fot. Mach240390, wikimedia.org, licencja: CC BY 3.0

For 100 years it has stood in the heart of Krakow. The NBP building celebrates its birthday

The magnificent edifice of the NBP District Branch is located in the very heart of Krakow at 20 Basztowa St. It was designed in the style of academic classicism in the 1920s. The authors of the design were two prominent architects connected with Kraków – Kazimierz Wyczyński and Teodor Hoffmann. The building, located opposite Floriańska Gate and the Barbican, celebrates its 100th birthday this year. Today, its interiors house a unique place for education about the history of the Polish zloty (also celebrating its 100th anniversary this year), the NBP Krakow Economic Salon.

The time between the wars, the time of change

The interwar period was an extremely interesting time in terms of history, art and literature. It was an era of great events and enormous changes. Many of them – political, social and economic – are still an important point of reference today.

The dynamism of the era can also be seen in the architecture and urban planning, which was intended not only to express the vital forces of a reborn Poland, but also to emphasise its modernity. The presentation of these ideas in a geometrised and modern form sent an important message that the ‘new reality’ referred to a solid and enduring foundation. An example of a building from this era is the building of the Kraków branch of the National Bank of Poland at 20 Basztowa Street.

Since its construction in 1924, the building has continuously fulfilled its function, which was further developed in 2020 to include educational and exhibition activities. It was then that the NBP Krakow Economic Salon was launched. The exhibition presents the history of Polish money against the background of social and economic change in an attractive way.

Jubilee of the building and reforms

however, 2024 (celebrated in Poland as the Year of Economic Education) is not only the 100th ‘birthday’ of the NBP’s Krakow headquarters. Also soon, on 28 April 2024, we will celebrate the centenary of the commencement of operations of the Bank of Poland S.A. with the introduction of the Polish zloty into circulation, which happened as a result of the monetary reform carried out by Finance Minister Władysław Grabski. The zloty then replaced the devalued Polish mark.

Why was it built here?

The bank was built in the historic centre of Krakow in the Kleparz (hist. Florence, Clepardia) district – on the site where an inn originally stood. Then there was a building there, half of which (until 1895) was occupied by the Lwowski Hotel (since 1879 – the Central Hotel) and the other half by a tenement house.

Construction of the Kraków Branch of the Polish Bank SA in Basztowa Street. Photo by S. Meysenholter, 1922

After Poland regained its independence, the Polish National Loan Bank earmarked the property for the building of a temporary issuing bank. In 1921, already in the new reality, it was decided to erect a headquarters for the Polish Bank S.A. on this site, commissioning an architectural design from Kazimierz Wyczyński and, after his death in 1923, from Teodor Hoffman.

Building of the National Bank of Poland in Kraków. Photo by Henryk Hermanowicz, 1960s

Embedding the building in the very centre of Kraków was not an easy task. From the outset, it was to serve a banking function, and therefore to meet the appropriate technical requirements as well as to match the neighbouring architectural buildings. The building was seamlessly integrated into the immediate surroundings of the city’s historic buildings.

In the building’s line of development – in the immediate vicinity on the west side – was the edifice of the Krakow Starosty building, erected as the Delegate’s Palace in 1900 to a design by Alfred Broniewski (now housing the provincial office and marshal’s office), on the east side – Matejki Square, and on the south side – the Barbican and Floriańska Gate.

During the Nazi occupation, however, the building housed the headquarters of the General Government’s emission bank. After World War II, the Kraków branch of the National Bank of Poland was located in the building. The building underwent renovations (including a general overhaul in 2012-2020), reconstruction and modernisation. The ground floor, however, housed the aforementioned Kraków NBP Economic Salon, which opened in September 2020.

Monumental, decorative and functional – architectural details

The monumentality of the building, adapted to the representative architecture of Basztowa Street, is accentuated by a façade decorated with a risalit with four columns in Ionic order and a belvedere. The entire edifice is crowned by a magnificent attic.

The architectural detail of the building is a conscious and symbolic reference to its role. It was on such plans that most of the government buildings of the period were designed. The ground floor, rusticated throughout, serves as a plinth. The most representative façade is located on the side of Basztowa Street. It is decorated with a central risalit with two cannelled columns decorated with acanthus leaves and crowned with Ionic capitals at the base. A balcony is located at the level of the first floor.

From the very beginning, the building served a representative function. Above the main arcaded entrance, there is a bas-relief of an eagle in the key. The main façade on the south side is decorated with two monumental figural representations in the form of a group of sculptures which are allegories of agriculture and industry, the main fields in which the reborn Polish state saw its future. They were created by Karol Hukan (1888-1958), a graduate of the School of Fine Arts in Krakow, a pupil of, among others, Konstanty Laszczka (1865-1956).

materials of the NBP Krakow Economic Salon

The sculptures are made of artificial stone. “Agriculture” is a group of three women. The eldest, presumably the mother of two adjoining young ladies with a prominent long braid twisted in a circle, holds in her hand the attribute of agriculture, which is an ear of grain. “Industry” is, for counterbalance, a group of three men. The eldest, with a prominent moustache and girded with a belt, is probably the father of the two young men, who hold – each individually – individual attributes – a cogwheel shield and a hammer.

Despite their monumentalism, both representations are characterised by great vitality. Other symbols crowning the upper part of the building’s façade from Matejko’s palace are impressive reliefs: the main one depicting two fighting bison, and four side ones with images of young boys decorated with floral festoons in frames. Their author is Stanisław Popławski (1886-1959). They are symbols of strength, vitality, youth and business. Popławski is also the author of two medallions with female and male heads in antique styling, symmetrically placed above the portal at the main entrance to the bank from Basztowa Street. The entrance itself is an example of top-quality blacksmith craftsmanship. The metal gate, made by the Krakow workshop of the “Lathe Brethren of Podgórze”, is also decorated with significant symbols: among others, the coat of arms of the city of Krakow and crossed caduceus, (mythical staffs of the god Hermes), which are a symbol of settling disputes, the inviolability of members of parliament and, above all, of trade and commerce. Others are braided laurel wreaths – a symbol of abundance.

NBP Krakow Economic Salon – an exhibition unlike any other

Today, the aforementioned Krakow Economic Salon of the NBP operates in the building. It is an exhibition area of more than 800 square metres on the history of Polish money, where it is presented from the beginning of Polish statehood to the present day.

It is a journey in time that can be taken with the help of multimedia, apps and infographics. The exhibition consists of more than twenty stands. Each of them is a story about money and its value based on the economic changes that took place in Poland during a given historical period. It is also a modern, interactive form that allows visitors to gain knowledge in the unusual space of the beautiful interiors of a modernist bank building.

materials of the NBP Krakow Economic Salon

The exhibition also features banking artefacts. Visitors can admire an original bank safe from the 1920s, which by its craftsmanship and beautiful decoration is a wonderful example of the artistic craftsmanship of modernism. In order to better understand the character of the era, many references to cultural contexts are used in the exhibition. In the three adjoining rooms, which complement each other thematically, one can learn about the history of money in relation to the history of the Republic of Poland and of Malopolska itself. You can also… pick up a gold bar, which is not only valuable, but also very heavy (weighing several kilograms). A visit to the exhibition is also an opportunity to learn about the history of the building itself and see archival materials related to it.

The exhibition of the NBP Krakow Economic Showroom can be visited from Monday to Friday from 8.00 a.m. to 3.00 p.m. The tour lasts about one hour – it is worth planning a visit to this place during a trip to Krakow.

source: NBP

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