Monday, July 23, 2007

If the left don't get ya then the right one will...

Poor Poland. It's whole history it's been battered about, perpetually caught between expansionist and warlike neighbors, most notably Prussia/Germany on the left and Russia on the right. If it weren't for the language (and what a language!) and the unshakable Catholicism Poland would be undefinable as a country, so many times has it been annexed, taken over, carved up, and generally abused by its neighbors. Fortunately, this willingness to ride out the bad times with stoic dignity has paid dividends for Poland in at least one way: architectural heritage.

Many of the other major cities of Europe display a subtle charade to tourists, which our Munich guide Adam referred to as the "Bombed Style" of architecture. In short, many MANY of these old buildings in the center of town simply *aren't* old. They're cleverly crafted copies done in the style of the demolished original. So great was the destruction in some places that cities like Frankfurt and Munich held town votes to decide how to go about rebuilding the city; bulldoze and start over or rebuild it like it was (We have the technology...). In Frankfurt they decided that the Etch-a-Sketch had been shaken beyond saving; they literally redrew the city map and filled in with whole new buildings. Munich, by a close vote, went the other way, opting to preserve their historic feel and rebuild the city to look like it did ante-bellum (before it got it's bell rung). This gave birth, somewhat unceremoniously, to the "Neo-" style of architecture. You had a Gothic city hall that got asploded? The replacement is the "Neo-Gothic" Rathaus. Lost your government building dating back to the Renaissance? How about a good-as-old "Neo-Renaissance" copy on the same spot? (Plus a nice little modernist touch: Large glass and steel sides on the office, facing the public park so that the citizens can look in and watch their government at work. Methinks the architect was making a statement...)

Only 2 of you ever read these things anyway, do ya?

Krakow, by contrast, doesn't have this. In fact, compared to the others, Krakow is at times a bewildering architectural kaleidescope. With no B-17s to simplify matters the city has retained its natural strata of styles from the different fits and spurts of building throughout its history. Nowhere is this more apparent than the almost comically embellished Wawel Cathedral. If you think it looks like a half-dozen or more rulers all tacked on their pet project using the current fashion in architecture, then you're right. My friend Rick tells me that the tote board here reflects 14th-century Gothic, 12th-century Romanesque, 17th-century Baroque, 16th-century Renaissance, and 18th- and 19th-century Neoclassical (In the sense of based-on-classical, not based-on-a-bombed-original-that-was-based-on-classical).

Prague made its tourist reputation on its similar fortune of not having been rubbled during the war, and I hear that, as much as Krakow touts itself as "the next Prague", the real thing is still king. All in all, Krakow has had its charms but for me it will remain firmly in Budapest's shadow. I'm ready for the train; old Praha has promised a lot and I really want to see it deliver.

Bonus feature: Scavenger Hunt!
So wait, it you can see THAT from THERE, then he would't have had to have been...

We all want to be Sherlock Holmes, Indiana Jones, and Gil Grissom, to look at the elements everyone else sees and put them together in a new way. We like the challenge, and we like the hunt for its own sake. Walking along an outdoor display of reproductions from Krakow artist Stanislaw Wyspianski we noticed one that was clearly a scene painted from within the city itself. If you can recognize one church anywhere in the world by its towers alone, it's gonna be St. Mary's and its famous mismatched pair. Well, we got to thinking, in a very grassy-knoll, Raiders-of-the-Lost-Ark kind of way, that it should be a simple matter to figure out where this guy's perch was.
To this day some people maintain that there were in fact TWO painters atop the Cloth Hall

Patrick took a picture of it for reference and, after Chinese for dinner (no sushi yet, Patrick insists, we're still 400 miles from the ocean) we headed back into town to get to the bottom of this. Naturally we stuck out like sore thumbs wandering around the main square alternately looking from the cathedral to our camera to the surrounding buildings. With some good inferences and a sharp eye we spotted the dome in the mid-foreground of the photo. A few moments later it all fell into place: The Princess-Leia ionic columns, the bronze ball, the low wall...He had to have been atop the Cloth Hall! Here, see for yourself!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really like the modern touch, big glass windows for the government. :)
and the fire is very good, coming from the mouth of the.. dragon? I assume so.
Robert peck, Palo Alto (California).