Management of the world heritage site in Krakow

Halina Rojkowska-Tasak



In 1978, the historic centre of Krakow was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The area covered approx. 150 hectares: with the area of the Old Town founded in 1257, Wawel Hill, the districts of Kazimierz (a medieval Jewish town founded in 1335) and Stradom. Krakow was inscribed on the list as one of the first 12 objects. The entry was made on the basis of criterion IV, as “an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble which illustrates a significant stage in history.” In 2016, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee adopted a retrospective Statement of Outstanding Universal Value for the historic centre of Krakow.

Krakow was a strong commercial, artisanal and artistic centre, and it also became a strong University centre as of 1364, bringing together representatives of various nations. It includes the largest number of historic buildings of the highest historical and artistic value in the country. The area of the world heritage is still a vibrant cultural, administrative, commercial, academic and religious centre of the city, varied in terms of the amount and value of the monuments, cultural traditions, and the social status of the residents. It is the most visited city in Poland (over 13 million tourists annually). The wealth of the preserved heritage and high-rankings of the city in the country require a multi-directional approach in the management process.

The area of the world heritage is protected by legal conservation through entering both the urban layout and individual objects into the monuments register. Objects of lower value are included in the records of monuments. Since 1994, this area has also been covered by an additional form of protection, it is a Monument of History (Presidential Decree of 8 September 1994).

A buffer zone was established around the area inscribed in the List, approved in 2010. It was largely established in the Monument of History area. The zone coincides with the urban systems of nineteenth-century Krakow and the former town of Podgórze founded by the Austrians in 1792 on the right bank of the Vistula River. It also encompasses the northern part of the Vistula boulevards which offers panoramic views of the city. The inscription in the Register of Historic Monuments of Urban Planning allows for the limitation of large-scale investments interfering with the views of the UNESCO area. The buffer zone provides a wide range of protection possibilities with local acts, especially local zoning plans, cultural parks and management plans.

Since the political transformation and the rise of the municipal self-government in 1990, the policy of managing the cultural heritage of Krakow has changed. Greater opportunities for the implementation of protection, conservation and revitalization programmes for the historic districts and individual buildings have emerged. The programmes are included in: the City Development Strategy, the Culture Development Strategy, the Tourism Development Strategy and the sustainable development of the city, emphasizing its cultural distinctiveness. The area of the world heritage was also covered by the Local Revitalization Programme of the Old Town which was adopted by the Krakow City Council in 2008 as one of the most important areas within the Municipal Revitalization Programme. The purpose of these programmes is to improve the quality of life of the residents.

The most important document introducing the principles of the protection and management of the heritage is the “Old Town” local land development plan which was adopted by the Krakow City Council in 2010. It includes the chartered town surrounded by the Krakow Planty and the Wawel Hill.

The basic inscription in the plan is to protect the city’s silhouette by banning the use of architectural dominants. The existing urban layout with the residential, sacral and public buildings is protected, along with the scenic axes from individual areas of the Old Town, especially the views of the Main Square, Royal Route, Wawel Hill and the significant historical buildings. An archaeological conservation area was established throughout the area, due to settlement dating back to the early Middle Ages. In order not to allow for the depopulation of the historic centre, the residential and service buildings were limited to the first two storeys and basements. Much emphasis is placed on the protection of public spaces.  Parking lots, among others, were removed from the main squares of the city and parking spaces were reduced.

In 2010, the “Old Town” cultural park was established. The cultural park is an additional form of protection provided for in the Act on the Protection and Care of Monuments aimed at protecting public spaces from the chaos and excesses of advertisements. It introduces regulations stipulating the quantity, size and location of signs, temporary advertising, illumination intensity, location of temporary stands, permanent and temporary events. Protection and management plans have been developed for the cultural parks. The cultural park within the UNESCO World Heritage Site has become an effective tool in arranging this, as well as highlighting its valuable historical and cultural values.

