Archaeologist, Egyptologist, art historian, creator of the “Polish school of Mediterranean Archaeology” linking research and conservation work.

In a few words, we, his students, remember Professor Kazimierz Michalowski as a Renaissance man, sensitive to the problems of the world, a passionate researcher, tempered by military discipline and patience, one that enjoyed life to the fullest. He was a positive thinker even in the most difficult moments.

Kazimierz Michałowski in 1967
Source: Narodowe Archiwum Cyfrowe

Kazimierz Michalowski was born on 14th December 1901 in Tarnopol, where he graduated high school with honours.  The first significant experience of adult life for the young humanist was his involvement in the Polish-Russian war of 1920. Almost directly from the front, still wearing his military uniform, he entered the Jan Kazimierz University in Lvov, where he completed his studies in art history and philosophy in 1924.

Immediately after obtaining his university degree, he was offered the position of assistant to Professor Edmund Bulandy at the classical archaeology department of the Jan Kazimierz University. Within two years, he completed his doctoral thesis “Niobids in classical art”, followed by a scholarship from the Ministry of Religious Denominations and Public Enlightenment for studies abroad. In the years 1927-1930 he stayed in several leading research centres, among them in Berlin, Münster, Rome and Paris. He attended university courses, worked in libraries and museums, publishing the results of his analytical thinking and establishing contacts with renowned scientists. He became aware, that there was a field of study in which Poland lagged far behind the highly developed European countries: the archaeology of ancient civilisations of the Mediterranean basin and its outskirts. He decided he would introduce Poland to this research.

In 1928, he participated in excavations on the Greek islands of Thasos and Delos, as a foreign member of École Française d’Athènes. He modestly called these years his “apprenticeship period”, although even then, his foreign colleagues greatly respected his research skills. As proof of this, he was entrusted with publishing the stone portrait heads from the Hellenistic and Roman period, fruit of the French excavations on Delos.

In 1929, he defended his doctoral thesis, “On Doric art”, becoming a full professor at the Jan Kazimierz University in Lvov. A year later he moved to Warsaw. Barely 30-years-old, he became deputy professor of classical archaeology at the Jozef Pilsudski University, and in 1933, associate professor of the same university. In 1932, his pioneering work, “Les partraits héllenistiques et romains. Exploration de Délos “, was published in Paris.  In 1936, as fellow at the Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale, the oldest foreign archaeological institute in Cairo, professor Michalowski organized French-Polish excavations at Tell Edfu, a high hill adjacent to the temple of Horus in ancient Apollinopolis Magna in Egypt. Although in total there were only three archaeological excavations, in the years 1937-1939, their importance for international Egyptology and for Polish archaeology remains unprecedented.

Professor Kazimierz Michałowski during the inspection of the sarcophagus, 1937
Source: National Digital Archives
Kazimierz Michałowski and Jerzy Manteuffel in front of the base, 1938.
Source: National Digital Archives

The stratygraphic profile of this hill presents a cross-section of the entire history of Egypt, from the moment of the formation of a pharaoh state to the Arab Middle Ages. Earlier excavations at the site belong, in their methodology, to nineteenth century archaeology: simply put, they were looking for papyri.  Professor Michalowski initiated multidisciplinary studies, which were quite pioneering for the times. Archaeological layers were systematically excavated and documented, with particular studies being carried out on groups of monuments, including those that were almost completely ignored by researchers, such as bone material from the cemeteries of different periods, or ceramic fragments with inscriptions in Arabic. Polish researchers were the authors of scientific studies and publications of numerous artefacts, so it can now be said, that the excavations in Edfu fulfilled the youthful ambitions of their leader by introducing Polish science to Mediterranean Archaeology. Thanks to them, Polish museum collections have been enriched by many unique items that initiated the classical art gallery of the National Museum in Warsaw.

The excavations in Edfu were interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War. As a reserve lieutenant, Kazimierz Michalowski took part in the fighting in September 1939, ending up in prison camps, first in Oflag XVIII A in Linz, and then Oflag II C in Woldenbergu (today’s Dobiegniewo).  In the latter, he organized the so-called Woldenberski University, which he led and where he lectured in Egyptology.

He was treated to a surprise during this difficult period, prepared by his rais – labour supervisor who, before the war, worked on the excavations in Edfu. One day, a parcel with dried dates sent from Egypt for mudir arrived at the camp. It was an expression of gratitude for the friendly attitude of the professor towards his Egyptian subordinates, so different from the colonial attitudes of many of the Western researchers working in the Middle East. He was to be known for his empathy toward his colleagues later as well. As the director of the National Museum in Warsaw, he would not pass through the gallery without asking one of the employees about their family problems he knew they were having.

