- Posted June 6, 2012 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Eye on Poland
A Quick Peek at Krakow
Krakow, the cultural capital of Poland, is a beautiful medieval city that retains the feel and romance of years past. Resting upon the Vistula River in the south of Poland, Krakow is home to over 750,000 residents. However, this modern city has a small town feel with a relaxed atmosphere that calls its city dwellers to stop, enjoy a cup of coffee and watch the world go by. In the winter, as if from a fairytale, white swans swim upon the river just below Wawel Castle as if calling to the kings of Poland who have long since left. Here are hidden secrets and mysteries that a seasoned traveler or, indeed even residents, are often surprised to find.
The cultural treasures are too great to number but if you plan on visiting there are a few you simply should not miss. Situated in the very heart of the old town is the Rynek Glowny or the Main Market Square. Here you will find the famous Cathedral of St. Mary’s with its renowned trumpeter. Legend tells of the trumpeter who, while warning the city of a pending Tartar invasion, was shot through the throat by an enemy arrow before he could finish the call. Now, every hour on the hour, a city fireman climbs the many stairs to his perch where he plays the ‘Hejnal’ (pronounced hey-now) to all four corners of the earth cutting off abruptly before the end of the song in remembrance of the fateful event.
In the center of the square is the Sukiennice, or the Clothe Hall, a 15th century building filled with stalls holding goods from around Poland. In 2005 the remains of the original building along with many interesting artifacts were discovered beneath the building itself. Now one can descend below the square to a museum that covers 1,000 years of the history. Krakow is filled with numerous museums of art, culture and history. Most museums have days when the entrance fee is waived making for a wonderful opportunity to explore the rich culture and tradition the city has to offer.
A lovely park called ‘the Planty’ which was built by the Austrians in the mid-1800s surrounds the Old Town. In 1795 Poland was partitioned between Prussia, Russia and Austria and Krakow was absorbed into the Austrian Empire. The Austrians made many changes to the city, the wall surrounding the city was demolished and the park was put in its place. Part of the wall remains at the end of Florianska Street and the gate that the kings used to enter the city still stands here drawing tourists and artists alike. The town hall, which once stood in the Main Market Square, was also torn down however the clock tower still remains.
South of the Old Town is the old Jewish district of Kazimierz which has a rich and tragic history. This area once held the largest Jewish population in Europe and is named after the king who opened the borders of Poland to Jews who were escaping persecution in the 14th century. During the Second World War Krakow’s Jewish population was decimated by the occupying Nazi forces. Traveling the streets today you can find the old Hebrew School and the Old Jewish Cemetery as well as several synagogues. This part of town has been revitalized and is a vital part of the city today that abounds in restaurants, cafes, teahouses and a weekend bazaar on Plac Nowy and Plac Wolnica.
Living in Krakow today is a far cry from what it was 20 years ago. The city is bustling with tourists and also has a thriving religious presence. For many years the home to Karol Wojtyla, better known as Pope John Paul II, many people come from around the world to see where he lived, studied and worked. Krakow is also sometimes referred to as ‘Little Rome’ because the city holds almost as many churches. These churches are adorned with beautiful art and architecture spanning 1,000 years.
This is truly an international town. It is home to the Jagiellonian University, Poland’s oldest university, which also has a very large foreign student population. Walking down the street you will hear languages such as French, Italian, German, English (with varying accents), and Japanese just to name a few. The people of Krakow are open and friendly and there is often singing and dancing in the streets, especially on the main square.
Krakow is a place that draws you in with its mystique and warmth. Living here is a dream. Days can be spent at any of the various parks, on the square or at one of outdoor cafes relaxing and watching the world go by. Come to Krakow and experience old world culture and charm. But be warned, once you come you may never want to leave.