Although it might be difficult to agree with the following statement straight away, Planty – the "green circle" surrounding the oldest part of the city – is one of the most unusual monuments of Krakow. It isn’t by any means just one of many urban parks, although it is treated as such, both by the Cracovians and by the visitors. Not all of them, of course, as for some people it is a unique in the world urban park, for others it is a place where you can go for an amazing walk through centuries, and there are also such who associate it with playing truant. Still on warm autumn or spring days most of the banches are occupied by the youth from the nearby secondary schools (The First, The Fifth or an Economy School), and the more varied or even international group of students from the esteemed Alma Mater.
However, there are certain dangers hidden in Planty: you need to look where you are walking, as you can accidentally step on a "surprise" left by dogs, and you need to mind your head as Krakow’s birds have also something to say in this respect. But it is also a place of romantic walks of couples, and when those walks bring some fruit, these become family walks. People of all ages stroll along Planty, businesspeople who work in the companies on the Market Square rush to their offices as they had to leave their cars on car parks outside the "green circle", the Gypsies suggest fortune-telling, and you can meet here many a tramp... This four-kilometre long ring of greenness is attractive during all the seasons of the year – in spring it refreshes the Old Krakow, in summer it offers a nice shade, in autumn it attracts with romantic gold and purple of leaves (and you can also get hit by a chestnut), and in winter, when it’s covered in snow, it inclines to reflection.
But, is it everything we may say about Planty? The answer seems obvious – surely not. Yet, in order to find out more about this unusual park we have to go back in time. Those who are not particularly fond of history can be promised that the history of Planty will be shown in the most accessible and short form.
It all started like that: at a certain point (not to pester you with specific dates, let’s assume that it was simply the end of the 18th century) the decision was taken to pull down some of the defensive walls surrounding the oldest part of Krakow. Many inhabitants of the city didn’t like it and protested against the idea, maliciously calling councilors "wallpullers". However, the fate of Krakow’s city fortifications was doomed. What was left behind was only a piece of walls next to The Florian Gate. It was saved by the defenders of the old fortifications, who threatened the councilors that the strong mountain wind "Halny", when it gets to Krakow, will raise skirts of their wives, as it will no longer meet any large obstacles in a form of walls.
Such threats, however, didn’t bring an expected result. Fortifications were gradually pulled down. People started strolling across the empty squares, and soon these places became popular walking areas, which required some kind of control.
The symbolic birth of contemporary Planty was planting an elm – the "Freedom Tree" on 3rd May 1892 (to celebrate the anniversary of the Constitution of the 3rd May). Since 1815, under the surveillance of Feliks Radwanski, trees had been systematically planted around the Old City, thus creating a different type of wall – the green one – called "Plantation". These were the official beginnings of Planty.
Florian Straszewski has continued Radwański’s works under development of this unusual park, and he was completely devoted to to this undertaking until his death in 1847. The next stage of development (1847-1870) was called "romantic", as Planty was given the look of the fashionable then English Gardens full of "flower portraits", bends, secret bridges and arbors – suddenly appearing in front of the walking people. Then, the third period started and it lasted until 1914. It was a period of naturalism and Art Nouveau. Planty was equipped with wooden banches (before there had been stone ones),gas lighting, quite a few monuments (those of Grażyna, Lilia Weneda, Jadwiga, Jagiełło, Rejtan, and others), as well as the so- called Planty personnel. Places of social meetings, such as shows and cabarets (e.g.Odeon), cafes, confectioneries and a famous, no longer existing cinema "Wanda" (1912), suddenly appeared around the ring of Planty.
Further history of Planty includes also interwar period, referred to as "stage-landscape", the years of the Second World War and occupation (when the memorial elm, then 150 years old, was cut down), the first after-war period (until the 1960’s) and "the years of negligence" 1960 – 1990. Since the 1990’s restoration works and a systematic embellishment of Planty have been going on, but it must be said that they have been rather sluggish.
Now, Planty occupies about 21 hectares and constitutes a unique in Europe urban scheme divided into eight "gardens": 1. Wawel Garden 2. University Garden 3. Palace of Arts Garden 4. Florianka Garden 5. Barbican Garden 6. Railway Station Garden 7. Gródek Garden 8. Stradom Garden.
When walking along Planty it might be worth looking around and finding a few monuments, remnants of fortifications, commemorative plaques, as well as trying to identify the Garden we are in.