The city of Warsaw was registered on the World Heritage List in 1980. What has been the impact of this nomination for your city?
The city’s historical complex, the Old Town and its surroundings — the New Town, the Royal Route and the Vistula River Escarpment — were recognized as a Monument of the History in 1994. This is the highest, most prestigious honor granted to heritage sites by the President of Poland. The area is the location of public buildings and cultural institutions of greatest importance to the city and the country. Thanks to these nominations as well as revitalization efforts undertaken on public spaces, this part of Warsaw is becoming the city’s calling card, eliciting pride and becoming a popular venue for outings by its residents and visitors. The Heritage Interpretation Center at No. 11/13 Brzozowa Street, operating as a part of the Historical Museum of Warsaw, was opened in the early spring of this year to explain the phenomenon of Warsaw on the World Heritage List. It is the place to discover the history of the destruction and rebuilding of the city, but also to discuss its past and future. The boundaries of the area inscribed onto the UNESCO List were marked several years ago by kind of special pedestals with small spatial models of the Old Town. That project not only promotes world heritage, but also helps tourists and the visually impaired visitors to move around Warsaw’s Old Town. The historical city is again becoming its heart.
In your opinion, what is the vital role of a mayor when a city has been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List?
The mayor is often seen as a combination of a gentle guardian and a firm banker. In other words, the mayor’s role is to protect heritage and raise global awareness of the city, without forgetting about financial support in municipal planning. This is especially important in places such as Warsaw, which is the national capital and home to over two million people. Keeping in mind the needs of all residents, the mayor must weigh their requests against the potential inherent in heritage that attracts both tourists and investors from around the world.
Concretely, what have been your actions toward the protection and enhancement of your heritage?
The modernization of the public space of the Royal Route, the Old and New Towns, and the old city fortifications has been underway for several years now. A fountain park has been created in the sub–escarpment area at the foot of the historical city. It has already become an attractive venue for summer meetings. Renovation work is being conducted on the paved surfaces of the Old Town, as is modernization work on the riverside boulevards. This space is becoming increasingly popular as the site for the organization of various events. It is for this reason that it became necessary to develop special regulations in order to maintain the high quality and prestige of this exceptional place. Moreover, the city has developed a special mechanism for co–financing conservation work on historical monuments that are the property of private owners. Vehicular traffic in the Old and New Towns is restricted, while on the Royal Route it is limited to public transport. We want a city of information, dialogue with citizens and simple but strict regulations, where the good of heritage takes precedence over convenience, comfort and profit.
Do you hold special events to enhance your city?
Krakowskie Przedmieście and Nowy Świat streets, which form the axis of the Royal Route, are closed to vehicular traffic every weekend during the summer period. The space is available for various events such as concerts, sporting events and occasional trade. Warsaw celebrates its day on August 15, while in September, the city is a participant in the organization of European Heritage Days together with the rest of Europe. As to the World Heritage Site itself, the Old Town Market Square hosts Jazz greats such as Pat Metheny, Wayne Shorter and Tomasz Stanko, who play for free every Saturday evening throughout the summer. The streets of the Old and New Towns as well as the Royal Route are resplendent in special holiday decorations throughout the whole of December and January. This attracts many residents and visitors. Special displays using holograms and illustrated by music are held three evenings each week during the summer season. They attract thousands. The city also provides financial support and participates in many media campaigns as well as cultural and sporting events.
In 2009, Warsaw was the first city to be awarded the Jean–Paul–L’Allier Prize for Heritage by the OWHC. Could you describe the project for which Warsaw received this prestigious award?
The project involved the illumination of the historic city walls encircling Warsaw’s Old Town—the area inscribed onto the UNESCO World Heritage List. The illumination was planned as both static and dynamic. The walls are lit by a system of external fixed in–ground high–pressure sodium luminaires. The yellow light emitted by the lamps was designed to bring out the character of the brick structure as well as to light the pedestrian walking area—the killing field between the two circles of the walls. Additionally, the system provides dynamic illumination by introducing a range of tones of red light that is reserved for special events. External night lighting provides enjoyment for visitors. It makes it possible for them to examine the historical fabric, thus helping in understanding and interpreting its historical and cultural significance. Moreover, it has improved the quality and safety of the nighttime environment by creating an opportunity for evening visitors to explore the site. The awarding of the Prize has been honored by a special plaque on the Old Town walls.
In your opinion, what makes Warsaw such a special place?
Warsaw is youthful, dynamic and diverse. Although Fate has not spared the city, by today’s standards it may be said that it has attracted financial and human capital ever since it became the capital of Poland in the 17th century. It is where renowned artists, architects, engineers and bankers of various national and religious roots have worked. They created the civilization and culture of the city. This continues to be true today. Warsaw is open to people and challenges. Remembering the past and utilizing its own experience as well as that of its European partners, the city is thinking about the building of the future, which we hope will also be a valuable part of our heritage at some point in time. Warsaw is a city with something for everyone—one of many, but a very unique cultural hub of Europe.