Restoration of Kraków's gothic altar wins European heritage ‘Oscar’
The conservation of a spectacular gothic altar at Kraków's St Mary's Basilica has won the prestigious 2023 European Heritage Europa Nostra Award.
Described as being the "European Oscar in the field of Cultural Heritage", the stunning altar was awarded in the "Conservation and Adaptive Reuse" category.
The intricately carved gothic altar depicting the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary was created by Wit Stwosz (Veit Stoss) between 1477 and 1489.
The subject of a recently completed extensive renovation project which was undertaken in situ and managed to successfully restore it to its former glory, the altar has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1978.
The renovation which took over five years was carried out by specialists from the of Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków who painstakingly restored thousands of individually sculpted elements, including 200 figurines, the largest weighing 250 kilograms and measuring over 3 meters high.
Extensive international consultations were also an essential part of the project, involving experts in Gothic sculpture conservation from Poland and Europe, who exchanged knowledge and ideas, giving way to many new discoveries.
Announcing the award, the Europa Nostra jury said: “The restoration of this magnificent altarpiece is a unique and exceptional achievement.
“The meticulous conservation of the Wit Stwosz Altarpiece in St. Mary’s Basilica, based on thorough research, was carried out by professionals who demonstrated great respect and sensitivity towards the original work.
“The project brought together people from different countries, reflecting the international importance of the site and the need for cooperation in preserving European heritage.
“At the same time, it is an achievement on an impressive scale, being one of the largest Gothic altars in the world.”
Speaking to the Polish Press Agency, Europa Nostra vice-president Professor Jacek Purchla said: "This is Poland’s only award this year, which means it is the only chance for us to talk about the weaving together of many important elements leading to this success.
“It is not only the success of the Basilica as the host, the applicant, but also the whole system that we have built over many decades in Kraków – a system of societal awareness of cultural heritage.”
The ceremony for this year’s awards for 30 outstanding heritage achievements from 21 countries across five categories. will take place on the 28th of September in Venice.