CRACOW OLD TOWN
The entire medieval old town is among the first sites chosen for the UNESCO’s World Heritage List, inscribed as Cracow’s Historic Centre. The architectural design of the Old Town had survived all cataclysms of the past and retained its original form.
Cracow old town was the center of Poland’s political life from 1038 until King Sigismund III Vasa relocated his court to Warsaw in 1596.
Medieval Cracow was surrounded by a defensive wall complete with 46 towers and seven main entrances leading through them. The fortifications around the Old Town were erected over the course of two centuries. In the 19th century most of the Old Town fortifications were demolished. The moat encircling the walls was filled in and turned into a green belt known as Planty Park.
The Park has an area of 21,000 square meters (52 acres) and a length of 4 kilometers (2.5 miles). It consists of a chain of thirty smaller gardens designed in varied styles and adorned with numerous monuments and fountains. The park forms a scenic walkway popular with Cracovians. In summer, sprinkled with ponds and refreshment stalls, it is a cool and shady retreat from the nearby bustling streets.
The Cracow Barbican is a fortified outpost once connected to the city walls. It is a historic gateway leading into the Old Town of Cracow. The Barbican is one of the few remaining relics of the complex network of fortifications and defensive barriers that once encircled the royal city of Cracow. It currently serves as a tourist attraction and venue for a variety of exhibitions.
St. Florian’s Gate
St. Florian’s Gate (or Florian Gate) is one of the best-known Polish Gothic towers. It was built about the 14th century as a rectangular Gothic tower of “wild stone”, part of the city fortifications against Turkish attack.
Until the 19th century, Cracow had massive medieval city walls. The inner wall was some 2.4 meters wide and 6–7 meters high. Ten meters outside the inner wall was an outer, lower one. The walls were punctuated by defensive towers 10 meters high. In the 19th century — just before they were demolished by the Austrian authorities — there were 47 towers still standing. Now there are only three Gothic towers left in all Cracow: the Carpenters’, Haberdashers’ and Joiners’ Towers, connected to St. Florian’s Gate by walls several dozen meters long.
Main Market Square
Dating back to the 13th century, Cracow’s Main Market Square is one of Eastern Europe’s most beautiful squares and the focal point of the city’s Old Town. It is the largest medieval town square in Europe, measuring 200m by 200m.
Throughout the whole year the Main Market Square is lively and crowded. There are many tourists, indefatigable florists, and lined up horse-drawn carriages awaiting to give a ride.
The Main Market Square is a spacious square surrounded by historical townhouses, palaces and churches. The center of the square is dominated by the Cloth Hall (or Drapers’ Hall), rebuilt in 1555 in the renaissance style, topped by a beautiful attic or Polish parapet decorated with carved masks. On one side of the Cloth Hall is the Town Hall Tower, on the other the 10th century St. Adalbert’s Church and 1898 Adam Mickiewicz Monument.
Rising above the square are the Gothic towers of St. Mary’s Basilica.
St. Mary’s Basilica
St. Mary’s Basilica is a Brick Gothic church re-built in the 14th century (originally built in the early 13th century), adjacent to the Main Market Square in Cracow. Standing 80 meters (262 ft) tall, it is particularly famous for its wooden altarpiece carved by Veit Stoss.
On every hour, a trumpet signal—called the Hejnał mariacki—is played from the top of the taller of St. Mary’s two towers. The plaintive tune breaks off in mid-stream, to commemorate the famous 13th century trumpeter, who was shot in the throat while sounding the alarm before the Mongol attack on the city.
St. Mary’s Basilica also served as an architectural model for many of the churches that were built by the Polish diasporas abroad, particularly those like St. Michael’s and St. John Cantius in Chicago, designed in the so- called Polish Cathedral style.
The church is familiar to many English-speaking readers from the 1929 book The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly.
The Renaissance Sukiennice is one of the city’s most recognizable icons. It is the central feature of the Main Market Square in the Cracow Old Town (listed as the UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978). It was once a major centre of international trade. Traveling merchants met there to discuss business and to barter. During its golden age in the 15th century, Sukiennice was the source of a variety of exotic imports from the East – spices, silk, leather and wax – while Cracow itself exported textiles, lead, and salt from the Wieliczka Salt Mine.
Church of St. Adalbert
The Church, located to the side of the Main Market Square in the Cracow Old Town, is one of the oldest stone churches in Poland. It is almost one thousand year old history goes back to the beginning of the Polish Romanesque architecture of the early Middle Ages.
