Beyond The Old Town

When coming to Cracow, probably you were attracted by The Old Town, Jewish Quarter, Wieliczka Salt Mine and of course Auschwitz, former Nazi Germany death camp. These are main unmissable monuments must-see, telling the story about Cracow`s and polish great and tragic history. But if you have a little more time it is worth to go behind the corner and take a look at the whole area located behind the old defensive walls, behind The Old Town.

There`s a lot of magnificent examples of very characteristic Cracow`s architecture of the turn 19th century, many of those buildings were designed by famous Cracows architects living in the second half of 19th century and beginning of 20th century. One of them was a real superstar, very talented guy, painter, architect and designer, Teodor Talowski.

The second half of the nineteenth century is the time when the theories of John Ruskin and William Morris are alive, theories proclaiming a return to the past as a remedy for industrialization and deteriorating living conditions.As an architect, Talowski traveled around Western Europe at that time, so he must have come across these ideas, however, not only these theories were his inspiration, while in England he saw examples of a new style in architecture, the so-called cottage style.Typical elements of the new style in architecture are simplicity, functionality, organicity, natural shapes, unrestricted access to nature, very often used to build raw bricks. All these features can be easily found in Talowski’s realizations. His designs aroused and still arouse a lot of controversy, but when passing by the buildings of his project, we must stop, look up and at least immerse ourselves in the amazing world of his talent for a moment, there is really something magical in his projects .

In order to find Talowski’s works, we do not have to stray too far from the historic center of Krakow, just a ten-minute walk from the Main Square will take us to Retoryka Street, where we can find some of the architect’s most famous projects. The first of his tenement houses stands at the corner of Retoryka and Piłsudskiego Streets, the so-called House under the Singing Frog, a strange name derived from the figurine of a singing frog located at the top of the building. The house was built between 1889 and 1890 for Sylwester Richter and it seems to be a normal residential building, probably in the 1920s the ground floor of the building was adapted to the needs of a music school. Another work by Talowski on the same street is the house number seven, often called Festina Lente because of the Latin inscription on the front elevation, on the wall of this house there is another Latin inscription Ars longa vita brevis. If you look up, at the point where the roof meets the façade, you can see an interesting decorative element, a mosaic, floral motifs and plant flagella on a blue background. In 1929 an additional floor was added and the façade was changed due to the replacement of the original windows as well as the reconstruction of the main entrance. As many experts in architecture claim, the composition of the whole structure has changed and thus the dynamics of the front elevation has been weakened.Despite this, the building still captivates with its uniqueness.

Let’s take a look at one more project by Talowski on Retoryka Street, building number 9.

The building was built in 1891 and is commonly known as the House under the Donkey, sometimes it is called the House under the Coat of Arms. On the corner of the front wall, at the height of the first floor, you can see an unnaturally large donkey’s head, hence the name of the building. The House under the Donkey is an excellent example of historicism, a style in architecture practiced by Teodor Talowski. Leaving Retoryka Street towards Karmelicka Street, we pass the Sokół building on the way, the author of the reconstruction in 1894 was also Teodor Talowski.

After a short walk, we reach Karmelicka Street, in the middle of which we will find probably the most famous and recognizable building by Talowski, The House Under the Spider. The House under the Spider, which is worth emphasizing at the beginning, was owned by Talowski and his wife Anna, so apart from the characteristic shape of the plot determining the form of the building, the only limiting factor for the designer was his own imagination and creativity. And this, as we saw, Talowski did not lack … Of course, the building owes its name to the representation of a spider in a web placed on top of the house, along with symbols on the top of the sundial and the date of construction. Below, an attentive observer will notice the name of the author of the project right next to the representation of a dragon that seems to support part of the front elevation. The architect’s intention was to present the viewer with an older structure than it actually was, such an effect was achieved by the lush greenery creeping up the facade of the building. All decorative elements incorporated into the facade of the house were to serve one purpose, emphasizing the painterly expressiveness of the entire building …

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