Małopolska – famous cities of famous people

Museum of the Family Home of Pope John Paul II
The most famous resident of Małopolska is Karol Wojtyła – Pope John Paul II for almost 30 years, a man who changed the world. But they are many famous people associated with Małopolska – the precursor of television and colour film and the inventor of the bulletproof vest, the creator of the industry that changed our civilisation, the most famous Shakespearean actress in her time and one of the most famous Hollywood directors and producers. Let's visit the places where they lived.

Billy Wilder’s Sucha Beskidzka

One of the most famous directors in the world, Billy Wilder, winner of six Oscars, creator of the "Sunset Boulevard", “The Apartment” and the immortal “Some like it hot” was born in Sucha (then without “Beskidzka”) in 1906. His parents ran a railway station restaurant here which still exists today. Wilder is also remembered here, although there are no souvenirs of him anymore.

His parents, although both Jewish and German-speaking citizens of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, were connected with Polish life. His mother Eugenia came from a family of hotel owners in Nowy Targ, and his father Max was a senior waiter in Krakow. After getting married, the Wilders began to lease restaurants along the railroads. One of them was located at the station in Sucha Beskidzka, which is part of a large, almost 1,000-kilometer long trail of the Galicyjska Kolej Transwersalna (GKT) (Galician Transversal Railway), built in 1882-84, when the Austrian Minister of Finance was prof. Julian Dunajewski, former rector of the Jagiellonian University and president of Krakow. Today, you can ride on the Retro Train. The railway station in Sucha is one of the most important points on the railway map of Galicia. On the train from Krakow to Chabówka, and from the end of the 19th century to Zakopane, Poles from all partitions met, and at the station in Sucha Beskidzka, where locomotives were exchanged, there was enough time to eat lunch in the station's restaurant. Little Billy (born Samuel) must have seen this and had a good impression of Poles. In official documents, Vienna was mentioned as the birthplace of Wilder, but the most famous character from his films, played by Marilyn Monroe, is Polish and her name is Suger Kowalczyk. This refers to "Some like it hot", of course. The fact is that he did not disclose his real place of birth until he died.

Sucha Beskidzka was only an episode in Samuel’s life, as his parents soon bought a hotel in Krakow near Wawel, which housed a billiard room, where the young boy got into the habit of gambling. The outbreak of World War I marked the end of the Polish stage in the life of the later Oscar winner. The family eventually moved to Vienna, and Billy himself first went to Berlin, where he began to write his first scripts, then to Paris, and finally to the USA. Towards the end of his life, he began to remember Poland, especially Sucha Beskidzka, which he must have had good memories of because he kept asking what was going on in the city on the Stryszawka river. Let's have a look here ourselves.

We'll start with the train station. It is an authentic building from 1884, built according to a project carried out for the entire Galicyjska Kolej Transwersalna (GKT), but in much larger dimensions, which was because of the station’s positioning at the intersection of two railway routes. The building, recently restored, has a former Galician atmosphere. From the station, we can walk along Billy Wilder Street, and then walk to the Main Town Square to see the commemorative plaque in honour of the great director.

Sucha Beskidzka is an interesting town and definitely one of the most charming. It is located in a deep valley on the border of the Beskid Makowski and Mały at the joint of the Stryszawka and the Skawa rivers. Once belonging to the Duchy of Oświęcim, it became part of the Kingdom of Poland in the 16th century. Through this change, the town gained a magnificent castle which is its showcase today, and became an important industrial centre at the beginning of the 17th century. The magnate family of Komorowski, having gathered the local areas, created the so-called Suskie state, which survived until 1939.

The most interesting point of Sucha Beskidzka is the castle, which, although it has undergone several reconstructions, still impresses with its baroque style. Here, you can find the City Museum, tourist information point, restaurant and hotel. In the museum, it is worth seeing the exhibition devoted to the railway in Sucha Beskidzka. It will not only bring us closer to the times when little Samuel was running around the local train station, but also show how the construction of the Galicyjska Kolej Transwersalna was one of the largest communication projects in Europe, which we can still see traces of today.

