Krakow and its heritage

Krakow in UNESCO and in the OWHC

Krakow is an increasingly more popular host of major local and international conferences and congresses. Consequently, it has become a space for international debates on vital issues. This will also be the case of the upcoming 15th World Congress of World Heritage Cities. From 2 to 5 June 2019, we will host representatives of nearly 300 cities from around the world. Arriving from every single continent, they represent historic centers, monuments or priceless architectural objects inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The biennial meeting of OWHC members will be held in this part of Europe for the very first time. Krakow won the privilege of organizing this prestigious event by presenting its experience in organizing projects of similar scale and international significance, as well as by showing its strengths as a dynamic urban center that approaches its heritage with respect and special care. The tourist attractiveness of Krakow was also significant, especially as the Congress focuses on the relationship between heritage and tourism.

Krakow is the most recognizable Polish city as one of the first two (along with Quito in Ecuador) inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List as early as 1978. Krakow is the former capital of Poland, a European City of Culture 2000, a UNESCO City of Literature in the Creative Cities Network and a member of many prestigious international organizations .

The historic center of Krakow was recognized by UNESCO for its distinctive European urban layout – a great example of millennial stratification of material, non-material and cultural heritage. In 1978 Krakow was in a state of disrepair. The recognition it received on the international arena and the acknowledgement of Krakow’s heritage as common good for humanity were historic. Indeed, the inscription was key in initiating heritage protection projects in the city.

Undoubtedly, Krakow has made perfect use of its historic moment by investing in parallel in renovation of monuments and revalorization of heritage. The revitalization – often supported by EU funds – has affected many heritage-related elements of the urban fabric. Today, Krakow, whose heart is the unchanged urban layout dating back to the 13th century, is a modern European city, a university center and a hub for modern technologies. Although “time in Krakow flows differently”, as the inhabitants say, the historic center is not a quiet museum, but a lively meeting place for residents and tourists.


Tourists in Krakow

Krakow experiences a constantly increasing tourist traffic, with 17.9% of visitors attracted by the city’s heritage and a further 17.9% by leisure opportunities.
According to a research study conducted for Krakow by the Malopolska Tourist Organization, 13.5 million tourists visited the city in 2018 – an increase of 600,000, as compared with 2017. The 13.5 strong visitor group consisted of 10, 400, 000 domestic tourists and 3, 100, 000 foreigners.

The tourism industry employs nearly 10% of all those working in our city and is an important source of economic development and promotion of the city. However, it also causes tensions characteristic of attractive tourist destinations, such as temporary rental (resulting in depopulation of the center and dispersion of the local community outside the center), increase in rental rates, popularization of budget tourism and very superficial encounters with Krakow. One also often observes a decline in the quality of services, a flood of cheap souvenirs and the presence of global tourist brands in city centers, combined with the very troubling loss of local flavour and disintegration of the local cultural landscape.

For years Krakow has been trying to implement solutions aimed at regulating tourist traffic. The need for harmonious sustainable tourism management has also been discussed, including through appropriate profiling of offers, a policy of attracting visitors to sights outside the strict center of Krakow and the Malopolska Region – promotion of all historical districts and areas of the city and creation of new tourist attractions and museums outside the city center. During the “Residents and visitors – in search of quality and comfort” conference organized in 2018 under the patronage of the OWHC, the city began a series of debates and conferences by launching the long-term “Historical Cities 3.0” program. Hosting the 15th World Congress of the OWHC the capital of the Malopolska Region has gained yet another opportunity to discuss key current challenges in heritage and tourism relations, as well as to highlight the achievements so far and exchange valuable experiences.


What is UNESCO?

UNESCO is the abbreviation of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It was established just after the Second World War in 1946, and its primary goal has been to support international cooperation in the fields of culture, art and science, as well as to raise respect for human rights, regardless of the given person’s skin color, social status and religion. Currently (2019), the organization comprises of 193 member states . By joining UNESCO, states undertake to protect cultural heritage objects, ensure the development of particular cultures in the world, support non-commercial art in times of mass culture and globalization by finding system solutions and many other guidelines related to the organization’s declarations. UNESCO promotes the importance of protecting the phenomena of culture threatened by disappearance (languages, customs, rituals) and all products of culture as a common heritage of humanity.

