Krakow, a city etched with the footprints of time, is a testament to Poland's rich and tumultuous history. From its mythical founding to its rise as a seat of royal power, Krakow has been a cultural and political hub for centuries. This article invites you to journey through the ages and explore the historical tapestry that makes Krakow a must-visit destination.


The Mythical Beginnings of Krakow

According to captivating legend, Krakow was founded by Prince Krak, who built his fortress on Wawel Hill and defeated a terrifying dragon that lived there. While this tale sparks the imagination, the city's origins are rooted in the 7th century, with evidence of settlements dating back even further, adding a layer of mystery and intrigue to its history.

The Wawel Dragon is a legendary creature deeply ingrained in Krakow's history, and several attractions celebrate this mythical tale.

Travel recommendations:

  1. Dragon's Den:
    • Explore the legendary cave beneath Wawel Hill, said to be the dragon's lair. The Dragon's Den, known locally as Smocza Jama, is located on Wawel Hill beneath the famous Wawel Castle in Krakow. It is a historic cave that, according to legend, was once home to the fearsome Wawel Dragon.
    • To get there, you can enter through the entrance on the hill, behind the Thieves' Tower. The cave leads down from the hill to the bank of the Vistula River, offering visitors a unique underground experience as they walk through corridors and chambers adorned with fossils and karst formations.
    • Dragon's Den is open to visitors daily from April through November, and there is a small entry fee (9 PLN).
  2. The Wawel Dragon Statue:
    • Take advantage of the iconic statue of the Wawel Dragon near the Vistula River at the foot of Wawel Hill. Indeed, the Wawel Dragon Statue is a quirky tribute to the city's folklore. While it may not be grand in size, its fire-breathing feature adds a playful touch, particularly enchanting for children.

The Birth of a Capital

By the 10th century, Krakow emerged as a significant commercial centre, thanks to its strategic location on the Vistula River and the lucrative amber trade. The city's importance grew, and by 1038, it became the capital of Poland, with the majestic Wawel Castle serving as the residence of Polish kings. Notable figures such as King Bolesław I the Brave and King Casimir III the Great played pivotal roles in shaping the city's history during this time.

Travel recommendations:

  1. Rynek Underground Museum (Address: Rynek Główny 1): This museum looks at medieval Krakow through excavations and displays beneath the Main Market Square.
  2. The Historical Museum of the City of Kraków (Rynek Główny 35) houses a vast collection of items related to Kraków's history, including iconographic materials, portraits of notable citizens, historical documents, guilds' activities, stamps, numismatics, weaponry, and other cultural artifacts.

The Golden Age of Krakow

Krakow's golden age dawned under the reign of Kazimierz the Great in the 14th century. The king's patronage of arts and sciences led to the founding of the Krakow Academy, now known as Jagiellonian University, one of Europe's oldest institutions of higher learning. The city flourished, attracting artists and scholars and becoming a Renaissance beacon.

Travel recommendations:

Jagiellonian University Museum or Collegium Maius (Jagiellońska 15): Explore the oldest university building, which dates back to the 14th century, and learn about the academic life that flourished during Krakow's golden age

The Test of Time

Despite enduring numerous invasions and occupations, Krakow's spirit remained unbroken, a testament to its resilience. The city withstood the Mongol onslaughts of the 13th century and, later, the partitions of Poland, which saw it fall under Austrian control. Yet, Krakow continued to be a centre of Polish identity and resistance, a beacon of strength and endurance.

Travel recommendations:

Wawel Royal Castle: As the former royal residence, it showcases Krakow's political and cultural significance during its time as the capital. In the Lost Wawel and Wawel Recovered exhibitions at the Wawel Castle Museum, you can see evidence of destruction during the occupation of Poland by Austria.

Krakow during World War II

In the 20th century, Krakow endured the horrors of World War II but emerged resilient. Unlike many other cities in Poland, Krakow's architecture remained undamaged during the War. The city's residents, known for their strong spirit and determination, played a significant role in preserving its cultural heritage during this challenging time.

Travel recommendations:

To understand the impact of World War II on Krakow, a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau is essential. Located approximately 70 kilometres from Krakow, it was the largest of the German Nazi concentration camps and extermination centres. Over 1.1 million men, women, and children lost their lives here. Today, it is a memorial and museum, offering guided tours that provide a profound insight into one of history's darkest chapters.

Krakow contains many traces of World War II. The most impressive of them:

  1. Schindler's Factory (Adress: Lipowa 4): Now a museum, it tells the story of Oskar Schindler and the Jewish workers he saved from the Holocaust.
  2. Ghetto Heroes Square Memorial (Plac Bohaterów Getta): This poignant memorial commemorates the Jewish victims of the Krakow Ghetto with oversized chairs symbolizing the absence of the community/.
  3. Eagle Pharmacy (Plac Bohaterów Getta 18): Located in the former ghetto, it houses an exhibition dedicated to the history of Krakow's Jews during the War.
  4. The Cross of Katyń in front of St Giles (Grodzka 67): A memorial to the victims of the Katyń massacre, where the Soviet Union killed thousands of Polish officers.

Visiting these landmarks offers a tangible connection to the city's past. It is a solemn tribute to those who suffered and perished during the War.

The Phoenix Rises

The post-war period saw the restoration of its historic sites, a testament to the city's commitment to preserving its rich history. Today, Krakow's Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site celebrated for its well-preserved medieval architecture. The meticulous restoration work of many historical buildings has brought these historic sites back to their former glory.

Travel recommendations:

Saint Mary's Basilica in Krakow (plac Mariacki 5): The church’s interior underwent a major renovation at the turn of the 20th century. In 2021, conservation work on the main altar by Wit Stwosz was completed after almost six years.

Krakow Today

Modern Krakow is not just a city but a vibrant cultural hub honouring its past while embracing the future. Visitors can immerse themselves in the cobblestone streets of the Old Town, marvel at the splendours of Wawel Castle, and reflect on history in Kazimierz, the historic Jewish quarter. The city's rich cultural life, with its festivals, music, and art, continues to enchant travellers from around the globe, offering a dynamic and inspiring experience.

As you plan your trip to Krakow, know that you are not just visiting a city; you are stepping into the pages of history, where every building tells a story, and the past lives in harmony with the present. Krakow awaits to inspire you with its enduring legacy and vibrant culture.

Come, walk the royal route, and let the soul of Poland captivate your heart in Krakow.

About the author

Irina Rasko - the creator Poland Travel Guide Greetings! I am Irina, the creator of PolandGoTravel - your travel guide to exploring the magnificent land of Poland.

With over 12 years of travelling experience worldwide, I found myself in Poland and discovered that there was very little information about such a rich and interesting country.

That's why I decided to create this Travel Guide on this PolandGoTravel website to assist you in planning a memorable trip to Poland.

All articles are the result of my experience and research.

I'm not a native English speaker, so I hope the usefulness of the information makes up for my mistakes. )))

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