Postcards from Podgórze

15 February 2024

Barbara Sadurska

A hundred years – but that’s nothing for a place which has patiently survived the latest ideas, plans, reconstructions, renovations, modernisations, shifting boundaries, changes of municipalnand national jurisdiction… Nothing is forever – new streets, squares and parks appear, new buildings are constructed, and then, with time, they fade, they are no longer suitable, they fall into disrepair, they require investment, and gradually disappear to be replaced by bigger, more modern, more profitable ones. New roads, crossroads, roundabouts and carparks spring up. The old is replaced by the new. Passing decades leave their mark. Here and there you can still see things passing, a few people remember what things were like before some of Podgórze’s distinctive buildings disappeared, before the construction of the Matecznego Roundabout, before Hotel Forum was erected in Ludwinów.

Burnt Down Villas

A hundred years ago, when you arrived in Podgórze from Hungary, Košice or even Lwów, two beautiful wooden villas stood on the right hand side in front of the Antoni Mateczny Bathing Complex. Each villa could provide homes for several families. The gardens were full of shrubs and bushes planted by someone long ago; someone’s hands picked raspberries for cordial. The grand villas were the city’s pride and glory for decades. During the 1920s and 1930s they were home to workers at the local sawmill, and after the war they were split into communal apartments. In the 1950s, a crossroads appeared, soon to be replaced by the Matecznego Roundabout. It was always gridlocked. Bored passengers stared out of car windows at the two dilapidated villas at the end of Zamoyskiego Street, at numbers 81 and 83. In the mid-1980s, travelling not from Lwów any more but from Wieliczka, both houses were still inhabited. Ten years later one was boarded up, while the other was home to a solitary man who started collecting rubbish in the garden. Whether he had trouble disposing of it or there was another reason, it’s impossible to say. Sometimes he stood leaning against the fence staring at the traffic. And so it went: we looked at him, he back at us. Later he also disappeared, the windows were boarded up and a “For Sale” sign went up – but no buyer was found, because a few years later the sign was replaced by a board warning that the buildings are at risk of collapse and entry was strictly forbidden. Around the start of the millennium, dog walkers occasionally gathered there, picked raspberries and ran into homeless people. A rumour was started that the villas were to become something to do with culture. Eventually the site was fenced off, and after the buildings were taken down after a fire, it became a building site. The villas have since been replaced with shiny blocks – one silver, one black, both fancy and brand new. The ground floor of one proudly displays a logo of a stationer’s and bookshop, but fortunately Podgórze already has two stationer’s and a traditional wholesaler as well as a few truly atmospheric bookshops, such as Ogniwo on Smolki Street and DeRevo on the Podgórski Market Square. Pop in to buy postcards showing the wooden Podgórze villas from a century ago…

Flick Knives and Tangos

Heading from the Matecznego Roundabout towards Jubilat, you pass Hotel Forum on the right. It stands on the right bank of the Vistula, boasting stunning views over Skałka and Wawel Hill. And to think that before the building was erected in the late 1970s following designs by Janusz Ingarden, this view stretched uninterrupted from the entire Ludwinów district… Ludwinów was once a maze of narrow streets with low buildings, standing between the mouth of the Wilga River and the Vistula. In the 19th century, Austrian partitioners had ambitious plans to rebuild the village, but they never came to fruition. At the start of the 20th century, Ludwinów was mainly home to seasonal workers and the poor. Chicken pecked around in the streets, some people bred pigeons, others kept horses at Turecka and Zatorska streets, in the mornings you could get milk straight from the cow’s udder. And in the evenings and at night, Ludwinów partied. Lola from Ludwinów was widely known for her beautiful voice and heavenly body, and her dancing made hearts beat faster… Just a few charming, dilapidated single-storey wooden cottages remain of the old Ludwinów. Some are abandoned, their roofs fallen in, others are still just about standing but will collapse any moment without serious help. Soon, Ludwinów will once again become a centre of clashes of interest. After the war, policy dictated to resettle here released convicts, petty crooks and pimps. Legends still abound about Ludwinów’s flick knives. It was scary enough to venture here during the day, and it was a no-go area after dark. Things are completely different now: Forum Przestrzenie teems with life in the evenings, and the left bank of the Wilga is a favourite spot with dog walkers. Wide paths, a pond and a tiny stream make it perfect for letting dogs off the lead.

Like Fish in a Pond

A charming stone bridge stands where the Wilga runs into the Vistula. It is named Retmański, after retman – elder raftsman. Old Podgórze is a former district of labourers, raftsmen and fishermen. On the other side of the bridge, you can take the steps down to the oldest park in Podgórze. It was created on the site of the former royal ponds; the swampy terrain was first converted into a willow plantation and then back into fishponds. Over a hundred years ago, the area was drained and planted with sycamore, horse chestnut, ash and linden trees, and it became the Florian Nowacki Park. Kids call it the Serkowski Park, because it is adjacent to the Emil Serkowski Square. Following the latest modernisation, the playground is topped with a huge wooden fish. There’s plenty of other play equipment and a hydrant.

