Wall paintings, arcaded windows and decorative facades - discoveries in the Main Post Office building in Cracow
Ever since a Czech investor purchased the Main Post Office building at Wielopole 2 in Cracow from Orange in 2019, intensive preparations have been underway to renovate the property. Although the official work has not yet started, the owner is revealing the secret and confirming the plan to restore the building to its historical splendour.
Wall paintings, arcade windows, polychromes decorating the ceilings or stone decorations of the facades, which come from two phases of the building's extension. Among other discoveries, these were the findings of the historic edifice, carried out since 2019 on behalf of Zeitgeist Asset Management, a developer and asset management company for private and institutional investors in Central and Eastern Europe, Germany and Italy. Since its inception, the company has specialized in the restoration of historic properties, with a portfolio of dozens of well-known projects located in Prague, Czech Republic, such as Dunaj Palace, Krizikowa and Myslikova.
The building at Wielopole 2 has been the headquarters of the Main Post Office for 120 years. After the reduction of the area occupied by postal and telecommunications services, most of the interiors are vacant buildings, and there are decaying walls, witnesses of a bygone era. Today, the investor is working on a plan for their protection and restoration, in cooperation with the best specialists in monument conservation, together with the team of Baumschlager Eberle Architekten under the direction of Marek Dunikowski.
We want to renovate what was destroyed and expose the elements indicated by conservators, which will make the history of this building continue, writing only its new pages. We have restored many valuable objects in Europe, now we would like to do the same for Cracow - says Peter Noack, CEO and co-founder of Zeitgeist Asset Management. - Opening to a wider audience historical interiors such as Wielopole 2 is a real pleasure for us - he adds.
In the footsteps of Friedrich Setz
And there is much to show. The Main Post Office is an extraordinary building and an important object of historical Kraków, almost a symbol of the development of the metropolis. It was built in the years 1887-1889 and designed by Franz Setz and Tadeusz Stryjeński, who gave it the style of the Viennese Neo-Renaissance - the so-called Renaissance of the North. Setz himself became famous for creating the architecture of postal buildings also in Lvov, Bielsko-Biala or Trieste, which became flagship buildings for subsequent post offices of this type. In 1909 Almon Strowger's system was installed in Wielopole, which made the building the first automatic telephone exchange.
With time, the building began to change its functions, it was rebuilt many times and the facade, originally finished with noble plaster, was covered with other materials. In the 1930s, the post office was renovated and expanded according to the design of Fryderyk Tadanier, a Cracow architect of the modernist era. The cupola was removed, two storeys and an annex with a parcel warehouse function were added, and the facade was decorated with stucco work with crystal ornaments [see glossary below]. During the communist era, in the 1980s, decorations were created in the interiors on the third and fourth floors of the post office to refer to the crystal ornaments on the facades of the building, and in the following decade, the dome of the main building was added. These and subsequent remodels, however, destroyed much of the old architecture.
Following the change of ownership of the building in 2019, stratigraphic and excavation research was conducted in the post office building under the direction of the esteemed Cracow conservator, Bożena Boby-Dyga, and architectural research by Dr. Anna Bojaś-Białasik. During the research a total of 729 probes and opencasts were made. More than 300 were on the rooms on the second floor, where most of the paintings have been preserved, and another 100 on the elevations. The discoveries translate into the planning of revitalization works.
From the room of telephone operators to bricked up relics of neo-Renaissance
As a result of the restoration of the building, many interiors will regain their former glory, which have so far remained undeveloped, deteriorating with each passing year. These include, among others, the hall of the building and a true architectural gem - the so-called room of the telephone operators, located on the second floor, with an area of 160 m2. In order to reflect the spirit of the times, the layout of this floor will be only slightly changed so as to preserve the original division of the most valuable rooms in terms of conservation.
A few words about the details. The polychromes [see glossary below], i.e. the multicolored paintings on the walls and ceilings, including garlands with flowers and lilies, dating to the 19th century, are a valuable monument. During the opencast research it was established that the recesses of the glazed skylights on the second floor were decorated with paintings imitating marble veining and stucco.
