In its centuries-old history, Krakow was and still is a significant academic and intellectual centre on a European scale; the cradle of Polish language and literature; the city of the first scriptoria, libraries and printing houses in Poland; the city where masterpieces of literature were written; and, lastly, the place where the impact of the major modernism movements was the strongest. Krakow’s archives contain treasures of European writing, including a wealth of manuscripts and incunabula. Krakow’s Main Market Square boasts a bookshop that has been continuously in operation at the same address since its opening around 1610, making it the oldest bookstore in the world.
The history of literature in Krakow
The first historical written record about a town named Krakow (“Kraku”, “Karako”) by Abraham ben Jacob.
The oldest Polish record about the Krakow area in the document entitled Dagome iudex (mentioning the name “Craccoa”).
Foundation of the oldest monastery on Polish territory, the Benedictine monastery in Tyniec has a scriptorium where books were transcribed (a similar scriptorium existed at the Wawel Cathedral at the time).
Development of the second inventory of the cathedral treasury, including the library, which contains works by ancient writers (such as Terence, Ovid, and Persius), codes of law, textbooks, theological works (Boethius, Gregory the Great), and the encyclopaedia of Isidore of Seville.
A foreigner living in Krakow later called Gallus Anonymous (the Anonymous Gaul), begins working on the first Polish chronicle, Chronica Polonorum.
The first pages of the Polish Chronicle are created by Wincenty Kadłubek, the first Polish historiographer and teacher.
Iwo Odrowąż becomes the Bishop of Krakow. He was owner of the oldest private library in Poland, which according to his will was later transferred to the Wawel Cathedral.
Notes of the Annals of the Krakow Chapter, created since the 10th century, are edited; the 13th-century manuscript preserved to this day is one of Poland’s oldest annals and the most important Polish annalistic source from the Middle Ages.
Establishment of the Krakow Academy (later the Jagiellonian University) and its renovation in 1400 make Krakow a centre of literary life.
The so-called Gniezno Sermons (Kazania Gnieźnieńskie; the name is derived from the place where they are stored: the library of the cathedral chapter in Gniezno), homiletic pieces in Polish and Latin, are written , probably in the Diocese of Krakow; after Kazania świętokrzyskie, this is the second oldest preaching relic in Poland.
One of the first attempts to standardise the rules of Polish spelling as Jakub Parkoszowic, Vice-Chancellor of the Krakow Academy, announces his treatise on Polish orthography.
Queen Sophia’s Bible, the oldest translation of the Old Testament (and maybe even the entire Bible, but only the first volume of the relic has been preserved) into Polish.
Jan Długosz, a canon from Krakow, writes his Annals, or Chronicles of the Famous Kingdom of Poland.
Kasper Straube’s Krakow printing house publishes an astronomical calendar, the first printed publication in Poland. Thanks to Straube, print reached Krakow earlier than it did Great Britain (1476).
The same printing house produces the first printed book in Poland, Explanatio in Psalterium by Juan de Torquemada.
Konrad Celtis, a German humanist associated with the Krakow Academy, establishes Sodalitas Litteraria Vistulana, the first literary association in Poland, modelled after Roman academies that gathered Renaissance humanists (including women). Its members included: Filip Kallimach, Jan Ursinus, Joannes Aesticampianus, Wojciech Brudzewski, Szwajpolt Fiol, and Wawrzyniec Korwin.
Szwajpolt Fiol and Jan Thurzo establish the first printing house in the city to print liturgical books written in the Cyrillic alphabet for the use of the Orthodox Church.
The first paper mill is established in Krakow.
Printer Kasper Hochfeder, brought from Metz by merchant and bookseller Jan Haller, sets up the first permanent typographical workshop. In 1505-1525, Haller’s printing house publishes around 250 prints, including the first text in Polish: in 1506, Bogurodzica (Mother of God) is included in Jan Łaski’s Statute. The first book printed in Polish is Historia umęczenia Pana naszego Jezusa Chrystusa (The Story of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ), published by Haller in 1508. As early as the first half of the 16th century, Krakow has major printing houses: apart from Haller’s, Florian Ungler and Wolfgang Lern’s publishing house, Hieronim Wietor, and Marek Szarffenberg all published books. In the second half of the 16th century, the number of printing houses increases to nine. Karol Estreicher Senior, eminent historian of the city of Krakow, claims that 10,000 texts had been published in Poland by the end of the 16th century and that by the end of the 18th century Poland had 500 printing houses.