Another, very important management tool for maintaining the monumental substance is co-financing the conservation and construction works on monuments.

After the inscription of Krakow in the World Heritage List, in order to save the ruined and neglected monuments, the Social Committee for the Restoration of Monuments of Krakow (SKOZK) was established on 18 December 1978. Its activities focused on the restoration of the monuments of the world heritage and consisted in financing them by other Polish cities or industrial plants.

On 18 April 1985, the Sejm adopted a law establishing the National Fund for the Restoration of Historic Monuments in Krakow (NFRZK), financed from the state budget. The SKOZK has been the disposer of this fund, bringing together the prominent authorities of the Krakow environment, protection and conservation specialists and representatives of the Krakow authorities. Since the beginning of the Fund’s existence, the restoration of historic monuments in the historic centre has been carried out systematically and comprehensively within the individual quarters of development. In recent years, the Fund has disposed of approximately EUR 30 million zloty (approximately EUR 7 million) a year, from which it finances the redevelopment of the most valuable monuments owned by the State Treasury, the Krakow Municipality, churches and religious associations, and private owners (approximately 100 measures co-financed in the amount of 45%).

The emergence of the municipal self-government in 1990 and the establishment of its City Conservator of Monuments intensified the activities related to the management of UNESCO’s good. The important measures include the co-financing of renovation and conservation works, and the necessary documentation of the monuments not owned by the City of Krakow from the City budget. Since  the entry into force of the new Act on the Protection and Care of Monuments in 2003, a statutory possibility of awarding grants for specific works on monuments for non-municipal entities has come into effect. Following this, the City Council of Krakow adopted a relevant resolution in 2005. Approximately 30 measures are co-financed annually in the amount of to approximately 4 million zloty per year. This aid mainly covers the renovation of the façades of tenement houses and churches, as well as preservation works of historical paintings and wall murals in churches. The renovations of the façades of the tenements in the most important places of the city – in Main Market Square, Royal Route (Floriańska and Grodzka Streets), Small Market Square, the façade of the monastery complexes of the Bernardines and Dominicans located within the city walls, the city arsenal flanked by the city bastions, works in the complexes of the Franciscan monastic friars, the Canons Regular were of particular image significance. The façade repairs and conservation of the UNESCO sites are a priority. Support was granted for the objects important for the history and culture of the city: the conservation of the great altar at the Church of St. Mary (the altar of Veit Stoss dating back to the second half of the 15th century), the main parish church of the city and the reconstruction of the Czartoryski Museum complex housing a valuable collection of works of art.

In order to promote the heritage and increase the attractiveness of the city at night, an illumination project of the most valuable architectural monuments was executed in the area of the historic centre (except the Kazimierz District).

The attention of the city authorities is now focused on the Kazimierz district, depopulated during World War II as a result of the Holocaust and neglected during the socialist period. Since the 1990s, the Kazimierz District has turned into a tourist and cultural district. The once ruined historical buildings now house hotels, the ground floors and cellars of houses, especially in the “Jewish Town”, are being adapted for galleries, shops, restaurants and cafes with outdoor street gardens. Cultural and artistic activities take place in the premises, also referring to the identity of the place, which results in this district’s unique character. The city supports the activities, especially the festivals organised in the Kazimierz District, including the world-famous Jewish Culture Festival, organized the 29th time in 2019.

A local plan is developed for the Kazimierz District and, as in the case of the Old Town. A cultural park is being planned in its area. Guidelines for the illumination of the most valuable and characteristic objects are also in place.

The integrated management of monuments, with a special focus on the world heritage site is one of the priorities of the Municipal Programme for the Protection of Historical Monuments which is being developed for a four-year period and in each case adopted by the Krakow City Council. The obligation to develop the programme is enshrined in the Act on the Protection and Care of Monuments, and the role of the coordinator of the activities included in the Programme belongs to the City Conservator of Monuments.