and was named Breslau. It bears testimony to the importance of the city as the capital of an important province in a strategic location and one of the principal cities in the Germany. A permanent, modern structure had been required to house exhibitions, such as the facilities in Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Leipzig and Dresden - and Berg's design immediately took its place among original modernist achievements.
The city incurred major devastation during the three-month Siege of Breslau in 1945 by Soviet forces, but Centennial Hall was largely spared. When Wrocław became part of the Republic of Poland after the 1945 Potsdam Agreement, the communist government renamed the hall Hala Ludowa, or People's Hall. A 106-meter needle-like metal sculpture before the main entrance (visible in the picture above) is called the Iglica and was set up in 1948. That year, the World Congress of Intellectuals in the Defence of Peace was staged here, with Pablo Picasso, Berthold Brecht and Aldous Huxley among the attendees.
Extensively renovated in 1997 and 2010, the Hall's 23-metre-high dome spans its vast circular central space seating some 6,000 persons. The building serves purposes ranging from conferences and exhibitions to concerts, theatre and opera. The site was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2006. For more information see the Centennial Hall website.
Wooden Tserkvas of the Carpathian Region in Poland and Ukraine
Let's move swiftly to Poland's southeast, where the Carpathian Mountains rise at the border with Ukraine and where 16 wood tserkvas embody the legacy of Eastern Orthodox and Greek Catholic communities, representing the cultural expression of four ethnographic groups. These tserkvas bear exceptional testimony to a distinct ecclesiastical building tradition - grounded in mainstream traditions of the Orthodox Church while interweaving local architectural language. The Carpathian region was once populated by Polish and Ruthenian Slavic tribes. Though these communities were Christianised by competing civilization centres in Rome and Constantinople, their common ethnic and linguistic roots survived due to the creation of a specific, resilient borderland culture. These transnational tserkvas were built between the 16th and 19th centuries. Regional transformations over the centuries did not alter their original, traditional style, and 13 of them continue to hold liturgical and cult functions.
The site was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2013.
Old City of Zamość
A Renaissance town in Central Europe, this southeastern Polish city of less than 100,000 inhabitants was founded in the 16th century on trade routes linking western and northern Europe with the Black Sea. Its stylistically homogeneous urban composition was planned by founder Jan Zamoyski and the Italian architect Bernando Morando according to Italian theories of the "ideal city", as Zamoyski had received his doctorate at the University of Padua.
Under construction for nine years, from 1582 to 1591, Zamość was mainly built during the Baroque period. To populate it, Jan Zamoyski brought in merchants of various nationalities and religions: Ruthenes - the Slavs of the Orthodox Church - and Turks, Armenians and Jews, among others. Moreover, he endowed the town with its own academy. UNESCO writes that "Zamość is the tangible reflection of the social and cultural ideas of the Renaissance, which were strongly accepted in Poland". The city escaped the vast destruction of the Second World War and retains its original layout and fortifications and a large number of buildings that combine Italian and central European architectural traditions.
The site was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1992.
Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mines
Every shortlist of Poland's "unique and diverse sites that are of outstanding of value to humanity" pays tribute to these 300 kilometres of underground shafts, hallways and galleries with chapels and storerooms hewn from salt. The rock-salt deposits near Kraków have been mined since the 13th century, making the Wieliczka mines the oldest of their type in Europe. The mines were occupied during the Swedish Invasion in the late 17th century, by the Austrian army in 1772, followed by German troops in 1939 and the Soviet army in 1944. During the German occupation, several thousand Jews were transported from nearby forced labour camps at Plaszów and Mielec to the Wieliczka mine to work in an underground armament factory set up by the Germans.
The underground tourist route has existed since the early 19th century. The site was inscribe on UNESCO’s initial World List of Natural and Cultural Heritage, as one of the first 12 designated sites. In 2013, the Bochnia Royal Salt Mines, an extension of the Polish Wieliczka Salt Mine, were added to the list.
Remaining 9 Polish World Heritage List sites:
- Historic Centre of Kraków
- Auschwitz-Birkenau German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945)
- Historic Centre of Warsaw
- Białowieża Forest
- Medieval town of Toruń
- Kalwaria Zebrzydowska: the Mannerist Architectural and Park Landscape Complex and Pilgrimage Park
- Churches of Peace in Jawor and Świdnica
- Wooden Churches of Southern Małopolska
- Muskauer Park / Park Mużakowski
Go to the UNESCO website the full list: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/
Author: Marta Jazowska 16.08.2013
Sources: UNESCO on Malbork, touropia.com, UNESCO on the tserkvas, Centennial Hall, UNESCO on the Centennial Hall, Wieliczka website, UNESCO on Wieliczka, Online Journal of Geology