Krakow Top 13, discovering the Ancient Capital

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Krakow is a work of art. The second most important city in Poland has been its capital for five centuries, a living memory of the country best times. Those who have passed through Italy will recognize many similarities in the houses and palaces, built with Renaissance inspiration. Krakow Old Town, the Castle Wawel and the District of Kazimierz are part of the first UNESCO World Heritage list created in 1978, a highly prestigious recognition, especially at the time, since only 12 places in the world had received such distinction.

Let’s get to know the  places not to be missed is a visit to Krakow

1. Main Market Square

Kraków’s main market square, one of the largest medieval central squares in Europe, is the city central point. It was founded in the 13th century when the city was established and its layout has changed through the years. The square had grown in successive layers visible in the St. Adalbert’s Church area. Its magnificence made it subjected to a Nazi rally attended by Der Führer himself. During the German occupation, the square’s name also changed to ‘Adolf Hitler Platz’.

Proudly standing in the middle of the square is the 70m-high Town Hall Tower, a huge brick tower, built during the 14th century. Known as Kraków’s ‘leaning tower,’ the structure leans 55cm, a curiosity credited to strong wind back in 1703.

St. Adalbert’s Church is another landmark that dates from the 11th century before the square was built, which explains its strange placement on the square and its floor two metres lower the square. It’s Kraków’s oldest church and the best way to experience it is during the daily classical concerts by the Royal Chamber Orchestra.

2. St. Mary’s Basilica

The St. Mary’s Basilica is the most important monument of the Main Market Square and was built before its constitution. It’s a beautiful Gothic Basilica that will take your breath away with magnificent stained-glass windows, colourful walls and ceiling and a grand altar with 13 meters high and 11 m wide, one of the largest in Europe. It took 12 years to complete the work, including the 200 sculpted figures, whose size change between a few centimetres up to 3 meters. The church is also known for the city’s famous bugle call played every hour on the hour. The tune ironically breaks off mid-melody in honour of the mythical trumpeter who was shot in the neck while belatedly warning the city of Mongol invaders. It’s one of the city’s most iconic traditions.

3. Cloth Hall

In the middle of the square is the Cloth Hall, two rows of stone trading stalls that were built specifically to the trade of textiles and fabrics. The building has a troubled history which justifies the different architectural styles. Like an onion, its possible to find in the building different layers. The first one dates from the 12th century and is an example of medieval architecture, the second on is renaissance inspired, as result of a fire that took place in the 16th century and forced its reconstruction. Finally, in the 19th century was added to the last layer: the arches and neo-gothic columns. Until now, there is still the tradition of buying and selling products, currently mainly local products and tourists’ souvenirs.

4. Old Town

The Krakow Old Town is the heart of the city and World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1978. It was the first in Poland to gain that status and one of the first in all of Europe (along with salt mines in Bochnia and Wieliczka). It stretches between St. Florian’s Gate and Wawel Castle and took less than 30 minutes to cover the distance between both hallmarks.  But only if you do it without paying any attention to the number of attractions in the route. So, I recommend to take your time, stroll around and take the scenic path.  Just around the square are several historic buildings and palaces in an excellent state of preservation.

5. Barbican Fortress and the Floriańska Gate

Built to protect the city from enemy attacks. The Barbican is truly impressive, it’s an important memory from the city’s medieval defences, with 3 meters wide walls, seven observation towers and a curious side door that, adding to the interior balcony, aimed to delay the enemy entrance in the city. The defensive had three kilometres long of fortified walls, with 47 towers, eight gates and a moat.

6.Collegium Maius and the University

Krakow receives the second oldest university in Central Europe – a Jagiellonian, where have study great names like Nicolaus Copernicus and Pope John Paul II. Some of its buildings are historical and date from its founding. They are essentially constructed of red bricks which gives you a very distinctive aspect. Collegium Maius is the oldest building of Jagiellonian University. Built as the university’s main campus as a picturesque arcaded courtyard that has survived to this day. Professors lived and worked upstairs and in ground floor were the lecture halls were Nicolaus Copernicus made his drawings in his notebooks.