The illustrated Balthasar Behem Codex, a document containing the privileges and statutes of the city of Krakow as well as guild acts, is created. The manuscript is illuminated by 27 miniatures depicting scenes from the life of merchants and craftsmen, thus becoming the first document in Poland presenting the working class’s daily life.
Jan Łaski’s Statute, the first official publication published in print in Poland and the first codification of Polish law, is printed. The publisher is Jan Heller.
Jan Heller’s publishing house publishes the first book in Polish: Historia umęczenia Pana naszego Jezusa Chrystusa.
Nicolaus Copernicus’ translation debut, Theophilacti Scolastici Simocatti Epistole morales, rurales at amatoriae, interpretatione Latina, is printed (also by Jan Heller).
Krakow printer Florian Ungler publishes Raj duszny (Eden of the Soul) by Biernat of Lublin, the second book printed entirely in Polish.
A poetry tournament on the occasion of the wedding of King Sigismund the Old and Bona Sforza is attended by poets from Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria as well as Polish poets including Andrzej Krzycki and diplomat Jan Dantyszek. In attendance was a person associated with the Royal Court was Jost Ludwig Decjusz (aka Justus Decius), the King’s Secretary and Financier, and owner of a villa providing the seat for the Erasmus Association that gathered scholars and the King’s advisers fascinated by the thought of Erasmus of Rotterdam and the ideas of Renaissance humanism.
Publication of the oldest Polish theatre programme on the occasion of the staging of Jakub Locher’s Iudicium Paridis.
Establishment of Central Europe’s first Hebrew printing house by the Halicz brothers. The printing house was located in Kazimierz, at the time a separate city.
Polskie książeczki ku uczeniu się polskiego (“Little Polish Books for Learning Polish”), the first textbook for the study of Polish, is published by Hieronim Wietor’s publishing house.
In another extremely important year in the history of Polish national literature, Szarffenberg prints Mikołaj Rej’s Krótka rozprawa między trzema osobami: panem, wójtem a plebanem (A Brief Discussion among Three Persons: a Lord, a Commune Chief, and a Priest), Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski’s O karze mężobójstwa (On the Penalty for Manslaughter), and Stanisław Orzechowski’s Fidelis subditus.
Szarffenberg’s printing house publishes Biblia Leopolity (Leopolita’s Bible), the first complete printed Polish translation of the Bible. This occurs at the height of the Renaissance: the court of King Sigismund Augustus II hosts the most prominent poets of the time: Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski, Łukasz Górnicki, and Jan Kochanowski who wrote his famous Fraszki (Epigrams) while staying at the court.
Oficyna Łazarzowa (Lazarus Printing Press) publishes Jan Kochanowski’s Psałterz Dawidów (David’s Psalter).
Jakub Wujek works on a translation of the Bible that will serve the Polish Church for over three centuries.
The first piece of Old Polish grotesque literature, the widely-read Wyprawa plebańska (Parson’s Expedition), is published by Oficyna Łazarzowa.
Having become a citizen of Krakow, Cologne merchant Franciszek Jakub Mercenich opens the oldest bookstore in Europe and the world in the Main Market Square. Today, the bookstore is still open and is owned by the Matras bookstore chain.
Szymon Starowolski writes his Scriptorum Polonicorum Hekatontas in Krakow, the first dictionary of Polish writers and the first bibliographical guide in Poland, addressed mainly to foreign readers. It is published in Frankfurt and Venice.
Publication of the first Polish periodical, Merkuriusz Polski Ordynaryjny. From this point onwards, Krakow emerges as a major centre not only for publishing books, but also periodical publications.
The Jagiellonian University’s printing house is established.
