If you have seen the movie Schindler’s List, you will have no problems in recognizing this city. The movie was filmed in Krakow and around here are some of the most heart-breaking concentration camps from the Nazi period.
Krakow or Cracow is a historic city in southern Poland on the Vistula River at the foot of the Carpathian Plateau, 219 m above sea level. Approximately 300 km north is Warsaw, the capital of Poland, and 100 km south are the Tatra Mountains, forming the southern border of the country. The city is an industrial, cultural, and educational center of southern Poland, and is the third largest city in the country.
The name of Krakow is derived from the legendary ruler Krakus and the city's name in full is Royal Capital City of Krakow. In Latin it is known as Cracovia, in French as Cracovie, and in German as Krakau.
Krakow is a leading center of trade in coal, zinc, salt, timber, cattle, agricultural products, and wine with the most important industry being that of production of iron and steel done in the Nowa Huta plant, one of the largest industrial complexes in eastern Europe.
Its landscape and geological structure are very diverse. One can see karst formations that have evolved from Jurassic limestone, fertile loess clays, undulating areas of loamy sandstone, and layers of salt.
Krakow has traditionally been one of the leading scientific, cultural and artistic centers of the country. It was the residence of Polish kings and a national capital.
Krakow has a relatively temperate climate. Weather changes are frequent due to the friction of humid and dry, continental air masses.
Krakow is believed to be one of the oldest cities in Poland. It is said to be founded as a fortress in 700 AD. In the 12th century it became the capital of Poland and an important commercial center.
Archaeological findings provide evidence that Wawel Hill was settled as far back as the early Stone Age. Krakow was described as a rich city on the crossing of trade routes which was surrounded by forests. In 955 Boleslaus the Cruel, the ruling Czech, introduced Czech rule here. In the 10th century Krakow was incorporated into the Polish state.
Tatar invaders of Europe sacked Krakow in 1241 and German colonists later revived the city. In 1430 the city became a member of the Hanseatic League. During the early part of the 17th century the capital of Poland was moved from Krakow to Warsaw. In 1794, during the French Revolution, Krakow was the center of a revolutionary uprising and was seized by Austria.
In the middle of the 17th century, the plague, also called the Black Death destroyed the city. Later, Napoleon incorporated the city into the duchy of Warsaw. Following his downfall, the Congress of Vienna in 1815 made Krakow the capital of the Independent Republic of Krakow which was incorporated into Austria in 1846. After the World Wars, Krakow once more became a Polish city.
Sights & Sounds
The Royal Castle: Kanonicza street, from where the castle is approached, is one of the most important and ancient streets of the city. It has hardly changed over the centuries. Once inside the castle, you can look through its many chambers, exhibitions, royal chambers and stately rooms, collections of Oriental art and military trophies, collections of Flemish tapestries, and as well as archaeological specimens.
In the castle grounds you could visit the Wawel Cathedral, the Royal Tombs (crypts containing royal sarcophagi), and the massive Sigismund Bell, which peals only to commemorate events of the greatest importance. Take a stroll around the arcaded courtyard, and look across to the Vistula River. Descended to the banks to the Dragon and the entrance to his den! During St. John's Night in June, this area becomes the stage for the open-air event, Wianki, the Floating of the Garlands, which is an ancient tradition.
The Main Square: this is the centre of the city and used as a stage for various events and a popular meeting place. The centrally located Cloth Hall has survived since olden times. The building was originally a commercial point for the cloth trade. Other buildings standing to this day include the Church of St Adalbert—a site of important archaeological discoveries, and the Solitary Tower—a remnant of the Town Hall demolished in the 19th century.
In the corner of the square stands St Mary's Church, also referred to as a basilica. With its two spired towers it is one of the city’s more obvious landmarks. Nearly all the houses and palaces surrounding the Main Square are of historical interest.
If you are on one of the guided tours starting from here, you could make use of one of the horse-drawn cabs or the melex electric car with a professional audio recording explaining the selected route.
St Mary’s Church: it is also known as the Watch Tower, Wake, Alarm or Bugle Tower and is the only tower in the world in which a bugle has been played every hour for the last 600 years! The higher tower of the Basilica has pierced the sky since then. It is 81 m tall, topped with a late-Gothic spire and a golden crown. To get to the point of the tower where the bugle is played, one must climb 239 steps, to reach a floor 54 m from ground level. The trumpeter takes just two and a half minutes to ascend the tower, but you might want to make a head start. At the top you will be greeted by bugle players.
Bugles have always been played to announce the beginning and the end of the day. Travelers had to stay outside the city walls if they were caught by night near Krakow and wait until the gates were opened at sunrise.
The City Center: The Planty is narrow ring of greenery embracing the city centre in an oval-like shape. It was designed as a garden ring in the 19th century in place of the city walls that were demolished and used to contain the city.
