If you want to check where one of the world`s artistic capitals is located you should go to Kazimierz Dolny
The legend says Esterka, Jewish lover of Kazimierz Wielki (Casimir III the Great) lived there and that`s why King of Poland granted the Jews a writ of rights which caused Kazimierz Dolny to become a focal point for Jewish immigration. This small and lovely town is well known for many reasons: long and rich history of artistic settlement, Europe`s leadership in loess ravines, Poland`s oldest church organ which dates back to 1620, considerable film festival although there is not any cinema in the town, Poland`s biggest riverine flotilla and the only one jewelry art museum in the whole country. If I haven`t already convinced you to visit this place it means you should read this text to see that Kazimierz Dolny is a “must see” place. I should add crucial information that the town is one of Poland’s official national Historic Monuments (Pomnik historii), as designated September 16, 1994 and tracked by the National Heritage Board of Poland. As I wrote two weeks ago Poland holds the 8th place in Europe and the 17th in the world on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Are you convinced? Nope? Let me tell you a story about this wonderful place of interest. I hope I shall encourage you to go to Kazimierz Wielki…
Poland`s artistic heart lies in Kazimierz Dolny
… which is – as I wrote above – an art center in Poland. Many painters retreat to this small town to paint and sell their work. Galleries can be found in almost every street, offering for sale sculptures, stained-glass, folk art and fine art.
The artists had been going to this town since the late 18th century. The greatest Polish painters and sculptors made their works there but decisive year for Kazimierz Dolny was 1909 when Władysław Ślewiński, Paul Gouguin`s close friend came to the town bringing with him the students from the famous French art school in Pont Aven.
After World War I, Kazimierz became just a haven for artists, mainly painters. In 1923, Tadeusz Pruszkowski (professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw) initiated open-air summer programmes for his students. A group of painters founded St Luke’s Fellowship. Antoni Michalak, a member of the group and student of Pruszkowski, settled in Kazimierz for good.
The King`s heart located in Kazimierz Dolny
The legend about the king’s relationship with a beautiful Jewess, Esterka, has survived till the present. The king built a castle for Esterka in nearby Bochotnica; it was supposedly connected with the Kazimierz fortress by an underground tunnel.
Focal point for Jewish immigration
We have already learnt that a small Jewish community was present in the city from the time of King Kazimierz Wielki (Casimir III the Great) in the 14th century and the King granted the Jews a writ of rights which caused the town to become a focal point for Jewish immigration. When John III Sobieski became King in 1674, he granted the Jews of Poland a respite from taxes. Sobieski also reconfirmed for the Jews all the rights they had been granted by a previous king. During his reign, the housing restrictions were abolished and the Jewish community began to flourish again.
If you want to know what name Kazimierz Dolny derives from we need to take a journey further to the past, namely look at the history of this town which dates back to the 11th century. In the area of today’s Kazimierz in the early middle ages there already existed a settlement called Wietrzna Gora (Windy Hill) which alongside the neighbouring hamlets was bestowed at the end of the 12th century (1181) by Kazimierz Sprawiedliwy (Kazimierz the Just) to the Norbertan nuns from Cracow’s Zwierzyniec. It is thought that the nuns changed the name of the settlement to Kazimierz in order to honour their benefactor. The oldest document in which appeared this name comes from 1249. Later on, the adjective Dolny (Lower) was added, to distinguish the town from the Jewish town Kazimierz – now a district of Cracow (Kraków).
In the 19th century, Yehezkel Taub, a disciple of the “Seer of Lublin”, founded the Hasidic dynasty of Kuzmir in the town.
Between the First and Second World Wars, the Jewish population was about 1,400, half the total population of the town. During the Holocaust era, a Judenrat was established in the town, where the Nazi Germans forced the town’s Jews to perform forced labor and to pave roads using tombstones from the local Jewish cemetery. After the Holocaust, a memorial wall was erected using the pieces that survived. In 1940, the Nazis established a ghetto, bringing all the Jews from the surrounding Puławy County to live within. In 1942, the Jews who survived the starvation, disease and slave labor were taken to Belzec to be “exterminated”. At the end of 1942, the town was officially declared by the Nazis “free of Jews”.
