Mapping Meanings

Mapping Meanings

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The “Maps of the City: Heritages and the Sacred within Kraków’s Cityscape” exhibition is a narrative about symbolic geographies, the ambiguity of the division between the sacred and the profane, and the polyphony of meanings hidden behind the concept of “heritage”.

The eponymous “maps of the city”, which were the main theme of the exhibition presented in late 2017 and early 2018 at the Ethnographic Museum in Kraków, could well have confused or surprised some visitors. If the expectation was to see cartographic drawings and maps, then there was hardly anything of that sort at the exhibition. On the other hand, the anthropological “maps” on display showed that space emerges and is established in relation to those who use it and co-create it. It is in a sense “humanised”, but also ambiguous and not entirely stable. Thus understood, space has the potential to fill an infinite number of maps, consisting not just of buildings, streets, squares, monuments or parks, but also emotions, memories and dreams, routines and rituals, and also experiences – recorded in the walls and stones as well as in the bodies of passers-by and residents.

It is these human maps, entwining Kraków and forming its layers, which have become the subject of ethnographic research; questions are asked of spaces and questions are asked of people who co-create those spaces, lending significance to some locations and remaining silent about others. Where is the sacred (sacrum) located in Kraków today? What could be the city’s genius loci? What forms does it take? What does the word “heritage” mean in practice, and does linking a particular place to a vision of heritage make it sacred? Conversely, if the sacred is associated with a well-known monument, is it necessarily trivialised and turned into yet another sightseeing attraction? What happens in spaces which are considered both sacred and “inherited”? How do institutions and top-down plans affect the city? What do visitors and tourists bring to the city, but also what do they subtract from it? Where in the city and on its maps can its modern and historical inhabitants be found?

Reservists doing push-ups by the Mickiewicz Monument, 2000 r. / GRAŻYNA MAKARA

The Life of a Monument

The exhibition opened with scenes taking place at the foot of the Adam Mickiewicz monument in the Market Square or even on its plinth. This monument, the most popular in Kraków – despite the now forgotten 19th-century controversies surrounding its location and appearance, and its subsequent dramatic fate and complete destruction during World War II – still organises a symbolic space for local residents and tourists alike. It is usually referred to in the diminutive as “Adaś”, reflecting the fact that locals have become very familiar with the statue of the great poet and treat it as one of their own. Every Christmas Eve, “Adaś” receives a birthday bouquet from the florists who have their stalls nearby. On winter nights, secondary school students hop around the monument on one leg in order to make sure that they pass their final exams in May. This is also where the Christmas Crib Contest begins. Not so long ago, conscripts would do their last military drill at the foot of the statue and show off doing push-ups before their transition to civilian life. Demonstrations and protests are held around the monument.

The exhibition at the Ethnographic Museum also featured personal documents: postcards, photographs from family albums, accounts of family walks and trips with friends to Kraków, and recollections dates and meetings by “Adaś”; all these accounts and memorabilia were amassed during a collection that took place prior to the opening of the exhibition.

Grodzka Street / MARCIN WĄSIK

Street Lining

Streets have great stories to tell about the city and its maps. A stretch of Grodzka Street between Wszystkich Świętych Square and its exit near Wawel Hill served as a testing ground for the ethnographic research upon which the second part of the exhibition was based. The exhibition space was organised around four places of religious worship selected from among those adjacent to the Royal Route on the eastern side of the street. These places reflect not just the cultural and religious diversity of historical and contemporary Kraków, but also our complicated and inconsistent attitude towards the past and heritage. This attitude is clearly reflected by the contrast between a forgotten Jewish house of prayer and the crowds of tourists that visit the nearby Church of SS Peter and Paul. Grodzka Street was also used to reveal the “lining of the city” – the inner everyday life of a tourist street to which its residents, employees, courtyard users, local parishioners and university students are privy.

The Congress Centre and the cross of the church in Dębniki / MARCIN WĄSIK

Clearly Sacred?

Kraków is dotted with crosses which mark the locations of Christian churches. The Latin cross dominates, but there are also those which remind us that other Christian traditions are present in the city as well. A cross, the most important symbol in Christianity, is ostensibly a clear reference to the sacred. Its presence in the cityscape “maps” areas which are considered holy.  However, when we take a closer look at the role of crosses and their forms, the divisions between the sacred and the profane become more complex.

The photographic installation devoted to urban crosses demonstrated that they do not just carry a religious meaning. Sometimes such crosses designate memory spaces and provide ways for communities to refer to the past or to express certain political beliefs. They may introduce divisions and stir up conflicts, becoming a venue for political manifestations in the process, such as the so-called Katyń Cross, around which monthly ceremonies devoted to the Smolensk air disaster would take place. Crosses are also sometimes related to individual and family stories, as evidenced by the roadside crosses commemorating the victims of accidents, which were shown at the exhibition. They also function as secular symbols denoting membership of particular communities (e.g. the badge worn by graduates of Nowodworek – the oldest secondary school in Kraków). And in some cases, as with the neon crosses above pharmacies, they are even used as advertising signs.

Kraków viewed from a sightseeing cart – one of the city narratives presented at the exhibition / MARCIN WĄSIK

Tourists and Pilgrims

The final part of the exhibition, devoted to visitors to the city, featured exhibits ranging from the oldest Kraków guide book, which was printed 400 years ago, to the electric sightseeing cart in which tourists are driven around the city today. The tourists’ and residents’ maps overlap, but the routes they choose and the ways in which they experience the city often diverge. Tourism is an important driver of the local economy, but in Kraków questions are increasingly being asked about its boundaries, about the spaces that are taken away from residents, about the gentrification of historic districts, and the transformation of squares, historic buildings, and churches into new “attractions”.

Among the visitors to Kraków, pilgrims have long played an important role. The first guide to Kraków, published in the 17th century, was aimed at pious Catholics who came to the city to pray before sacred paintings and relics of saints. Today’s maps of sacred Kraków are a reflection of religious journeys – by Christians and Jews, but also by members of new religious movements – as well as pilgrimages undertaken by those who want to find traces of memory and of their ancestors.                               ©



Maps of the City: Heritages and the Sacred within Kraków’s Cityscape

The exhibition was organised within the framework of the HERILIGION project in cooperation with the Ethnographic Museum in Kraków and the Tygodnik Powszechny Foundation;

Ethnographic Museum in Kraków, November 2017-February 2018;

Scenario: Anna Niedźwiedź, Monika Golonka-Czajkowska, Kaja Kajder, Magdalena Kwiecińska;

Design and arrangement: Malwina Antoniszczak, Sabina Antoniszczak, Monika Bielak.

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