Listed status and preservation strategies for historic Polish properties

Detail from the panorama of Kraków in “Civitates Orbis Terrarum” (1617)

At a general level, the Polish state recognizes the preservation and revitalization of the nation’s historic buildings as a strategic goal of great aesthetic, historical, economic significance. Such objectives are expressed, among other places, in numerous policy documents developed by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. There are also a number of national and local laws through which particular protected status is provided to historic buildings, gardens, and other properties. However, a vast number of historic properties currently enjoy none of the protections that can potentially be afforded by such legal mechanisms.

While a building’s possession of one or more of the kinds of legal status described below can create certain limitations and responsibilities for the property’s owner, it also opens the door to applying for many types of generous historical preservation grants funded by nonprofit organizations, Polish governmental agencies, and the European Union.

Local status

At the local level, notable historic properties may receive some degree of protection as a result of having been added to the municipal register of historical buildings (gminna ewidencja zabytków) by the local historical conservator of a particular municipality (gmina). By law, when developing or updating their local zoning and development plans, municipalities are required to at least give consideration to minimizing the threats to such historical properties and seeking to preserve and enhance their condition by making or securing necessary investment. Some historical properties enjoy further legal status by having been incorporated into a cultural park (park kulturowy) established by one or more municipalities.

Regional status

Other historical properties may enjoy some protections granted at the higher administrative level of the voivoideship, which is roughly equivalent to a “county” (in Great Britain), “Land” (in Germany), or “state” (in the United States). In particular, the office of the historical conservator of each voivoideship maintains a regional register of historical properties (rejestr zabytków); an application to add a particular property to that register may be made by its owner or by a nonprofit organization whose charter includes the preservation of such properties as part of its mission. Local zoning and development plans must take into account the need to protect such properties.

National status

In principle, a particular structure might also be afforded further protection at the national level by being recognized by the President of the Republic of Poland – at the recommendation of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage – as a “monument of history” (pomnik historii) that possesses transcendent historical or artistic significance. Among the roughly one hundred sites across the country that have been granted such status are a few individual homes, like the palace-park complex in Kozłówka, the palace-garden complex in Nieborów, and the home of the Nobel-Prize-winning author Henryk Sienkiewicz in Oblęgorek.

Other buildings have been afforded such status as part of a clearly defined group, like the eleven villas and palace-park complexes recognized collectively as the monumental palaces and parks of the Jelenia Góra Valley. Yet other historically significant buildings have acquired such status less directly, by virtue of being located within a particular area that has been recognized in its entirety as a monument; among such venues are the Old Towns or other historic districts of Chełmno, Kraków, Poznań, Toruń, Warsaw, and Wrocław, along with the whole town of Kazimierz Dolny.