As you hurry down ul. Dluga on your way to the Kleparz Market you might have noticed the building on the corner of Pedzichow. You can see it much better from the other side of the street once the tram passes and you have a clear view of the three majestic towers rising above the otherwise drab apartments.
Your attention is drawn to the center tower, a minaret, the turret from which the muezzin calls Moslems to prayer. This minaret, bearing the Islamic Crescent, is a mystery on top of an otherwise typical building in an overwhelmingly Catholic country. On the wall outside is a plaque dedicated to Ludomil Rayski, a Polish pilot who fought in both World Wars defending not only Poland but Turkey since he was also a Turkish citizen. However, the minaret’s story, begins not with Ludomil but with his father Teodor who according to legend at the age of 68 built the structure for his second wife, a beautiful exotic Egyptian. Perhaps, then, this can be thought of as Krakow’s Taj Mahal.
After the failure of the January Uprising of 1863 in Poland, Teodor Rayski emigrated to Turkey, then the center of the Ottoman Empire. At this time the Empire was going through a serious internal crisis. The sharia, or Islamic law, which dictated both spiritual and secular life in the multi-ethnic and multi-religious Empire, was conflicting with Turkish nationalistic thoughts that were seeping in from neighboring European countries.
According to Ludomil Rayski’s biography “A Flight Towards Bitter Fame” (literal translation of Polish title “Lot ku gorzkiej slawie”) by J.S. Latka, the author of many books concerning Poles in Turkey, Teodor Rayski was taken in by a refugee center for Polish and Hungarian revolutionaries that Michal Czajkowski’s, had set up. Czajkowski had taken the name Mehmed Sadyk Pasha.
Rayski joined the Ottoman Cossack Brigade organized by Sadyk Pasha to continue the fight against Russian Imperialism. The expanding Russian Empire had declared itself protector of the Christian Orthodox faith and was trying to break up the Ottoman Empire by instigating religious turmoil in the Balkans and Caucausus.
When the Russo-Turkish War broke out in 1877 Rayski joined the newly formed Polish Legion in the Ottoman Army. As the saying goes “my enemy’s enemy is my friend.”
Teodor Rayski served the Ottoman Empire until his retirement, returning to Poland in 1892 to settle down in Krakow. After all those years Rayski came back as a Turkish citizen, a Moslem and married to Jozefa Syroczynska, the owner of this apartment building on ul. Dluga.
Here the facts dwindle and the legend begins. Supposedly, Teodor Rayski then left for Egypt where he met an “exotic beauty.” The story goes that Rayski planned to marry her and he returned home to build the mosque and minaret for her.
We do know that the blueprint for the minaret tower addition was accepted by the city of Krakow on June 7, 1910. It was built by a renowned local architect Henryk Lamensdorf who had designed dozens of other apartments in Krakow. From the attic of the apartment building a staircase leads up to a barrier blocking entrance to the minaret with the Islamic Crescent.
Unfortunately, just three years after the city granted the right for the use of the attic as a mosque Teodor Rayski died. After Teodor’s death the minaret and mosque lost it’s meaning.
Was there a mysterious Egyptian who came to Krakow to live? In any case the facts show that when Rayski’s wife Jozefa Rayska died the apartment was than given over to the city. Lacking utilities, the mosque/attic was not lived in. In the 1950s a tenant transformed the mosque into a livable apartment.
He equipped the attic with electricity and water and built a kitchen and a bathroom, destroying the semicircle niche which forms the mirhab. The mirhab is the wall indicating the direction of the Kaaba which Moslems should face when praying. The only punishment for this destructive renovation was a 300 zloty fine.
The existence of Teodor’s Egyptian will probably never be found out.
Although, it does seem likely that the minaret and mosque were built for Rayski’s personal use, while the apartment definately belonged to his first wife Józefa. It would seem far fetched that this Polish woman would have acquiesced to her husband’s wish to build a minaret for a second woman.
Teodor Rayski lived in Turkey for over 20 years and clearly Islam had a profound impact on him throughout the remainder of his life. This tribute to Islam in Krakow reminds us of wars and empires past; of a man’s acceptance and conversion to a new religion and his return to his native land.
Teodor Rayski, his Polish wife, the legendary Egyptian beauty and the tower that connects them all are just another element of the historical magic added to the many legends of Krakow.