One of the most important documents of UNESCO is the Convention on the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage, adopted in 1976. It establishes the protection of cultural and natural heritage of exceptional universal value, among others, through granting an international protection status and entering onto the UNESCO World Heritage List. Objects, cities, areas of nature, as well as intangible traditions inscribed on the UNESCO List are recognized as the common good of humanity.

Unique, cultural and natural objects are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Entry on the list is tantamount to granting them special protection. So far, 1,031 objects reported by countries from all continents have been included on the list. 15 of them are located in Poland, of which 5 are in the Malopolska Region.

Krakow – as already mentioned – was among the first 12 sites entered into the UNESCO list as early as in 1978. The Old Town in Krakow was within the area covered by the care of this international organization and includes the medieval Market Square, streets stretching out from it and the Planty, Wzgórze Wawel and Stradom, as well as the multicultural District of Kazimierz. The significance of this entry is often underestimated even by Krakow residents. Meanwhile, it brought not only international recognition to Poland and Polish culture, but also made Krakow one of the strongest Polish brands and the country’s most-visited tourist city. However, it also resulted in the need for renovation and investments in the historic center. Systems, funds and tools to support the revalorization and renewal of Krakow’s monuments were created, including through the mechanism of help of the Social Committee for the Restoration of Krakow’s Monuments. Krakow was included on the list simultaneously with Quito in Ecuador –a very active OWHC member whose authorities will participate in the Krakow Congress.

The UNESCO list also includes the nearby Wieliczka Salt Mine (from 1978), an entry extended to include the Salt Mine in Bochnia and the Saltworks Castle in Wieliczka (in 2013), Auschwitz-Birkenau German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1979), Puszcza Białowieska (1979), Old Towns in Warsaw (1980) and Zamość (1992), the Medieval Town Complex of Toruń (1997), Teutonic castle in Malbork (1997), Churches of Peace in Jawor and Świdnica (2001), Kalwaria Zebrzydowska: the mannerist architectural and landscape complex and pilgrimage park (1999), Wooden churches of the southern Malopolska Region:
Binarowa, Blizne, Dębno, Haczów, Lipnica Murowana, Sękowa (from 2003), the Muskauer Park, Hala Stulecia in Wrocław (2006), wooden churches in the Polish and Ukrainian Carpathian region, and since 2017 also a lead, silver and zinc mine in Tarnowskie Góry and an underground water management system – an entry made during the 41st session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Krakow.

The latest success of Krakow was the inclusion of one of its important craft and artistic traditions, the Krakow szopkarstwo (building nativity scenes) on the list of the intangible heritage of humanity. On November 9, 2018, the Krakow’s szopkarstwo was inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.


What is the UNESCO Creative City title?

UNESCO has many programs and declarations promoting the values of the protection and stimulation of cultural diversity. In 2004, the UNESCO Creative Cities Network was established, the purpose of which is to support the economic, social and cultural development of cities based on the principles of balanced and sustainable development of UNESCO. By joining the Network, cities confirm their commitment to developing partnerships, promoting creativity, sharing best practices and strengthening the participation of residents in cultural life.

The creative city concept was proposed in the 1980s by Charles Landry, a British urbanist and expert in the field of sustainable urban development and the use of imagination and creativity in urban politics. The aim of the Creative Cities program is to increase public awareness of the importance of culture and its pro-development potential in various segments of social life, including the economy.

The UNESCO Creative Cities Network covers seven areas of creativity: crafts and folk art, design, film, gastronomy, literature, music and media art.