You must visit one of the most beautiful wooden taverns in Małopolska, which is called "Rzym” (Rome) to indicate that this is where the hero of Adam Mickiewicz's story, Mr. Twardowski, was to meet the devil. The inn is located on the Małopolska Szlak Smakoszy (Food Lovers Trail).

Finally, it is worth taking a look at the two churches built next to each other. The first, called the old one, is a building from the beginning of the 17th century with interesting, Renaissance fragments. The second is a church designed by one of the most outstanding Polish architects at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, Teodor Talowski, known as the Polish Gaudi.

We should also go for an hour and a half walk to the viewing platform on Mioduszna Mountain, from which there is a wonderful view of Sucha Beskidzka.

Ignacy Łukasiewicz’s Gorlice

The progenitor of the global oil industry, Ignacy Łukasiewicz, was born in Podkarpacie, and made many of his achievements in Lviv, Krosno and in the villages of Podkarpacie. But it was in Gorlice that he undertook the final piece of research that gave mankind oil products and that the first street kerosene lamp in the world was lit.

Born in 1822, Łukasiewicz struggled with poverty and, unable to support himself in high school, became an apprentice in a pharmacy. Involved in the Spring of Nations, he was imprisoned for several months, later becoming a pharmacist in the most famous facility of this type in Lviv. He studied pharmacy at the Jagiellonian University, which at that time was a highly versatile science that also included geology. During one of his student trips to the vicinity of Wieliczka, he observed the flammable properties of crude oil, then called rock oil. After his studies, also continued in Vienna, he returned to Lviv. Here, working with partners, he obtained a safe form of crude oil in the laboratory, i.e. kerosene. It was used for the first time during an overnight operation in a Lviv hospital, which was the first practical application of the mineral in the world. The hospital bought supplies of kerosene to illuminate the rooms from its partners, which is considered the first oil sale and the beginning of the global oil industry. All of this happened in 1853. However, the product still needed to be improved which is why Łukasiewicz came to Gorlice, which had abundant oil deposits in it. It is near Gorlice, in Siary, that the world's first oil well was built. He then rented a pharmacy in Gorlice, to later leave to conduct field research. He later returned to the laboratory that he had created to perfect the methods of kerosene processing. And this is where his career as an industrialist actually began. He was also married in Gorlice and lost his two-year-old daughter there. In Gorlice, on Węgierska street, the world's first kerosene lamp for street lighting was installed. It is definitely a must-see! This is also how Gorlice – the City of Light – got its name. This is where the era of the oil industry began. You can see what it looked like at that time in the Magdalena heritage museum.

It is worth visiting the place where the industry that changed the world the most began – where in 1845 a street lamp was lit, where Łukasiewicz lived, worked (his pharmacy was located in the building of the town hall in the Market Square, see what the laboratory devices he used looked like. You can see them in the Regional Museum, where you can meet with the history of the world.

Gorlice has more to it than just Łukasiewicz. The magnificent Market Square has retained its shape since the 14th century. You have to see the Dwór Karwacjanów (Karwacjan Family Mansion), a former defensive building, carefully restored and now serving as a museum and exhibition.  However, it should be remembered that the city is deprived of original monuments due to one of the greatest battles of World War I, fought on 2 May 1915, and preceded by 126 days of costly fighting. Austrians and Germans, including troops made up of Poles, broke through the front and rejected the Russians, but the city was almost completely destroyed.

Gorlice is also a great starting point for excursions in the Beskid Niski mountains.

Helena Modrzejewska’s Krakow and Zakopane

It is difficult to imagine the fame of Helena Modrzejewska in the times without the internet, social media and television. And yet, in many European capitals and in the United States, crowds came to her performances, giving exuberant applause after each of her roles in Shakespeare's plays. And although she died in the USA, her little homeland was Małopolska – Krakow, where she was born in 1840, and Zakopane where she lived for months at a time between one tour and another.