All rooms on the second floor were additionally decorated with repetitive decorative motifs. They were complemented with illusionistic plafonds, i.e. parts of the ceiling characterized by optically interesting paintings", says Bożena Boba-Dyga from Art Forum. Plafonds today differ in their state of preservation, but for the most part they are legible.
The third floor is also inspiring for us. The most valuable architectural element discovered in the central room under the dome are bricked up 19th century biforias, a kind of semicircular windows with a column between them," adds Andrzej Lubicz-Lisowski from Baumschlager Eberle Architekten. On the walls there are also fragments of Greek and Byzantine inscriptions.
Investor will renovate original facade
The plans include reproduction of the original plasters, which will restore the historic appearance of the building. In the 1930s, the exterior facades were finished with stucco plasters with mica. - We continually talk with conservators and architects to ensure that all of our work is done according to the rules of art. We strive to faithfully recreate and preserve the elements that constitute the historical legacy, and among these, the façade is obviously an important part. - says Grzegorz Sławiński, project manager at Zeitgeist Asset Management.
On fountain facades researchers found relics of noble plasters with mica, locally reflecting light. The use of terazzo plaster for casts of decorative cornices and plinths is noteworthy. There are also remains of stone bonijos, i.e. rectangular slabs on the façade, decorating corners and spaces between windows. All of them will be restored. The windows themselves are also interesting - there are as many as 70 types of window frames in the entire building. The list of historical elements also includes bars, shutters, metal doors, staircase balustrades and linoleum.
Interiors open for residents of Cracow
As for the future use of the building, the plans are unchanged. The Main Post Office will remain at the same address. However, the infrastructure of Orange company will be moved to technical rooms located at the basement level.
And in the places of former offices and vacant buildings a complex renovation will be carried out. Zeitgeist wants to use these spaces for a high-class hotel with about 150 guest rooms, including a new inner courtyard. The idea is to make the future hotel an open and friendly building for the residents of Cracow. An important change, meeting the conservator's conclusions from the beginning of 2022, is a significant limitation of the number of rooms, including on the second floor - in order to protect the spatial layout and elements of decor.
The rooms on the second floor will be open to the public, e.g. for conferences, chamber concerts or exhibitions. Also, the first floor will remain open, offering a bar and restaurant, and a conference center in the annex building. Additionally, the Polish Post, in cooperation with the building's owner, intends to use part of the first floor for exhibition and museum functions, dedicated to the history of the Polish Post.
- Stratigraphic research - aims to establish the chronology, iconography, technology, extent of occurrence and state of preservation of historical layers. They provide knowledge about the technology of construction in the various phases of transformation and about the color of the facade and its architectural detail.
- Bifora - semicircular windows, usually divided by a column or post into two parts.
- Bone lines - stucco decorations imitating stone cladding; slabs that decorate the facade, e.g., in the corners or at the windows.
- Plinth - the lowest above-ground part of a building or its part. It has structural and decorative function.
- Cornices - horizontal, usually profiled strips protruding from the face of the wall. They protect facade of the building from rainwater runoff. They can have a decorative function.
- Mica: mineral decorative additive to stucco, reflecting light in places.
- Ornament - a motif or set of ornamental motifs. These motifs, composed of small elements, may cover the entire surface, occur only in specific fields, or take the form of bands.
- Illusionistic plafonds: part of a ceiling decorated with stucco, polychrome or paintings on specially suspended canvas to create optical depth.
- Polychrome: multicolored painting decoration of walls, ceilings, vaults, or wooden furnishings.
- Stucco - decoration of walls, vaults, or ceilings with decorative spatial elements made of plaster or other mortar.
- Terazzo - a type of stoneware stucco, characterized by...
- Noble plasters - allow to shape architectural surfaces in accordance with current trends. They combine natural colors of facades with rich textural effects.