Located on the edge of Krakow, at the last stop on the tramline is a nest of hyper malls and rampant development. In the middle of this sits the lone surviving building from the once massive Solvay Soda Ash Complex which employed at its peak 3,000 men and their families.
"Solvay" has a complex and fascinating history (Pope John Paul II worked there during World War II to avoid deportation) but stands today as a forgotten monument and symbol of the transformations that have occurred in Poland over the last 20 years. Solvay has quietly become the defacto community center of the area - and a dedicated space for creative and artistic production.
Conceived and curated by Halfslant, NOWA SODA: Solvay Transformed is a month long artist in residency which challenges four international artists to create a site-responsive installation while bearing witness to the past and present of the building. Four artists have each developed proposals that address not just the history of the building, but the living community that uses the space every day.
Last stop on tram number 8 heading towards Borek Fałęcki
At this centrally located house you can view the Gallery of Stanislaw Wyspianski's works which has the largest collection in Poland of this turn of the last century versatile artist. See his paintings, stained glass designs, stage costume designs and some of his furniture.
11 Szczepanska Street, Krakow
The International Festival of Alternative and Experimental theatres is one of the oldest theatre festivals in Poland. It has been organised continuously since 1975. Always taking place in April, it is a good opportunity to combine a spring city break and cultural event. The weather in spring is usually bit more friendly than in London and you will enjoy spending the first nights out, having a drink.
The festival is an opportunity to get a first glance at the new season's productions. It uses the theatre in an attempt to make us aware of a problem that concerns us all from an unknown and extraordinary angle.
You can't beat Sukiennice (Cloth Hall) when it comes to looking for souvenirs from Krakow: Amber, silver jewellery, linen table cloths, stained glass, wooden chess sets and decorative glass are among the most popular buys.
On the first floor, there's a gallery of 19th century Polish Art, housing paintings by Jan Matejko, Henryk Siemiradzki, Józef Chełmoński, Julian Fałat, and the Kossak family.
After shopping and sightseening have a rest in the Noworolski cafe, a favourite of a certain Vladimir Lenin during his stay in Krakow.
In the middle of the Market Square (Rynek Glowny).
Home to Leonardo Da Vinci's famous "Lady with an Ermine" painting, the museum also houses Rembrandt's "Landscape with the Good Samaritan", a collection of Western European paintings (from the Middle Ages to the Classicism) as well as ancient Egyptian, Roman and Etruscan artefacts. There is also the Memorabilia of Puławy (Pamiątki Puławskie), an exhibition with memorabilia related to some key figures in the history of Poland.
In the old city, this amazing collection of Polish poster art covers politics, theatre, films and music. The poster for Bladerunner is particularly fabulous (overseas films released in Poland have their own posters). The extremely helpful staff will ship all over the globe.
ul. Stolarska 8-10, 31-043 Krakow;
Has a vast stock of superb original posters at a fraction of the price you'd pay for their equivalents in UK. Modern Polish poster design is extremely distinctive and stunningly original. Check out some of their film/theatre posters - far superior to anything you'll see in the UK. Friendly owner will enthuse in fractured English about poster design. The posters come rolled up in stiff cardboard tube.
Kramy Dominikańskie, ul. Stolarska 8-10, Krakow 31-043 (a few minutes' walk from central square);
tel: 12 421 26 40;
Arty bar/cafe with old-style decor. Lots of old family photos in the middle room, then go through what seems like a wardrobe to an 'art space' - complete with projections on the walls, then into another room - a darkened kitchen. They make a mean cappuccino!
*CLOSED FOR REFURBISHMENT UNTIL 2009*
Above the colonnaded arcades of the ground floor of the Sukiennice is a branch of the National Museum housing 19th and early 20th Century paintings by Polish artists.
Historical and romantic subjects are housed alongside symbolist paintings. Huge canvases such as 'Nero's Torches' by Henryk Siemiradzki and 'Four-in-Hand' - a wonderful study of power and speed - by Jozef Chelmonski dominate and impress with their artistry and scope.
The gallery is not large so it doesn't take long to look around, however, the quality of the art displayed creates an interesting and evocative exhibition.
Well worth a visit, a small gallery that will linger long in the memory.
Sukiennice, Rynek Glowny 1/3
The entrance is on the outside of the Sukiennice, opposite EMPiK.
Opening Hours: Tue & Thurs 11am-6pm
Wed & Fri 9am-3.30pm
Sat & Sun 10.00am-3.30pm
Closed Monday and every 3rd sunday
This monument honouring the great Polish playwright and artist Stanislaw Wyspianski shows him surrounded by characters from two of his plays.
Apparently there was a lot of criticism of the monument when it was first unveiled. Not being familiar with any of Wyspianski's plays, I don't know whether the criticism was levelled at the way the characters have been represented or the style of the sculpture. Coming to it from an uninformed viewpoint I rather liked the solid, stoic characteristics of the figures.
The location, however, is pretty terrible. Outside the National Museum is fine but at the end of the car park outside the National Museum isn't! It simply doesn't do it any justice; it gives the monument a rather sorry aspect as it stares forlornly over the roofs of cars.
Pomnik S. Wyspianakiego, outside the National Museum.
The recently reopened and renovated Gallery of 20th Century Polish Art in Krakow's National Museum is a wide-ranging and eclectic exhibition showcasing Polish Artists and the different influences and styles of art that have emerged or been reinterpreted since the beginning of the last century.
The gallery is composed of a series of interconnecting rooms each with a heading - such as “Avant Garde”, “Colourism” and “This is what Poland is Like” - under which the art in that room is grouped. Within some of the rooms are dividers which, I assume, are to allow more space to hang exhibits, but which also provide the viewer with pleasant little nooks and crannies to explore. It also helps to break the rooms into smaller, bite size pieces and avoid the overwhelming sensation that sometimes comes when walking into a huge rectangular room brimming with paintings. Particularly important as this is a large exhibition with a lot to see.
Some of the early 20th Century pictures, particularly those of a Romantic, Symbolic and Impressionist nature, have one foot in the 19th Century and it is interesting to compare these with the paintings held at the Gallery of 19th Century Polish Art in the Sukiennice. Indeed, the artist Jacek Malczewski has pieces in both galleries. However there is also a large body of work covering such styles as cubism and modernism as well as art forms such as animation, graphic art and - on video - performances art.
As well as Malczewski's wonderful symbolist - and other - paintings there are also works by Wyspianski, the designs for stained glass to be used in Krakow Cathedral are amazing, Tadeusz Makowski - we particulary liked his “The Musicians” - and the very evocative and effecting "Execution" by Andrzej Wroblewski.
It is a fascinating exhibition, provocative and challenging at times, very traditional at others. With so much on show in terms of both the number of exhibits and the different art styles and forms, one which appeals to a broad range of tastes.
National Museum, Al. 3 Maja 1;
633 53 31
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