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Kalwaria Zebrzydowska

Kalwaria Zebrzydowska is a small town at the foot of the Żar mountain in a valley between two low mountain ranges of Beskid Makowski and Wieliczka Foothills, about 22 miles (35 kilometres) from Cracow. It is a place of exceptional character. Close to a bustling town, in Skawinka valley and on the slopes of neighboring hills extends a large landscape park with a monastery and chapels which exhibit an impressive variety of Baroque architecture. The origins of the city's history and its development date back to the early sixteenth century and are closely related to the Monastery of Bernardine Fathers. In 1600, Nicholas Zebrzydowski, a generous governor of Cracow province worked out a pious plan to erect a hermitage on the top of the Żar hill, along with the Church of the Crucifixion and the sepulchre of Jesus. Accordingly, in 1602, the founder officially donated the Church of the Crucifixion of Jesus with half of the Żar mountain to the Bernardine Fathers and undertook to construct a monastery. The work progressed to the design authored by John Mary Bernardoni, Italian Jesuit, and then under the direction of Paul Baudarth Flemish, an apt and skilfull architect.

In the first half of the seventeenth century, the painting of Our Lady was brought to the church of the Bernardine Fathers and soon became famous for its miracles and graces. This gave rise to the local cult of Virgin Mary, and the image of Our Lady of Kalwaria is now the heart of the shrine and the primary objective of each Calvary pilgrimage. The main church dedicated to our Lady of the Angels was successively decorated and equipped, as well as the chapels scattered across the area which are today true treasures of art and craft. In the nineteenth century, notwithstanding wars and partitions, the sanctuary was the centre of religious life in southern and eastern Poland - then under Austrian rule. Pilgrims also arrived from the zones of Poland annexed by Germany and Russia, as well as from Slovakia and the Balkan countries. Works by artists - architects, painters, sculptors and carvers - associated with the Monastery of Bernardine Fathers, inspired local crafts, while drawing on themes from the local folk traditions and customs.

Kalwaria Zebrzydowska is today the oldest, largest and most original of the Polish calvaries. Both the structure of the park, and the design of buildings represent Baroque mannerism. The Calvarian complex is well-integrated into the picturesque landscape of the foothills. It lies in the valley of the Skawinka river, locally known as the Cedron river, and on the slopes of the Żar Mountain and the Lanckorona Mountain. It is composed of forty chapels, churches and bridges connected by forest ducts and avenues lined with valuable old trees. Land formation, man-made constructions, the greenery and the river - all reflect ancient Jerusalem. The scheme of the route across the Calvarian park includes the Stations of Arrest, the Stations of the Cross and the Marian avenues dedicated to Sorrow, Dormition, Funeral, and the Assumption of Mary. Kalwaria Zebrzydowska remains one of the most important centers of the pilgrimage movement in Poland. Tthe number of pilgrims visiting the city has increased in recent years, which is attributable to its location on the famous papal route leading from Cracow to Wadowice.

Since the seventeenth century, Kalwaria has also developed craft, which initially addressed the needs of the pilgrims. Currently, the city is one of the largest furniture and carpentry manufacturing centers in Poland. Starting from 1931, the annual Kalwaria Furniture Fair has been held each July. Furthermore, two pavilions in the city center house a year-round exhibition of furniture. Local craftsmen furnished the room where Pope John Paul II stayed during his visit to the town, as well as provided papal thrones and kneelers. Kalwaria offers excellent tourist and recreational amenities. Many valuable historical monuments, including quaint bourgeois houses have been preserved. The nearby very attractive part of the Low Beskid features steep slopes of hills and gentle valleys. The cultivated area along with extensive forest complexes are the most common sights found in the landscape. The area is defined by the two massifs of the Lanckorona and Żar mountains, towering over its surroundings.

In 1999, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee decided to include the "Culture and Landscape Complex of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska" in the UNESCO List of World Cultural and Natural Heritage.

Augustyn Ormanty
Mayor of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska