Poznań’s 19th century Pl. Kolegiacki returned to its former glory as part of movement to reclaim community spaces from ‘carpark hell’
Regarded as one of Poznań’s great, historic squares, Plac Kolegiacki has been returned to its best following an intense three-year renovation process conducted by the city.
Featuring fountains, greenery, information boards and outbreaks of modern art, the initiative has been hailed by the Mayor, Jacek Jaśkowiak, as a project for the masses: “I am glad that we have managed to revitalize the square while respecting the historic character of this space,” he said.
“After all, it was here that the largest collegiate church in the city once stood. Today, you can see its remains encased in glass showcases and learn about its valuable history.
“As a result [of the work], a beautiful and necessary place has been created in the very heart of Poznań, one that is accessible to all of the city’s residents.”
Reputedly costing PLN 37 million, the renovation has faced flak from critics who have pointed out that the plot had more greenery before than currently found.
Defenders, however, have been quick to remind critics that, prior to the revamp, much of the square was little more than a crowded car park. This project, they say, has seen a once grand square rejoined to the function of the city with its multi-use approach.
Among other elements, the new look square now features an illuminated fountain as one of its signature pieces, as well as a strip of preserved lime and hornbeam trees, and an array of maple leaf trees strategically placed so as to create a natural shaded canopy over the passage of time.
Elsewhere, pristine lawns have also been planted with tulips and other seasonal flowers and these have endowed the square with a colourful sense of vibrancy – a sensation amplified by the number of café terraces and public benches that have further been added.
Equally notable, a 12-metre polished steel obelisk has become one of the other defining points of interest. Authored by Piotr W. Wełak, a widely-acclaimed, locally-based artist, the work is intended as “a symbolic representation of the history of the collegiate church of St. Mary Magdalene.”
As if to push this point home, glazed flooring close by has been fitted to conceal one of the crypt’s foundation walls as well as a part of the former church bell.
Arguably, the manner in which this modern-minded redevelopment has bridged the past could prove to be its greatest triumph. Generously applied to benches and other surfaces, QR codes are in copious supply and feature archaeological information and interactive models.
That this contrast between new and old feels so seamless is to the enduring credit of the design team, and already there are signs that critics could yet soften in their judgements of Kolegiacki.
Once the site of the St. Mary Magdalene Church, a no-longer existing Gothic 13th century masterpiece that was reportedly taller than Notre Dame, it was destroyed numerous times by fire - finally, in 1802, its remaining ruins were dismantled altogether.
Nonetheless, the area remains flanked by a rich tapestry of architectural highlights: classicist tenements from the early 19th century, an avant-garde 1930s modernist building once home to a municipal bath, and the stunning Basilica.
One of the best examples of the lavish Baroque style to be found in the country, this pink-coloured treasure ranks as one of the city’s most photogenic charms. Itself steeped in stories, its ornate halls and chambers previously hosted such visiting luminaries as Chopin, Napoleon Bonaparte, Tsar Alexander I, the Duke of Wellington, Tsar Nicholas I and Kaiser Wilhelm I.
Curiously somewhat, Prince August Wilhelm Hohenzollern also was known for his relationship with the square.
The son of Kaiser Wilhelm II, he served an internship nearby and was frequently sighted travelling by tram and walking his two large hounds through the square.
Finally, after years of being overshadowed, Kolegiacki has been returned to the magisterial pedestal that its past demands.