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Kazimierz Dolny

The small town, referred to as the gem of the Polish Renaissance, delights its guests with the beauty of the landscape and the splendour of the architecture. Its panorama is dominated by monuments situated on the hills: the ruins of a tower erected in the 14th century by Władyslaw Łokietek (Wladyslaw the Short), the ruins of a stone castle from the times of Kazimierz Wielki (Casimir the Great), the parish church, and a monastery.

As early as in the 11th century, the site where the monastery now stands was occupied by a settlement called Wietrzna Góra (Windy Mountain), located near the Vistula crossing. Towards the end of the 12th century Kazimierz Sprawiedliwy (Casimir the Just) handed it to the Norbertine nuns, who named it after their benefactor. For the first time the name appeared in a document of that king in 1249. Located on the trade routes leading to Rus, to the West and to the country of the Teutonic Order, the settlement developed rapidly. Casimir the Great granted it a city charter and Wladyslaw Jagiello - Magdeburg Rights. At the time the marketplace was formed, with three dense frontages of wooden houses and, after the fires of 1561 and 1585, also of brick tenements.

Kazimierz flourished the most in the 16th century and in the first half of the 17th century, which was due to trade in grain and forest-based products with Western Europe. Several dozen granaries with decorative gables were built at that time, eleven of which have survived in various states of preservation. The patrician tenements (of the Przybyło, Górski and Celej families) located by the marketplace were formed in the Renaissance style, topped with attics concealing the roofs, and their facades were decorated with reliefs with religious motifs (the images of Saint Nicholas and Saint Christopher).

In the 17th century the Polish-Swedish Wars and epidemics initiated the city's decline, which became even more dramatic after the partitions. In 1869 Kazimierz lost the city charter not to regain it until 1927. Both World Wars caused severe damage to the city.

In the interwar period the city was rebuilt under the direction the architect Karol Siciński. After the Second World War he carried out the undertaking according to his own project. He managed to restore the city's unique atmosphere thanks to the reconstruction of the houses in the marketplace and other buildings, and visionary creation of urban space.

Significantly higher than other buildings, the parish church counts among the greatest architectural monuments in Kazimierz. Originally a small stone temple it was given its present shape in the years 1610-1613. Along with other churches - the Reformati church and the hospital church - it forms a picturesque enclosure around the historical town centre. The synagogue, erected in 1536, is a reminder of the town's Jewish inhabitants, who made up the majority of the population from the close of the 18th century until the Holocaust during World War II.

The charm of Kazimierz was valued as early as the end of the 18th century and the 19th century by artists like Zygmunt Vogel, king Stanislaw August's painter, Wojciech Gerson, Elwiro Andriolli or Jozef Brandt. In 1909 the first open-air painting workshop took place there, and since 1923 regular workshops were held by Tadeusz Pruszyński, professor at the School of Fine Arts in Warsaw and founder of the Society of Friends of Kazimierz, which still exists today.

Many artists have chosen to settle in Kazimierz. Maria Kuncewiczowa made it a theme of her work. An illustrious photographer, Edward Hartwig, revisited the town repeatedly, such was his admiration for the nature and the architecture.

Nowadays Kazimierz is a Mecca not only for artists but also for tourists from all over the world, who are attracted by the town's scenic location, monuments, magical atmosphere as well as cultural events (festivals of cinematography, folk bands and songsters, klezmer music and tradition, and organ music concerts organised in the parish church). Each year the town of 3000 inhabitants is visited by 1.5 million tourists, and the fact is beginning to worry the conservators.

By the Order of the President of the Republic of Poland of 8 September 1992, Kazimierz was deemed a historical monument.

Joanna Czaj