7. The most impressive number of churches

In Poland, the number of churches is truly impressive, and Krakow is no exception. If you couldn’t visit all  just chose between one of the following:

>>Church of Santa Maria flanked by the small Church of Santa Barbara and that still divides the Central Square with the Church of St. Wojciech. 

>>The Church of St. Andrew with its high stone tower and thick walls had had defensive functions, since the 12th century. Is one of the oldest buildings in Poland. 

>>The Peter and Paul Church is defended by the Twelve Apostles and it is very similar to the Roman churches. At the dome, is fixed a Foucault pendulum, whose swinging proves the circular Earth movement.

8. Bishop’s Palace & Papal Window

The Bishop’s Palace is the second largest palace in Kraków and the residence of the Kraków’s bishops since it was built in the 14th century. Today the Palace is most famous for having been the residence of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, from 1958 to 1978, before he became Pope John Paul II. During his visits to Kraków as Pope, he would often make evening appearances in the ‘Papal Window’ to address the crowds below. 

9. Wawel Hill

On the top of the Wawel Hill, it is one of the largest and best-preserved castles in Europe, which still manages to maintain its Renaissance splendour, built by Italian architects. The Castle was constructed by Zygmunt I, the second last king of the Jagiellonian Dynasty. When the court moved to Warsaw it ended up being abandoned until it passed into the hands of the city. Since then it had carried out an important restoration and rehabilitation work.

Next to the Castle is the Wawel Cathedral, the most important church in the city. Its architecture is a mixture of styles and epochs which makes it unique. Almost all Polish kings (37) were crowned here and almost all were also buried here. The Cathedral has a bell to its size and importance: Sigismund, as it is known, weighs 12.7 tons and it takes twelve people to play it, sounding about 12 km away.

10.Dragons Den

The Wawel Hill is not the solid piece of rock it appears. It’s filled with ghostly caves and crawl spaces, some of them with mistery myths, like the chambers beneath Wawel were once a Dragon, a nasty creature who liked to eat lamb and maidens. The story goes that as the village ran out of virgins, the King promised the hand of his only daughter to the hero who could defeat the beast. Only a poor cobbler tricked and destroyed the Dragon, marring the princess, and became king. Later he built his castle on the dragon’s den and the people built a city around it and named ‘Kraków’ after their saviour king. today the cave is as a tourist attraction. The route through the caves leads, though a descending staircase from the castle courtyard to the riverbank below, right in front of the Dragon bronze sculpture. Since 1972, this Dragon takes intermittent blasts of fiery breath. So just wait a moment to see it.

11. Kazimierz District

The District of Kazimierz it has long been recognised as the “City of the Jews” since this community was “pushed” away from the centre of Krakow. On the other hand, it is curious the number of Catholic churches that we come across, leaving the image of a close and natural coexistence between both religions. Before World War II this neighbourhood was occupied by more than 65,000 Jews, 25% of the total population. They raised here the foundations of a strong economy and a solid social and religious structure, supported by a set of synagogues.

12. Podgorze District

The other neighbourhood associated with the history of the Jews is Podgorze, situated on the right bank of the Vistula river. This Industrial district became, during the Nazi occupation, the ghetto to where all the Jews were relocated. More than 15,000 Jews were imprisoned here, before being taken to concentration camps. This memory is now engraved in the main square of Podgorze with several chairs that identify the place where the ghetto was located. It Is also here the famous Schindler factory, responsible for saving thousands of Jews.

13. Nowa Huta

A visit to New Huta is like entering another world. This neighbourhood is cold and grey, representing a living memory of the communist control of the city. The large boulevards, the buildings with straight and symmetrical lines, all in grey concrete, are examples of the Soviet architecture. Nowa Huta as a strange and gloomy environment that makes ineighbourhoodt a very interesting place to discover.

piration.