Currently, the network brings together 180 cities representing various fields of cultural activity. In 2013, Krakow obtained the title of the Creative City in the field of literature becoming the first Slavic and second non-English speaking town in the Network. The Mayor of Krakow, Jacek Majchrowski, invited other Polish cities to join the network and declared cooperation. In 2015, the title of UNESCO Creative City was awarded to Katowice – in the field of music, and in 2017 – in the field of film.


Organization of World Heritage Cities

The OWHC (Organization of World Heritage Cities) is an international, non-governmental organization, founded on September 8, 1993 in the Moroccan city of Fez. Currently, it associates more than 300 cities inscribed on the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage List. It is an organization operating at the level of urban centers of all continents. It supports UNESCO and local governments of various countries in their efforts to preserve heritage for future generations and exchange experiences between cities. Members of the OWHC organization develop solutions facilitating the management of cities inscribed on the UNESCO list, exchange experiences, compare their achievements and work out joint documents and projects. The dissemination of new solutions that enable more comprehensive protection of cultural heritage is of particular importance for these cities.

The headquarters of the World Heritage Cities Organization is located in Québec (Canada), and the programs are implemented by eight regional secretariats (assigned to specific geographical areas). Krakow has been a member of the OWHC since 1995. Other Polish cities also associated in the network include Warsaw, Zamość and Toruń. Together with other cities in our nearby region (including Vilnius, Lviv, Baku, Budapest, Vienna) – Krakow operates in the Secretariat of Central and Eastern Europe with headquarters in Budapest.


Partnership for the heritage of Krakow


For years, Krakow has been involved in international educational, research projects, conferences and congresses focused on the subject of heritage. The voice of Krakow is becoming more and more clearly heard on the forum of the most important historical cities in the world. High awareness of the local government, residents, urban movements, experts, and specialists in the management of world heritage sites is an indispensable condition in its multi-faceted and multilateral approach to the subject of historic city management.

The scientific program of the Congress of the World Heritage Organization of the OWHC is elaborated by professor Jacek Purchla, a long-term director of the International Cultural Center and Chairman of the Polish Committee for UNESCO. The plenary sessions and debates will feature representatives of all continents and valued experts.

The organization of the OWHC Congress involved not only municipal departments, but also cultural institutions, conservation services, non-governmental organizations, local governments, entrepreneurs, heritage enthusiasts, educators and the education sector. During the preparations of the congress, important decisions were made, including those related to the integration of activities around the heritage by the Institute of Cultural Villa Decius – a newly-established municipal institution, located in the Renaissance Villa Decius. The many important goals for the city, promotion of European values, performing a residency function for writers and creators include the Institute’s activity of cultural education and education in the area of ​​heritage as one of the areas of activities.

Krakow has also begun the process of merging communication tools, in order to reach out to foreign visitors more effectively with a deeper message about heritage. On the wave of many months of preparations for the congress, an English-Polish blog #krakowheritage was created, among others, with deepened, unique perspective on Krakow, its monuments and other OWHC cities.
For several months preceding the Congress, experts representing a number of cultural and scientific institutions, as well as officials and social activists met regularly. At Round Tables on Heritage, as the meetings came to be known, they discussed ways of ensuring development of the city at the same time preserving its diversity, protecting its heritage and reducing air pollution in the context of monument protection. Local landscape protection programs, Cultural Park guidelines, and even plans of establishing a tourist tax in Krakow were also debated.

During the Congress itself, Krakow’s cultural institutions will present a festival of tradition in which reconstruction groups, dance companies, orchestras and choirs, Krakow guilds, brotherhoods and museums will be involved. A special heritage tram will run through Krakow. There are also a number of social and information campaigns, as well as films involving the participation of Krakow residents presenting various faces of heritage, such as traditional and contemporary professions. Krakow rsidents are proud of their city. This year, we celebrate the 120th anniversary of the opening of the Krakow Museum and the 70th anniversary of the establishment of Nowa Huta. Numerous branches of the oldest municipal museum present Krakow from many perspectives, discovering new treasures and unknown city potentials. The promotional jubilee campaign of the Museum of Krakow: #jestemKrakow – indicates the significance of involving residents in cultivating local traditions and fosters local pride in diversity.

