Eco triumph as Krakow’s ‘best kept secret’ to become nature reserve after being saved from developers
Regarded as one of Kraków’s greatest local secrets, the Liban Quarry is to be turned into a nature reserve after plans to revitalise it were abandoned following an environmental outcry.
Best-known as serving as the set for Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust epic, Schindler’s List, a draft resolution has now been prepared that will see the 15 hectares of the 18 hectare site protected from development.
Justified by the Mayor, the move has been made so as to safeguard the natural life that has flourished in the area: “The purpose of establishing the Liban Quarry as a place of ecological use has been made to protect the mosaic of spontaneously formed ecosystems in this former limestone quarry,” read the official statement.
“In particular, emphasis will be made on protecting the natural habitats that have rare or protected animal species associated with the aquatic environment and xerothermic grasslands, their refuges and their places of reproduction and seasonal residence.”
Home to 286 different forms of flora, and nearly 40 species of fauna, the area – found in the Podgórze district – has also been determined to have rock formations, soil and underground water systems of particularly high natural value.
The news marks a dramatic U-turn after ZZM, the City Greenery Board, had mooted plans for a PLN 50 million project that would have seen the quarry transformed into a park.
Among other ideas, the investment would have led to the demolition of several existing buildings, the construction of a museum and gallery, and space for workshops and other such facilities.
But having already secured PLN 31.5 million, City Hall faced a public backlash whilst searching for the shortfall. With eco groups and local activists calling for a rethink, the city found itself backtracking to appease the dissenters.
Swayed also by the soaring costs that such a project would entail, the money will now be funnelled to finance a pedestrian bridge linking the Zabłocie suburb with Grzegórzki.
An area of outstanding natural beauty, for Liban it signals something of a last minute reprieve.
Taking its name from Bernard Liban, a locally-born Jewish industrialist, the quarry was established in the 19th century – though historical evidence suggests that limestone was mined here up to 500-years before.
Seized by the Germans during the occupation, a penal camp for Poles was based here that soon earned a reputation for its brutal conditions.
Wearing little more than rags, and barely surviving on starvation-style rations, prisoners worked in inhumane conditions – routinely flogged for the slightest indiscretions, it’s thought that as many 2,000 people passed through the gates during its wartime operation.
In July, 1944, a mass escape involving around 150 prisoners took place, and in reprisal German guards massacred the 23 people that had remained – added in 1948, their deaths are remembered via a stone memorial as well as a cross added in 1981 by the Solidarity movement.
Continuing to function well after the war, it was not until 1986 that the quarry was finally closed. But this was not the end of the Liban story – years later, when Steven Spielberg arrived to film Schindler’s List, the director rented the quarry to build a reduced replica of Płaszów concentration camp on the site of the Liban Quarry.
Included in this were seven watchtowers, thirty-four barracks, stables and an imitation of Amon Goeth’s villa.
Subsequently, whilst many of these elements were dismantled, other parts were not, among them an avenue built using mock Jewish tombstones, barbed wire fences and barrack foundations.
Left to rot, these were quickly reclaimed by nature alongside more genuine historical relics such as the quarry’s rusting kilns and ruined warehouses.
A favourite of urbex explorers and curious sightseers looking to discover a more alternative side to Kraków, it now appears that this remarkable green oasis shall continue to fascinate further generations in its bizarre current form.