|Przegorzały Castle - Willa Tower to the left and Schloss Wartenberg on the right situated on Skałki (crag) Przegorzalskie. Viewed from the cycle path on the south of the Vistula River|
If you are tired of trudging the cobbled streets in the city,and are desperate for some fresh air and a wonderful view, then you could do worse than take a trip to Przegorzały Castle (zamek). Access is easy, take the number 134 (destination the Zoo) from the Blonia. Alternatively, walk along to the Cracovia football stadium and take the 409 bus. This will whisk you to an area which reads on the map as Las Wolski. Although this sounds like a dodgy salsa dance that people would do in the 1980s at weddings, this is in fact a large area of deciduous woodland still within the urban confines of Krakow. As mentioned already, the zoo is housed here, but there are other sights of note for the intrepid visitor and Przegorzały Castle is most definitely one of these. To be perfectly honest, the castle itself is better viewed not in the woods at all, but from the cycle/walking trails along the Vistula River. However, you will not be disappointed by the views from its terraces with panoramic vistas to the river below, the south-western part of Krakow, the undulating forested lumps of the Beskidy mountains, and – if it is a clear day - to the jagged peaks of the Tatra Mountains beyond. Coupled with this you have a lovely café/restaurant to dine in or simply have a cuppa and admire the views. To be clear though – this is not a castle in the sense of most because there are no rooms, dungeons, thrones or torture chambers to visit. In fact, you can’t access most of the building as it now houses the Jagiellonian University's Institute of European Studies, and also the Centre for Holocaust Studies.
Las Wolski in autumn
What is truly fascinating is the history of castle. There are essentially two parts to it. Firstly there is the sightly older Willa Tower constructed in the 1920s by Adolf Szyszko-Bohusz who had been director of renovation crew of the Wawel Castle, went on to be director of the Department of Antique Architecture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow (subsequently its rector), and then Director of the Architecture Department at the Warsaw University of Technology. A renowned architect, he named Willa Tower his "Belvedere" due to its superb views - it was also his family home.
However, things take a more sinister turn after the Nazi invasion of 1939. The evil Baron Otto von Wächter arrived on the scene. As a reward for participation in the Nazi coup in Austria he was given the title of Governor of the District of Krakow and subsequently the District of Galicia. He was an Austrian lawyer, member of the SS and this role as an Alderman entitled him to a town house. He chose a pretty stunning building called the Palace Under the Rams on the Old Town square (which now houses the famous Piwnica pod Baranami). For Otto though, this was not enough. Like Hitler himself, he obviously fancied his very own "Eagles Nest" rural retreat and had his eye firmly on the Willa Tower with its prominent position on Skałki (crag) Przegorzalskie. Szyszko-Bohusz obviously had no intentions of giving up his family home, so the Nazis confiscated it and had him arrested on a trumped up charge. Otto then decided this tower was not grand enough to suit his needs and proceeded to have an entire castle constructed next to it in 1941. It was called Schloss Wartenberg and was modelled on the castles of the German Rhineland. Clearly no expense was spared on its construction with its elegant facades and terraces.
Baron Otto von Wächter was less admirable unfortunately. His signature is on decrees ordering the expulsion of the 68,000 Krakow Jews, the formation of the ghetto and the death of over 100,000 Polish civilians under his rule as Governor of the District of Galicia. In addition, he oversaw the slaughter of 1000 Polish resistance fighters who lie buried close to the castle in a mass grave known locally as Glinik. Despite a request being sent to the Military Governor of the United States Zone after the war that Wachter be returned to Poland for trial for his part in deportations, executions and mass murder, he managed to slip away.
It is documented that he actually was given refuge in 1949 in the Vatican by a pro-Nazi Austrian bishop named Alois Hudal. However, in that same year he died from kidney disease, allegedly poisoned by jaundice picked up when swimming, or - perhaps it was karma.
In the days after the liberation of Krakow by the Red Army, the castle became a hospital, research institute for the Ministry of Forestry and then finally allocated to the Jagiellonian University by the communist authorities. Adolf Szyszko-Bohusz attempted to reclaim the castle but failed.
Las Wolski and the Camaldolese Monastery
A visit to this area could include a yomp around the marked trails in the Las Wolski forest or a visit the Pilsudski Mound or Camaldolese Monastery. I am not a fan of zoos so I am not going to recommend it despite it being in a lovely location.
For the restaurant, visit:- U ZIYADA although at present the English part of this site appears not to be working. However, the gallery pictures will give you a good impression of the interiors and exteriors of the castle.
Thursday, 27 October 2016
Monday, 3 October 2016
For visitors to Kraków who are interested in this period of history, there are still some raw remnants you can unearth if you know where to look.
My first recommendation is not far from the Old Town and resides within the Silesian House (Dom Śląski). This building on ulica Pomorska 2 was the headquarters of the Gestapo during the Nazi occupation and was where civilians were interrogated and brutally tortured. The building now houses an excellent exhibition entitled "People of Kraków in Times of Terror 1939 - 1945 - 1956" (the later date referring to terror during post war Soviet occupation). It consists of informative archives, photos, evidence and film. However, creepiest and most poignant of all is that in the basement, the visitor can visit the interrogation cells which still bear inscriptions on their walls scratched by the desperate detainees. A visit here is thought provoking journey away from the tourist hordes of the main square.
Inscriptions scratched into the walls of the torture cells
The Kazimierz Jewish district itself can be viewed as one huge WW2 remnant in that it's inhabitants were all decanted from the area to the ghetto across the river, and then ultimately to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Lots of evidence of the area's former inhabitants can be seen everywhere. Try looking for the marks left by Mezuzah Scroll boxes on the right door post of the buildings in the area. These indicate that former owners were Jewish and that they never returned to these buildings. These scrolls were housed in a box and consist of the most famous Jewish prayer - the Shema. Usually hand written by an expert scribe, it is a symbol of God watching over the house and it's dwellers. On entering the house, the inhabitants touch it and kiss their fingertips.