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The Magic of Kraków

UNESCO sites

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At KRK - Krakow Airport

At KRK - Krakow Airport

On the invitation of my VT friend Ernest (atufft on VT), who headed for Ukraine then, I came to Kraków and stayed there for four nights at Residence Tournet, Kazimierz District. I met Ernest at KRK Kraków Airport, and we went downtown together. The more, the merrier. We went for a walk every day exploring the city sights. We talked about Ukraine and the Ukrainian language for Ernest to get a better picture of the country. I hope my advice came in handy for Ernest and his friend Dean, who came two days later. Thanks, friends!

Grunwald monument, Krakow

Grunwald monument, Krakow

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We could not help admiring the magic of Kraków, its famous Wawel Castle with its and priceless museum collections, the amazing monuments of the Old Town with the vibrant cafes and restaurants, parks and public gardens and the architecture of the old Kazimierz District. Wawel Castle and the Old Town are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Everybody calls the Old Town a magical place in Kraków.
All the travelers are told that the Royal Procession took place across this square for many centuries. We enjoyed the vibrant atmosphere and splendid historical buildings of the Old Town and Market Square.
Some people in Poland say,

Krakow is the soul of Poland

. Other say,

If you haven't been to Kraków, you haven't been to Poland."

You might also hear people say,

Kraków is the most illustrious of all Polish cities

.

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By the way, the last saying is the direct translation of the inscription that dates back to the 16th century, when it was written practically everywhere in Latin,

"Cracovia totius Poloniae urbs celebererrima."

This medieval saying taken from an old chronicle became very popular and has been represented on various coins, medals, badges, and souvenir flags since. I cannot necessarily agree with this old statement, because there are certainly some cities in Poland that can be considered even more beautiful and lovable than the former Polish capital. But after two stays in Kraków, having visited a number of great places in this city, I must admit that Kraków has a very special flair. The city is a really fantastic area, where many lonely, hilly, winding roads and streets lead you to important and historical sites that impress you and make you think of returning to this amazing city.

Views from the old City Hall Tower, Krakow

Views from the old City Hall Tower, Krakow

After a short walk, we were at the foot of Wawel Hill, on the top of which the Wawel Castle towers majestically. We found out that the first mentions of the stronghold erected on the Wawel Hill dated back to the 10th century. According to the legend, King Krak, who headed the Slavic tribe of the Vistulans, conquered the lowlands of Małopolska (Lesser Poland) around the 7th century A.D. built his castle on the steep limestone rock of Wawel. The legend explains further that has it that a dragon with fiery breath was roused from his century-long slumbers in the caves below the castle by the noise of humans above. King Krak allegedly slew the dragon with his sword. Whether the legend is true or not, the city that grew up below the castle walls was named Kraków in honor of its legendary founder, and the poor dragon killed by the king was named Smok and became one of the symbols of the city as well.
At the end of the 10th century, Wawel Hill came under the rule of the Piasts. In 1000, it became the capital of the diocese, and during the time of Kazimierz the Restorer, it became the seat of the prince. The city at the foot of the hill was founded in 1257. In 1320, Krakow became the capital of the kingdom, and the Wawel Cathedral became the coronation church and the royal necropolis.

During our visit of Wawel Castle, Krakow

During our visit of Wawel Castle, Krakow

Krakow lies on six rivers: the Vistula, the Rudawa, the Białucha (Prądnik), the Wilga, the Młynówka and the Dłubnia. Their valleys were gradually leveled and brought to their present form. The backfilling and raising of roads gradually transformed the hilly terrain into a plain. The city witnessed dynamic development during the reign of the last Piasts and the Jagiellonians. In earlier times (1320-1598), when Kraków was the proud capital, the Polish princes and kings resided here. In 1598, Sigismund III Vasa decided to transfer the royal residence to Warsaw. The Polish kings remained loyal to Wawel Castle even after their death, because they were buried in the crypts under the Wawel Castle. They received company in April 2010 from Polish President Lech Kaczyński, who died in the Smolensk air disaster, in which half of the Polish government perished, and was also buried in Wawel at a state funeral despite massive protests from the population, because the controversial politician is the only "non-king" in this sacred place. People protested with the slogan, "Krakow for kings — Warsaw for politicians"