It is clear that the Congress provides an impulse for the cooperation of many institutions and the residents themselves to protect Krakow’s urban landscape: its beauty, uniqueness, richness of tradition, s well as “wise and sustainable development of tourism in line with the principle of such actions that meet the current needs without jeopardizing the capabilities of future generations to meet their own needs” (Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987).

Social campaign – a Heritage tram!

From May to the end of 2019, as part of a social campaign promoting heritage, a tram will travel along the city streets. The tram will be branded with slogans developed during Round Table debates emphasizing the significance of Kraków’s traditions for its citizens and sensitizing foreigners to various aspects of heritage, also those important from the perspective of the residents.

Young Krakow residents for heritage – selected initiatives

Among numerous annual initiatives those aimed at young residents of Krakow deserve a special mention. This year, the Office of the Mayor of the City of Krakow held #KRAKOWmojedziedzictwo art competition for youth aged 8 to 16. Aimed at developing artistic sensitivity and creativity in thinking about cultural and historical heritage of Krakow, the competition also aspires to promote our city worldwide. Krakow students shared their personal views of the city creating: “Postcards from Krakow” that will be sent by the participants of the OWHC Congress to their families and friends around the world. And so, our little homeland resonating with family memories of its inhabitants, as well as some of our city’s fascinating tales and charming corners where we are lucky to live, will be shown to the whole world.

From among nearly 100 entries, the jury awarded: Aleksandra Terlecka, Milena Kuśnierczyk, Apolonia Ślusarczyk, Jakub Kozoduj, Patrycja Marzec, Apolonia Furmańczyk, Milena Wierdak, Klaudia Stachurska and Kamila Jezierna. Distinctions in the competition went to: Maksymilian Jaworski, Margit Stasyuk, Antoni Jaworski, Lena Litka, Emilia Pałac and Adelajda Kawałkowska. Teachers and art tutors were, of course, also involved in the project, representing the following schools: Primary School no. 4, Primary School no. 8, Primary School no. 25, Primary School no. 85, Primary School no. 88, Primary School no. 156, General Education School Complex no. 53, P. Michałowskiego Primary School, Primary Schools no. 98 and 107 with integration departments, Ignacy Paderewski SSO of the first degree and the International School in Krakow. On 23 February 2019, Krakow’s City Hall housed an exhibition of the competition works. At the opening participating children were awarded diplomas and gifts. The most valuable effect of the competition are the beautiful postcards that tell the world the stories of Krakow as seen through the eyes of its young inhabitants.


If you had one day in a city of world heritage

Another project related to the OWHC goals is the international film production competition initiated by the World Heritage Organization (OWHC). It is organized in two age groups: for young people aged 14 to 17 and from 18 to 21 years old and at two levels: local and international.

The local level has already ended. The participants’ task was to make a maximum of a 5-minute film about the world heritage city in which they live. The winners are:

  • in the 14-17 age category: Jan Dąbek together with Julia Szałowska and Kacper Komenda – for the excellent quality of production and editing, a broad view of heritage in Krakow and the presentation of the richness of Krakow’s culture
  • in the 18-21 age category: Laura Basiaga for showing the energy of the city and its inhabitants and the uniqueness of Krakow, in which the old and the historical are closely connected with the young and innovative.

The winning films have been submitted to the next stage organized by OWHC. There are 2 rewards: 1500 CAD (in the 14-17 age category) and 3000 CAD (in the 18-21 age category). The announcement of the results of the international competition will take place during the 15th Congress of World Heritage Organizations in Krakow, in June this year.

The films submitted at the international level will promote Krakow on the OWHC website and the Congress website:

Both competitions are among many examples of the impact of the organization on the integration of the expert community and the deep involvement of residents, schools, children and youth. An individual look combined with artistic expression and the use of technology shows how important it is to work together with Krakow’s young generation around the values of the OWHC and UNESCO.