When the seizure of Wawel Castle was announced by the military authorities of Austria for the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria and the Duchy of Kraków, it provoked a heated debate that carried on until the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. The debate concerned the possible future function of Wawel Castle. This debate has become an inspiration for the local artistic community and has resulted in many visionary projects focused on the rebuilding of Wawel Castle. Today, the stature of Wawel on the list of Polish monuments is not in doubt. However, the Castle still attracts the attention of contemporary artists and continues to generate new, often surprising, interpretations.
Between 1904 and 1912 Stanisław Wyspiański, in partnership with Władysław Ekielski, an architect, created a wide-ranging conception of the rebuilding of Wawel Hill, derived from different European patterns. The institutions operating within the castle (the Polish Academy of Sciences, The National Museum, The Bishops Curia as well as both houses of parliament), intended the Wawel “Acropolis” to constitute both a spiritual and a political centre for the country. It was assumed that the project would not cause much disturbance to the hill structure and it was intended to allow for the harmonious coexistence of both old and new buildings. The latter were supposed to take the place of the former Austrian military buildings. Wacław Szymanowski, the creator of, among others, Fryderyk Chopin’s statue, alternatively suggested opening the western wing of Wawel to a massive sculptural composition entitled “A March To Wawel” which would depict fifty-two historical figures of superhuman size led by mythological Fates. Szymanowski perceived Wawel as a symbol of statehood which forms the national sensitivity of future generations. Adolf Szyszko Bohusz also had a unique vision of Wawel and in the successive plans of the renovation of the hill he took into consideration the building of a National Pantheon and an amphitheatre. These ideas, however, did not gain approval and were never realised.
Artistic interpretations from the early 20th century drew directly from the symbolic role of Wawel Hill and they attempted to exhibit and even monumentalise its patriotic qualities. However, contemporary artists made efforts to negotiate the meaning of historic values in the context of contemporary times by pursuing humorous strategies. Janek Simon’s work, perversely referring to Stanisław Wyspiański’s concept of the “Acropolis” was developed in this spirit. Three elements were added by the artist to the existing model – new qualities of a contemporary public space: a ski jump, a go-kart track and a palm tree. The work was presented at the OK! Wyspiański exhibition which was organised during the Year of Wyspiański in Kraków (National Museum in Kraków, the Szołayski House, 2008, organiser: the Bunkier Sztuki Gallery). Aneta Rostkowska and Jakub Woynarowski, curators of the CSW (Centre for Contemporary Art) Royal Castle project (Grolsch ArtBoom Festival, 2012), proposed an unusual tour for visitors, treating the Wawel Hill space and its surroundings as an environment devoted to content that could be freely interpreted. The artists invited to take part in the project made an attempt to revive Wawel through a subjective reinterpretation of the objects placed inside and each having a different semantic heaviness. Both the architectural details and the fragments of flora surrounding the castle received artistic commentary. Consequently, the location was freed from its pre-existing historical narrative, allowing space for new motifs which can be easily combined and interpreted.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.
H. Billik, Z. Chojnacka, A. Janczyk, Wawel – narodowi przywrócony. Obchody 100-lecia powrotu Wawelu do Polski, „Muzealnictwo”, vol. 46, 2005;
OK! Wyspiański, exhibition catalogue, Bunkier Sztuki, 2008;
Twierdza Kraków – Festung Krakau, Grolsh ArtBoom Festival catalogue, Krakowskie Biuro Festiwalowe, 2012.