Visiting Wawel Castle, Krakow

Visiting Wawel Castle, Krakow

Wawel Castle in Krakow

Wawel Castle in Krakow

St. Stanisław Cathedral was built next to the castle in the years 1320-1364, and in the following centuries it was surrounded by a number of chapels. The interior of the cathedral is a real treasury of works of sacred and sepulchral art. The main altar represents the confession of St. Stanislaus and contains a reliquary from 1669-1671. In the main nave, the walls are decorated with Flemish tapestries, and in the aisles and chapels royal tombstones are placed - masterpieces of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque sculptures, including the tombstone of Kazimierz Jagiellonczyk carved by Wit Stwosz dating back to 1492. Zygmunt Chapel, built in 1517-1533, which is the work of Bartomeo Berrecci, with the tombstones of the last two Jagiellonian kings, is considered to be the pearl of the Polish Renaissance. The vaults of the cathedral hide royal tombs.

Royal Apartments, Wawel Castle, Krakow

Royal Apartments, Wawel Castle, Krakow


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Visiting the Royal Apartments at Wawel Castle, Krakow

Visiting the Royal Apartments at Wawel Castle, Krakow

We entered Wawel Castle from Kanonicka Street, one of the most picturesque streets in Kraków. Historic buildings from different epochs can be found here: Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Classicism. We passed the majestic cathedral that dates back to the 11th century. The cathedral is surrounded by 18 chapels. Sigismund’s Chapel built in the style of Italian Renaissance must be the most significant one. The chapel is covered with a gilded dome. This is where the last kings of the Jagellon dynasty were buried. This must be the only cathedral, where the entrance is not for free, and requires a long line at the booking-office.

Armory at Wawel Castle, Krakow

Armory at Wawel Castle, Krakow

The castle is a huge Renaissance residence that houses valuable collections. We saw a collection of armory, as well as the Royal Residence. The chambers and the arcade courtyard are really impressive.

Visiting the Armory at Wawel Castle, Krakow

Visiting the Armory at Wawel Castle, Krakow

People coming to Wawel Castel are advised not to miss visiting the Dragon’s Den and to learn a famous legend about the Dragon. There was a large line, and we were in no mood to see that. Perhaps some other day. Touring the dragon’s den is one of the quirkier activities in Krakow. Legend has it that the Smok Wawelski dragon used to live beneath the mound of Wawel Castle and terrorize the city’s residents, before coming to a grizzly end thanks to a shoemaker and a sheep stuffed with sulphur. There is also a statue of the dragon that breathes real fire.

Wawel Castle, Krakow

Wawel Castle, Krakow

The Old Town had its own system of Gothic fortifications - most of the walls were pulled down in the 19th century. Only St.Florian’s Gate and the 15th-century Barbican Tower survived. The Barbican, fondly referred to as Rondel (the saucepan) by locals, belongs to the most precious objects of Kraków heritage. Actually, the Barbican is the name of an element of medieval fortifications. Usually it is a round brick building with towers, protruding in front of the wall line, closing the entrance to the town or castle. Barbakan of Kraków is one of the few Gothic monuments of this type, preserved in Europe (including Carcassone in France). The Barbican was connected to St.Florian’s Gate with a brick neck, and surrounded by a deep moat with a system of bridges and weirs. Built on a circular plan, the Kraków Barbican has loopholes arranged on three storeys. It is crowned with a roofed gallery with seven turrets and has two gates: from the side of Kleparz District and from the side of the city walls.

Barbican Museum, Krakow

Barbican Museum, Krakow

The Barbican redbrick bulwarks and formidable turrets helped defend the city throughout the centuries, and its circular design was on the cutting edge of engineering at the time. Today, you can see memorial plaques at the place of former defensive towers. Instead of the mighty fortification walls, a green park was built and wad called Planty. Now the park is a green ribbon encircling the historic city centre.