Wild Strawberries

Turning right from Retmański Bridge and walking along the Wilga, you reach Konopnickiej Street – once heading towards allotments. They have been replaced by a huge housing estate, even though just a decade ago the site was full of redcurrant bushes and fruit trees. The famous Wild Strawberry Glade used to lie here between Spiska Street and the Wilga, serving as a gathering spot for local woman activists. Their campaigns resulted in the construction of a willow shack and a community garden. Sadly, there was nothing stopping the construction of the housing estate, and the campaigning activities at the Wild Strawberry Glade gradually disappeared. Today, locals call one of the streets running through the estate Poziomkowa [Wild Strawberry Street – transl.], even though the fruit no longer grows here. Time to get planting?


When you cross over a gravel path running alongside the new buildings, you can still spot mature trees growing at the back of the houses along Krasickiego Street. Once upon a time, No. 12 was the site of another long gone, fascinating building: a sandpaper factory. In the 1920s, local entrepreneur Eljasz Abrahamer noticed that although Podgórze had several carpentry workshops, sandpaper was imported all the way from Hungary. His factory was hugely successful, but by the late 1930s growing antisemitism forced Abrahamer to sell the tenement block for a song and emigrate. The detached, two-storey building was an example of a timber frame filled with red bricks. It was still in good condition in the 1980s and 1990s, but time and weather are unforgiving. It took an unrepaired hole in the roof for the rains and winters to do severe damage. Locals and fans of Podgórze begged for the historic building to be preserved into as late as the early 2000s, but their efforts were in vain. Whether it was lack of funds or goodwill from the owners, it’s impossible to say. Today, all that’s left of Abrahamer’s factory is an empty space – a parcel of land.

Trela’s Bread Aroma

Trees, meadows and buildings are gradually disappearing from Old Podgórze. The famous Trela’s bakery is now also gone. It was founded in 1947, but years earlier, during the war, the Trela family baked bread and shared it with the poorest inhabitants of Podgórze, some of whom still remember them fondly as kind, generous people. After the war, kids flocked to Warneńczyka Street after the bakery closed for the day, as Mr Trela was in a habit of giving away any leftover rolls and sweet buns. The area was shrouded in a delicious fragrance at night. If you found yourself wandering home from a party in the early hours, you could stop by to get fresh bread straight from the oven! You just had to remember to go round the back, via the courtyard on Smolki Street. Today, the courtyard is home to one of our favourite local bookshops, next to the former back entrance to Trela’s bakery. Well worth a visit!

Temptations on Zamoyskiego Street

Podgórze is still filled with historic buildings, charming back alleys, old tenement houses and streets – like Zamoyskiego Street, where every number tells a story of past architecture or people who once lived there. For example, let’s look at the Catering School Complex No. 2, next to the staircase leading to Bednarskiego Park. The modest building has a fascinating history and is home to an unusual restaurant named “Pokusa” [“Temptation” – transl.] where student waiters learn their skills. Worth checking out!

Save Our Historic Buildings

There is another building threatened with dilapidation on Zamoyskiego Street, near the former Wrzos Cinema, now KTO Theatre. It is the historic barracks of the Podgórze fire brigade. Now overgrown with trees and closed off with a barrier, it was designed by the engineer Stanisław Świerzyński in June 1889 to house 20 horses, several hydrants and a team of firefighters. The barracks opened onto a large manoeuvring area on Zamoyskiego Street, then Adama Mickiewicza Street. The watchhouse was restructured and modernised by the early 20th century, although it was never up to the required standard. Firefighters complained of lack of space, poor sanitation and bad accessibility, so a training wall was erected and living quarters were expanded in the 1900s. In the following years, the buildings were connected to the municipal power and water supplies, although a new site was still being sought. One of the locations under consideration was the Florian Nowacki Park – the one with the big fish today – and the site at the confluence of Długosza and Kalwaryjska streets, near the future Trela’s bakery. Still, the barracks remained where they were. After the war, the site was used by the local Roma population – older Podgórze residents still recall their colourful caravans and the living Romani culture in the region. Old Podgórze has been running into disrepair for several decades. Recent rumours have it that it will be earmarked for sale, which would inevitably result in several historic buildings being demolished. At least the barracks have been spared this fate, although we don’t yet know how they will be renovated and used. As you wander along Zamoyskiego Street, take a moment to stop and look at the buildings. Let’s hope postcards aren’t all that remains of them soon…

Barbara Sadurska – author, lawyer, winner of the Witold Gombrowicz Prize, the Kraków UNESCO City of Literature Prize and the O!Lśnienie Onetu Prize, and holder of a grant from the City of Kraków. She lives in Old Podgórze with her husband, two kids, two cats and a dog.

The text was published in the 4/2023 issue of the “Kraków Culture” quarterly.



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