Posted on Feb 4, 2014 in Krakow, Poland

Krakow

The tune floats down from the high tower of St. Mary’s Basilica, every hour on the hour, as it has for centuries, drifting across the grand market square of the Rynek Glowny. The iconic trumpet anthem of Krakow is just one tradition in this historic city.  Krakow dates back to the 7th century and was Poland’s medieval capital.  The entire city center with its well-preserved “Old Town,”  was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978, one of the first sites thus inscribed.  Here one can visit Europe’s largest medieval market square in the middle of which stands Cloth Hall, an ancient, and still vibrant, center of trade.  Here, too, is the Jagiellonian University, one of the oldest universities  in the world and the site of a renowned library that houses  historic and artistic manuscripts from luminaries such as Copernicus and Chopin.

A little to the south and upon a rise, stands Wawel Castle.  This impressive medieval structure includes the castle itself where Polish kings once lived and Wawel Cathedral, the site of coronations and the royal crypts.

Over time, this walled complex of buildings evolved, incorporating many architectural styles along the way.  Today, the restored castle exhibits major art works including the crown jewels and priceless Flemish tapestries.

During World War II, Krakow escaped some of the physical destruction that leveled other Polish cities.  Its people, however, were less fortunate.  The population of Krakow’s venerable Jewish quarter, Kazimierz, was forcibly relocated, first to the “Krakow Ghetto” and then to slave labor and death camps.  Those familiar with the film, Schindler’s List might want to visit the museum now located in Oskar Schindler’s former enamelware factory.  Now, after many years of decline, Kazimierz is undergoing a renaissance.  One can enjoy the restaurants, bookstores, and klezmer music once again.

Beyond Krakow’s city limits, two major historic sites merit special attention.  First, the former Nazi concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau are preserved and commemorated with a museum and memorial.  Secondly,the Wieliczka Salt Mine reflects developments in mining technology since the 13th century when the mine first went into operation.  Visitors can walk some of the vast subterranean galleries and also see underground chapels and artistic carvings in salt.

Today, Krakow is a major economic center with numerous multinational corporations and a focus on high tech industries.  It is also, not surprisingly, a top tourist destination: Poland’s cultural capital is  a beautiful, walkable city with ample green space, one that is enlivened by numerous restaurants and clubs.

 

 

Plan this trip!

 

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