Guest Author - Barbara Swiech
BEGINNINGS OF THE DISTRICT
Kazimierz city was founded in 1335 by Polish king Casimir the Great, who named it after himself. It was situated between 2 riverbeds of Vistula river, nearby Krakow (the capital of the country at that time). The new town had its own city walls, market square and 2 ... gothic churches. Although Kazimierz was inhabited by people of various nations and origins, it soon gained numerous Jewish citizens due to rights and privilages that they achieved when living in the city. They could build synagogues, produce money and have their own meat market. In 1495 Polish king – Jan Olbracht – introduced the law that made all the Jewish citizens of Krakow obliged to move to part of Kazimierz that was meant for its Jewish inhabitants and that soon become cultural center of European Jewry.
KAZIMIERZ BECOMES PART OF KRAKOW
In 19th century Kazimierz became one of Krakow districts. Its city walls were pulled down what enabled the Jewish citizens moving to Krakow. The part of Vistula river, that used to run between Krakow and Kazimierz, was filled up with soil what even depreciated isolation of the Jewish district. Members of the community started to inhabit other parts of Krakow.
The World War II and Nazi occupation was the hardest period for Jewish citizens of Krakow and Kazimierz. On the other side of the Vistula river, in Podgorze district, the Nazis formed the ghetto into which all Krakow Jewish community was moved. The Holocaust annihilated beautiful Jewish culture that used to flourish in Kazimierz district. Present community of Krakow is very small and consists of more less 150 people – most of them edlerly.
For a long time, after the WW II, Kazimierz district was perceived as a forsaken part of Krakow. Synagogues were being devastated as well as all the historical tenement houses. Most of Krakow citizens were not aware of Jewish heritage of the quarter and the idea of restoration of the monuments and culture that erected them, seemed impossible.
But Kazimierz becomes more and more attractive for Krakow citizens as well as foreign visitors. New investements caused quick development of the district that is now one of the tourist must sees of the city.
Kazimierz enchants with cosy cafes that do not remind modern clubs – their interior design fueatures most of the time old fashioned furniture. Candles light up dark interiors embellished with old photos. The most popular among them are ‘Alchemia’ (that organises superb events such as jazz concerts and lectures), ‘Singer’ (whose garden tabkes were created from old Singer sewing machines) or ‘Mleczarnia’ (with beautiful summer garden in one of the most enchanting courtyards of Krakow). Some of the restaurants situated in Szeroka street (like ‘Klezmer Hois’, ‘Ester’ or ‘Ariel’) offer live Jewish music concerts.
Hotels in Kazimierz district bear Jewish sounding names such as Eden, David, Ester or Abel. They all provide terrific atmosphere due to their intimate ambience and mysterious interiors. Restored synagogues offer interesting exhibitions.
Kazimierz offers various events – the most accilaimed and recognised among them is Jewish Cutlure Festival that takes place in Krakow, each year at the beginning of Summer. For one week Krakow citizens and visitors to thet city are invited to series of lectures, workshops, tours, exhibitions and marvellous concerts of all the kinds of Jewish music. For one week Kazimierz seems to be the heart of the city. On the final day of the Jewish Culture Festival Szeroka street, where the concert takes place, is filled up with people who enjoy themselves in the sound of Jewish music.
Kazimierz is recommended to Krakow visitors that may take a ‘Jewish heritage tour’ around the district and Podgorze (where the ghetto was formed). The route will take you into the past and allow to get to know how Jewish culture enriched the heritage of Krakow.