The Church was built in the 11th century and named after the martyred missionary Saint Adalbert whose body was bought back for its weight in gold from the pagan Prussia and placed in Gniezno Cathedral by Boleslaus I of Poland. The Church of St. Adalbert stands at the south-eastern corner of the biggest medieval market square in Europe, demarcated in 1257. The place of worship preceded the Square by nearly a century. The interior of the church is cramped, relative to its larger exterior. The floor level is situated under the present level of the Square, which reflects the overlaying of the subsequent surfaces of the plaza with pavement originally adjusted to the two already existing churches (including St. Wojciech’s). The church was partially reconstructed in the Baroque style between 1611-1618.
Adam Mickiewicz Monument
Adam Mickiewicz Monument is one of the best known bronze monuments in Poland, and a favourite meeting place at the Main Market Square in the Old Town district of Cracow.
The statue of Adam Mickiewicz, the greatest Polish Romantic poet of the 19th century, was unveiled on June 16, 1898, on the 100th anniversary of his birth, in the presence of his daughter and son. It was designed by Teodor Rygier, a little known sculptor at the time, who won the third and final competition for this project by popular demand ahead of over 60 artists in total, the renowned painter Jan Matejko included.
At the poet’s feet are four allegoric groups symbolising the Motherland (from the face of the monument along Sienna Street), Science (facing north), Courage (facing Cloth Hall) and Poetry (facing Church of St.
Adalbert, south). The inscription on the pedestal reads: “To Adam Mickiewicz, the Nation”.
Town Hall Tower
The Tower is the only remaining part of the old Town Hall demolished in 1820 as part of the city plan to open up the Main Square. Its cellars once housed a city prison with a Medieval torture chamber.
Built of stone and brick at the end of the 13th century, the massive Gothic tower of the early Town Hall stands 70 meters tall and leans just 55 centimeters, the result of a storm in 1703. The top floor of the tower with an observation deck is open to visitors.
The tower serves as a Division of the Historical Museum of Cracow featuring permanent display of photographs of the Market Square Exhibition.
Wawel is an architectural complex erected over many centuries atop a limestone outcrop on the left bank of the Vistula River in Cracow, at an altitude of 228 meters above the sea level. It is a place of great significance to the Polish people. The Royal Castle with an armoury and the Cathedral are situated on the hill.
The Wawel Castle served as a royal residence and the site where the country’s rulers governed Poland for five centuries from 1038 until 1596.
Grand, opulent and decadent, are just some of the words to describe State Rooms. In the State Rooms The Senator’s Hall is breathtaking with its enormous tapestries, while in the Royal Apartments you will marvel at the Guest Bedroom.
The Wawel Cathedral is Poland’s most important place of worship dates back to 1364 and is the burial place for much of Poland’s deceased royalty. National heroes and bishops are buried there also. At the top of the cathedral is a bell that brings you good luck once you touch it. Royal coronations took place there also.
The Wawel Dragon is a famous dragon in Polish folklore. He laired in a cave under the Wawel Hill on the banks of the Vistula river, although some legends place him in the Wawel mountains. In some stories the dragon lived before the founding of the city, when the area was inhabited by farmers.
JEWISH QUARTER – KAZIMIERZ DISTRICT
Kazimierz is a historical district of Cracow, best known for being home to a Jewish century until the Second World War. Named after King Kazimierz, Krakow’s old Jewish neighbourhood is the city’s most famous inner-city suburb.
Szeroka, which is really more a square than it is a street, represents the heart of the old Jewish district. It was around here, back in the fourteenth century, that settlers first laid down their roots in the area, and the sense of a medieval market place is still palpable.
Old Synagogue (24 Szeroka street) is an Orthodox Jewish synagogue in Kazimierz district of Cracow. It is the oldest synagogue building still standing in Poland, and one of the most precious landmarks of Jewish architecture in Europe. Until the German invasion of Poland in1939, it was one of the most important synagogues in the city as well as the main religious, social, and organizational centre of the Cracow’s Jewish community.
The Old Synagogue currently operates as a museum. It is a Division of the Historical Museum of Kraków, with particular divorce and death.
