This sing-song manner of Hrubieszow...

A sketch of the life of Wiktor Zin

Marian Nowy

- Professor Zin died after a long and laborious life, and in spite of that his sudden death surprised us. He died but he is present in his works. He was an outstanding scientist. His figure was part of the academic and cultural panorama of our city. 'Walking around Krakow one must see the features of his activities marked on our city', said Fr Wladyslaw Gasidlo during the funeral celebration of Professor Wiktor Zin at St Mary's Church on 23 May 2007.
When Professor Zin was awarded an honorary doctorate of the Krakow University of Technology in 1998, Professor Kazimierz Flaga, Rector of the University of Technology, said, 'I am privileged to open the ceremony, during which an honorary doctorate will be given to Professor Wiktor Zin, architect, historian of architecture, architectural preservationist, outstanding artist, painter and graphic artist whose whole scientific and professional life was connected with our university, introducing and implementing humanistic ideas in technical sciences in a simple and beautiful way.' And Prof. Andrzej Kadluczka, Dean of the Faculty of Architecture, disciple and successor of Prof. Zin, said in his laudation, 'His almost 50 years of academic and didactic efforts, the absolutely original, well known in academic circles, way of teaching the history of architecture by using perfectly drawn sketches, and his methodology of research and design, which he used as an architect and architectural preservationist, won him numerous graduate and postgraduate students. Prof. Kazimierz Flaga was sure to mention that the ceremony is taking place in the wonderful interior of Collegium Maius of the Jagiellonian University - Almae Matris of all Polish universities, including the Krakow University of Technology.' Now when Prof. Wiktor Zin is not among us, Rector of the Jagiellonian University Prof. Karol Musio³ said, 'As everyone else I heard about Prof. Zin when he had his programme 'With pen and charcoal'. Then he appeared as an extraordinary figure, as a man of well-organised knowledge, with unique talents, not only didactic ones since his sketches were excellent works of art; each of us would like to have them at home. Prof. Zin was for us, academic teachers, some kind of revelation: how a man of science can deliver a lecture in such a marvellous way - to speak about the Polish landscape in such a way that everyone, regardless of his education, learnt what was most important to him. The highest quality! And then I got to know Prof. Zin personally in various situations, as a man who was a great scientist, a humble man, having extraordinary abilities to collaborate with people.'


Many professors of architecture, in which the ability to draw is required, and even many artists could envy Prof. Zin talents. And what's more, he occurred to be a virtuoso speaker. He could also combine these two skills. Therefore, he was unique and there was no one like him. How did he reach that? It turns out that Prof. Zin came from a family of painters. 'He was born on 14 September 1925 in Hrubieszow, where Mr Bilinski, painter from the workshop of Stanislaw August Poniatowski, had settled. Bilinski taught Szymon Zin. 'Szymon was the beloved grandfather of young Wiktor Zin', says Aleksandra Zin, Wiktor' wife. So the beloved grandfather taught his grandson everything he knew. And when Wiktor grew up he received a scholarship from Marshall Rydz-Smigly, who by the way had graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow. World War II broke out, people began to flee and migrate. Painters and historians from the Province of Poznan lived in the house of Szymon Zin. Szymon welcomed them cordially but he made certain requirement: they were to teach Wiktor the history of art. And they agreed to do that. After the war Wiktor went to Krakow, began studying architecture, and soon be was appointed assistant. There he met Aleksandra Zastawniak who was a student. And that is how it all began. They were married for 54 years. Now Szymon Zin, Wiktor's son, is living in the family house in Hrubieszow. Thus a grandson honoured his wonderful grandfather.

Krakow University of Technology

Wiktor Zin's academic life was connected with the Krakow University of Technology. Let us remember some facts: the idea to create the Krakow University of Technology originated during the Nazi occupation when it was clear that because of political decisions the Lwow University of Technology was not a Polish higher school any longer. The attempts to found a new technical higher school in Krakow began as early as in 1946. At the end of that year the Rector of the University of Mining and Metallurgy in Krakow obtained a formal consent to form a new school with technical faculties: Architecture, Engineering and Transport. The foundation document was signed on 6 October 1946. That date marks the origin of the Krakow University of Technology in spite of the fact that it became fully autonomous only in 1954. The buildings in Warszawska Street, which the army had left, became the main headquarters of the Krakow University of Technology. On the occasion of the 30th anniversary the University was named after Tadeusz Kosciuszko, Poland's and America's hero, politician and engineer who built the fortification around Krakow and Fortress West Point in the United States. Wiktor Zin completed his Master's studies with Distinction at the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Mining and Metallurgy in 1950. He completed his doctorate with Distinction in 1952 and his habilitation in 1961. After six years he was appointed Extraordinary Professor and in 1979 he was promoted to Ordinary Professor. He was the Dean of the Faculty of Architecture at the Krakow University of Technology for four terms.

