Reading the city
Kraków is a poem written with gusto
Magical Kraków. UNESCO City of Literature. European Capital of Culture. A city of poets, authors, artists, academics. Kraków is home to major international festivals, and its unique atmosphere is shaped by its intimate, independent bookshops. Kraków is a personality influenced by personalities, which in turn are influenced by extraordinary meetings held in extraordinary locations.
Just like a poem, which is far more than the sum of all its verses, Kraków cannot be reduced to a list of cultural monuments, attractions and events. Kraków is a poem written with gusto. It is a city of symbols and a space of metaphors. It is a free verse, written with courage. It is an avantgarde poem, one which remembers all other poems. It preserves former meanings while creating fresh ones. It is a dynamic, bold city whose dynamics stem from sensing the exact moment to stop and pause.
Wisława Szymborska once said, “I live in Kraków, so I don’t go sightseeing”. But today you can see Kraków through Szymborska: you can walk in her footsteps, take a peek in her apartment or explore her poetry by admiring its details, asking questions and finding beauty in the city’s hidden corners, in café bookshops where the pensive barista is pondering the verses of her next poem… You can search for traces of Miłosz, discover a metaphysical city and its loftiness, rooted in history and tradition. If you dream of returning to the past, finding a time machine to explore past Kraków of the Belle Epoque, this is no place for you. Instead, epochs travel here, through people. They endure in favourite places, in distinctive poses, by engaging in discussion with the here-and-now and the future.
Modernism and decadence, in their unique, Young Poland movement style, have left an indelible mark on Kraków’s atmosphere and the design and architecture of its tenement houses, churches and interiors. The dramatist Stanisław Przybyszewski delivered his grand, passionate speeches here. Stanisław Wyspiański, author of great national dramas, artist and designer of stunning stained-glass windows, was born and lived here. In contrast with many other European cities, Kraków never turned into a caricature of itself. It doesn’t disappear in a puff of smoke; it doesn’t turn into a museum or a flea market. The city’s poem is sensitive to kitsch; it is uncompromising and has a sense of irony. And it is constantly being written, even right now. It wants to be written forever – to become a complete book.