Public Parks: An Oasis in the Concrete Jungle
full-width, Public Parks: An Oasis in the Concrete Jungle, View of National Stadium from Skaryszewski Park, photo: Mateusz Grochocki / East News, center, park_skaryszewski_fot_mateusz_grochocki_en_01379198_0001.jpg
A public park is a true treasure in urban areas – a place for dates, walks or simply for a moment to catch your breath on a hot day. Here’s a list of 10 Polish parks where the shade hides numerous attractions.
The idea of building public parks became popular in Europe in the 19th century, during the Industrial Revolution. We can thank these early social reformers who attempted to improve the quality of life in overcrowded and factory-saturated cities. That’s when people began creating green spaces for everyone – it’s hard to believe, but early squares and parks were only available for the upper echelons of society. Nowadays, we can’t imagine a town without at least a few parks whose charming greenery everyone can enjoy.
It might seem easy to think that everything has changed since then, that factories have moved outside of towns and that life is better. But public parks still ‘save lives’. Without them, we would probably have already been smothered by the smog that reigns over concrete- and car-dominated cities. In this way, public parks aren’t just nice places to take a walk; they’re an indispensable set of lungs, producing oxygen and providing a cool space during the interminable heat of the summer.
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‘Planty’ park in Kraków
This is definitely one of the best known – and simultaneously most unusual – Polish parks. A wide greenbelt running around the entirety of Kraków’s Old Town, it takes up 20 hectares of space and measures at four kilometres long. The park was built in the 1820s where the town’s fortifications once stood – in those days, this was a common practice. The historic park is an integral part of the layout of Kraków’s Old Town, which is now part of the UNESCO List of World Heritage, and a popular place for locals to relax when the city is flocked with tourists.
The word ‘planty’ denotes a park built in the space of previous fortifications, and plenty of other such named parks exist in Poland (there’s a Planty Park in cities including Białystok, Stargrad, Radom and Elbląg). It is Kraków’s park, however, that has become the subject of numerous paintings, literary works and songs.
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Skaryszewski Park in Warsaw
Fifty-five hectares, 280 species of trees and bushes (amongst which are plenty of endangered and ancient varieties), 54 species of birds, 21 types of butterflies, and 14 species of snails – that’s Warsaw’s Skaryszewski Park by the numbers. According to many residents of the capital, it’s the most beautiful part of the city, a spacious green space with lakes, hills, painterly landscapes, a waterfall, a rose garden and even works of art. The park contains a few dozen sculptures, such as Henryk Kuna’s Rhythm, Olga Niewska’s Bathing and Stanisław Jackowski’s Dancer, all of which were created during the 1920s.
Skaryszewski Park was built between 1905-1922 as part of the efforts of the city gardener, Franciszek Szanior. He was fascinated by the British tradition of creating parks and botanical gardens. The public can thank him for not only Skaryszewski Park, but Ujazdów Park, as well as the greenery around Służewiec Racetrack, Sąski Park and the Krasiński Garden as well.
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Źródliska Park in Łódź
The oldest park in Łódź, it was built in the 1840s, when the city was undergoing dynamic growth into previously forested areas. Źródliska – then known as Ógród Spacerowy (the Walking Garden) – was built in the English style. In the next decade, the park was divided. The industrialist Karol Scheibler bought part of it, where he built a cotton mill, weaving mill and his own house (which currently houses the Cinema Museum). Over the years, private individuals have bought out the second half of the park.
The park was re-integrated at the beginning of the 1920s; it underwent renovation, with the addition of new pathways, a pond, a botanical garden and a palm house. Now the ‘two-part’ park –Źródliska I and II – is one of the most attractive areas in the city, whose many assets include a beautiful ‘half-wild’ character and several natural wonders (such as its 300-year-old oak trees).
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Szczytnicki Park in Wrocław
The history of Szczytnicki Park begins in the second half of the 18th century, when the chief of the local garrison, Fryderyk Ludwik Hohenlohe, turned the extensive greenery into a park (the surrounding area was previously part of his summer residence). Although devastated multiple times (it was destroyed during the Napoleonic Wars in 1806 and once more due to a flood in the 1850s), it was restored regularly.
The park gained in popularity when a horseracing track was built nearby in the 1860s. At the end of the 19th century, the park was successively expanded – an artificial waterfall was added, as well as an arboretum and a glasshouse for exotic plants. Thanks to these efforts, the 112-hectare park has the third-most diverse collection of flora in Europe.
Another important date for the park is 1913, when Wrocław celebrated its so-called ‘Centennial Exhibition’. For the exhibition’s purposes, the Centennial Hall (designed by Marx Berg) and the Four Domes Pavilion (designed by Hans Poelzig) were built on the edge of the park, as well as a pond with a fountain and a 640-metre pergola. The wooden Church of St John of Nepomuk was also moved to the park for the occasion. Alongside the Centennial Exhibition, there was a Garden Exhibition as well – one remnant of the exhibit is the Japanese Garden, which remains to this day and is a rare exemplar of its kind in Europe. In the 1920s, the Olympic Stadium was erected, while in 1948, during the Exhibit of Recovered Lands, a 70-metre needle – a steel monument designed by Stanisław Hempel – was placed next to Centennial Hall.
