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Archive for April, 2008

Krakow is stuffed full of architectural marvels. What’s not immediately obvious is that the whole lot is built of brick. There’s nothing wrong with bricks, let me hasten to add, but it is a bit of a con job. The buildings look as if they’re made of stone, but they’re not; it’s brick all the way down. I spent another productive Sunday wandering around Krakow collecting evidence.

A typical Krakow building. Looks like it’s made of stone, but actually it’s brick covered in a layer of sculptured render.

Another typical Krakow building where the deceitful layer of render hasn’t yet been repaired.

Now, as I said, there’s nothing wrong with building in brick but I do wonder two things:

1. Why go to the trouble of pretending that a brick building isn’t a brick building? Especially when major municipal buildings such as the main cathedral, Kosciol Mariacki, is plainly and openly brick-built?

Brick-built and proud of it.

2. Where’s all the stone? Wawel sits on a mound of (rapidly dissolving) limestone but most of it seems to be made of brick. There are limestone quarries within the environs of the city including the notorious Plaszow quarry – adjacent to the Nazi’s Plaszow work camp. Why aren’t most of the building built of stone with all this limestone lying around?… ok, actually that was about four questions in one.

Wawel: Poland’s heart is made of brick (mostly).

In case you don’t believe me about the limestone, here’s a picture I took of a stone in the wall of a monastery in Krakow. You don’t get many fossils in brick.

I look at other buildings in ridiculous, but oddly exciting, detail over on Polandian.

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I like to wander around Krakow looking at the buildings, street furniture, and general cultural brick-a-brack. It’s not uncommon to find me boring the pants off the lady A pointing at some obscure feature of Krakow’s architecture while gesticulating wildly and spouting some ridiculous theory. She generally rolls her eyes, quite rightly, and urges me onwards to somewhere where we can discuss the various merits of handbags or ‘light summer trousers.’ Apparently these things are VERY IMPORTANT.

Undeterred I offer the following oddity; something that I’m at a loss to explain. Krakow’s streets are fascinatingly diverse, but there is one almost universal feature: all buildings are built on the same property line. Walk down an old Krakow street and every single building fronts the pavement. You step out of the door and you’re on the pavement, about 2 meters from the road. But, and this is the ‘but’ I want to address here, sometimes a building is set way back from it’s neighbors; I mean a good 20 or 30 meters back. Why? How the hell did this come about?

Let me show you: A classic Krakow street – all buildings front the pavement.

But suddenly you get this: A building of the same period as the surroundings but, inexplicably, 30 meters back from the road.

This is one example (on ul. Jozefa Sarego) but I know of three or four others. Not enough to constitute a style, but enough to make you wonder why and how it happened.

1. Was a building in the street destroyed and there happened to be another building behind it? Unlikely, it’s too close.

2. Did the architect want a garden in front of his project? Why so rare?

3. Are these survivors of older development? Also unlikely since they look like there were built at the same time as the surrounding developments (late 19th century, early 20th).

Any ideas?

Learn more fascinating facts about Krakow past and present.

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