Try a horse steak in Rawa…

From Sieradz came the world-famous Antoni Cierplikowski, called "the king of hairdressers - the hairdresser of kings". In Paris, he did the hair of Josephine Baker, Edith Piaf and Brigitte Bardot. So why couldn't an exclusive, world-famous hairdressing salon be established in Sieradz? – wonders Michał Laszczkowski, head of the National Institute for Monument Conservation.

TVP WEEKLY: Do Poles know enough about monuments in their own country? Do they know them at all?

I am moved by how much of Polish tourism appears to have just a regional character. From Mazovia we travel to the sea or to the mountains, but not to Silesia. From Silesia, in turn, no one goes to Mazovia. Meanwhile, the Silesian district is an example of changes in progress. Mines are slowly closing down, and heavy industry is being phased out. In the future, this region will take on a completely different shape than we have known so far.

Who really knows that Katowice is a perfect city for spending your free time? There is beautiful architecture there from before World War I, and also one from the period between the two wars, somewhat reminiscent of Gdynia and, surprisingly, Tel Aviv. So maybe it's worth changing the directions of our travelling and going to places that we haven't treated as particularly touristic until now?

So, can we make sufficient use of monuments? And can we advertise them properly - also abroad?

There are cities, such as Krakow, where monuments are carefully looked after and preserved properly but which are slowly being trampled over by tourists. And there are also less known ones, where local governments try hard, thus they are really worth visiting. Płock is a good example, where the municipal company - the Old Town Revitalization Agency - has done a lot. This isn’t a big town, but it has become a place where there is something special to go for.

Zamość has been conducting a consistent policy of revitalising its monuments for several years. The Old Town is a pretty good gem of architecture, thanks to which the city was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1992. Indeed, you will find a reason to stay there.

However, the IPSOS research (Global Market Research and Public Opinion Specialist) shows that we hardly ever notice the monuments that are close to us, in our neighbourhood. Meanwhile, we should be able to appreciate them, which also means the need to exchange experience between cities and regions.

From Sieradz came the world-famous Antoni Cierplikowski, known as Antoine; He was called "the king of hairdressers – the hairdresser of kings". Antoine was the son of a shoemaker and a seamstress, who founded his later renowned hair salon in Paris. There, he worked as a hairstylist for people as famous as Josephine Baker, Edith Piaf and Brigitte Bardot. Why couldn't an exclusive, world-famous hairdresser be established in Sieradz?

In Rawa Mazowiecka, during the revitalisation of the market square, someone came up with an idea to remind that there used to be a horse market there. In Belgium, the city of Vilvoorde is famous for its restaurants serving dishes made with horse meat; people from all over Europe and not only, come to this place to try their speciality - horse steak. I wonder if we are ready for something like that in Poland because we treat horses as friends. Still, we must be open to such solutions, bearing in mind that large-scale activities often go beyond the capabilities of local governments.

The National Institute for Monument Conservation will deal with issues that seem to be much more obvious, such as supporting the preservation of the historical, technical and cultural heritage of mining in Upper Silesia and the Upper Silesian Coal Basin. Are we in Poland aware that monuments are not just ancient buildings and those many centuries old?

No, we are not. Unfortunately, this is the result of successive wars and political changes. No one is outraged that twenty years ago building is being demolished. On the contrary, we removed about 90 percent of the modernistic building structure, including shopping pavilions from the times of the Polish People's Republic. Warsaw's “Supersam”, the icon in architecture textbooks, has disappeared. Maybe its functions needed to be changed, perhaps it was no longer suitable for the role of a shop - but it's a pity that it was knocked down.
A hairdresser from Sieradz. The portrait of Antoni Cierplikowski in a Buddha costume was presented during the "Hairdresser in a coffin" exhibition in “Królikarnia” in Warsaw in 2006. The show featured works of art that Cierplikowski donated to the National Museum in Warsaw in the second half of the 1960s. Photo. PAP/Andrzej Rybczyński
Fortunately, like in the Silesian district, there is an underground museum, the only one which is a former mine. In Zabrze, one hundred miners still make sure that a mine - which needs to be considered as the Napoleonic period one – can constantly receive tourists. And there are unique places, such as an adit, which in the past was used to float all the mining products, drain water or transport technical equipment. Today, it is open to visitors for about one and a half kilometres long.

Do you want the Heritage Revitalization Agency to be established? What is this institution supposed to be like?

Let's look at Zabrze town that I have already mentioned. The revitalisation of monuments there is supported by four institutions: the Zabrze Commune, the regional council, the Ministry of Culture, and the Ministry of State Assets. The cost of creating the museum in a place of the former mine came up to as much as 400 million PLN, and they were taken from different funds.

Next to the mine, there is a unique monument, a heat and power plant built in 1897. It looks like a large cathedral. In December 2022, it was taken over by the city. It is a huge space (220,000 cubic meters, while the Malbork Castle has 250,000 cubic meters) that can be used for cultural and educational purposes. But such facilities require special treatment, and cost of adapting the former CHP plant to any new assignment would be enormous.