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Oliwski Park in Gdańsk
Between the 12th and 13th centuries, a Cistercian abbey was built in the area of Oliwa, a neighbourhood of the city of Gdańsk, as well as an accompanying garden (in those times, abbeys were self-sufficient, growing their own food). Alongside the thriving abbey, the garden flourished as well, functioning not only as a source of food but also as a meeting place for important figures, such as kings (the treaty ending the Polish-Swedish War was signed here).
In the 18th century, the garden was transformed into the Baroque style, and the abbot at the time built a Rococo palace on the grounds. It was redesigned by its subsequent owners (during the partitions, the abbey was run by a Prussian prince), and in the 1880s, numerous exotic trees were planted here. Not long afterwards, a palm house and alpine garden were added. According to the park’s archives, the public was able to access its grounds as early as the 18th century. Its popularity grew in the 1920s, when the Cistercian church was raised in rank to a cathedral, and the Abbott’s Palace was turned into a museum.
The 11-hectare park is not only a place for a stroll; it is also a garden containing numerous exotic plants, historic trees and picturesque views. The park’s attractions include multiple bindaże, or walkways with vines or trees growing on either side, which are woven together to create a tunnel-like effect.
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Kasprowicz Park in Szczecin
The largest park in Szczecin was founded in 1900 by the German business owner Johannes Quistorp. He bequeathed a large chunk of his land to the city for the purposes of its being turned into a public park. Until 1945, it was known as Quistorp Park, in memory of its founder. Now Kasprowicz Park, as well as the neighbouring Arkoński Forest Park create an impressive 100 hectares of picturesque land.
Kasprowicz Park in Szczecin has numerous attractions. The main one is, of course, the plant life: a rose garden with 100 types of roses, 232 species of trees and shrubs, a botanical garden and a lake. In 1975, an amphitheatre was erected, designed by the local architect Zbigniew Abrahamowicz. It includes a signature arch of reinforced concrete, reminiscent of the iconic Gateway Arch in St Louis.
Next to the amphitheatre is Władysław Hasior’s enormous sculpture Płomienne Ptaki (Flaming Birds) – it is perhaps the most imposing amongst the park’s numerous sculptures. The most monumental is the 1979 Monument to Polish Endeavour, designed by Gustaw Zemła – showing three eagles, which symbolise three generations of Poles rebuilding Szczecin.
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Myślęcinek Park in Bydgoszcz
The Myślęcinek Forest Park of Culture and Rest in Bydgoszcz takes up 830 hectares, landing it the title of the largest public park in Poland. In the 19th century, a brewery was located on the property, while after World War II, there was a state agricultural farm. The government decided to turn the land into a public park at the beginning of the 1970s.
Close to 500 of its hectares are located barely five kilometres away from the centre of Bydgoszcz – the forest contains many trees over 100 years old. The lake and streams are populated by waterfowl, for which the park is famous. The protected park offers not only a place to enjoy nature, but also many recreational activities. In Myślęcinek, there is a zoo, a botanical garden, a ski slope, an amusement park, horse stables … and even a Jurassic park with more than 40 dinosaur replicas.
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Silesia Park in Chorzów
Taking up over 500 hectares, Silesia Park covers one fifth of the area in Chorzów – because of this, it is considered a separate district. Located in between Chorzów and Katowice, it is the most popular spot for walks and recreation for the citizens of both towns.
Silesia Park (known as the Regional Park of Culture and Relaxation until 2012) was created in the 1950s as part of an initiative by the provincial governor of the time, Jerzy Ziętek. He decided to transform the area, which had been previously ravaged by logging. In order to achieve this goal in a short period of time, more than 3.5 million trees and bushes were planted, 70 kilometres of footpaths were created and 2,400 benches were erected.
From its inception, Silesia Park was meant to be something more than just a green space. It originally contained a planetarium, an amusement park, swimming pools, a railway system as well as a pavilion that hosts exhibits and events – Kapelusz Hall was designed by Jerzy Gottfried. Nowadays, there is also the Upper Silesian Ethnographic Park, a zoo and the Gallery of Silesian Sculptures. The famous Silesian Stadium is also located in the park.
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Bródnowski Park in Warsaw
Bródnowski Park is listed amongst the most attractive and well-liked public parks, raising the quality of life for its large surrounding neighbourhood. However, if not for Paweł Althamer, it probably wouldn’t be considered worthy of international interest.
Since 2009, the 24-hectare park is known as the Bródno Sculpture Park. That year, thanks to a collaboration between Althamer, the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw and the neighbourhood bureau, the first open-air sculptures were erected. Since then, the park adds one more sculpture each year. The original artist behind the idea writes of the incredible undertaking:
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The Sculpture Park is an ever-evolving exhibit of modern art, presented under the naked sky and available for viewing 24 hours out of the day.
In densely packed cities, there is no space for new public parks. Yet with a changing climate, shaded spaces for rest and the production of oxygen are more important. That’s the impetus behind so-called ‘pocket parks’. Normally no larger than 5,000 square metres, they are tucked into small nooks and free spaces between buildings.
Pockets parks are an Anglo-Saxon invention, but this universal idea has quickly become popular worldwide. These small public spaces, usually containing no more than benches and greenery, function exceedingly well in cities, where the lack of greenery is often noticeable. In Poland, several pocket parks have popped up – in Kraków, Łódź and Bydzoszcz. They don’t cost much to erect, but their benefits are numerous; with hope, their numbers will continue to increase.
Originally written in Polish by Anna Cymer, 3 Aug 2019; translated by Alicja Zapalska, Mar 2020
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