This kind of a relationship towards the local population during excavations in the Middle East was later adopted by the students of the late Master. It often produced the same surprising results as the package arriving at Woldenberg. When in autumn of 2011, only a few months after the outbreak of the so-called Egyptian revolution, the Polish Archaeological Mission returned to Sakkar, it turned out that our area of excavations was the only one of the foreign sites on this vast Memphis necropolis where the artefacts were undamaged. The interpretation of this by the Egyptians was particularly meaningful: no one would dare touch the fruits of an archaeological mission that treats its Egyptian “brothers” so well.

Immediately after liberation, professor Michalowski began rebuilding the “school” that he barely started to create before the war. In the years 1945-1947, he was Dean of the Faculty of History at the University of Warsaw. From 1945, he was the Head of Mediterranean Archaeology, and in the academic year 1947/1948, he served as rector of the same university. At the same time he was reconstructing the Ancient Art Gallery at the National Museum in Warsaw. From 1945, he served as its director, while also holding the position of deputy director of the entire Museum. When one day a good looking woman came looking for work, he told her: “I can hire you, but only as my wife.” Thus, in 1945, Krystyna Baniewicz changed her surname, and soon gave birth to two children. At the same time, the professor was taking care of his orphaned nephew, whose father, an aviation lieutenant, died three years earlier in air combat.

Michalowski also worked at the Warsaw Scientific Society, and from 1951, in the Polish Academy of Sciences. A few years later, he established a new institution at the Academy – Institute of Mediterranean Archaeology, which, as a research institution, played a major role in the further development of the “Polish school of Mediterranean Archaeology”, even after the death of its creator. In 2010, it was combined with the Academy’s Institute of Non-European Countries, and the result of this symbiosis is the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures. The institute’s publications provide source material from Polish excavations in the regions of ancient Mediterranean cultures, in the languages of the congress. They disseminate the world over the latest discoveries made by the archaeological school created by Professor Michalowski.

Towards the end of the fifties, he picked up his fieldwork. His first post-war excavations took place at Mirmeki in the Crimea (1956- 1858).  In 1957, he returned to Egypt. Two years later, he began excavations in ancient Palmyra in Syria. In 1961, in the Sudan, has took part in the great international effort to save Nubian monuments from flooding by the Nubian Lake, the result of the construction of the Aswan dam. During the same period, he served as chairman of the Expert Committee for the rescue of the Abu Simbel temples (1961- 1970). The following years saw the map of Polish excavations in the Middle East enriched by two posts of outstanding historical ranking: Nea Paphos in Cyprus (from 1965) and Nimrud in Iraq (from 1975).

Kazimierz Michałowski at the excavations in Palmyra. Photo from the exhibition “Images”, Wiesław Prażuch, Stara Galeria ZPAF, Warsaw, 1988.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Michalowski was well aware of the importance of the discoveries made by his “school”.  He wanted not only the enrichment of Polish museum collections, decimated during the Second World War, bringing in new, original monuments, though this also mattered when selecting specific excavation sites. Above all, however, he was concerned with the opinion-forming importance of these discoveries, both for the international position of our country as well as for Polish science, which, through the discovery and development of new historical sources, was strengthening its position in international science. Journalists often asked him, whether Poland could afford to carry on excavations in Egypt.

– Poland cannot afford not to carry out excavations in that country – he answered.

– Poland cannot afford to dig just anywhere – he underlined.

He always focused his research on the most important centres of ancient civilization. Our colleagues abroad are still envious of this.

A turning point in the history of the “Polish school of Mediterranean Archaeology” was the creation by Professor Michalowski, in 1959, of the Polish Mediterranean Archaeological Station in Cairo. This academic centre of the University of Warsaw, named the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology after the death of its founder, now carries his name and is one of the most important points on the scientific map of Cairo, and the Middle East. Initially, it was a logistic base for Polish excavation missions; currently, it draws the international scientific and cultural elite, as well as young researchers and students from various countries, seeking to use the archival documentation, and the systematically growing library. As it was during the life of professor Michalowski, an invitation to the “Station” on Heliopolis, (Cairo district also called New Cairo, built on the ruins of an ancient centre of solar cults), to a gathering, a lecture or symposium, is considered a great honour in Egypt.