Publication of Poland’s first literary-poetic monthly entitled Mercurius Polonicus.
Ignacy Grebel’s printing house is established, a leading Krakow printing house in the last years of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
The first permanent, public, and professional theatre in Krakow, and the second in Poland begins to operate; within time, it will gain the name of the Stary Theatre (it has been continuously in the same place of operation since 1799 – at the junction of Jagiellońska and Szczepańska Streets).
Jan Antoni Maj opens his Gabinet do Czytania Otwartego (Open Reading Room), the first library and reading room in Poland (which contains approximately 600 works, mostly in Polish, and magazines).
The Czas daily newspaper is published on a regular basis. In 1840-1860, journalists and writers connected with this conservative magazine meet in literary salons hosted by Antoni Zygmunt Helcel and Paweł Popiel, among others.
The Society of Friends of Fine Arts is founded.
Stanisław Koźmian is the director of the Krakow theatre; apart from the classics, he allowed for the performance of works by young dramatists on his stage.
Establishment of the Academy of Learning and the WAM publishing House, the oldest and largest Catholic publishing house in Poland.
After having been dispersed for years, the collection of the Czartoryski Library is brought together in Krakow in the building of the former City Arsenal.
Establishment of Władysław Ludwik Anczyc’s printing house (today the W. L. Anczyc Publishing Printing House), the best in Poland for many years.
On the occasion of the 400th anniversary of Jan Kochanowski’s death, a meeting of writers is held and the publishing of a series of works of early Polish literature commences under the title of Biblioteka Pisarzów Polskich (Polish Writers Library), published in 1889-1850 under the auspices of the Academy of Learning.
The funeral of Poland’s Romantic national poet Adam Mickiewicz at Wawel, a great patriotic event; anniversaries related to the creators of Polish literature and language were supposed to bring together writers living in all the three partitions of the fragmented country.
Establishment of Teatr Miejski (Municipal Theatre), known since 1909 as the Juliusz Słowacki Theatre.
Tadeusz Pawlikowski becomes the director of the Municipal Theatre (now the Słowacki Theatre); in addition to contemporary Polish plays, Pawlikowski also stages Maeterlinck, Ibsen and Hauptmann.
Publication of Krytyka, a socio-literary magazine, representative of the Young Poland movement.
A heated argument over Young Art in the Życie magazine; famous manifestos by the young generation of artists published here – including the famous Confiteor by Stanisław Przybyszewski – marked the beginning of Polish modernism. Some of the notable authors working in Krakow at the time include: Kazimierz Przerwa-Tetmajer, Stanisław Korab-Brzozowski, Tadeusz Miciński, Jerzy Andrzej Kisielewski and Stanisław Wyspiański.
Guests from all the Slavic countries of the Austro-Hungarian Empire arrive in Krakow for the Second Congress of Slavic Journalists.
Publication of Stanisław Wyspiański’s Wesele (The Wedding) and its premiere at the Municipal Theatre; in the following years, Wyspiański’s other great dramas will premiere at the same theatre, including: Wyzwolenie (Liberation), Sędziowie (The Judges), Achilles, Bolesław Śmiały (Boleslaus the Bold), and Noc Listopadowa (November Night). The Palace of Art, the seat of the Society of Friends of Fine Arts, is erected in pl. Szczepański.
Establishment of the National Printing House.
The Zielony Balonik (“The Green Balloon”), the first Polish literary cabaret, founded in Apolinary Jan Michalik’s patisserie, i.e. the so-called Jama Michalika, is active.
The first permanent cinema, Wanda at św. Gertrudy Street 5, is opened in Krakow.
Establishment of the Pod Katarynką Futurist Club. Krakow becomes the centre of avant-garde movements, including the Polish Formists such as Tytus Czyżewski, Leon Chwistek, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, and Bruno Jasieński.
Nuż w bżuhu. Jednodńuwka futurystuw (A Knife in the Stomach: A Futurist One-Off Issue; written phonetically, with spelling mistakes) is published in Krakow and Warsaw; the Gałka Muszkatołowa Futurist Club is established in Krakow.
Foundation of the Book Lovers Society.
