In Poland there are fourteen UNESCO World Heritage sites which make the country one of the most represented on the World Heritage List. The Polish sites include thirteen cultural heritage sites and one natural wonder. Many of the cultural heritage sites reflect the rich multicultural tradition of Poland. Among these are orthodox, catholic, protestant temples, castles and historical cities.
Cracow: beautiful, historic and diverse
From Cracow, the former capital of Poland (1038 – 1596), you can best explore Polish UNESCO objects. In the Małpolska Voivodeship you will find six of the fourteen Polish objects inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
The historic city of Cracow was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1978 as one of the first objects in the world. Wawel Hill, beautiful located above the Vistula River, where the Royal Castle and the Gothic Wawel Cathedral are located, is a very special place in the history of Poland. It was the residence of Polish kings and the place where the kings of Poland were buried. The medieval Old Town is a jewel. In the middle of Europe’s largest medieval market square the renaissance Cloth hall (Sukiennice) invites you for shopping in the historic gallery. See how Cracow looked like in the Middle Ages in the Rynek Underground exhibition. The two exceptional towers of the Mariacka Church will take your attention as soon as the hejnał (trumpet caller) will play his five notes anthem. You definitely should take a look inside the church and find the famous wooden altar piece carved by Veit Stoss.
On the other side of the Vistula River the former Jewish quarter Kazimierz functioned as the setting of Steven Spielberg’s ‘Schindler’s List’. This is the place in Poland where you can feel the revival of Jewish culture in Poland.
West of Cracow near the city of Oświęcim the former Concentration and Extermination Camp Auschwitz-Birkenau is located. This complex was the largest of all the Nazi death camps across Europe. A museum helps future generations to understand the cruelty committed within its fences.
On the outskirts of the city of Cracow, the 13th century royal salt mines of Wieliczka and Bochnia (40 km eastwards) are interesting examples of technical monuments. These Polish mines are the oldest of this type in Europe. Both are open to the public. There are expositions about the mining history, underground chapels and several art galleries. You can even stay here for health treatments (subterranotherapy), due to the unique micro-climate without pollution and allergens in the air.
Wooden sanctuaries of southern Poland
The medieval wooden churches in the southern Małopolska and Podkarpackie Voivodeships in the villages of Binarowa, Blizne, Dębno, Haczów, Lipnica Murowana, Sękowa are the most representative examples of surviving Gothic churches in Europe.
An important pilgrimage destination in Poland is Sanctuary of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska (33km south of Cracow), in 1999 inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list. The Mannerist Architectural and Park Landscape Complex and Pilgrimage Park is called “the Jerusalem landscape”. Its natural setting, which contains some symbolic places of worship related to the Passion of Jesus Christ and the life of the Virgin Mary, has remained almost unchanged since the 17th century.
In south eastern Poland and the Ukraine sixteen wooden Carpathian Orthodox churches (tserkvas) built between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries have been recently appreciated by UNESCO. The wooden churches have elements of local traditions of architecture and orthodox ecclesiastic design partly with the use of tin or metal works in the upper parts. Thirteen tserkvas are still used as churches, the other three – Radruż (Poland), Rohatyn and Drohobych (Ukraine) are kept intact as museums. Poland is represented by 4 tserkvas in the Podkarpackie Voivodeship: and four in the Malopolskie Voivodeship.
Lower Silesian pearls
The trans-boundary cultural landscape Muskauer Park is situated on both sides of the Polish-German border in southwest Poland. It is one of the finest examples of European landscape design for public urban areas, dating from the first half of 19th century. The English garden is named after its founder Fürst Pückler. The park, picturesque embedded in the Nysa valley, combines nature with the art of gardening.
One of the most brilliant achievements of contemporary engineering and architecture from the early 20th century is the Centennial Hall in the vibrant capital of Lower Silesia, Wrocław.
The immense cupola is made of reinforced concrete, the largest building of its kind at that time. This unusual structure is a multi-purpose space, where mass events are organised. In summer you can watch the unique multimedia fountain, which will turn in an ice rink during winter.
Near Wrocław you will find the two Protestant Churches of Peace in Świdnica and Jawor which are the biggest European religious timber-framed Baroque churches. These, inside beautiful decorated, churches were built as a symbol of the end of the Thirty Years’ War and the religious conflict between the Catholics and Protestants. Because of severe restrictions, the churches are built of non-durable materials, like wood, sand, straw or clay by the architect Albrecht von Säbisch.
The jewel of Renaissance
The historic city of Zamość is a late-sixteenth-century Renaissance town founded by Jan Zamojski. Modelled on Italian theories of the ‘ideal city’ and built by the architect Bernando Morando, it has retained its original layout and fortifications and a lot of buildings that combine Italian and central European architectural traditions. The beauty of this town resulted in such nick names as: the “Jewel of the Renaissance”, “the City of Arcadia” and “the Padua of the North”.
Biodiversity in eastern Poland
In the borderland of Belarus and Poland the only nature object inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list is the Bialowieża Primeval Forest. It is the last natural woodland of the Old Continent, where you can spot a lot of rare wild animals, like the European Bison, lynx or wolves.
Teutonic heritage in northern Poland
In northern Poland the Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork is the largest castle in the world by surface area, and the largest brick building in Europe. It was built in Prussia by the Teutonic Knights, a German Roman Catholic religious order of crusaders.
The picturesque historic city of Toruń has a valuable medieval urban lay out. The town was founded by the Teutonic knights who built a castle in the 13th century. In this Hanseatic city you will find a lot of medieval urban buildings, among others the birth house of Nicolaus Copernicus and next to it the Gingerbread Museum.
Poland’s capital – perfectly rebuilt after World War II
The Old Town of the capital of Poland, Warsaw, was almost totally destroyed during World War II. It is now an outstanding example of a near-total reconstruction, unique in the world.
See the Royal Castle, the former residence of Mazovian princes and later the seat of the king and the government. Have a rest on a terrace on the Old Town Market Square, rebuilt to match to the Square’s original look in the 17th and 18th centuries. There are some remnants of Warsaw’s defensive walls and in the Barbican you can visit an exhibition illustrating the history of the city’s fortifications, with models of the towers and walls, explaining why Warsaw’s Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage monument.
Follow the UNESCO Trail in Poland to see most of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Poland.
Main photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland | Flickr. Title: Stare Miasto w Zamościu / Old City of Zamość na licencji CC BY-ND 2.0