Helena Modrzejewska, considered one of the most important women of her time, began her career in the theatre in Krakow, small stages in Bochnia and Nowy Sącz. Her talent and great passion for art (she chose, above all, a difficult classical repertoire, which did not bring as much fame as the then popular vaudeville shows), quickly brought her incredible recognition during three partitions.  But, this was not enough for her. She polished her English and set out to conquer the American stage with the mission of promoting Shakespeare's plays. It was not only an artistic success, but for women of that time, it became a symbol of emancipation in a world dominated by men. She was a guest of the Chicago Women's Congress in 1893, during which she gave a speech on the situation of women in Poland. As a result, she was banned entry into the territory of the Russian partition. She was a citizen of the world, but kept returning home – to Krakow and the Tatra Mountains.

“Krakow (...) was everything to me: a cradle, nanny, guardian and educator. I was born here and I grew up here” – she wrote.

Places associated with Helena Modrzejewska in Krakow:

  • Tenement house at  22 Grodzka street, she was born here and spent the first 10 years of her life here.
  • 7 św. Jana street, now: Junior High and Secondary School of the Presentation Sisters (the first female school in Poland), Helena attended primary school here.
  • 5 Jagiellońska street, currently the building of the Stary Teatr – Scena Narodowa (National Stary Theatre). On 7 October 1865, she made her debut here as Sarah in the drama “Salomon” by Wacław Szymanowski, gaining the favour of the press and adoration of the audience. Currently, this most outstanding theatrical Polish stage is named after this great actress.
  • Planty – the city garden of Krakow established in the 1820s on the site of the former defensive walls, a beloved place of the young Modrzejewska. On them, as a novice actress, she studied her lines.
  • Westerplatte 11, the palace of Walery Rzewuski, a pioneer of Polish photography. Rzewuski opened an atelier here. His portraits of Krakow citizens, photos of the streets of Krakow, or one of the first photographs of the Tatra Mountains. Helena often came to Rzewuski's atelier, posing in theatrical costumes.
  • PPlac Św. Ducha 1, the former Teatr Miejski (City Theatre), currently the Juliusz Slowacki Theatre. One of the most characteristic landmarks in Krakow. Experts say, this theatre “witnessed the birth of contemporary Polish directing, acting and set design”. It was Helena Modrzejewska (together with Antonina Hoffmann) who laid the first brick for the construction of the theatre on 2 June 1891. Here, too, was her last performance before she left for the USA.
  • 11 Grottgera street, the “Modrzejówka” villa. Modrzejewska bought a large estate here in 1882 and built a wooden villa which she wanted to settle down in at the end of her artistic career.
  • 23 Świętego Krzyża street, the 13th century, Gothic Church of the Holy Cross. The coffin of Helena Modrzejewska, who died on 8 April 1909 in the USA, was brought here, and her funeral service was held here.
  • Rakowicka street, Rakowicki Cemetery – one of the greatest Polish necropolises, where the most outstanding Poles are buried.) One of the world's greatest actresses was buried here (lane 54, northern row) at the end of the 19th century.

Helena Modrzejewska also a regularly visited Zakopane, which at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries was the social capital of Poland which was then deprived of statehood. She came here for the first time in 1867, i.e. in the times before the so-called discovery of the village by Tytus Chałubiński. This proves that Zakopane was popular much earlier than we think. In the beginning, when guesthouses were not yet built here, Modrzejewska stayed in the cottages of the famous guides Szymon Tatar and Józef Sieczka. She was actively involved in social activities near the Tatra Mountains. After one of her great performances in Warsaw, she spent the proceeds on establishing the Szkoła Koronkarska (Lace School) for Zakopane girls, opened in 1883. A year later, she bought a house in Antałówka, called “Modrzejów” (its opening was a great event in its time) and regularly came to the Tatra Mountains until 1902 . She made many Tatra trips, also on horseback. Perhaps the saddle preserved in the Muzeum Tatrzańskie (Tatra Museum) used by women for mountain and horse trips, was also used by her.

