Let’s explore Royal Cracow
Cracow is one of the most beautiful and popular cities in Europe thanks to a fine architectural heritage, outstanding artistry and royal patronage. The city is situated in the south of Poland and has one of the largest collections of historic buildings in the country. It is designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage site since 1978.
In 2000 the city was awarded the title of European Capital of Culture recognising its heritage and contribution the world’s cultural achievements.
The influence of Italian artists is evident in the Renaissance style of many of the buildings. A fine example is the imposing Cloth Hall in the main market square which houses part of the National Museum on its upper floor. Although the most stunning example is the Royal Wawel Castle situated on a hill just a short walk from the main square.
The enormous market square laid out in 1257 still dominates the city, providing a focal point for visitors and is said to be one of the largest in Europe.
Interestingly many of the hotels, cafes and bars around the main square have very attractive rooms below street level, with exposed brick work and vaulted roofs creating a wonderful atmosphere. What few visitors realise is that most of these rooms were originally above ground.
The city was favoured by Kings and many are buried in the Royal Cathedral which is adjacent to the castle and one of the most important churches in Poland.
It is easy to see why the Royals loved the city and the castle, which is unmistakably Italian in appearance with its high walled courtyard and ornate architectural features. The Castle is regarded by many as one of the most magnificent Renaissance residences in Central Europe. Its rooms are home to fine paintings, stunning ceilings and outstanding tapestries.
Although perhaps the best illustration of the past wealth of the city is the church of St. Mary with its two towers dominating the main square and a unique custom. Every hour a trumpeter signals the time by playing the “Hejnal” from the top of one of the towers then stopping abruptly. The players who are all fireman open a window, plays then closes the window before repeating the ceremony on each of the other walls of the tower to ensure everyone in the city has heard the time.
Those who are lucky to hear the Hejnal at noon may be presented with a special certificate issued and signed by a representative of the President of The Royal City, who stands in a small booth right in front of Church of St Mary.
Built originally as the Parish church it has a size to resemble a cathedral. Step inside and the richly decorated interior and takes your breath away with its opulence. The Gothic alter is magnificently carved and presents an imposing image at 11m by 10m in size.
Originally a walled city, sadly only a small section of the wall exists although its imposing city gate makes it easy to appreciate the grandeur of past years. Getting away from the main tourist attractions it is easy to find evidence of a rich and distant past with tired and neglected buildings adjacent to those in fine condition.
Last, but not least is its cultural and night life. Being one of the most exquisite Polish cities to visit, it attracts tourist from all over the world creating a fine opportunity for local artists to present their art. When the sun sets, the market bursts with musicians, painters and performers. Strolling through the nearby thin streets, one is likely to hear distant sound of jazz or Mexican music coming from the square.
In the evening most of the restaurants and small stalls open providing a perfect atmosphere for socialising and delaying the return home. Spending one night in the magical city is enough to drive a desire to return again and again.
Nine reasons to visit Cracow!
1. It is ideal for a weekend break with cheap flights and the local airport conveniently linked by a frequent train service for around £1.50 each way.
2. Accommodation is affordable for all budgets with rooms from around £30 a night at hostel rooms or apartments to 5 star hotels.
3. Everywhere is within easy walking distance.
4. Have fun climbing to touch the largest bell named after Polish King ‘Zygmunt’s Bell’ in Poland, cast in 1520 and weighing 11 tonnes is an unforgettable adventure through wooden struts and staircases at the Cathedral.
5. Visit Wawel Castle to admire wonderful tapestries and ceilings.
6. Explore Church of St Mary to see the magnificent alter.
7. Walk through the Florian Gate, to see the only surviving section of the city wall with its magnificent gate tower, and a collection of paintings of the local artists who get used to present their art there.
8. Step into Collegium Maius, which at 600 years old is the oldest of the Jagiellonian University colleges.
9. Visit Galeria Czekolady, a chocolate paradise in Kazimierz at ul. Bożego Ciała 22 with some of the finest award winning chocolate from around the world including amazing Amedei bars.
Martin Westall and Anna Jankowiak
Photo Joanna Gulbinska