Kalwaria Zebrzydowska – world heritage and other wonders

Monastery buildings among green trees seen from a long distance
Kalwaria Zebrzydowska is located in the Małopolskie Voivodeship, at the foot of Żar Mountain, on the Maków Beskids and Wieliczka Foothills border. It is one of the most important centres of Christian worship, often called the Polish Jerusalem. It is also one of Poland's most outstanding landscape and architectural complexes and a place famous for its exquisite craftsmanship. But this is not all that will impress the visitor to Kalwaria Zebrzydowska.

The Marian-Passion Sanctuary in Kalwaria

First of all, the town is famous for its beautiful Sanctuary hidden in a forest thicket on the slopes of Żar Mountain, located on the famous John Paul II Route leading from Wadowice to Kraków. After Częstochowa, it is the second most popular and significant pilgrimage site for the faithful from all over Poland and a place closely associated with Pope John Paul II. The Basilica was built in the Baroque style in the 17th century by the town's founder, Mikołaj Zebrzydowski. The temple's interiors contain valuable liturgical furnishings and the famous painting of Our Lady of Kalwaria, which is considered sacred. The Kalwaria Sanctuary consists of a basilica, a monastery and a complex of churches and chapels in the Baroque and Mannerist styles, which are incorporated into the picturesque landscape of the Beskids. The entire complex is interconnected by the Kalwaria Paths with different themes. The two main paths are the Paths of Jesus, with monuments showing scenes from the crucifixion, and the Paths of Our Lady, with monuments referring to the mother's despair and Christ's burial and resurrection. Devotions are held within the pathways. Interestingly, the Shrine was modelled on the Way of the Cross of the Lord Jesus in Jerusalem. In December 1999, the Sanctuary in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska was inscribed on the UNESCO List of World Cultural and Natural Heritage and it is the only calvary so far included on the UNESCO List.

The town painted by Wojciech Weiss

The main landmark of Kalwaria is the Sanctuary, but the town's streets also hide several interesting sights worth seeing. The manor house of Wojciech Weiss, which was also the painter's studio, is worth a look. Wojciech Weiss was an eminent painter, graphic artist, pupil, professor, and rector of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków. Although Weiss was born in Romania, after his education in Lviv, he moved to Kraków, and the place to which he returned with pleasure was Kalwaria Zebrzydowska. In the first decades of the 20th century, he lived and worked in a house at Jagiellońska Street. The town, the monastery and the pilgrims would be the subjects of his works. So were the painter's parents and wife, Renia, who lived here. She was an artist; we can see her mosaics in the eclectic St Joseph's Church from the early 20th century. The brick Church is decorated with numerous stained glass windows and paintings from the Young Poland period. In the cemetery in nearby Zebrzydowice, you can see the tomb of the Weiss family, which was designed by one of the most famous architects of the Polish Art Nouveau, Franciszek Mączyński. The artist and his wife, parents, and children lie there. Weiss also left behind a rich collection of photographs documenting the life of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska in the 1920s and 1930s. It is well worth taking a walk along the Kalwaria Paths of Wojciec Weiss.

Kalwaria crafts

Kalwaria Zebrzydowska is also famous for its exceptional craftsmanship and the activity of carpenters practised since 1786. In 1887, on the initiative of the city authorities, the National Carpentry School was established in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska as the first public school preparing future craftspeople for the making of fine furniture. In later years, the Kalwaria Fair was famous in many places in Poland, and the Guild of Miscellaneous Crafts, located at Jagiellońska Street, is still active today. Although modern technologies are now used, beautiful Art Nouveau furniture is made here, very heavy and massive, usually from ash veneered with walnut or mahogany.

Around Kalwaria Zebrzydowska

Apart from the Christian spirit emanating from the mystical pilgrimage centre in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, the town surroundings also delight visitors. Beautiful landscapes and the proximity of the Little Beskids make it possible to spend time here actively. Numerous bicycle paths, walking trails and hiking trails encourage visitors to stroll at different times of the year. It is worth taking the trouble to hike to the Żar Mountain at the foot of which Lanckorona (a description of Lanckorona – a place of angels and lovers) is situated. This small wooded hill is also called Włodkowa Mountain or Zamczysko Mountain and is famous for an optical illusion called ‘reversed gravity’. The phenomenon gives the observer the impression that spherical objects ‘roll upwards’. Does it look that way to every visitor? You need to see for yourself! At the top of Żar Mountain are the ruins of the castle of the Dukes of Oświęcim from the 14th century, while on its eastern slopes lies Golgotha, which belongs to the paths of the Sanctuary. Along the way, you can stop at the Hermitage of the Five Polish Brothers and the St. Mary Magdalene Chapel.

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