And another example is Przemyśl. Construction work is needed on an even larger scale there. We are talking about huge investments, such as those to transform this city into a tourist attraction. It's not just about the old town of Przemyśl, but also about the Przemyśl Fortress - why not create a World War I museum there? The film “All Quiet on the Western Front” wins numerous awards, but does anyone know - in Europe or elsewhere in the world - what was happening on the Eastern Front at the time, in Przemyśl for example?

You have to think about it at the central level. How many people know that several dozen places in Poland used to belong to the Knights Templar? Why haven't we created a museum of the Yotvingians yet?

Let us remember that revitalised old towns will not only serve as tourists attraction but also increase the quality of life of their residents. And this comfort level will determine whether people want to live there at all. Hence, the idea of establishing an agency that would operate on a large scale, solve problems holistically and invest in entire cities. Of course, in cooperation with local governments and private companies.

Do we have any chance to compete with countries like Italy or Greece?

Our cities will not become the second Rome, Florence or Athens, but thanks to the skilful monuments revitalisation, Poland may become much more attractive than before in terms of tourism; at the same time, it may become a country where it could be far more comfortable to live and reside. This requires intense activities and large investments. But they should pay back in the future - and with interest. We also need to talk about ourselves in a better way than before, because we have already done a lot, but the world needs to learn about it as well.

We have the war beyond our eastern border and high inflation in the country. Is this a good moment to deal with monuments?

In our part of Europe, a conflictual situation has been going on for about three hundred years; wars break out here and there, and front-line combats move back and forth. As a result, the whole area suffered heavily, and Poland suffered a particular loss. This is still visible if you look at the condition of our monuments.

This is also indicated in the public opinion survey conducted by IPSOS in December 2022. Poles expressed the conviction that monuments should be taken care of even in a difficult economic situation. In this study, we asked about various things – and the answers were unequivocal. Respondents replied that they felt the effects of the ongoing war beyond our eastern border; they are affected by inflation. They indicated that they needed a sense of security and faith in the state.

Care for our cultural heritage turned out to be important for them in this context. As much as 87 percent of Poles believe that investing in monuments will contribute to economic growth.

What is the biggest problem with monuments in Poland - we don't care enough about them, or we don't have enough money to take care of them?

First of all, we must ask ourselves an important question: what do monuments mean to us? Wawel Royal Castle is definitely such a monument, just like the Royal Castle in Warsaw. What if we live in a house that is three hundred years old? Can we treat the post-World War buildings as monuments?

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There is also another matter. In a common opinion, the state should primarily look after monuments. However, this is not the case because although the state preserves them with legal protection and supports them with measurable funds for their renovation, it cannot take care of all objects to the same extent.

Meanwhile, monuments deteriorate because we do not care for them constantly, and most often, we care only when they start to look really bad. It's like taking care of your health - if we don't check ourselves regularly, we don't go to the doctors, we can suffer serious problems.

Another thing is that we look at monuments as snapshots rather than as an entirety. For example, if we revitalise an old town, we do not conduct extensive hydrological or geological research, do not plan comprehensive works, and only renovate some, often single buildings. And what if we even restore beautifully one or two tenement houses, then we lay out the market square in front of them, for example, with Baumabrick ?

However, isn’t the state support – in terms of uplifting and revitalising monuments - too limited?

The fact that someone owns a historic building does not mean that the state should take over the entire care of it. After all, if we own a 20- or 30-year-old building, we take care of it ourselves! Don’t we?

But the state supports the protection of monuments. There is tax relief for owners of such facilities. In 2023, our Ministry of Culture and National Heritage distributed PLN 220 million in subsidies for repairs and renovations; there is also the Government Monuments Reconstruction Programme, under which 3 billion PLN was allocated to support local governments for these purposes. However, let us remember that there are about 80,000 monuments in Poland; some are well-maintained, and not all require such support.

– interwiew by Piotr Kościński

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

– translated by Katarzyna Chocian

Michał Laszczkowski has been a historian and social activist since April 2022, acting director of the newly established National Institute for Monument Conservation. He graduated in law and political science, holds a doctorate in historical sciences, was the President of the Polish Heritage and Culture Foundation and the coordinator of large conservation projects, including the Lychakiv Cemetery in Lviv, churches in Żółkiew, Ołyka and Kamieniec Podolski. Initiator of the renewal program of Tatar cemeteries in Poland and the Jewish cemetery at ul. Okopowa in Warsaw.
Main photo: The underground route in the Queen Louise adit in Zabrze. It is a machine park located in the former Queen Louise mine excavations. Here you can see, e.g. shearer and roadheader, advancing roof supports, longwall plow system and overhead charger. Another attraction is a ride on the “Karlik” mining railroad. Photo. PAP/Andrzej Grygiel
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