Kraków is a magic city. It is the former capital city and the heart of Poland, which exceeds all Polish cities in many ways. Famous for its ambience, monuments, specific climate and open-minded people, Kraków is a very hospitable place with many faces: legendary, green and picturesque, industrial, Jewish. The second city in Poland visited by the foreigners is easily accessible by car, train, bus, and airplane. The most popular quartier is still the Jewish Kazimierz, but the Old Podgórze has recently reached a huge popularity too. Apart from the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCAK) which has been opened lately, you can enjoy visiting the RynekUnderground, opened in September 2010 under the Main Market Square, aiming at introducing the spectators to the atmosphere of the medieval city.
Having more time, you can explore the interesting places around Kraków such as the Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec, the Wieliczka Salt Mine or theOjców National Park. Only 100 km from Kraków, there is a beautiful mountain range – Tatra Mountains where you may enjoy climbing or trekking or just visiting Zakopane -the town at the foot of the Tatra Mountains called the winter capital city of Poland.
Bridges and Kraków Mounds
Kraków is situated by the Vistula River, which divides city into parts and connects it with several beautiful bridges. The legendary founder of the city was Prince Krak, the vanquisher of the Wawel Dragon. The remnants of the oldest history of the city have been preserved in two mounds from the 7th century called the Wanda and Krak mounds.
Visiting the second one is especially interesting during St. John’s Eve, the 24th of June, when the celebrations take place and traditional folk rituals are presented. People sing songs and also sit around bonfires. The young women wear crowns from wild flowers, which are later thrown into the river whilst men jump over the fire.
However, still the most famous mound is the Kosciuszko Mound, risen by Cracovians in commemoration of the Polish national leader Tadeusz Kosciuszko, completed in 1823. The serpentine path leads to the top where we can admire a panoramic view of the city. The last is Piłsudski Mound also known as Independence or Freedom Mound, the newest and the largestof Krakow’s four mounds.
The Royal city for architecture lovers
The most spectacular and unique buildings can be found on Royal Route which is a former route of royal ceremonial processions. It begins from St. Florian’s Church, past the Barbican, through Florianska Street to the Main Market Square, later through Grodzka and Kanonicza Street to the Royal Castle on Wawel Hill.This route is very overcrowded, although, it cannot be missed as the most precious churches and tenement houses of the city are located along it.
What is worth to see…It’s hard to stay objective, living in this city, when every brick has its own history. But being in Kraków you must definitely visit the Main Market Square, which is one of the largest medieval squares in Europe. Among many interesting buildings, the most beautiful are: the Sukiennice Cloth Hall, the Town Hall Tower and St. Mary’s Basilica. The Rynek has always been the city’s assembly point for the public celebrations, parades, protests and it remains so till now.
Sukiennice Cloth Hall is a Gothic-Renaissance building decorated with a mascaron attic. Today it is a souvenir shopping arcade, with 19th century Polish art on the first floor and medieval stories in the basement.
The center of the Old town is encircled by the plane trees, green and full of life „lungs of the city”, it is a 3 kilometers long public park filled with trees, flowers and monuments. Undoubtedly, it is a very popular place for the street musicians.
This is not the right time for explaining details about all monuments worth seeing. This tends to be just an encouragement to visit, for example, St. Mary’s Basilica altars, carved in limewood, which are one of the largest in Europe or to hear one of the most characteristic and amazing melody related to this church and Krakow in general – a bugle call (polish „hejnal”) that sounds every hour from the tower of the Basilica. It is the sound of Polish history.The Polish oldest university, established in 1364, the Jagiellonian University with enormous Gothic Collegium Maius building was a study place for many eminent people. It’s possible to see a place where Nicolaus Copernicus conducted his experiments.
Wawel Castle and Cathedral
One of the Krakow most fabulous streets is Kanonicza, which leads to Wawel Hill (228 m). Wawel Castle houses many precious examples of Polish architecture and culture. The Royal Castle is famous for its Renaissance galleries and Flanders tapestries. Also, very interesting collections of weapons, tents and rugs are placed on Wawel. The hill is also known as a place where the kings of Poland were crowned and buried along with the national heroes and artists.
Museum of Contemporary Art in Kraków (MOCAK)
The Museum of Contemporary Art (just next to the Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory) has been active since February 2010. It presents latest international art (two last decades in the context of avant-garde) as well as conceptual art. It’s also an educational place, which clarifies the ethical value of creating art and highlights its relation with reality. It is located in postindustrial district of the city -Podgórze, what allows get to know different face of Krakow.
Jewish Kazimierz – City in the city
Kazimierz, founded in 1335, is a half Jewish and a half Christian district. In the past it was a separate city situated beyond the Vistula. It is here where the most beautiful Christian churches of Corpus Christi Church are adjacent to the synagogues, e.g. Old Synagogue (the oldest in Poland) or Remuh. Nowadays, it is one of the most popular districts of Krakow, with many picturesque cafes and restaurants like Stajnia, famous for a Steven Spielberg movie “Schindler’s List”. It’s well known also because of The Festival of Jewish Culture which takes place every year in July and it involves numerous concerts, workshops and exhibitions. The final concert is at Szeroka Street, the most famous and the most typical for Kazimierz. It’s worth to go the Jewish Heritage Route to visit also cemeteries and museums. The spiritual center of Krakow subculture is Plac Nowy, something completely different from the Old Town.
Nowa Huta is the industrial district of Krakow, established around the Tadeusz Sendzimir metallurgical conglomerate and best known for its architecture of socialist realism (buildings at the Aleja Roz). This suburb is the antithesis of everything Krakow is and the example of the socialist realism in the world.
The construction of Nowa Huta was funded by Soviet Union. It was built as a proletarian opponent to intellectual, fairytale Krakow. The utopian dream about an ideal land was never realized, however it still remains a completely different reality.
Among the many eminent people connected to Krakow are: Pope John Paul II, Nobel Prize poets Czeslaw Milosz and Wislawa Szymborska; founder of the avant-garde theatre Cricot-2, Tadeusz Kantor; playwright Stanislaw Mrozek; legend of fantasy Stanislaw Lem; and Stanislaw Wyspianski – painter, poet, playwright and designer.In Krakow you can take part in numerous events, visit one of several museums or rest in one of many cafes. What would you like to choose?
Around 12 km from Krakow (the best way to visit it through the beautiful bicycle path) is located Tyniec, a historic village famous for its Benedictine abbey. It lies on the right bank of the Vistula river among limestone Jurassic hills. The village was a royal property and was destroyed several times during different invasions. Nine centuries ago Benedictines arrived at this place and built a monastery – abbacy, which emerges from the trees and reflects in the river. They have stayed till today. It’s good to know that you may spend a day in the monastery and rest, pray or meditate.
article and pictures – Magdalena Bułat