Research on Egypt of different eras is currently the backbone of the “Polish school’s” curriculum.  During the professor’s lifetime, it focused primarily on the period of the so-called New State (2. mid II millennium B.C.) and the Greek and Roman era. Professor Michalowski initiated Polish excavations at the temple of Hatshepsut, a women-Pharaoh in the times of the 18. Dynasty, of the upper Egyptian Deir el-Bahari, and also in Alexandria and the lower Egyptian Athribis, vast cultural centres of the reign of Ptolemy and Roman emperors. Just next to the temple of Hatshepsut, he discovered a temple built by her stepson, pharaoh Totmesa III, one of the greatest rulers of ancient Egypt. In the centre of ancient Alexandria, has uncovered a complex of monumental buildings, including the largest preserved public bath in Egypt, as well as an “amphitheatre”, which later turned out to be an auditorium of the only remaining university in Egypt from Roman-Byzantium time.

On an international scale, however,  the name Kazimierz Michalowski is associated primarily with the incredible discoveries in Faras (Sudanese Nubia), where Polish excavations at the beginning of the sixties were part of the above-mentioned UNESCO action to save the monuments. The discovery of an early Christian cathedral with several layers of unique paintings on its walls was called the “miracle of Faras”. A significant number of historical monuments from these excavations is now located in the National Museum in Warsaw, where a special gallery has been designed for them. Poland has become one of the most important centres of Nubian studies (Nubiology),
Nubiology a new area of Archaeology, in which students of professor Michalowski are in the lead, among others through active participation in the next action to rescue sites in Sudan, this time preceding the construction of a great dam in Sudan.

Kazimierz Michałowski at the excavations in Faras
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The excavations in Faras are connected not only with great discoveries, but also with the amazing achievements of Polish conservators. They were successful in separating the next layer of paintings and to transport them, – some to Khartoum, some to Warsaw- , assuring their further maintenance. Polish school of conservation, introduced by Professor Michalowski to the countries of the Middle East, enjoys an excellent opinion, which is not without importance for securing new excavation rights by Polish archaeologists.

The professor was often awarded for his various achievements, starting with the Medal “From Poland to its Defender” (1931), to the Commander’s Cross with the Star of the Egyptian Revolution (1980). He was a member of many Polish and foreign scientific institutions, among them an honorary member of the American Institute of Archaeology (1965), and chairman of the International Committee of Archaeological and Historical Museums – ICOM (1965 – 1971), and recipient of honoris causa doctorate from several foreign universities, including Cambridge and Uppsala.

Professor Kazimierz Michalowski died on 1 January 1981 in Warsaw. The scientific school he created not only did not disintegrated after the death of the Master, but – quite the opposite – continues to develop and expand its work. The excavations, as well as conservation and research work, continue in such important sites, selected by him, as Alexandria, Deir el-Bahari, Dongola, Palmyra and Nea Paphos. His students have also broadened the profile of “Polish school” researchers by periods and areas, which have not been previously a research subject of Polish archaeologists. They include the period of the formation of Egyptian statehood in the Nile Valley (excavations in Tell Farcha in the Nile Delta), the Old State and the period of the construction of the largest pyramids (excavations in Sakkara), studies of Egyptian monasticisms in the early phase of the development of Christianity (excavations in Naqlun oasis Fajum), or the penetration of ancient traditions into culture of early Christianity in the Nile Valley (archaeological survey and rescue excavations in northern Sudan), excavations in Lebanon, Libya, Kuwait and countries of the Arabian Peninsula. Karol Myśliwiec, prof. dr hab.


Gawlikowski M., „Michałowski i jego szkoła” [w:] „Królowa Hatszepsut i jej świątynia 3500 lat później”, Warszawa 2001.

„Jeńcy wojenni w latach II wojny światowej”, Centralne Muzeum Jeńców Wojennych w Łambinowicach – Opolu, Opole 2009, str. 47–86.

Lipińska J., „Kazimierz Michałowski”, „Znak” 6, 1982.

Michałowski K., „Od Edfu do Faras”, Warszawa, Wydawnictwa Artystyczne i Filmowe, 1974.

Rezler-Wasilewska V., „Profesor Kazimierz Michałowski (1901-1981)”, „Łambinowicki Rocznik Muzealny” 32 (2009).

Kazimierz Michałowski at the gypsum cradle with the reconstructed painting from Faras in the National Museum in Warsaw, late 1960s. Harry Weinberg
Source: Wikimedia Commons