Places in Zakopane associated with the great actress

  • 52 Kościeliska street, Dom Gąsieniców Sieczków – also called the Kraszewski's house due to Józef Ignacy Kraszewski's stay here in 1866. Henryk Sienkiewicz also lived there. Modrzejewska stayed here in 1874 with her husband Karol Chłapowski and son Rudolf, who later became one of the most outstanding architects in the United States, and his bridges were the most powerful structures in the USA. It was here that Modrzejewska founded an informal group of artists (including H. Sienkiewicz, Stanisław Witkiewicz and Adam Chmielowski – the future Saint brother Albert), planning a hermetic life in isolation from the great world. Indeed, a few years later, some of this group left for the USA together, creating a kind of artistic community. It is also worth seeing other nearby highlanders' houses on Kościeliska Street, because it is the most beautiful and least changed part of the city.
  • 8 Kościeliska street, the house where the restaurant “U Wnuka” is located – a legendary place in Zakopane. One of the oldest local buildings. The first shop, restaurant, post office and a meeting place for people coming to the Tatra Mountains was located here. It was here that Modrzejewska gave her first performances for tourists.
  • 30 Krupówki street, Morskie Oko Hotel – here Modrzejewska performed most often. This is the first real hotel in Zakopane, which was built in 1900 on the site of a burnt guest house of the same name. A year later, the owner built a theatre hall for 200 people according to the design of Stanisław Witkiewicz. A place where the elite of Polish artistic life performed while traveling to the Tatra Mountains.
  • 12 Krupówki street, Dworzec Tatrzański (Tatra train station) – the first tourist casino built originally in 1882, and rebuilt after a fire in 1903 by the Tatra Society, a multifunctional, beautiful building where rescuers of the Tatra Volunteer Rescue Service, mountaineers and all lovers of the Tatra Mountains and Zakopane lived for several decades.


Jan Szczepanik’s Tarnów, the Polish Edison

After an extremely difficult childhood, Jan Szczepanik (1872-1926) came to Krakow to become a teacher. However, his completed pedagogical seminar did not satisfy him. The mind of one of the most brilliant inventors of the early 20th century matured in this young man. His visions and realised ideas far exceeded the technological possibilities of his contemporaries. He started his inventive path in the back room of a photo shop in Krakow, where the ideas of weaving machines printing patterns based on photographic record were born, which reminds us of a digital memory system almost a century later. Szczepanik's method was used in several European countries. At the end of the 19th century, Szczepanik, an already well-known inventor, moved to Vienna, establishing a laboratory there, which made him famous almost all over the world. It was here that Mark Twain visited Szczepanik, later dedicating two stories to him and calling him the “Austrian Edison”.

Jan Szczepanik is the inventor of the telectroscope, a device that can be considered to be the first television, although the latest research indicates that this device did not work like modern televisions. However, the camera of the Polish inventor transferred images from a distance. It was Szczepanik who also perfected and introduced the invention of another Pole into production. Rev. Kazimierz Żeglenia invented a bulletproof vest that was commonly bought by European rulers and governments, and even the production of uniforms made of Szczepanik's bulletproof fabric was launched in Spain. He was also a Pole, the inventor of a device for copying sculptures and an automatic rapid-fire rifle. But his most important achievement is a number of inventions that laid the foundations for colour photography – he designed cameras for colour photography and colour film – his ideas were used half a century later by the largest companies on the photographic market. Szczepanik himself lived to see the fulfilment of his other idea – colour film. In the system he proposed, several films were made in Germany, where Szczepanik moved the laboratory to over time. However, his system turned out to be technically too difficult for the cinema equipment of that time. Jan Szczepanik is the author of over 100 inventions patented in many European countries. After Poland regained independence, he registered all of his ideas with the Polish Patent Office. He is one of the few Poles in all of the world's technical lexicons.

Szczepanik lived in Tarnów, dividing his time by traveling to his European laboratories. He lived here until his death, and was laid to rest there as well.