Krakow Old Town, the Castle Wawel and the District of Kazimierz are part of the first UNESCO World Heritage list created in 1978, a highly prestigious recognition, especially at the time, since only 12 places in the world had received such distinction.

Let’s get to know the  places not to be missed is a visit to Krakow

1. Main Market Square

Kraków’s main market square, one of the largest medieval central squares in Europe, is the city central point. It was founded in the 13th century when the city was established and its layout has changed through the years. The square had grown in successive layers visible in the St. Adalbert’s Church area. Its magnificence made it subjected to a Nazi rally attended by Der Führer himself. During the German occupation, the square’s name also changed to ‘Adolf Hitler Platz’.

Proudly standing in the middle of the square is the 70m-high Town Hall Tower, a huge brick tower, built during the 14th century. Known as Kraków’s ‘leaning tower,’ the structure leans 55cm, a curiosity credited to strong wind back in 1703.

St. Adalbert’s Church is another landmark that dates from the 11th century before the square was built, which explains its strange placement on the square and its floor two metres lower the square. It’s Kraków’s oldest church and the best way to experience it is during the daily classical concerts by the Royal Chamber Orchestra.

2. St. Mary’s Basilica

The St. Mary’s Basilica is the most important monument of the Main Market Square and was built before its constitution. It’s a beautiful Gothic Basilica that will take your breath away with magnificent stained-glass windows, colourful walls and ceiling and a grand altar with 13 meters high and 11 m wide, one of the largest in Europe. It took 12 years to complete the work, including the 200 sculpted figures, whose size change between a few centimetres up to 3 meters. The church is also known for the city’s famous bugle call played every hour on the hour. The tune ironically breaks off mid-melody in honour of the mythical trumpeter who was shot in the neck while belatedly warning the city of Mongol invaders. It’s one of the city’s most iconic traditions.

3. Cloth Hall

In the middle of the square is the Cloth Hall, two rows of stone trading stalls that were built specifically to the trade of textiles and fabrics. The building has a troubled history which justifies the different architectural styles. Like an onion, its possible to find in the building different layers. The first one dates from the 12th century and is an example of medieval architecture, the second on is renaissance inspired, as result of a fire that took place in the 16th century and forced its reconstruction. Finally, in the 19th century was added to the last layer: the arches and neo-gothic columns. Until now, there is still the tradition of buying and selling products, currently mainly local products and tourists’ souvenirs.

4. Old Town

The Krakow Old Town is the heart of the city and World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1978. It was the first in Poland to gain that status and one of the first in all of Europe (along with salt mines in Bochnia and Wieliczka). It stretches between St. Florian’s Gate and Wawel Castle and took less than 30 minutes to cover the distance between both hallmarks.  But only if you do it without paying any attention to the number of attractions in the route. So, I recommend to take your time, stroll around and take the scenic path.  Just around the square are several historic buildings and palaces in an excellent state of preservation.

5. Barbican Fortress and the Floriańska Gate

Built to protect the city from enemy attacks. The Barbican is truly impressive, it’s an important memory from the city’s medieval defences, with 3 meters wide walls, seven observation towers and a curious side door that, adding to the interior balcony, aimed to delay the enemy entrance in the city. The defensive had three kilometres long of fortified walls, with 47 towers, eight gates and a moat.

6.Collegium Maius and the University

Krakow receives the second oldest university in Central Europe – a Jagiellonian, where have study great names like Nicolaus Copernicus and Pope John Paul II. Some of its buildings are historical and date from its founding. They are essentially constructed of red bricks which gives you a very distinctive aspect. Collegium Maius is the oldest building of Jagiellonian University. Built as the university’s main campus as a picturesque arcaded courtyard that has survived to this day. Professors lived and worked upstairs and in ground floor were the lecture halls were Nicolaus Copernicus made his drawings in his notebooks.

