Wawel is the name of a hill on the left side of the Vistula River in Krakow, Poland. According to Wikipedia, it has an altitude of 228 meters above sea level and has great symbolic meaning for Poles. Indeed, Lech Kaczynski, the late president of Poland, rests in Wawel Castle, surrounded by kings, heroes and prominent personalities. Within its walls, has been written the history of Poland, from the coronation of kings to important decisions that have determined the successive stages of development. The original castle dates from the fifteenth century but has suffered various vicissitudes, fire and several reconstructions. Today, you can see mainly a renaissance style and detail that are Gothic and Romanesque. Personally, what I liked best, were their orange tiles. Singular. You can also see a fabulous collection of Arras tapestries, portraits and other precious objects. It is free to enter the castle, but if you want to see the tapestries and walk around inside the building itself. Next to the castle is the Wawel Cathedral, a splendid monument along with a church open for worship. Sigismund Chapel deserves special attention for its Renaissance style. On the outside lies the cave of the dragon, interesting for children- for children, there is a reproduction of a dragon breathing fire. Here's the story: The evil dragon was terrorizing the people living there and eating everything that was passing by. Compungido, the King offered the hand of his daughter to whoever that managed to rid the town of the fierce dragon. Many tried, but none succeeded until he came across Dratewka, a shoemaker by trade. He took a sheep, killed it, filled it with spicy food and left in the cave entrance. The dragon, of course, does not take long to devour but after doing so, he began to feel an itch and had to be fed drinking water in the river. He drank so much water - and finished by exploding! Thus, the good Dratewka married the daughter of the king and saved the Polish people. I said, a story.
Step by step you travel deeper into the bowels of the earth. Down below there is another city, a labyrinth of miles of tunnels, you move to the fantastic mines dug by the dwarves in Lord of the Rings. The crypts amaze you with the sizes of virgins and people blossom with splendor and large wooden structures impress you with their size. Everything is soaked in a salty solution with rocks and streams with the same taste as the sea.
Rynek Główny is undoubtedly one of the major centres of the Polish city, and the second largest square in Europe. Along the perimeter, there are many places to snack, have a coffee or a drink. Also, there is the imposing Basilica of Santa Maria and the Central Market, where you can buy amber, so typical of this area.
The old town of Krakow was inside the castle. Inside you can enjoy a lively city, not crowded, with many flowers and lovely sights. To be honest we couldn't see the cathedral inside, but if we had we wouldn't have any place left to explore. The cathedral itself is gorgeous and the environment on which it stands is a marvel.
Built in the fourteenth century on one side of the Market Square, St. Mary's Basilica is an imposing Gothic church that is one of the most important and famous monuments in the city. The facade of the basilica is flanked by two towers of different heights. The higher, decorated with a golden crown, is known as Hejnalica and in the past was used as a lookout for fires and enemy attacks. Currently the trumpet sounds every hour, but the melody is suddenly interrupted in memory of the trumpeter who was killed while trying to alert citizens about an invasion. Inside the basilica, you can see a fifteenth century wooden altarpiece with more than 200 carved figures which, at 12 meters high, is the largest in Europe. During the summer months, it is possible to climb the Hejnalica tower to see the city from above and access the mythical trumpeter's room. It is one of the best views in Krakow.
This museum offers a thorough overview of the history of the city of Krakow. It's not difficult to find, next to the Moka Contemporary Art museum. Entry costs 19 zloty, but it's free on Mondays. Inside you'll find rooms full of history and emotions, with photographs, videos (you can view them in English), and documents. The tour shows exhibitions, reenactments, and photos (some really hard to look at) which will show you all about the hard times that the Jews in this city had to live through.
In the first part of the visit you can learn about the First World War, and then onto the Second, with the sounds of bombs and sirens. There are videos with testimonials from those who lived through these times. You will see all about the Nazi occupation, and you will see the reality of thousands of people suffering. You will see how the Nazis took away the city's identity, replacing Polish street names with German, and you will feel what it is to be behind the door of a concentration camp. After this is a tour of the Soviet era, and it ends with a tribute to all the victims and sufferers. An amazing, emotional experience, completely recommended.
It's as though you already know the Jewish quarter thanks to movies like "The Pianist" and "Schindler's List", there will be familiar sites even if you have never been there, in fact if you go with a guide, they will lead to some houses where they filmed some of the scenes from "Schindler's List"
The Krakow Ghetto was one of the great ghettos of Poland, some 80,000 Jews lived here before the war. Crammed into 30 streets, 320 residential buildings and 3,167 rooms, 4 families per apartment and some living out in the open. They were surrounded by walls that isolated them. All doors and windows facing the "Aryan" side were boarded up, while allowing traffic but followed by four monitored inputs. By grim coincidence, the walls contained panels in the shape of tombstones. Part of the wall has been conserved (and restored) , there are commemorative plaques and pilgrimages of Jews lay flowers there. Behind you can even see buildings and although it is difficult to imagine overcrowding, but it helps us get an idea, and reminds us of what man is capable. Roman Polanski lived there as a child.
Dolny Kazimierz is a lovely village, near Lublin. Splendid in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, its wealth enabled its fairy tale like architectural style. (Fortunately, neither the War destroyed it or the communist dictatorship which tended to build cement blocks, it was used as a summer resort) City artists (galleries abound) yet before World War II more than half of its population was Jewish who suffered there and lost much of their culture. There is now a synagogue and several Jewish restaurants with charm. The market square is its nerve center, beside it a fourteenth century church, which stands on a hill with the remains of the castle, from which the river views are unbeatable, even living in the monastery the monks, thanks to which it is in such good condition. Situated along the Vistula river, the other side of it is a natural park only accessible by boat. The best way to reach this place, if you do not have car there is a bus from Lublin, which takes about 2 hrs, the road is dire and full of curves and old buses ... If you wish I recommend Dramamine! It is often visited by tourists including Poles abroad and little is known of this beautiful place.
