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Posts tagged ‘Wawel Cathedral’

Composition No. 10 – Cupolas of Kraków

Almost every town or city across the world will have some place of worship at the centre of its community. Very often, a church, a synagogue or a mosque will dominate the town, both in spiritual significance, but also in architectural superiority. In the average Spanish city for example, elaborate bell towers will loom large over the deferential terracotta roof tops of the town below, while even in the highly developed city of London, the globally recognised icon of St Paul’s Cathedral remains at the heart of London’s cityscape horizon. Yet in Kraków, the stunning Polish city with a sprawling, unspoilt historical old town at its heart, you are literally spoilt for choice, such is the array of spiritual icons bursting up all over the city.

While the breathtaking gold-tipped spires of the regal Mariacki church at the centre of the Rynek Główny square and the copper-sculpted embellishments of the Wawel Cathedral are obvious contenders as the city’s spiritual matriarchs, there are so many churches complete with their own flourish of architectural exuberance cropping up all over the city and in between, that the visitor feels almost overwhelmed, literally like a child in a sweet shop full of glistening boiled sweets and sugar-covered jellies. In fact with its turrets and towers, its copper cupolas and its wrought iron domes, Kraków takes decoration to new levels of baroque opulence. Its bell towers are so ornate as to be like multi-tiered wedding cakes iced up with sugar statues of saints, and finished with gold beading and sparkling with jewels; and the use of copper is so prominent in its oxidised green, that for as far as the eye can see, the skyline is splattered by turquoise aqua marines.

Composition No. 10 - Cupolas of Krakow (2013 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

Composition No. 10 – Cupolas of Krakow (2013 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

All of this just had to form the basis of the next painting in my “Compositions” series, having already decided that I must surely devote a piece to my time in Kraków. But as far as my gouache paintings go, this one is by far the most complicated. For not only did I want to pack into my Kraków skyline almost every cupola and rooftop which I had so admired in the city (and there are plenty), but I also wanted to follow the theme of my compositions by exploring overlapping objects and cubist interpretations. The result was a piece so complex that in terms of duration, I could probably have completed all 9 of my previous compositions in the time it took to do this one. But with a result so satisfyingly abundant with detail that it compares to the great city itself, I would surmise that the time, and the effort was worth it. Hope you like it!

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A weekend in Kraków | Day 2 – Kings, Communists and the Kazimierz Ghetto

Having awoken to the sweet serenade of the hejnalista to the accompaniment of the most glorious of peachy pink sunrises (see my post yesterday) I thought I could barely be reawoken to anything more beautiful. Yet when, having gone back to bed at 6am, I arose two hours later to the now sundrenched view of the Rynek Główny, I soon realised that in the beauty stakes, Kraków is the city that just keeps on giving. And not just the city – in our hotel,  the Hotel Wentzl we started our day in the lap of luxury: an espresso machine installed in the room pumping out coffee-rich espressos with which to enjoy the unbeatable view, and breakfast in Polish TV personality Magda Gessler’s Wentzl restaurant, conveniently located in our hotel, serving up the perfect of Polish continental breakfasts in the opulent surroundings of her lavishly and quirky interior decors. I particularly loved the pastoral quality to the design – the huge pheasant chandeliers and heavily embroidered bucolic curtains being particular favourites.

Our view by morning

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Pondering the quirky interiors of Magda Gessler’s restaurant…

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So after a doubly-good beginning to our second day in Kraków, we were well slept, well fed and full of energy to explore all the city had to offer. And just as well. For the city’s old town in itself takes some exploring, and as we made our way to the Wawel Hill, upon which sits the city’s former royal residence as well as its stunning main cathedral, we soon found that other tourists too had discovered the attraction, resulting in an hour’s queue for tickets. The length of the queue was perhaps augmented by a particular attraction which is currently in residence at the museum: Leonardo Da Vinci’s sensational Lady with an Ermine, with whom I became acquainted when she was on display in London’s superb Da Vinci exhibition, but who usually hangs in Kraków’s Princes Czartoryski museum, currently closed for major renovations.