St.Florian's Gate, Krakow

St.Florian's Gate, Krakow

The main gate of the city, Floriańska (St Florian’s Gate) was built late in the 13th century to close Florianska Street from the north. Its upper, brick section dates back to the 15th century, when it received a connection to the Barbican: the so-called neck. From that time, it was the official gate to the city on the Royal Route leading to Wawel Castle. The facade features a bas relief of the Eagle of the Piast dynasty, designed by Jan Matejko, whereas the facade fronting Floriańska Street contains a rococo bas-relief of St Florian. A notable section of the medieval defensive walls extends from both sides of the gate. St.Florian has been the patron saint of Poland since 1138 after Pope Lucius III consented to the request of King Casimir of Poland and to the Bishop of Kraków, to send relics of St.Florian the Martyr to this city.

Residence Tournet, Krakow, the hotel where I stayed for four nights

Residence Tournet, Krakow, the hotel where I stayed for four nights

I found out about the Republic of Krakow (also known as the Free City of Krakow) that had existed on the basis of the resolution of the Congress of Vienna (1815) as a separate political entity in the years 1815-1846. It covered two districts: Kraków and Chrzanów with the total area of 1,165 and approximately 140,000 inhabitants. The republic had a liberal constitution and a senate. In 1846, after the Kraków Uprising, it was incorporated into Austria.
As the hotel owner explained to us, unfortunately, the Austrian rulers, who had taken over Poland, undertook a massive cleaning-up campaign in the 19th century and demolished practically all the defensive towers except for the Barbican Tower and St.Florian’s Gate. They built a huge park on the place of former fortification walls. The new park is called Planty Park. This place is great for people watching. My only advice is not to visit this park at night for it is such a secluded place that visiting it alone at 3 a.m. is at your own risk, you know...
The medieval urban layout of the city has been preserved with the huge Market Square. Its dimensions are: 200 m by 200 m. You can see a 14th-century Gothic tower of the now defunct town hall and the Gothic-Renaissance Cloth Hall from the 14th century, rebuilt in 1557-1559 in the center of Market Square.

Info Krakow sign, Cloth Hall, in case you get lost

Info Krakow sign, Cloth Hall, in case you get lost

Market Square is surrounded by magnificent townhouses and city palaces built from the 14th century and then rebuilt many times - they represent different styles and eras. We watched a special video during our visit to the City History Museum located inside the old city council tower. The video is called “Kraków 1650.” Please take a look at the small video here. Thanks a lot, dear MK (Museum of Kraków)

Here you can also visit the Gothic Virgin Mary's Church dating back to 1340-1442. This church contains the largest Gothic altar in Poland, the work of Wit Stwosz dating to 1477-1489, as well as two crucifixes by the same sculptor, Gothic stained glass, Renaissance ciborium and polychromes by Jan Matejko.

Visiting Virgin Mary's Cathedral, Kraków

Visiting Virgin Mary's Cathedral, Kraków

Church of the Assumption of Our Lady, commonly known as St.Mary's Church,or St.Mary’s Basilica, stands in the eastern corner of Main Market Square. It is one of the biggest and the most important churches in Kraków and in entire Poland. St. Mary's Basilica belongs to Gothic style. It was built in the 14th and 15th century and became the fourth to stand on the site since the earliest, Romanesque one, was built in the 13th century. The three-aisled basilica is crowned by two towers, with the taller bearing an intricate Gothic spire from the 15th century, with a Baroque crown. The redbrick facade and great twin spires of St Mary’s Basilica have become symbols of the city.
The higher tower played the role of the city’s watchtower, and nowadays the bugle call, the musical symbol of Krakow, is played from there every hour to the four sides of the world. The hourly bugle call is know as Hejnał Mariacki (“Mary’s bugle call”). The bugle call played from the St. Mary's Tower dates back to the period of the attack of the Tatars on Krakow in 1241. Legend has it that the guard on the tower started to sound the alarm and managed to warn the city residents about the attack, but in half the beat a Tatar arrow pierced his throat. That is why the bugle call melody ends so suddenly - in the same place where the heroic guard stopped playing it. Whether it is just a legend, we will probably not find out. We know that "since always", every hour, day and night, a melody known to all Poles flows from the higher tower of St. Mary's.

