< POLAND | CRACOW: Grand Hotel
The history of Cracow’s Grand Hotel dates back to the 19thcentury, although the history of the actual tenement house, or complex of tenement houses making up the building, dates back to medieval times. In 1873, the tenement house at ul. Sławkowska 5, and soon thereafter, the adjacent tenement house at ul. Sławkowska 7, were bought by a princely couple – Marcelina, the most famous of Fryderyk Chopin’s apprentices, and Aleksander Czartoryski.
After the purchase the well-known architect, Maksymilian Nitsch, combined the two Middle Age-Renaissance buildings to form the residence of the Duke and Duchess. The palace soon became the focal
point of social gatherings, meetings of intellectuals and artists.
In 1886, Czartoryski’s son and heir, Marcel, lets the building for hotel services, and a few years later sells the palace to the well-known connoisseur and collector of works of art, a participant in the uprising of 1863-64 – Eustachy Jaxa Chronowski. The famous architect of the Secession and Modernist period – Tadeusz Stryjeński – supervized adaptation work.
The official opening of the “most modern and luxurious hotel in town” - as the press described the building and compared it to Europe’s finest hotels, occurred on 15th January 1887. Soon afterwards the Grand Hotel became popular with many Guests, mainly the aristocracy of Poland and Europe.
Modernization work continued and the hotel grew larger, resulting in the creation of a world class hotel enterprise, well ahead of its times. It was then that the hotel complex was expanded to include two more buildings located in St John’s St (św. Jana). Thanks to its own generators the hotel was the first to have an electrical light source. Hotel rooms were equipped with running water and the legendary Belgian mirrored glass-covered restaurant roof, known as the Mirror Hall, was opened in this period. The main entrance, located in Sławkowska St and still intact, also comes from the same period. It is covered with exquisite awning dating back to the Secession period. The corridors and restaurant are decorated with stained glass windows.
A frequent 19th century guest in the hotel café was the writer, Henryk Sienkiewicz, for whom according to Adam Grzymała-Siedlecki: “Cracow would never be fully Cracow if at 10 in the morning he didn’t turn up in the tiny café for his coffee and cream”. Some years later (in 1914) during his travels to Poland another great writer was a hotel guest – Joseph Conrad and his family.
The 1920s and 1930s were the hotel’s most splendid period. Cracow’s most exquisite meeting place before the war was the café of Jan Bisanz. It was here that the creme de la creme of the world of science, culture and art regularly gathered. One of the walls of the restaurant was covered with a huge canvas depicting famous painters, poets, political commentators and artists expressing their views. The canvas contained hundreds of maxims, sketches and poems by Lucjan Rydel, Stanisław Wyspiański, Kazimierz Tetmajer and Ludwik Solski. In 1936 the world famous tenor Jan Kiepura was a guest at the Grand Hotel. Kiepura – eager to satisfy the crowd of admirers gathered outside the hotel – gave a unique concert from the window of the Marble Suite.
It would be unjust not to mention the place of The Grand Hotel in Polish literature – Henryk Worcell, on the basis of his own experience as a waiter, wrote the famous novel “Enchanted Post of Duty” (1936).
In the 1940s, by special ordinance, The Grand became one of a number of hotels designated for the exclusive use of Germans, though the hotel staff remained the same. In these times of great hardship hotel employees did everything they could to help those who were forced to seek shelter from Nazi terror.
The early years of the post-war period see a decline in the magnificence of The Grand. These are new times, full of stagnation and progressive destruction. The building was nationalized in 1960 and this led to even more accelerated decline. Destruction, neglect, theft and unprofessional repair work which – paradoxically – brought about further damage... This is the state in which the specially set up company Wawel-Imos International S.A. took over The Grand Hotel in 1990, thus becoming its new lessee.
The early 1990s turned out to be a godsend for the now devastated hotel. Wawel-Imos International S.A. decided to address the difficult and ambitious task of restoring this monument in decline and reinstating it once more as a hotel. At great expense, but probably in proportion to the degree of devastation, a meticulous programme of repair work was carried out in the building. Never sparing a moment of care the company restored the monumental character of the premises and partly reconstructed damaged fragments of architecture and furnishings, thus reanimating the beauty and glory of this once magnificent palace.
The elite character of Cracow’s most elegant hotel and its location in the heart of the Old Town, are held in great esteem by monarchs, heads of state, renowned actors and performers, writers, eminent scientists, businessmen and the aristocracy. Once again the traditional sound of intellectual debate echoes around the legendary “Professors” table, occupied each day by groups of eminent Cracow scholars.
The attainments of the hotel have also been well-received and acclaimed by the Chapter of the prestigious “Now Poland” competition for the Poland Promotion Emblem. On the tenth anniversary of the competition, The Grand Hotel received the Golden Statuette first prize in the best hotel and catering services category.
The Grand was greatly honoured to receive further distinctions – on 22nd March 2004, worthily representing its tradition of more than one hundred years, it was the first hotel in Cracow to be given five-star status.
The history of The Grand Hotel, both fascinating and tempestuous, seems to bear out the view that the location has for centuries been watched over by a genius loci. This benevolent spirit undoubtedly extends its influence to all those who live here...
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