Contrary to popular belief, Poland, Krakow, and especially its center, is a rare beauty. It is almost entirely pedestrian, with streets that revolve around the great linen hall, Krakow is a wonderful place with colorful facades reminiscent of French visitors near the Stanislas Plaza in Nancy.
In the thirteenth century it was decided to build a wall around the medieval city of Krakow to defend it from encroachment, Krakow wall was finished in the fifteenth century and is 3 km long, with 47 towers and 8 main gates. The access gates are made by a circular walls based on Arab fortifications, the Barbican. Florian Gate was historically the traditional entrance to the medieval city of Krakow and today is a great tourist spot.
The Krakow Barbican is what remains of Krakow's medieval fortifications and is one of the few buildings of its kind which is still standing in Europe. Built in 1499 in response to the Ottoman invasion, the Barbican has a circular diameter of 25 meters surrounded by a stone and brick wall several meters thick and a moat. At the Barbican itself, there isn't much to do besides climbing the stairs, but you can make a combined visit too the Barbican and the city walls which makes for a pretty fun time. It's like traveling back in time. The views from the watchtowers are excellent.
The stalls in this old market are a great place to buy some souvenirs. They have everything from shirts and keychains, to flutes, scarves, vases, ... However, take care before buying anything as it's better to take a walk and compare prices elsewhere because they vary greatly between stalls.
Główny in Polish means "central", so all main train stations are often called "city name" Główny. So this is the central station of Krakow, the nearest to the Market Square. If you want to take a train to the airport, this is where you can catch it. It's easy to find, as there's a large sign, and the station is separated from the adjoining mall. Of course, it's harder when you get off your train, especially if you're coming from the airport and you don't know your way around yet! We ended up lost in the huge multi-story shopping mall!
The steeple of the church Santa Maria in Krakow is also known as the tower Hejnał, since from the top every hour a trumpeter plays the Hejnał mariacki. The trumpeter leads its melody to the four corners to mark the hours and stops with the same note, which was interrupted by a Tartar arrow back in the year 1240, when the trumpeter was exhorting the people of Tartar attack. The arrow pierced his neck and killed him. The first notes that touch sound toward the Wawel Castle in honor of the king, then, the trumpeter turns to the Town Hall Tower to honor the city councilors, then turned to the Door St. Florian to welcome new guests and finally turns to the Maly Rynek Square to play for merchants and the inhabitants of the city. It is a very beautiful melody and you can hear it without being in the same place, especially at night.
Krakow was a city inhabited by more than 60,000 Jews before World War II. Few families remained after the population was reduced. Its Ghetto was famous and how could it be otherwise, There is a Jewish cemetery nearby. It was very damaged after the war, but the Jewish community has restored and cared for it.
Walking through Krakow you can not but notice the omnipresence of that fabulous animal: the Dragon. After researching a bit I got some information about the legend from which inspired its invasion of the tourist shops and places of interest ... It is noteworthy that there are several versions of the legend, but here is the most detailed:
Krak, leader of the town, founded it on Wawel Hill. All the people, from generation to generation, told anyone ve would listen that within the hill lay a dragon. One day, two young men got tired of so many stories and decided to enter the caves to prove it was just legend. Unfortunately it was not the case, and the dragon ate them. Awake and hungry, it began to terrorize the population, eating sheep, young virgins ... Krak then promised his beautiful daughter Wanda to the gentleman ve could rid the people of this curse. After many injuries and lives lost, facing this hulking animal, a poor shoemaker (or pastor, versions change his craft!) finally offered his services. Without much hope Krak let him try. Intelligent and clever, he prepared a sheep with flammable products inside (in some accounts it was sulfur, according to others, carbon), and left it near the dragon's cave. Hungry, the dragon soon devoured the animals which then threatened to burst out through his stomach, to the point that he jumped into the river Vistula / drank all the water (again, several versions!). If you want to get into the atmosphere of this legend, go down to the cave, from Wawel Castle, and you will meet the dragon ...
The church is built in Romanesque style and was built as a church-fortress, with towers and two defensive openings. It's characterized by openings at the bottom of much of the facade and defensive windows, it's own construction is part of it's defensive nature. It was built 1079-1098 and established in 1079 by Paladin Sieciech, therefore it's one of the oldest buildings in Krakow. In 1241 it resisted the Tatar raids and sheltering local residents. It has visual impact as the architectural style is quite different from the surrounding buildings, but it's certainly very nice.
There are hundreds of monuments and places to visit in Krakow and some of them are essential. Its historic center, declared World Heritage Site in 1978, is divided into three zones: Wawel Hill, the medieval city of Krakow and the medieval core of Kazimierz. Wawel Castle, one of the top attractions in Krakow, is situated on Wawel Hill and is one of the most valuable architectural complexes in the world and a symbol of Poland. Another one of the top Krakow attractions is the Cathedral, a place that was traditionally used for the coronation of Polish kings. Kazimierz is the historic district of the city of Krakow known for being the Jewish district from the fourteenth century until the end of World War II. A stroll through its streets is one of the best things to do in Krakow. Another of the top things to see in Krakow is Market Square, or Rynek Gwny, the largest medieval square in Europe with an important cultural and social meaning. It is surrounded by old houses, palaces, churches and other interesting stuff to do in Krakow. If you're still wondering what to do in Krakow, don't miss Oskar Schindler's Enamel Factory, famous for appearing in"Schindler's List", Planty Park or the numerous basilicas. Check out the tips below from real travelers to find all the best Krakow activities.