Research and scientific output

In the years 1958-64 he was the General Architect in the Studio of Monuments Conservation in Krakow. He created and directed the Institute of the History of Architecture and Krakow Monuments Conservation. In the 1960s he conducted research on the Main Market Square in Krakow, in the Churches of St Adalbert, St Mary, St Salwator and St Benedict, which proved that Krakow had been a big town before its location act. He was the author of numerous discoveries in the field of historic architecture in other places (Zamosc, Chelm, Opatow, etc.), numerous projects of churches and interiors of churches in Poland and abroad. He was the General Monument Conservator in Poland in the years 1977-81.
He received Honorary Degree from the University of Budapest (1979) and from the Krakow University of Technology (1998), which was already mentioned. He won the Herder Prize (1980), was member of the Mexican Academy of Architecture and ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites), he was author of opera sceneries and various exhibitions. But first of all he was an outstanding teacher: he had 250 Master's students, ca. 40 doctors, tutored 18 habilitation dissertations, and reviewed 32 professor promotions.


'I knew Wiktor Zin throughout the whole period of his activities, from his student times till his passing away', says Prof. Witold Ceckiewicz from the Krakow University of Technology, known architect, member of the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences, builder of Polish churches. 'He was undoubtedly an outstanding personality that left numerous traces. For several dozen years he lectured with unique dedication to this part of architecture that interested him most: the history of wooden architecture - the history of our Polish architecture. And when he transferred his reflections from a lecture room to the biggest possible audience that television created he made us discover the values of folk architecture, regional architecture, and first of all disappearing monuments. Looking at his versatile activities from the perspective of time, the above-mentioned part of his activities wins the highest respect: he made us aware of the significance of the disappearing objects of our culture. And one should add, he did so using excellent drawings and marvellous commentaries.'
'I knew him for long. I knew him from the Society of Lovers of Krakow's History and Monuments', says Prof. Jerzy Wyrozumski from the Jagiellonian University, historian, Secretary General of the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences. 'He spoke about the monuments in a marvellous way and he made excellent sketches of the monuments. He had a lot to say about the history of art and architecture. In his programmes he spoke about problems concerning all Poles', adds Prof. Lucjan Suchanek from the Jagiellonian University, member of the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences. 'He did that in such a way that everyone could understand it. He showed us things that ordinary people did not notice. And what is important: all those things were very patriotic. That was an authentic patriotism and not a false one, serving other, political purposes. And that is most important.


It was counted that Professor Zin made over 10,000 drawings. 'Do you know that after my husband's death 10 trees were planted in Israel and they sent a wreath to his funeral?' asks Mrs Aleksandra Zin. 'Expressions of compassion came from all over the world. And I am not surprised. My husband worked for others all his life: in architecture, art as well as didactic, social and charity activities. Various organisations and towns expressed their gratitude by awarding him honorary citizenships, medals and distinctions. However, some of Prof. Zin's decisions were opposed. People did not like that he accepted the post of vice-minister of culture and art and that it was in those, politically bad, times' Mrs Zin says. 'But they do not know that before making the decision to accept that post my husband had spoken to Poland's Primate Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski. 'Governments and systems change but the national culture and its heritage remain. One should preserve them', was the answer to the question whether he should accept that function. 'the Primate knew very well that Wiktor Zin initiated the idea to build the Grunwald Monument in Krakow and as the General Conservator he was able to preserve cultural goods, which would have disappeared without him. One should add that he managed to preserve the Panorama of the Battle of Raclawice. I do not dare to open this sealed volume that is the book of life of Professor Zin, the volume that God himself closed on 17 May 2007. The volume contains all achievements of his mind and character, the richness of his spirit and subtle beauty, which were in such abundance throughout his life. Only God has the right and authority to evaluate his life fully', said Fr Wladyslaw Gasidlo in Mary's Church during the funeral celebration.

- He was a phenomenon as far as the history and the promotion of the history of architecture are concerned. Through his television and radio activities he did extremely much for the culture in our society, for respect for our culture, its heritage', thinks Prof. Stanislaw Waltos, member of the Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences, lawyer and museologist, director of the Jagiellonian University Museum in Collegium Maius. - I am not to evaluate his scientific achievement; specialists can do that. I do not know his architectural concepts that were unacceptable. Some people grudged against his way of reconstructing the town hall in Krakow but this matter is not explicit. But his contribution towards the erection of the Monument to the Shipyard Workers in Gdansk remains indisputable. And moreover, he was extremely charming. This wonderful sing-song manner of Hrubieszow...

"Niedziela" 36/2007

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: