Kalwaria Zebrzydowska as a historical architectural, park landscape and pilgrimage complex - the basilica, the Franciscan monastery and the avenues of a unique cultural, natural and religious value - was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1999 as the only Calvary in the world, and there are more than 1000 of them in Europe. The inscription took place under the name: Kalwaria Zebrzydowska: the Mannerist architectural and park landscape complex and pilgrimage park. The committee inscribed Kalwaria on the basis of the following criteria:
1. Kalwaria Zebrzydowska is an exceptional cultural monument in which the natural landscape was used as a setting for a symbolic representation in the form of chapels and avenues of the events of the Passion of Christ. The result is a cultural landscape of great beauty and spiritual quality in which natural and made elements combine in a harmonious manner.
2. The Counter Reformation in the late 16th century led to a flowering in the creation of Calvaries in Europe. Kalwaria Zebrzydowska is an outstanding example of this type of large-scale landscape design, which incorporates natural beauty with spiritual objectives and the principles of Baroque park design.
So-called "the Jerusalem landscape" has been arranged to resemble the idealized plan of Jerusalem of the 14th century, and it affirms, at the same time, its harmonious adaptation with indigenous panorama and natural features. Thus, it represents a kind of variable landscape form of outstanding universal value, which illustrate the Passion of Jesus Christ reflected in the natural environment, where the Lanckorońska Mountain symbolize the Mount of Olives, the Żar Mountain represents the Golgotha, and the Syjon and Maria Mountains were adapted to its natural environment in a form of two small hills implanted harmoniously to the net of routes designed to illustrate the Calvary scenery.
The conception of Calvary design-landscape, disseminated in Europe in the late 16th century, was flowering in particular during the whole period of Counter Reformation. Kalwaria Zebrzydowska constitutes exceptional representation of this type of large-scale landscape enterprise, which integrates natural beauty with spiritual premises and the standards of Baroque park design.
Work on building the Calvary was begun in 1600 by Mikołaj Zebrzydowski, the Voyevode of Cracow, who built the Chapel of the Crucifixion on the slopes of Zar Mountain. Together with a small hermitage, modelled after the church of Golgota in Jerusalem, this was used by him for personal meditation. To ensure that the holy complex was looked after, Mikołaj Zebrzydowski invited to Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, the franciscan fathers and brothers - in Polish called Bernardyni - who had also cared for the holy places in Jerusalem for over 300 years. After the death of Mikołaj Zebrzydowski in 1620, further building work was carried out by his son Jan. It was then that the church of the Sacred Cross was extended and the beautiful church of the Tomb of our Lady was built. Today the Kalwaria monastery also houses a higher seminary.