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Henryk Jordan’s Park

Henryk Jordan (1842 – 1907), who was a doctor and a scientist, has been remembered first of all as a social activist and an exponent of physical education in Poland. Although physical condition of contemporary school-children does not seem to be very good, certainly it is better than those of their counterparts from the second half of 19th century. First of all, it is the result of obligatory lessons of physical education and a fashion for sporty and fit body. Who do we owe it to? It is largly due to Henryk Jordan, whose adult life was connected with Krakow, where he realised his ambitious and, then, revolutionary undertakings.

Apart from social activity (such as struggle for common retirement pensions and a strive to build hospitals), Jordan put his pedagogical and medical concepts into action. It was he who put forward a proposal, passed by the government, to have a school doctor in secondary schools and to introduce obligatory lessons of gymnastics. However, it was a real sensation when in 1889 a special park for children and teenagers was opened. It wasn't an "ordinary" park, but a place where young people could improve their fitness having fun at the same time. Apart from this, the park was to shape in an implicit way moral stance of young people. Therefore, stone busts of the most important of Polish history and culture were put to observe exercises of Krakow's school-children. The park, which was iniciated by Jordan, was the first of this type in Poland and in Europe. The iniciator himself got so engaged in realising his idea that he largely finansed its construction and personally brought the most modern sport facilities from Sweden, Germany and Switzerland. Jordan took care of his park all his life: he was still improving it and introducing new solutions.

What was so innovative in Jordan's concepts and in the idea of the park itself? First of all, the real breakthrough was the change in mentality: increasing importance of physical education and making people realise that physical development is equally important as intelectual development, and that it isn't less important in shaping our personality. So, the park run an educational activity based on games and exercises. Classes were run by students of Krakow's universities, whose work was controlled personally by Jordan. At first, in the park there were 14 pitches of different shapes and sizes, and many gimnastics devices. The main intention was to exercise while playing, so that the participats of those games wouldn't feel under pressure but simply spent their time in a nice way. They practised javelin throw, arching, organized stilts walks, but also exercised by playing team sports based on competition between teams. These were both today's sport disciplines (football, cricket, tennis), and common games ("Chinese wall", "cat and mouse" and many others). What's important, the games which were chosen where those which could be remembered and played outside the park, even if there weren't any sport facilities nearby.

It must be stated that Jordan's principles referred to utopian beliefs of peaceful and solidary functioning of individuals in the society. So, for the classes in the park children were wearing special sport "uniforms", which they were getting when enrolling to the particular group, games started and finished on time, and their duration was marked by sound sygnals. Apart from that always before the beginning of the classes patriotic songs were sung in chorus, and singing acompanied young people also when the classes finished, just before going back home. After the experiences of great totalitarian systems of the 20 th century the vision of the park functioning in such a way may be terrifying. We should remember, however, that Jordan's ideas were noble and they weren't blemished with the later historical events. Nobody was forced to take part in the classes in the park. Moreover, children from poor families could also participate. All the participants of the games used to get a glass of milk and a bun, and in summer months they could use the showers. This showed Jordan's true colours of a patriot and social activist caring about the health and personal hygiene of young people.

Yet, it was not the end of the attractions of his park. There were some activities organised for the "alumni", which included an experimental garden of flowers and vegetables, a carpentry and lathe workshop. Thanks to that children could get practical professional skills, knowledge useful in everyday life, and learn to respect physical work. Additionally, the workers of the park kept organising various contests, competitions and excursions. During his lifetime Henryk Jordan used to be in the park almost every day, and he was personally engaged in putting his educational methods into life. And he used to get very good results of his work, which could be envied by many present-day teachers and tutors.

What is left in the park now from the old ideas of Jordan? Unfortunatelly, the years of two World Wars and the times of PRL (socialist Poland) have substantially changed the look of the park and its purpose. Most of the monuments have been devastated (26 surviving monuments were renovated for the centanary of the park in 1989, and today there are altogether 33 monuments). Although the park has always been of the sport and educational character, and even when it was most neglected one could go there for a walk with a child without any fear, still for many years it was just a shadow of its former splendour. Fortunately, recent years have brought some changes – some actions aiming at revitalisation of this place have been undertaken. These steps have brought visible results: fitness trails and children playgrounds have been repared, transportation centre, bobsleigh hill and four sport pitches have been renovated, artificial pond has been revived, and a ramp for roller-skaters has been st up. In the park there are, of course, plenty of green areas. The changes hasn't brought the place to its full former glory, but it is evident that the park, which due to its unusual history has entered the register of monuments, is getting back to life.


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