The Krakow Avant-Garde group (Jan Brzękowski, Jalu Kurek, Tadeusz Peiper, Julian Przyboś, Adam Ważyk), gathered around the Zwrotnica. Kierunek: sztuka teraźniejszości magazine, is active. Contributors include Tzara and Marinetti, and translations of Cendrars, Mayakovsky and Yesenin are published.
The Krakow Writers’ Association comes up with the idea of placing commemorative plaques on the houses in which eminent writers used to live.
Avant-garde poets of Krakow and Paris collaborate in a bilingual magazine entitled L’Art Contemporain – Sztuka współczesna, edited by Jan Brzękowski, a member of the Krakow avant-garde.
Establishment of the Knightly Order of the Bibliophiles (Rycerski Zakon Bibliofilski) and the Chapter of the Order of the White Raven (Kapituła Orderu Białego Kruka). The construction of the new building of the Jagiellonian Library on Mickiewicza Avenue begins.
Establishment of the Literary Prize of the City of Krakow.
Activity of the Cricot Artists Theatre.
Zbigniew Herbert, famous poet, essayist, dramatist, author of radio dramas, and a Knight of the Order of the White Eagle (Poland’s highest civilian honour), studies in Krakow. After the war, he lives in Krakow, studied at the University of Economics, and at the same time, he studies law at the Jagiellonian University and attends lectures at the Academy of Fine Arts. In 1947, he graduates from the University of Economics.
The Writers’ House (Dom Literatów) is established on Krupnicza Street. The institution eventually becomes a “second home” for the most famous Polish writers, including: Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński, Wisława Szymborska, Sławomir Mrożek, and Stanisław Dygat. The first issues of Dziennik Polski, Tygodnik Powszechny, and Przekrój are published. The Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne publishing house is established.
The first issues of the Echo Krakowa magazine and the Znak monthly are published. The first post-war cabaret, Siedem Kotów (“Seven Cats”), is established.
The first issue of the Gazeta Krakowska daily appears.
The first issue of the Życie Literackie magazine appears.
Establishment of the Wydawnictwo Literackie publishing house.
Activity of Cricot 2, an avant-garde theatre established by Tadeusz Kantor and Maria Jarema.
The Christmas issue of the Krakow-based Życie Literackie magazine announces transformations in literature and a thaw in the cultural policy; it features the debuts of Zbigniew Herbert and Jerzy Harasymowicz, among others, and their poems are provided with a commentary by eminent critics, including Jan Błoński and Artur Sandauer.
Foundation of Piwnica Pod Baranami, a legendary literary cabaret co-founded by Piotr Skrzynecki.
Krakow is the only Polish city and one of few European cities to have been invited to Ghent to participate in a great exhibition on The Golden Age of Famous Cities; involvement of Krakow institutions brings notable success: together with London and Lisbon, Krakow receives the gold medal, and items displayed at the exhibition include the illuminated Balthasar Behem Codex.
The Znak publishing house is established (as the Znak Social Publishing Institute).
The STU Theatre, established by Krzysztof Jasiński, begins its activity.
The Teraz literary group is established; its members include: Adam Zagajewski, Stanisław Stabro, Leszek Aleksander Moczulski, and others; at the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, Krakow is the second-most important centre of the New Wave movement (also Ewa Lipska, debuting in 1961 is counted among this current) in addition to Poznań. The 1968 Generation protests against newspeak and the official language of propaganda that distorted reality.
The first edition of the Krakow Theatrical Reminiscences International Festival of Alternative Theatres. The oldest theatre-related event in Poland, it is the country’s most important international review of the achievements of the Polish and international alternative theatre.
The poet, novelist, essayist, and political writer Czesław Miłosz, receives the Nobel Prize in Literature. Having returned from years in exile in France and the United States, Miłosz permanenly settles in Krakow in the 1990s.
Krakow’s new literary monthly, Pismo, announces the revival of literature on the rising tide of the Solidarity revolution. The first issue is devoted to the oeuvre of Czesław Miłosz. Wydawnictwo Literackie begins to publish the author’s works (The Issa Valley). A year earlier, Where the Sun Rises and Where It Sets was published under the imprint of the Znak publishing house.