7. The most impressive number of churches

In Poland, the number of churches is truly impressive, and Krakow is no exception. If you couldn’t visit all  just chose between one of the following:

>>Church of Santa Maria flanked by the small Church of Santa Barbara and that still divides the Central Square with the Church of St. Wojciech. 

>>The Church of St. Andrew with its high stone tower and thick walls had had defensive functions, since the 12th century. Is one of the oldest buildings in Poland. 

>>The Peter and Paul Church is defended by the Twelve Apostles and it is very similar to the Roman churches. At the dome, is fixed a Foucault pendulum, whose swinging proves the circular Earth movement.

8. Bishop’s Palace & Papal Window

The Bishop’s Palace is the second largest palace in Kraków and the residence of the Kraków’s bishops since it was built in the 14th century. Today the Palace is most famous for having been the residence of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, from 1958 to 1978, before he became Pope John Paul II. During his visits to Kraków as Pope, he would often make evening appearances in the ‘Papal Window’ to address the crowds below. 

9. Wawel Hill

On the top of the Wawel Hill, it is one of the largest and best-preserved castles in Europe, which still manages to maintain its Renaissance splendour, built by Italian architects. The Castle was constructed by Zygmunt I, the second last king of the Jagiellonian Dynasty. When the court moved to Warsaw it ended up being abandoned until it passed into the hands of the city. Since then it had carried out an important restoration and rehabilitation work.

Next to the Castle is the Wawel Cathedral, the most important church in the city. Its architecture is a mixture of styles and epochs which makes it unique. Almost all Polish kings (37) were crowned here and almost all were also buried here. The Cathedral has a bell to its size and importance: Sigismund, as it is known, weighs 12.7 tons and it takes twelve people to play it, sounding about 12 km away.

10.Dragons Den

The Wawel Hill is not the solid piece of rock it appears. It’s filled with ghostly caves and crawl spaces, some of them with mistery myths, like the chambers beneath Wawel were once a Dragon, a nasty creature who liked to eat lamb and maidens. The story goes that as the village ran out of virgins, the King promised the hand of his only daughter to the hero who could defeat the beast. Only a poor cobbler tricked and destroyed the Dragon, marring the princess, and became king. Later he built his castle on the dragon’s den and the people built a city around it and named ‘Kraków’ after their saviour king. today the cave is as a tourist attraction. The route through the caves leads, though a descending staircase from the castle courtyard to the riverbank below, right in front of the Dragon bronze sculpture. Since 1972, this Dragon takes intermittent blasts of fiery breath. So just wait a moment to see it.

11. Kazimierz District of and

The District of Kazimierz it has long been recognised as the “City of the Jews” since this community was “pushed” away from the centre of Krakow. On the other hand, it is curious the number of Catholic churches that we come across, leaving the image of a close and natural coexistence between both religions. Before World War II this neighbourhood was occupied by more than 65,000 Jews, 25% of the total population. They raised here the foundations of a strong economy and a solid social and religious structure, supported by a set of synagogues.

12. Podgorze District

The other neighbourhood associated with the history of the Jews is Podgorze, situated on the right bank of the Vistula river. This Industrial district became, during the Nazi occupation, the ghetto to where all the Jews were relocated. More than 15,000 Jews were imprisoned here, before being taken to concentration camps. This memory is now engraved in the main square of Podgorze with several chairs that identify the place where the ghetto was located. It Is also here the famous Schindler factory, responsible for saving thousands of Jews.

13. Nowa Huta

A visit to New Huta is like entering another world. This neighbourhood is cold and grey, representing a living memory of the communist control of the city. The large boulevards, the buildings with straight and symmetrical lines, all in grey concrete, are examples of the Soviet architecture. Nowa Huta as a strange and gloomy environment that makes ineighbourhoodt a very interesting place to discover.

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