During WWII, the thriving Jewish community of Kazimierz all but disappeared. The only reminders left of the Jewish people are the 18th century synagogue, the building of the kosher butcher’s shop and the Jewish cemetery – kirkut.
One of the most famous Jewish residents of the town was the painter and sculptor Chaim Goldberg. Another was the noted journalist S. L. Shneiderman, who wrote about Kazimierz Dolny in his book “The River Remembers”.
Market town since the 14th century
In the early 14th century, the village became a royal possession and King Władysław Łokietek (Władysław I the Elbow-high) founded there a parish church in 1325.
The tower was built in the Middle Ages and was most likely a part of the former castle. In the mid 14th century, King Kazimierz Wielki (Casimir III the Great) erected a castle made of stone just below the tower. As we have already known, the king also gave the settlement municipal rights.
King Władysław II Jagiełło (1362 – 1434) modernized Kazimierz Dolny, creating a modern town, with a market square and streets. At that time, the decision was taken not to build any houses on the northern side of the market square, so as not to obstruct the view of the church and the castle.
The 16th and 17th centuries were the town’s golden age. Being a crossroads of trade routes, it became very rich dealing in goods, especially corn. The beautiful granaries along the river bank commemorate this period together with the renaissance outlay of the town and the magnificently decorated tenement houses that belonged to rich merchant families (Przybyło, Celej, Górski).
In 1501 Kazimierz Dolny became the home of a starosta, and the town was passed over to the noble Firlej family, remaining in its hands until 1644. The Firlejs twice rebuilt the town and the castle, after the fires of 1561 and 1585. They cared about privileged status of Kazimierz Dolny, as a merchant town, located along the busy waterway of the Vistula.
In 1628, Franciscan monks settled in Kazimierz, building a monastery and expanding the church. At that time Kazimierz already had three churches, out of which the most beautiful is the parish church (fara) that was renewed in the style of lubelski renaissance and in 1620, received the largest organ in Poland at that time.
The town’s golden age ended in February 1656, when Swedish troops under King Charles X Gustav burned and ransacked it. They brought the decline of Kazimierz’s magnificence. The town was never to regain it again. The number of inhabitants declined, and King John III Sobieski tried to improve the situation, by allowing in 1677 Armenian, Greek and Jewish merchants to settle there. Meanwhile, the profitable Vistula river trade came to an end, as there was no demand for Polish grains in Western Europe. In the late 18th century, as a result of the Partitions of Poland, Kazimierz Dolny was cut from the port of Gdańsk and turned into a town of minor importance. After the fall of the January Uprising (1863 – 1864), Kazimierz lost its municipal rights and became a country settlement.
Since the late 19th century, rich residents of Lublin and Warsaw became interested in the picturesque village. Spas and villas were constructed, and in 1927, already in the Second Polish Republic, Kazimierz Dolny once again became a town. Partly destroyed in World War II, it was rebuilt, and on September 8, 1994, its center was officially recognized as a historical monument.
After the war, the town became an artistic and tourist attraction. Painters and landscapists started coming to Kazimierz again. Maria and Jerzy Kuncewiczowie, the famous Polish writers and novelists settled here for good.
Artistic events such as the Polish Folklore Festival and the Film Festival “The Film Summer” are held here together with summer concerts of organ music at the church. There are also museums: the Nadwiślańskie Museum, the Natural Science Museum, Kamienica Celejowska, the Goldsmith Museum, the Kuncewiczówka House, and numerous art galleries.