The Remuh Synagogue (40 Szeroka street) is named after Rabbi Moses Isserles c.1525-1572, known by the Hebrew acronym ReMA. Remuh Synagogue is the smallest of all historic synagogues of the Kazimierz district
According to one popular tradition Israel ben Josef, the grandson of Moshe Auerbach of Regensburg, founded the plausible motive for the synagogue’s origin stems from the Hebrew inscription on the foundation tablet which reads: Husband, Reb Israel, son of Josef of blessed memory, bound in strength, to the glory of the Eternal One, and of his wife Malka, daughter of Eleazar, may her soul be bound up in the portion of life, built this synagogue, the house of the Lord, from her bequest. Lord restore the treasure of Israel.
This implies that the synagogue was built in memory of Malka, the wife of Israel ben Josef. The year 1552 must have been a terrible time for the family of Israel: his mother, wife, and daughter-in-law, the first wife of Rabbi Moshe Isserles, and probably other family members died in the epidemic that hit Cracow that year, in addition to numerous Jewish inhabitants of Kazimierz. It should be pointed out that Israel ben Josef was a wealthy banker who settled in Cracow only in 1519, following the expulsion of Jews from the German city of Regensburg. Another tradition maintains that the synagogue was founded by Rabbi Moshe Isserles himself in memory of first wife Golda, who died at the age of twenty.
Old Jewish Cemetery
The Remuh Cemetery, also known as the old Jewish cemetery of Cracow, is a Jewish cemetery established in 1535. It is located beside the Remuh Synagogue (at 40 Szeroka Street) in the historic Kazimierz district of Cracow.
During the German occupation of Poland, Nazis destroyed the cemetery, tearing down the walls and selling the tombstones for use as paving stones. The tombstone of the Ramah is one of the few that remained intact. The cemetery has undergone a series of post-War restorations. As is common in contemporary Poland, tombstones found in use as paving stones have been returned and re-erected, although they represent a small fraction of the monuments that once stood in the cemetery.
High Synagogue (38 Jozefa street) is an inactive Orthodox Jewish synagogue in Kazimierz District of Cracow. It was called the High (or Tall) Synagogue for many centuries for it was the tallest synagogue in the city. It was built in 1556-1563. It appears to be in a Renaissance manner with certain modifications common north of the alps. It was the third synagogue to be erected in Kazimierz. Originally, the prayer rooms were located on the second floor above ground floor shops. The interior walls of the sanctuary feature paintings of scenes in Jerusalem, including the “Tomb of the Israelite Kings,” “Western Wall,” and a handsome pair of lions in the women’s gallery.
The High serves as a Landmark Conservation building. Since 2005 it has been open to visitors. Photographic and other exhibitions about customs and traditions of the Jewish community of the interwar period are staged indoors.
The Izaak Synagogue (16 Kupa street at Izaaka street) or Isaac Synagogue, formally known as the Isaak Jakubowicz Synagogue, is a Prayerhouse built in 1644 in the historic Kazimierz District of Cracow. The synagogue is named for its donor, Izaak Jakubowicz (d. 1673), also called Isaac the Rich, a banker to King Władysław IV. The synagogue was designed by Francesco Olivierri, an Italian working in Poland in that era. Jakubowicz is buried in the Remuh Cemetery.
Nazis destroyed the interior and furnishings, including the bimah and Aron Kodesh. After the war, the building was used by a sculpture and conservation atelier and then by a theatre company as workshop space and for the storage of props. A fire in 1981 damaged the interior. A renovation was begun in 1983 and in 1989, with the fall of communism in Poland, the building was returned to the Jewish community. It is presently used as an exhibition space.
Kupa Synagogue (27 Miodowa street) is a 17th century synagogue. Kupa Synagogue serves Cacow’s Jewish
community as one of the venues for religious ceremonies and cultural festivals, notably the annual Jewish Culture Festival in Kraków.
The Synagogue was founded in 1643 by the Kazimierz Jewish district’s kehilla (a municipal form of self- government), as a foundation of the local qahal. A contribution of 200 zlotys by the Jewish goldsmiths’ guild helped to bring the construction to its successful completion. The Synagogue was built in a baroque style with a square prayer hall inside. The building underwent many renovations throughout the centuries. The colorful interior of the Kupa Synagogue serves as an exhibition hall and the venue for musical events.
The Tempel Synagogue (24 Miodowa street at Podbrzezie street) is a Reform Jewish synagogue in Cracow. The Moorish Revival building was designed by Ignacy Hercok, and built in 1860-1862 along Miodowa Street. The temple, with its tall central section flanked by lower wings, is designed on the pattern of the Leopoldstädter Tempel, in Vienna, Austria. At the time the synagogue was built, Cracow was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The synagogue was ruined during the World War II by the German Nazis, who used the building as ammunition storage area. After the war, it was used again for prayers. In 1947, a mikvah was built in the northern part of the synagogue. Regular prayers were held until 1985. A large inflow of financial contributions from private donors around the world allowed the synagogue to undergo a vast renovation from 1995 until 2000. It is still active today, although formal prayers are held only a few times a year.
