Monuments and space: Exercises in political imagination

  • Monika Golonka-Czajkowska Jagiellonian University
Keywords: monuments, Adam Mickiewicz, Krakow, space, social imagination


The monument to the Polish Romantic poet Adam Mickiewicz, erected in 1898 in Krakow’s Main Market Square, is one of the most dynamic spots within the space of the Old Town, in its physical, symbolical and social aspects. Its origins story is an example of proto-patrimonial practices associated with the emergence of the canon of national heritage, understood as specific, existing cultural assets, either material or symbolic, which a given community inherited from previous generations and feels obliged to preserve. Dedicated to a poet whose oeuvre was recognised as priceless national treasure soon after his death, the monument transformed the space around it, imbuing the very centre of Krakow with new semantic codes, associated with the idea of a nation as an autonomous cultural and political community. The statue’s annihilation during the Nazi occupation of Poland and its post-war reconstruction led to a major revaluation of its essential form. The monument changed its patrimonial status and became a kind of a secular relic. Well-integrated into the urban landscape, the Mickiewicz Monument is regarded as one of Krakow’s landmarks, continuously entering interactions with the people around it. For tourists, it is mainly used as a convenient orientation point and an attraction that – as advertised by guide books – ought to be seen and photographed. For Krakow’s residents, it is simply Adaś, a symbol of local identity, a meeting spot and the background for family photographs. Since the very moment of its unveiling, the Mickiewicz Monument has also functioned as a democratic rostrum, becoming one of the brightest spots on the political map of the city.