A rooster from Kazimierz Dolny
When you come to my country you can be delicacy trails traveller since every Polish city has its own delicious regional product. A baked rooster-shaped bread is Kazimierz Dolny attraction and you can`t buy anything there but a baked rooster bread is a must. The tourists visiting the town are crazy about it and no one can leave the city without freshly baked “souvenir”. The right to baking rooster was disputing for long time but eventually the court adjudicated these disputes between bakers and declared baked rooster bread was common good of all inhabitants of Kazimierz Dolny.
If I convinced you to go to Kazimierz Dolny, you musn`t miss following places of interest. Let`s make wrap-up!
As you have already read, on top of the hill there are ruins of the castle built under the reign of the King Kazimierz Wielki (Casimir III the Great). Initially it was defensive structure with la ittle tower facing the town and bigger one facing The Vistula River.
The building was changed especially during the Renaissance. The courtyard was extended, new age adornment and attics were added. It was heavily damaged during the Deluge and was reconstructed during the reign of the King August Mocny (Augustus II The Strong). The castle was damaged again during the battles between the King and Stanisław Leszczyński whom Sweden wanted to establish and place on the throne to have this way more influence on the Polish state. In 1806 it went to rack and ruin so far the Austrian governor ordered to knock down the attics which were theatening to collapse. They were never reconstructed. Now the Castle is anything but very romantic ruins.
On top of the castle hill there is a round tower from 13th and 14th century. The “upper castle”, as it was called, had a military significance before the actual castle was erected. Some researchers claim that it was a toll chamber and at night it served as a beacon. From the top, one can admire the beautiful view of Kazimierz Dolny and the Vistula.
On the western side there is a vaulted entrance. It was probably connected with a ramp by a draw-bridge, which was typical for late Middle Age defence systems. The interior of the tower is divided into five levels, each one with its beams that once supported the wooden floors.
St Anna’s church
It is also called the hospital church. In 1530, a wooden structure already existed. In 1660, a brick one was built (the date you can find on the rainbow beam). Another inscription was discovered on the northern wall according to which the church was consecrated by Bishop Mikołaj Oborski in 1671. The church is an imitation of the parish church in such aspects as outlay, shape, thickness of the walls and more significant decorative elements.
The church consists of the rectangular nave and a narrow presbytery behind which there is the sacristy and the treasury upstairs. Under the presbytery there is a crypt in which there are coffins and corpses. There are two entrance doors, the main one and the lateral one. The front and rear elevations are finished off with renaissance gables resembling the front gable of the parish church. They are adorned with pilasters and niches. The side elevations have four pilasters each. Above the rainbow wall there is a signature. There once was a library in the church’s treasury which later on was transferred to the parish church.
If you are sated with Kazimierz Dolny, you can take tourist trails around the town and commune.
Vistula Trail (Polish: Szlak Nadwiślański), blue, Dęblin – Annopol (total distance: 98 km) covering the section: Wąwóz Okalski – Mięćmierz – Kazimierz Dolny – Bochotnica – Kolonia Zbędowice – Parchatka;
Bolesław Prus Trail (Polish: Szlak im. Bolesława Prusa), red, Lublin – Kazimierz Dolny, covering the section: Rzeczyca – Skowieszynek – Kazimierz Dolny;
Independence Trail (Polish: Szlak Niepodległościowy), green, Bochotnica – Baranów, covering the section: Bochotnica – Wierzchoniów – Okręglica;
Black trail (Polish: Szlak czarny), Puławy – Parchatka, covering the section: Parchatka – Kolonia Zbędowice – Mount of Three Crosses (Polish: Góra Trzech Krzyży) in Parchatka – Parchatka.
If you decide to go to Kazimierz Dolny you must know the town is part of the so-called tourist triangle: Puławy – Kazimierz Dolny – Nałęczów. Don`t miss these two towns which are also beautiful and magical. They are really worth visiting. You can believe me.
I hope I will meet you there.
By Agata Szostkowska
Photos: Michał Stanisławski
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