Description and history of Krakow Poland

Krakow is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, a city that witnessed and absorbed more of Poland’s history than any other city in the country.
No other city in Poland has so many historic buildings and monuments and nowhere else in Poland will you encounter such a vast collection of art.
Moreover, unlike most other Polish cities, Krakow came through the World War II untouched.
In appreciation of the town exceptional historic and artistic values, in 1978, UNESCO included the center of Krakow on its first WORLD HERITAGE LIST.

Brief history:
The first traces of the town’s existence date from around the 7th century. The earliest written record of Krakow dates from 965, when an Arabian traveler and merchant of Jewish decent, Ibrahim Yakub, from Cordoba visited the town and mentioned it as a large trade center, called Krakow.
The city was incorporated into the Kingdom of Poland in 992, and around 1038 it assumed the importance of the kingdom’s capital. Wawel Hill became the seat of government. In 1364, Krakow Academy was founded, increasing the city’s importance on the European stage. During the 14th and 15th centuries, large sums of money were spent on further development of the city, as can be seen by the numerous Gothic churches and secular buildings that survive to this day.
At the beginning of the 16th century, Krakow came under the influence of the Renaissance.
The Royal Castle, the Cloth Hall in the Main Market Square and many private houses and mansions were rebuild in the Renaissance style.
During this time, Krakow lost its significance, and in 1596, the Polish capital moved to Warsaw; but in Wawel Cathedral, successive Kings of Poland continued to be crowned and later entombed.
Under each successive partition of Poland, Krakow came under the rule of Austria, which permitted a large degree of local autonomy and steadily increased cultural and political freedom.
By the end of 19th century it had become the major center of the non independent country.
The avant-garde artistic and literary movement known as Mloda Polska (Young Poland) and a national political independent movement, which produced Polish Legions, originated here.
During WWII, Krakow had 260,000 inhabitants, of which 70,000 were Jews.
The city was looted by the Nazis, but didn’t experience any bombing raids, and as such, is virtually the only large city in Poland that has its old architecturealmost intact.

Exploring Krakow

As most places of interest are located in its fairly compact historical center the city is best seen on foot.
The green park called Planty encircles the old town.
On the southern part sits the Wawel castle and nearby stretches the district of Kazimierz. The Market Square (Rynek Glowny) is one of the largest in Europe; it seethes with life all year round with its cafes, restaurants, antique dealers and interesting shops.
There are also many interesting museums, galleries and historical sites. Amongst the most important are the Churches of St Mary, Priarist, and St Ann. Many streets like ul:Florianska, Grodzka, and Kanonicza are lined with an array of historical buildings of interest.
One cannot leave Krakow without seeing the Royal Castle in Wawel, one of the most magnificent Renaissance residences in Central Europe built in 1502 –1506. The very symbol of Poland, the Wawel is saturated with Polish history, and is the most visited historical site in Poland.
Another must see area of Krakow is Kazimierz located within walking distance of the Royal Castle. Once an independent town and later the suburb of Krakow, it is now an exciting and continuously changing part of Krakow.
Kazimierz is best known as Krakow’s Jewish Quarter, home to Jews fleeing persecution from all corners of Europe.
Now the Jewish Quarter reveals its unique history.
Miraculously, most of the synagogues survived the war.
Interest in the Jewish Quarter changed overnight when Steven Spielberg came to Krakow to film “Schindlers List.”
Actually, Kazimierz was not the main setting for the film; yet the film directed the world’s attention to Krakow Jewry as a whole and since Kazimierz is the only substantial relic of Jewish heritage, it has benefited the most.
The Jewish Quarter today is crowded with historical sites, bars, cafes and restaurants with music and Jewish food.
As a result of a two hour movie, an incredible revival of Judaism started and the area, once forgotten and neglected, is one of the most exciting and the most rapidly changing sections in Krakow today.

For side trips from Krakow see Excursions.