Epitaphs on the exterior walls of Virgin May's Cathedral, Kraków

Epitaphs on the exterior walls of Virgin May's Cathedral, Kraków

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St.Mary’s Basilica owes its fame to the wonderful architecture, and also to the sculpture masterpiece from late Gothic – the Altarpiece by Veit Stoss created between 1477 and 1489. It’s the world’s largest Gothic altarpiece. The altar consists of five parts: a huge main box and two pairs of movable doors that close the altar. The central panel and the six panels placed on the wings depict scenes from the lives of Mary and Christ. The altar, adorned by 200 figures carved in lime wood, covered with polychrome paint and gilded, was unveiled in the presence of King Casimir Jagiellonian in 1489. Visitors have been amazed by the grandeur and drama of the sculptural scene of the Assumption of the Virgin. Today we can experience that feeling: the altar is opened on weekdays at 11:50 a.m. The restorers, who completed the restoration of the altar two years ago, believe that the colors and gloss have been reproduced as they were seen by the king and his councilors in 1489. When you get the chance, don't forget to look up and admire the star-studded Gothic vault. There is an entrance fee at the entrance for viewing the altar.

City Hall Tower, Krakow

City Hall Tower, Krakow

The brick tower in Market Square is the only surviving fragment of the Kraków City Hall. It was built at the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries. The Tower is 70 meters high. Inside the Tower there is a branch of the Historical Museum. We entered it from the side of the old Sukiennice Shopping Mall. The entrance is guarded by two stone lions, and there is a stage of the National Theater called "Under the Town Hall" in the cellars. You can climb the old stone staircase to reach the observation level. You cannot leave the room and go out to the roof, but you can enjoy the impressive panorama of the Old Town from inside. I managed to take a couple of pictures from there. During our museum visit inside the Tower, we found out that the foundation of the Old Town dated back to 1257. A ring of defensive walls was built as early as in the 14th century. At the beginning of the 19th century the city walls included 47 towers and seven main gates. Today, St.Florian’s Gate reminds us of the former grandeur.

However, not everything is about fun in Market Square. There is also a memorial place with an inscription that not every visitor cares to read. The place is called Walenty Badylak’s Well. It is one of the three medieval wells located in Kraków’s main square, two on the east side and one on the west side. The western well is now known as “Studzienka Badylaka” (Badylak’s Well).

Walenty Badylak's memorial well, Market Square, Kraków

Walenty Badylak's memorial well, Market Square, Kraków

This is where you can use the pump and drink some water, as well as take pictures.
This well witnessed a big tragedy. A 76-year-old retired Krakow's baker, former soldier of the Polish Underground Army, chained himself to the well and self-immolated to protest against the Communist policies. His act of self-immolation coincided with the 40th anniversary of the Katyń massacre, the mass murder of 22,000 Polish nationals carried out by the Soviet secret police (NKVD) following the Soviet invasion and occupation of eastern Poland in alliance with Nazi Germany at the beginning of the Second World War. The massacre was a taboo subject in communist Poland and the Soviet Union, which the authorities had lied about for decades, falsely blaming the crime on the Germans.
The self-immolation of Badylak Valentine was filmed the movie "Holy Fire"."
The inscription at the memorial plaque reads, "Here, on the 21st of March, 1080, Walenty Badylak (1904-1980), a soldier of the Home Army (HA), committed a dramatic act of self-immolation as a protest against deprivation of the young, destruction of crafts and against the conspirational silencing of the genocide of Polish officers in Katyn committed by the Communist-Bolshevik murderers.
Unable to live in a lie, he died for the truth."

During an evening stroll in Kraków

During an evening stroll in Kraków

Kraków, like a huge magnet whose power does not weaken, has attracted sensitive and exceptional people for centuries. It is called a city of poets, musicians, painters and scientists. It is also called a city of a thousand monuments. Kraków is city which delights its guests, enchants and captivates them to such a degree that they want to return, to stay a while, and finally, to be there every day.

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Posted by Vic_IV 11:32 Archived in Poland Tagged castle krakow park; castle; poland;

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Comments

I really liked Krakow, only been there once. Such a beautiful place.

by irenevt

You can never get bored there...

by Vic_IV

Awesome travelogue!

by DAOonVT

Thanks, Dave!~ Keep well!~

by Vic_IV

Looks like you had a great time exploring Krakow! Happy memories of my own visit with the VT crowd :)

by ToonSarah

Thanks, Sarah! It was a great discovery for me indeed. Now I know what is where, and will be able to travel to/via Krakow in the future.

by Vic_IV

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