Places associated with Jan Szczepanik in Tarnów:

  • 5 Plac Katedralny  – The Cathedral Basilica of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary – here Jan Szczepanik married Wanda, the daughter of Zygmunt Dzikowski, a doctor from Tarnów.
  • 11 Szopena street – the inventor’s father-in-law’s tenement house. He lived and worked here, constantly traveling to his laboratories in Vienna and Berlin, overseeing the implementation of his inventions throughout Europe.
  • Narutowicza street – Old Cemetery, the tomb of the Dzikowski family. Jan Szczepanik, who died in Tarnów on 18 June 1926, is buried here. The Tarnów cemetery is one of the most beautiful and oldest cemeteries in Poland.
  • Plac Jana Szczepanika – the only monument in Poland of the genius inventor stands here. Next to it, there is a secondary school named after him with a memorial room.

    HERE – Tarnów – pearl of the Renaissance and the warmest city in Poland

Other walks and biographical tours

Helena Rubinstein’s Kazimierz in Krakow (1870-1965). “The empress of an empire of beauty that she created herself. She gave women a face without wrinkles and a relaxed body. If she were alive today, she would be the queen of Instagram – she loved to be photographed, and her image was immortalised many times by Picasso himself” – the media writes about her.  Rubinstein, the founder of one of the most famous cosmetic brands and one of the richest women in the world in the 1950s and 1960s, was born in Kazimierz in Krakow, on 14 Szeroka street in a tenement house that has survived to this day.

Ada Sari’s Stary Sącz (1886-1968). An opera singer. In the 1920s and 1930s, she performed on the stages of the world's largest opera houses. She was born in Wadowice, but spent her youth in Stary Sącz, where her father was mayor. In the Regional Museum in Stary Sącz there is a valuable collection of memorabilia about her.

Kazimierz Pułaski’s Beskid Sądecki and Niski (1745-1779). A soldier, general and strategist named the father of the American cavalry. The US hero mentioned together with the founding fathers of the United States. In Poland, one of the leaders of the Bar Confederation, proclaimed in the name of Poland's sovereignty against Russia and its allies in Poland.  The historian Władysław Konopczyński wrote: “(he was) the first insurgent, precursor of legionnaires, leader of patriotic youth, a fighter of our and others' freedom, and above all, a teacher of heroism.” During the confederation, he also fought for the area of Krynica. In 1929, on the 150th anniversary of his death, the Kopiec Pułaskiego (Pułaski Mound) with the statue of the hero was erected in Krynica Zdrój, on Kazimierza Pułaskiego street. Besides this, in Beskid Niski (near the remains of the confederate ramparts) there is the Przełęcz Pułaskiego (Pułaski Pass), and the highest peak of the Beskid Niski – Lackowa is called Chorągiewka Pułaskiego (Pułaski’s Banner). This was a signalling point from which the Confederates sent messages to each other by means of flags.

Mikołaj Kopernik’s Krakow (1473-1543). One of the most outstanding scientists in history, whose achievements are a symbol of human development. By proving the correct movement of the solar system, Copernicus re-evaluated the thinking of the entire world. He was also one of the greatest economists of his time. Mikołaj, although born in Toruń, has strong ties to Krakow. His father came from here, and later moved to Toruń in the second half of the 15th century. Young Copernicus studied in Krakow in the years 1491-95, but then he returned to him many times. You can find valuable mementos of him here. In the Jagiellonian University Museum Collegium Maius (15 Jagiellońska street) you can see a collection of original astronomical instruments, and reconstructions of instruments on which the astronomer worked. He studied in this building and lived nearby. In the courtyard of the Collegium there used to be a long statue of Copernicus by Cyprian Godebski, now located several dozen metres away under the Collegium Novum. The collection of the Jagiellonian Library includes an autograph of the work “De Revolutionibus orbium coelestium”, which showed the true movement of the solar system. In the Jan Matejko House (41 Floriańska street), you can see a smaller version of Jan Matejko's painting “Astronomer Copernicus, or Conversation with God.” This painting can also be seen at the Jagiellonian University. In the Muzeum Książąt Czartoryskich (The Princes Czartoryski Museum) (6 Pijarska street), there is the astronomer's sarcophagus from 1856. In addition, Copernicus also has craters on Mars and the Moon named after him.

On the path of life with Karol Wojtyła – John Paul II



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