The Wolf Popper Synagogue
The Wolf Popper Synagogue (16 Szeroka street) used to be one of the most splendid Jewish houses of prayer in the old Jewish quarter of Kazimierz in Cracow. The Synagogue was founded by Wolf “The Stork” Popper in early 17th century. Its entrance was once adorned with openwork doors depicting four animals: an eagle, a leopard, a lion, and a buck deer, which symbolize the main traits of a devout man. The synagogue, featuring porches, annexes, Aron Kodesh, rich furniture and decorations, went into a decline not long after the passing of its founder and chief benefactor. At present, Popper Synagogue serves as the youth community centre with a strong accent on programs and workshops exploring the coexistence of Polish and Jewish cultures.
Wolf Popper, nicknamed as “the stork” for having been able to stand on one leg when lost in deep thought, founded the synagogue in 1620. He financed its construction towards the end of his life. Popper made his fortune in large-scale international trade in cloth and saltpetre (main ingredient in the making of gunpowder), and eventually, became Kazimierz’s richest banker with the fortune reaching 200,000 zlotys, which made him one of the richest men in Europe.
In 1965 the Jewish Council handed over the building to the communist authorities. In the ensuing renovation most traces of its previous religious role were erased and the Old Town Youth Cultural Centre (YCC) was established in its place. At present, the Centre is a vibrant and busy place with long-running programs, educational activities, art studio, and classes in Jewish dance. The YCC Study Workshop on Jewish History and Culture, is an initiative that began in 1995 as the first of its kind in Poland. Art classes are designed to widen the students’ knowledge of symbolism and artistic motifs in Jewish art. An annual competition in art and photography is being held there as well as lectures on Jewish Kazimierz, the Holocaust, and series of film showings.
Kazimierz district is a place where two religions coexisted together. Just next to synagogues there are Christian churches. In this part of the Kazimierz district definitely worth to see are: • Market Square (Wolnica) with a town hall, now housing an ethnographic museum • Gothic St Catherine’s Church • Gothic Corpus Christi Church • Baroque Church on the Rock (Skałka), the site of Saint Stanislaus’s martyrdom • Municipal Engineering Museum
Podgórze – initially a village at the foot of Lasota’s Hill (hence the name: Podgórze roughly translates as at the bottom of/near a hill) – used to be separate town from Cracow and during the Second World War – a Jewish ghetto. Podgórze is situated on the right (southern) bank of the Vistula River.
Ghetto Heroes’ Square
During the Second World War Ghetto Heroes’ Square was the main place in the Jewish ghetto for everyday gatherings. Nowadays there is an extraordinary monument commemorating the tragic history of Podgórze. The empty iron chairs illustrate an enormous amount of furniture and belongings left on the square by the departing Jews. Two of the chairs are facing towards a dead-end road where most likely executions were taking place.
Recently renovated and commonly know from S. Spielberg’s movie ‘Schindler’s List’, it is now a museum showing the history of over 1000 Jews saved by Oscar Schindler in this factory and also the history of war-time- Cracow.
Beautiful triangular Podgórski Square is surrounded by stylish, old houses. There is the large brick, neo-gothic
Church of St. Josef situated there. While erecting the church in the 19th century, an alchemist’s cave was found. According to some scientists it might have been Master Piotr Twardowski’s, a court magician of the Polish king Zygmunt August.
Old Cemetery of Podgórze
A peaceful place with the old, 19th century graves of noble citizens, politicians and artists from Podgórze. To these days, survived only 38 acres of the old cemetery, which in 1900 was 1.5 hectares large.
The mound is the oldest man-made structure situated on Lasota’s Hill. According to the legend it is the grave of the king Krak – the founder of Cracow. It is the largest prehistoric mound in Poland and the best view point in Cracow.
Bednarski’s Park was founded by Wojciech Bednarski in 1896, the school headmaster. The park was arranged in a former stone-pit that is way it looks it’s bees dug out from the hill. Beautiful landscaped park with over 100 species of trees. It incorporates high rocks and valleys and it’s a great, quiet alternative for more conventional parks located next to the Old Town.