Wydawnictwo Literackie publishes Poland’s first complete edition of Witold Gombrowicz’s Works, edited by literary critic and professor of Polish Studies at the Jagiellonian University Jan Błoński.
Foundation of the Universitas Scientific Papers Authors and Publishers Society and of the Polish Writers’ Association.
In the late 1980s and the early 1990s
Krakow emerges as a centre of the activity of the alternative literary movement gathered around the bruLion magazine (published since 1986). Its contributors include Marcin Świetlicki and Marcin Sendecki. These are the years of extraordinary development of literary studies and criticism. At the Jagiellonian University, the impact of political changes and the transformations in the consciousness of literature are analysed by: Jerzy Jarzębski, Stanisław Jaworski, Stanisław Balbus, Aleksander Fiut, Stanisław Stabro, Marian Stala, Ryszard Nycz, and Marta Wyka.
The first issue of Dekada Literacka appears. Initially, the magazine is published as a supplement to Gazeta Krakowska. The Mrożek Festival takes place on the 60th anniversary of the playwright’s birth; Sławomir Mrożek becomes an Honorary Citizen of the City of Krakow.
The International Cultural Centre is established.
Having returned from exile, Czesław Miłosz chooses to live in Krakow; the Nobel Prize winner becomes an Honorary Citizen of the City of Krakow. The GREG publishing house is established. Tygodnik Powszechny awards St. George Medal for the first time; the first person to receive it is Rev. Arkadiusz Nowak.
The Homini publishing house is established.
Krakow poet Wisława Szymborska is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Sławomir Mrożek returns from exile and settles in Krakow. The first edition of the Krakow Book Fair is organised. The Jagiellonian University establishes its own publishing house.
The Year of Poetry, organised as part of the Krakow 2000 Festival; the events, including the Meetings of the Poets of the East and the West, are brought under the patronage of two Polish Nobel Prize winners, Wisława Szymborska and Czesław Miłosz.
After 1989, a number of prizes were established in Krakow, including the Georg Trakl Prize, the “bruLion” Foundation Award, and an award granted by the Znak monthly (awarded since 1997 for a novel or short story).
In Krakow’s Villa Decius, the Literary Group for Frankfurt 2000 is established under Albrecht Lempp’s management. Its main task is to prepare a presentation of Polish literature at the Frankfurt Book Fair, where Poland was the guest of honour. Ryszard Krynicki moves his publishing house, Wydawnictwo a5, to Krakow.
Establishment of the Ha!art and Bezdroża publishing houses. A series of events entitled “Ha!artowanie kultury”, including meetings with authors, performances, and concerts, is launched.
Inauguration of the first Visegrád Summer School at Villa Decius, attended by young people from East-Central Europe. Ha!art hands out books by young writers to passers-by.
The first edition of the Book and Rose Małopolska Book Days. Additionally, the first edition of the Dedications International Theatre Festival takes place; each year, it is devoted to a different author or phenomenon in the history of theatre, presenting the most famous productions of European theatre. After twenty years of life abroad, Adam Zagajewski returns permanently to Poland and settles in Krakow, where he once studied. Krakow is the most “poetic of Polish cities”: Nobel Prize winners Czesław Miłosz and Wisława Szymborska, Lithuanian poet and translator Tomas Venclova, and others all live here.
The Book Institute, a national cultural institution, is established. Villa Decius hosts the first award ceremony of the Polish Prize of Sergio Vieira de Mello, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2002-2003. The prize is awarded to Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the first Prime Minister of the restored Republic of Poland (serving in 1989-1991), columnist, social activist, and politician. On August 14, Czesław Miłosz dies; he is buried in the Crypt of Distinguished Poles at Skałka.
