| SIGHTSEEING TOUR of CRACOW (KRAKÓW)
,PART 1 - CENTER - MARKET SQ. - UNIVERSITY - CHURCHES
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Come with me on a walking tour of the Old Town of Cracow - Kraków in Polish - its Market Square, Royal Castle (Wawel pronounced VAH-VEL), University and other architectural treasures. Cracow was the capital of Poland from the 13th to the 17th century. It was fortunate to avoid the ravages of war during the last three hundred years, so its ancient buildings remain in their original state, designated a World Treasure by UNESCO However, except for a short fragment, the old walls were torn down in the 1830s and replaced with a delightful park - Planty - which entirely surrounds the old town. You can visit the old town only on foot, see How to get there. Open the Photo-Tour in a separate window, then click back and forth between the two windows, so that you can see all the pictures in the same sequence as this guide.
We will start our sight-seeing exploration of Cracow at the north walls, at the Barbican. This red brick round bastion built in 1498 is one of the two remaining city fortifications. Immediately behind it stands the Florian Gate built in 1300. In those ancient times there was a drawbridge over the moat between them. The green lawns and colorful flower-beds of the wooded park stretches to the left and right around the city in place of the earlier walls and moat.
We pass through the narrow Florian Gate to enter the street of the same name. Look to the right and you will see one of the oldest hotels of the city - Hotel Pod Różą (Under the Rose) and just beyond it the Czartoryski Museum. It is well worth visiting to see its great historical collection of paintings and examples of Polish dress, and the works of goldsmiths, silversmiths, pottery makers, as well as Leonardo da Vinci's "Lady with an Ermine". Along the remaining wall fragment, to the right of the gate, many local artists display their works. Several old Renaissance style houses line Florianska street, including two smaller museums.
At the end of Florianska street, we enter the Rynek - the Market Square - surrounded by old Baroque houses. Today, many of them house restaurants to suit any taste or pocket-book. A long two story building, in classic Renaissance style, occupies it's center. Erected by the Cloth Merchants' Guild in the sixteenth century, it served as a market hall for the sale of textiles, hence it's name Sukiennice (SOOK-YE-NEETSE). Recently restored to its original glory, it now provides space for stalls selling folk art of the region, jewelry, and the usual tourist knick-knacks. The upper floor houses the National Portrait Gallery , which is well worth an hour of the tourist's time.
The north-east corner of the square is dominated by St. Mary's Church Kosciół Mariacki (KOSH-CHOOL MAREE-ATZKI) Its two towers differ in height and style. A small gallery encircles the top of the taller one. In ancient times a guard watched over the town to warn the citizens in case of fire or the approach of an enemy. In 1241, an army of Tartar horsemen suddenly appeared out of the forest to the east. The guard repeatedly trumpeted the call to arms, until a Tartar arrow lodged in his throat in the middle of a note. To commemorate the brave guard, every hour a trumpet call - Hejnal (HAY-NAL) is sounded from the tower, the hubbub of noise dies down in the square as everyone listens.
The streets radiating from the square maintain the old time character. Within a few blocks there are a dozen old churches ranging in style from Gothic to Rokoko. All of them warrant a visit.
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Continue to Part 2, Royal Castle and Kazimierz.
Tour of smaller towns in southern Poland
Tour Environs of Cracow
Very detailed guide to Cracow, building by building.
Official city web site, in English.
Home Army Museum dedicated to the fight against Nazi occupiers.
Last update August 2003