Kazimierz district: Every corner of Kazimierz is witness to the history of Polish Jews. Kazimierz found its way to the silver screen when the Hollywood director, Steven Spielberg, came here to shoot his award winning movie, Schindler's List. Since the early 1990s, it has been the focus of the Jewish Culture Festival which showcases the history and traditions of the people who once lived here and holds various with workshops, lectures, and exhibitions.
Here you can see massive Gothic churches of St Catherine's and Corpus Christi alongside synagogues. The famous Laznia Theatre, which pioneered many innovative projects, is also found in this area. Here you will find exclusive hotels and classy restaurants next to workshops of leatherworkers, shoemakers, and engravers.
Cross the Vistula River into the district of Podgorze, which during the Second World War, witnessed the Holocaust and has some concentration camps that serve as bitter reminders of those times.
Aqua Park: This is one of the most popular Krakow centers of entertainment and recreation for tourists as well as the residents of the city. It was awarded the title of ‘The Construction of the Year’. The park is spread over 2000 sq m area with the wide range of attractions. The park also offers water slides, including the country's longest slide at 202!
Excursions: Around Krakow there are several other places of interest and the most tragic of these is the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial, a concentration camp during the Holocaust. Other attractions nearby include the medieval Salt Mines of Wieliczka, the picturesque Jurassic valleys, Ojcowski National Park, the rocky Tatra Mountains and Zakopane, frequently referred to as the winter capital of Poland.
Balice Airport is the city’s main airport, about 12 km from the city centre. It is the second biggest airport in Poland, with frequent domestic and international flights. If you would rather prefer the slow, relaxed mode of travel, go to the Dworzec Glowny station located just outside of the Old Town. It is connected to other cities in Poland and the rest of Europe. For budget travelers, the regular 'pospieszny' train is another option although it takes much longer to reach your destination.
Around town, there are some beautiful walking routes, especially through the Planty and the Royal route. Take the time to drink in the essence of the city and get some nice exercise as well! Another option is to hire a bicycle. It is easy to get around the centre on two wheels, as there are special bike lanes.
If you are in a hurry or not inclined to walk much, the city has an excellent system of public transport covered by trams and buses. Tram and bus stops show routes, and most kiosks will be able to advise you on route numbers. Taxis are cheap and more personal...this was you avoid the mad rush hour crowd too.
Krakow’s cuisine has been influenced by countless cultures inhabiting central Europe and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Some traditional delicacies are Zurek, a buttery soup with bits of kielbasa sausage; Barszcz, a soup made with beetroot; tatanka, a unique Polish beverage made with apple juice and a special kind of vodka called zubrowka flavored with bison grass; Wodka miodowa, honey vodka; and sliwowica, plum brandy.
The Lajkonik Festivities: Annually, a large crowd gathers in the Premonstratensian monastery mostly dressed in the traditional Cracovian folklore dress while others are adorned by oriental garments and hold horse-tail insignia in their hands. A musical troupe plays as the ‘Lajkonik’, the hero of the event, enters the yard to the loud and high-pitched music. The Lajkonik rides a hobby horse with peacock feathers attached to its head through the streets of Krakow. He then leads a pageant through the streets of Krakow.
Rekawka: This is a outdoor fair and market which takes place on Tuesday after Easter. There are countless stands selling gingerbread, sweets, cheap souvenirs and toys, along with some shooting galleries and a fun fair. In the past trees were planted around the grave of Rekawka, and bonfires were also lit.
The Emaus: On Easter Monday at the Church of St. Salwator, the passage in St. Luke's gospel about the pupils of Emaus is read aloud from the pulpit. This festivity is an occasion for large crowds of Cracovians and visitors to attend the folk garden party and fair. Easter Monday is also called ‘Wet Monday’ when people get soaked in water.
Floating of the Wreaths: Every year on St. John the Baptist's Day, the tradition of Wreaths is celebrated along the Vistula River banks. Folklore group performances near the Wawel Castle take place, where you can see floating lit wreaths on the Vistula River, and a fabulous fireworks display.
Enthroning of the Rifle Club Champion: As Spring approaches, The Rifle Club Brotherhood start preparations for the royal shooting contest. The Royal Council nominates candidates who arrive at the contest dressed in historical costumes. The three best participate in the final competition. Their target is a wooden rooster and the one who shoots off the last piece of the rooster is declared champion.
The Cribs Exhibition: Since 1937, during the first ten days of December, Cracovian crib makers surround the statue of Adam Mickiewicz at the Main Square with numerous cribs. At exactly 12 noon, after the bugle call from St. Mary's Church tower, the exhibition comes to an end. Picking up their masterpieces, the crib makers march to the Krakow Historical Museum which purchases the best one.