Przekrój weekly begins awarding the Fenomeny Przekroju (“Przekrój’s Phenomena”) Prize. Its first winner is Sławomir Mrożek. The Book Institute in Krakow begins the 4 Book Seasons campaign, a series of festivals held throughout the year (the Poetry Season, the Popular Literature Festival, the Prose Season, and the Crime Novel Festival). The Sezony Teatralne Association initiates the biannual Dramaty Narodów theatre festival. In May, Krakow hosts the First World Congress of Translators of Polish Literature, attended by nearly 180 guests from all over the world. Its organiser, the Book Institute, also grants its Transatlantyk Award for the first time. This is a prize for the best promoter of Polish literature abroad (its first winner is Henryk Bereska, a translator of Polish literature into German and poet).
Sacha Pecaric completes the first post-war translation of the Torah from Hebrew into Polish.
Krakow hosts the Urodziny Herberta (“Herbert’s Birthday”) Festival dedicated to the oeuvre of poet Zbigniew Herbert, whose youth and studies were connected with Krakow.
Two grand literary events debut in Krakow: the Milosz Festival and the Joseph Conrad International Literature Festival.
Krakow begins its efforts towards becoming a UNESCO City of Literature. In June, the city hosts the Ha!wangarda Literary Festival, promoting non-commercial projects that continually change the image of the latest literature, such as: liberature, hypertexts, cyber-poetry, story-art, poesiography, and literary remixes. In September, the Mrożek for the 21st Century festival is held. A special issue of Gazeta Wyborcza features a Literary Guide to Krakow. Two campaigns are launched: the Free Reading Zone (“Strefa Wolnego Czytania”) and Spots for Readers (“Miejsce dla czytelnika”) in Krakow’s public transportation.
Krakow joins ICORN (the International Cities of Refuge Network). It is also the Czesław Miłosz Year, and the historic edition of the Miłosz Festival, organised on the 100th anniversary of the poet’s birth. It attracts almost 130 poets, writers, translators, and scholars from countries such as: Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, the United States, France, Russia, Romania, Ireland, England, Italy, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Turkey, China, and India. As part of the Miłosz Year, Poland’s largest campaign to date promoting the poet’s oeuvre – the Miłosz Liberated project – is organised. The series of events includes: Jenny Holzer’s light projections, Camera Obscura artistic installations, a Zen Garden inspired by Miłosz’s translations of haiku, and Lyrical Trams running across the city; young artists carried out artistic interventions as part of the 4P campaign: Person of Letters, Poetry, Prose, Public space. As part of the Sacrum Profanum festival, five leading Polish composers (Paweł Mykietyn, Agata Zubel, Jagoda Szmytka, Aleksandra Gryka, and Wojciech Ziemowit Zych) compose music inspired by Czesław Miłosz’s texts under a common name: Miłosz Sounds. Premiere performances are delivered by the most outstanding contemporary music ensembles in the world, including Asko | Schönberg, Klangforum Wien, Ensemble Modern, Alarm will Sound, and Bang on the Can All Stars.
Wisława Szymborska dies on February 1; the poet’s funeral attracts thousands of people. The Wisława Szymborska Foundation is established – it announces the Wisława Szymborska Poetry Award and launches the Szuflada Szymborskiej (Szymborska’s Drawer) exhibition at a branch of the National Museum in Krakow (on the first anniversary of the poet’s death). A two-year Reading Małopolska project is launched, as a part of which Krakow and the entire region promote their literary identity all over the world; in October, representatives of the UNESCO Cities of Literature and many other cities basing their identity on literature come to Krakow to take part in the Creative Cities and Regions conference.
An international special conference of ICORN and PEN International, Writing Freedom, gathers almost 200 guests from all over the world in Krakow. The third edition of the Miłosz Festival is held under the theme of “The Land of Ulro Today;” almost 100 poets and writers meet, and 8 new volumes of poetry are published on the occasion. The year abounds in significant literary events: they also include the Third World Congress of Translators of Polish Literature attended by nearly 200 guests (June); the Krakow Meetings of Poets organised by Adam Zagajewski and Edward Hirsch (June); Ryszard Krynicki’s Jubilee on the poet’s 70th birthday with the participation of guests from all over Poland (June); the 17th Book Fair in Krakow (October); and the Fifth edition of the Conrad Festival (October).