St. Benedict’s Hill
On the hill there is St. Benedict’s Fortification (Fort no 31). It was one of the first parts of the city defense built by Austrians. There used to be private flats arranged inside the fort after the First World War until 1984. Unfortunately, nowadays surrounded by a fence, it’s closed for visitors.
Next to the fort, there is a St. Benedict’s Church, standing at the top of the hill. Sweet, tiny and romantic it is open only twice a year: on St. Benedict’s Day (21st March) and on the first Tuesday after Easter for a market on so-called Rękawka.
NOWA HUTA – COMMUNISM DISTRICT
Nowa Huta – 10km east of the city centre and one of Krakow’s most populous areas with over 200,000 residents. Nowa Huta literally means ‘The New Steel Mill’. The suburb was started in 1949 as a home for the workers at the mines. It was to become the ideal town for communist propaganda but ironically today is famously anti-communist.
Nowadays still differs from the rest of the city with its monumental Socialist architecture. When you look at Nowa Huta from the bird’s eye view it is easy to figure out that it looks like the sun: in the middle you can find Central Square and the streets which start at this square are the sun’s rays. The Lenin statue that used to stand in the middle of the square was replaced by a replica of Gdansk Crosses in 1990. Further to anti-religious Communist policy, it was impossible to build churches in this district for years. The permission to build the first church was granted in 1970s.
Nowa Huta today
Since the fall of Communism the city that was once a showpiece for Stalinism now boasts many tributes to ardent anti-Communists. Streets formerly named after Lenin and the Cuban Revolution have been renamed to honor Pope John Paul II and the Polish exile leader Władysław Anders. In 2004 Plac Centralny, Nowa Huta’s central square which once was home to a giant statue of Lenin – on display at High Chaparral Museum in Hillerstorp Sweden, was renamed Ronald Reagan Central Square (Plac Centralny im. Ronalda Reagana) in honor of the former U.S. President. However, this decision led to many protests, and the traditional name is still widely used.
Tadeusz Sendzimir Steelworks
Tadeusz Sendzimir Steelworks is the second largest steel plant in Poland. It opened on July 22, 1954 in a newly- built, easternmost district of Cracow called Nowa Huta. The steelworks as well as the district were located in the area formerly occupied by the village of Mogiła and surrounding farmland.
During the Communist rule, the plant was called Vladimir Lenin Steelworks. The name was changed in 1990, following the collapse of communism, and the factory was renamed to commemorate the scientist and engineer Tadeusz Sendzimir. In its heyday – in the 1970s – the plant employed around 40,000 people and annually produced almost 7 million tons of steel. In the 1980s, it was one of the most important centers of anticommunist resistance, with numerous strikes and street demonstrations taking place in Nowa Huta.
The area of Mogiła is an ideal place for a relaxing walk or a cycling trip. Worth visiting is the Cistercian Abby. Situated in Mogila this abby is most important monument of this kind in Cracow and one of most valued in Poland. The Cistercian abby of Mogiła was founded in the 1220s from the mother house of Lubiąż in Silesia. Situated nearby 15th century Church of St Bartholomew is one of the oldest of the Polish wooden sacral architecture that survived.
The legend says that is the grave of Princess Wanda, the daughter of the King Krak – the legendary founder of Cracow. As the story goes, she didn’t want to marry German king so she drowned herself in Vistula river. Her body was found in the same place where nowadays the mound is. The monument standing on the top, was designed by Jan Matejko, a painter famous for his depictions of the crucial events from the history of Poland.
Museum of Nowa Huta
This is the absolute must for the visitors. Located in one room, the museum displays objects in connection with the area. It is the right place to learn more about history of Nowa Huta and get the real feeling of what it used to be like here.
Polish Aviation Museum
Polish Aviation Museum is a large museum of old aircraft and aircraft engines. It is located at the site of the no-longer functional Kraków-Rakowice-Czyżyny Airport in Nowa Huta. This airfield, established by Austria- Hungary in 1912, is one of the oldest in the world. The museum opened in 1964, after the airfield closed in 1963.
The collection consists of over 200 aircraft as of 2005. Several of the aircraft displayed are unique on the world scale, including sailplanes and some 100 aircraft engines. Some of the exhibits are only in their initial stages. The museum houses a large aviation library and photographic archives. The museum has 22 extremely rare airplanes that once were part of the personal collection of Hermann Göring, which before World War II were displayed in Deutsche Luftfahrtsammlung museum in Berlin