Krakow is considered by many to be the cultural capital of Poland. It was named the European Capital of Culture by the European Union for the year 2000. The city has some of the best museums in the country and several famous theatres. Many famous actors, poets, sports personalities call Krakow home. It became the residence of two Polish Nobel laureates in literature: Wisława Szymborska and Czesław Miłosz, while a third Nobel laureate, the Yugoslav writer Ivo Andric also lived and studied in Krakow. It is no wonder that some of these famous people had chosen Krakow as their final resting place, after their death!
On the occasion of the All Saint’s and All Soul’s Day as I took a walk in some of the cemeteries like Rakowicki, I visited some of their grave sites. As I mentioned in my previous article, I visit the cemetery here each year to just observe the atmosphere. I decided to share some insights into lives and final resting place of some of Krakow’s famous personalities. Many of them excelled in what they did, all of them began with humble beginnings and rose to fame with pure dedication and hard work. As I wandered through the cemeteries this past week, it dawned on me that these were some extraordinary human beings. A walk through Aleja Zasłuzonych or Avenue of Merit, in Rakowicki, and you can see the graves of many famous Poles. Fans visit all year round to pay tribute. Visitors from all over Poland stop by and light a Znicze in their memory on All Saint’s Day. I decided to take a closer look at some of the lives of these personalities and would like to share as best as I can, some little-known facts about them.
Maria Wisława Anna Szymborska was a Polish poet, essayist, translator and recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature. Here are some interesting facts about her life.
-She was a heavy smoker. If you were to search on google a picture of Szymborska, chances are you will find pictures of her with a cigarette or smoking. She loved smoking, but she paid heavily with her health for this addiction. Lung cancer was the cause of her death. She was 89 when she passed away. There is a cigarette on her tomb in her memory.
-She was one of the biggest fans of one of the best Polish boxer Andrzej Gołota. It was in 1996, when they were both sitting in the same restaurant in Warsaw, she saw him for the first time. She had just picked up her Nobel Prize, Gołota was after the fights against Riddick Bowe (Riddick Bowe vs. Andrew Golota, billed as “Big Daddy’s Home”, was a professional boxing match contested on July 11, 1996). She saw a crowd of fans around Gołota and she too wanted to take a picture with him, but she was indecisive and instead she quietly ate her meal. No one really took notice of her. She was fascinated with the phenomenon of the boxer’s popularity and become his fan. She used to wake up at night just to watch his fights from the US. She also had a huge card board cut-out of the boxer in her apartment. When Gołota joined the Polish version of Dancing with the Stars, she even started to watch the show. When she died, he wrote a remembrance for her: “I miss you in my corner, even though you never stepped on the ring. The lines remain. “Thank you” is not enough …”
-There is an exhibition called “Szuflada Szymborskiej” (Drawer of Szymborska) in Krakow’s National Museum. The exhibit contains private photos, glasses, notes, lighter, and even the door to her apartment.
Tadeusz Kantor was a Polish painter, assemblage artist, set designer and theatre director. Kantor was renowned for his revolutionary theatrical performances in Poland and abroad.
-Tadeusz Kantor was very popular amongst the Italian public. His theater performances received standing ovations. Italian fans even celebrated what would have been his 100th birthday.
-He died suddenly on 8th December 1990, during the rehearsals for the performance “Dzis sa moje urodziny” (Today is my birthday). His friend, Wanda Koromblowa, took him from his house on Sienna street. 7 to the hospital Narutowicza. “Don’t switch off the light, I’ll be right back” he said, leaving the flat. He died couple hours later because of the heart attack.
-Living monuments – a tribute to Kantor; every year on the 8th of December in front of the building “Archiwum Cricoteki” on Kanonicza Street, there is a short performance with characters and elements from his shows – Eternal Wanderer. It is a unique opportunity to see in action actors who took part in the original performances directed by Kantor himself.
-Cricoteka: The Art and Documentation Centre for Kantor’s work was built and completed in September 2014, to house some of Kantor’s works.
-There is also an upcoming movie about Kantor, which will probably be released in the beginning of 2018.
Czesław Miłosz was a Polish poet, prose writer, translator and diplomat. His World War II-era sequence The World is a collection of twenty “naïve” poems.
-Miłosz was born in Seteiniai, Lithuania, but completed his High School in Wilno which was part of Poland.
-Miłosz was a Professor at University of California, Berkely, as a Professor of Slavic Language and Literature.
-He became a US citizen in 1970.
-He won the Nobel Prize 1980 for Literature, it was only at this time that many Poles became aware of him, as during the communist times, his works were banned in Poland.
-Miłosz was the last person to be commemorated at the Skałka Roman Catholic Church.
-His books have been translated in over 44 languages
Zbigniew Wodecki was a Polish singer, musician, composer, actor and TV presenter. He recently passed away in May 2017.
-He made a debut as singer in the Opole Festival 1972. He is an author of songs like “Chałupy Welcome to”, “Zacznij od Bacha”, “Lubię wracać tam, gdzie byłem” or “Z Tobą chcę oglądać świat”, but he sang also a song to the intro for animated movie “Pszczółka Maja” (Maya the Bee), which was very popular in Poland in the 90’s.
– He died on 22th May 2017, after a stroke. Thousands attended his funeral in Krakow. The mass took place in Mariacki Church and the bugler in the church tower played him a tribute “What a wonderful world” by Louis Armstrong.
Here is one of his most popular songs sung live at the Opole Festival 2015:
He was a Polish singer, songwriter, composer, and lyricist. Grechuta had a large number of popular hits, with his songs often characterized by use of poetic and literary elements.
-His most famous song “Dni, których nie znamy” (The Days We Don’t Know Yet) – which I a heard on the radio many times, is the anthem of the football club Korona Kielce.
– Of all the graves of famous people, his had the most number of Znicze or candles from many of his fans.
– In 2003, Grechuta collaborated with the group Myslovitz and re-recorded their older song Kraków. His song Dni, których nie znamy.
– Grechuta suffered from bipolar affective disorder manifesting in extreme mood swings. Some of his behavior was mistaken for alcohol abuse.
– His son Lukasz Grechuta disappeared for two years, during this time he said that he was on his spiritual journey and was making pilgrimages on Santiago De Compostela and all the way to Rome.
Andrzej Witold Wajda was a Polish film and theatre director. Recipient of an Honorary Oscar, the Palme d’Or, as well as Honorary Golden Lion and Golden Bear Awards,
he was a prominent member of the “Polish Film School”. He is buried in Salwator cemetery in Krakow.
– Four of his movies were nominated for an Oscar in the category Best Film in a Foreign Language (Ziemia Obiecana, Panny z Wilka, Człowiek z Żelaza and Katyń”, but he won an Honorary Oscar
Academy Tribute to Wajda:
– He also won Palme, Golden Lion and Golden Bear.
In the end it was a humbling experience visiting the cemetery. For me its a place of quiet contemplation. Some of the tombs and graves are extravagant and yet other are unmarked and unknown. In the end, we are only just passers by on this place we call home.
Excerpt – A Song on the end of the world by Czeslaw Milosz
On the day, the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.
On the day, the world ends […]
Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
There will be no other end of the world,
There will be no other end of the world. Warsaw, 1944
Thanks you for stopping by and wish you all a great week ahead