Kalwaria Zebrzydowska Park

Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, Poland

Kalwaria Zebrzydowska park is a Mannerist architectural and park landscape complex and pilgrimage park, built in the 17th century as the Counter Reformation in the late 16th century led to prosperity in the creation of Calvaries in Catholic Europe. The park was added in 1999 to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. 

This extraordinary testimony of piety and culture was the first of the large-scale Calvaries built in Poland, and it became a model for numerous later projects. It is notable among European Calvaries for its distinctive architectural features, for the skilful amalgamation of religious devotion and nature, and for the uninterrupted tradition of the mysteries enacted here. The sanctuary, devoted to the veneration of the Passion and to Marian worship, is an outstanding example of Calvary shrines in the Counter-Reformation period, which contributed to the growth of piety in the form of pilgrimages. The pilgrimage park, a garden of prayer, is closely related to the themes of Christ’s Passion and the life of the Virgin Mary.

The creator and founder of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska was Mikołaj Zebrzydowski, the Voivode of Kraków and starost of Lanckorona, who commissioned Felix Żebrowski, the distinguished mathematician, astronomer, and surveyor, to create a copy of Jerusalem as it was believed to exist at the time of Christ. He used a system of measurement that he developed to blend it into the local natural landscape and topography. The terrain’s natural features were cleverly utilised, topographic elements being given names referring to the landscape of the Holy City (e.g. Cedron Valley, the Mount of Olives, Golgotha) and complementary architectural structures being connected by paths and three-lined alleys that symbolise the ancient routes raised on them. The characteristics of Italian Renaissance and French Baroque garden and park design were blended with Mannerist freedom and irregularity. There are numerous vistas between different elements of the composition, as well as a series of magnificent panoramas not only of the park itself, but also of the Tatra Mountains and the City of Kraków.

The complex consists of a monastery as well as a number of churches, chapels, and other architectural structures. The most notable for representing the highest artistic values of Mannerism were built in the years 1605–1632, of which the first 14 chapels were designed by Paul Baudarth. The others had been built successively from the 17th until the beginning of the 20th century. Pathways connecting the architectural features were originally created by cutting wide trails through a dense forest stand. The landscape gradually became more open due to forest clearance, hence in the late 18th century, in order to permanently demarcate these paths in their original layout, they were lined with trees, enriching the spatial composition of the Calvary.

The park’s architecture and landscape provide the setting for enacting the mysteries of the Way of the Cross and for celebrating the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. These events have been held here regularly since the early 17th century, for over 400 years, and are attended by thousands of pilgrims and tourists.

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