Wawel Hill.

 

The approach to Wawel Hill.

 

The Wawel Palace colonnade.

 

Defensive walls.

6-7 December 1997

Upon arrival in Krakow, I quickly realized that Krakow is both a photographic ideal and nightmare for someone like me. Ideal because there are so many intriguing and beautiful buildings, elements and details packed into one area. Walking around the city's variously oriented streets, new opportunities continually reveal themselves with the changing position of the sun's light. And as you've probably guessed, the nightmare arrives with the realization that photographing a place like this could never possibly end. For every frame I made, scores of other possibilities existed.

Our first day in Krakow was on a Saturday. After a busy schedule in Szczecin, our more leisurely pace and dress for the weekend was welcome. But even though we had no business meetings scheduled, Marek made us hustle during our first hours of orientation in the city. His continued use of the phrase, "OK... let's go," soon became the trademark for the day. His efficiency allowed us to cover a lot of ground quickly.

Our first person to meet was Mr. Piotr Stepien, the head architectural conservator at Wawel Castle. He provided detailed information about the castle. The primary entrance is a long cobblestone slope leading up to a portcullis. To the right, the city is slowly revealed while ascending. To the left is a brick wall with stones set into the coursing. Each stone is engraved with a name(s), city and year. Each stone was inserted for each person or group who contributed funds for restoration projects done in the late 1920's. Most of the cities listed on the stones were from Poland or its immediate neighbors, though some were from farther abroad, even one from New York State.

This wall is currently undergoing another restoration project. The location of each donor stone was documented and the entire wall was then disassembled. In reconstruction, most of the original bricks were discarded, apparently due to excessive deterioration, and replaced with new bricks and the original donor stones are set into this new coursing.

This method of restoration, replacing existing "historic" bricks with contemporary bricks can be seen on many of the defensive walls surrounding Wawel Hill. Whether the various bricks were installed as part of a restoration or repair through the centuries, I do not know. But the overall effect gives a true sense of the passage of time over the place. The patchwork of brick let me know that work had continually occurred at the site. It had been maintained and occupied by inhabitants for centuries. The building was not an object frozen in time like a museum-piece, segregated from its environment.

Seeing this kind of patchwork was common around Cracow. Most of the notable "historic" buildings were masonry construction, covered with an exterior coat of stucco. Often, when a notable architectural element is known to exist on the building, the stucco is pulled back to reveal the feature. When seen this way, the feature is surrounded by a very thick layer of beveled exterior stucco.

Instances also exist where the stucco is pulled back only to show the stonework or brick of the building, rather than a specific architectural element. Here, the masonry is not necessarily decorative. It is revealed only to show what lies beneath the plaster which is often the heart of a centuries-old wall. The first few times I saw this treatment, it seemed a little disturbing. A large chunk of finish appeared to be missing. But this approach is common throughout Poland, I saw it on buildings in every town and city visited. After several sightings, I got used to the method.

 

 

Krakow, page 2

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