While a visit to see Da Vinci’s masterpiece was undoubtedly a must of my Kraków experience, the ticket queues certainly took the sparkle out of this reconnaissance, although happily for me, my self-sacrificing partner took on much of the sting of the queue, waiting in line for the full hour while releasing me to look around the vast Wawel complex. And how glad I was to have time to experience the palatial compound to the full, starting with the lavish Wawel Cathedral, whose outside is covered with so many complex cupolas in devastatingly extravagant gold and elegantly crafted copper, that upon my first sight of the building, I literally had to gasp for air. Owing to the ban on inside photography, I cannot demonstrate to you the interior ravishment which more than matched the splendour of the outside, but rest assured, this Cathedral is awe-inspiring on the inside and out.

Wawel Cathedral

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Rejoined by my partner, we made our way to see Da Vinci’s portait of Cecilia Gallerani, tranquil as ever caught in the midsts of a far off gaze, the perfection of her skin remarkable considering the age of the painting. Then, sadly finding no further works from the Czartoryski museum to enjoy, we headed off to Sandomierska Tower, one of various towers built into the Wawel’s vast ramparts, and which reminded me of an oversized Moomin House. From up there we had the benefit of unbeatable views across the Vistula River and the whole of the Wawel complex, while descending back to ground level, we made our way deeper into the Wawel Hill, where a series of creepy caves are said to have once housed the legendary Wawel Dragon.

Wawel Castle

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Back out into the sunlight, we wandered off in search of lunch and a rest, out to the East of the City where the Jewish district (the Kazimierz) now stands. It’s strange to think of the district as being truly Jewish, being as the city lays claim to only a paltry Jewish population compared to what it once contained in the decades before the horrors of the holocaust, although the evidence of both Jewish culture, and the scars of the former Jewish Ghetto which stood on the site are still prominent today. But rather than dwelling in the horrors of the past, Kraków actively celebrates its Jewish heritage, playing host to a Jewish Cultural Festival every year, and in the Kazimierz area offering rich pickings of Jewish culture, from Jewish restaurants and interminable book shops, to ancient synagogues and both an old and new Jewish cemetery.

The Kazimierz

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We visited the oldest of the two, being struck as we did so by the distinct differences between this and the typical Catholic cemetery for example, filled not with angels, elaborate crosses and flowers aplenty, but a more austere selection of headstones, each covered with what appeared to be a little hat upon which families of the dead have placed stones, said to symbolise the permanence of memory.

The Jewish Cemetery

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From the Ghetto and its connotations of war-torn Poland, to the next phase of Poland’s traumatic recent history – Communism. Marking this stretch of Poland’s occupational history, we visited a Communist Propaganda Bar – something of a send up on the Communist world which once controlled Poland with such an iron fist – a dirty den of a place, covered from floor to ceiling with old adverts plastered with Communist slogans and platitudes. It was here that, getting into the spirit of the old harsh realities of iron-curtain Poland, we knocked back a shot of Polish vodka – a drink so harsh that I felt my throat enflame like an inferno, and my mind haze over.

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The haze was not so strong as to preclude our continued adventures through Kraków however, and we ended our day with a stroll around the beautiful Planty greenbelt – an arch of parks and playgrounds which was once the moat of the old fortressed city and which today makes for the most pleasant of strolls around the outskirts of the city.

And so there, watching the sun sparkle across ponds and through fountains, we sat and watched and mused over the day – a day in which we had sampled Kraków through the ages – from the splendour of its days of monarchy, to the horrors of the German occupation, and the desolation of the communist regime which followed, suppressing all joy and life out of the city. It was a period which stained so much of the Poland which exists today – concrete tower blocks and dour grey industrial suburbs pepper so much of the country, but Kraków, mercifully, was preserved in all its medieval glory. Why? Well , apparently Stalin himself so enjoyed the view of the Rynek Główny when he sipped his coffee at the Cloth Hall which extends across the square’s centre that he decided to keep the city preserved for that very purpose. A vain monster he may have been, but he had good taste when it came to cities. And you have to give thanks for small mercies.

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2013 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.