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Published: August 8th 2012
I was really looking forward to spending a week in beautiful Tatras and couldn’t wait to see the familiar peaks overlooking Zakopane, but then I just couldn’t imagine landing in Kraków and not visiting the Old Town even for a while…
So with just a few hours to spare, we headed to the centre of Kraków. Wawel Castle beautifully set on the hill along Wisła
(Vistula River) is definitely a place worth a visit. Once a royal residence, its chambers are full of treasures – paintings, furniture and all sorts of memorabilia from Renaissance times. But then with little time on our hands, we had to skip a visit to the castle this time and just strolled along the Wisła, and then walking through Planty
(best known park in Kraków) we reached Rynek Główny
(the Main Market Square). Love this place! First of all, because it’s simply beautiful! The main landmark in the centre of the square, the Renaissance style Sukiennice
(Cloth Hall), was once a major centre for international trade and currently is still housing little shops selling all sorts of goods typical for this region – beautiful wooden sculptures, religious icons, furs, leather and many more... Right next
to it stands the Gothic Town Hall Tower and on the other side you can find one of the oldest stone churches in Poland – the 10th
century Church of St Wojciech (St Adalbert – out of curiosity googled this one to find out what English name would correspond to Polish Wojciech and was actually more than surprised about the result – doesn’t look anything like it! Ah well… should be right I guess?). And finally, the Gothic tower that you can see rising above the square, belongs to St Mary’s Cathedral (Kościół Mariacki
) - definitely worth a visit, if only to see the famous altar created by Wit Stwosz... But then all the buildings around the square (kamienice
) deserve quite a bit of attention as well - some of them were built as far as the XIV century and you can still admire the beautiful statues and sculptures on their roofs as well as frescos on their walls, no surprise that once these buildings were the residences of the nobles.
As beautiful as all the buildings on the square are, they are certainly not the main reason why so many people come here and fall in love with this
with the statue of Adam Mickiewicz (famous Polish poet) in front
place. Kraków just boasts with life. Being the cultural capital of Poland, it has a lot to offer for everyone – starting with some of the best museums in the country, through numerous art galleries to famous theatres. All around the Old Town you can admire (and buy) the beautiful work of local artists – paintings, sculptures, you name it… And then, especially during summer months, the music is filling the air all around – many festivals are taking place around the Main Market Square in summer. Also you can spot some aspiring musicians in many corners of the Old Town, showing off their skills and trying to earn a few coins by doing so. And then of course you can listen to the traditional Hejnał Mariacki
which is being played from the highest tower of Kościół Mariacki
According to a popular 20th century legend, during one of the Mongol invasion of Poland (usually the invasion of 1241), Mongolwarriors, led by General Subutai, approached the city. A guard on the Mariacki church tower sounded the alarm by playing the Heynal, and the city gates were closed before the Tatars could take the city by surprise. The bugler, however, was shot in the throat and did not complete the tune. According to the legend, that is why it now ends abruptly before completion.
And then there are all the other things that are adding to the atmosphere of this place – horse carriages gracefully passing through the crowds, always present and hungry pigeons gathering around St Mary’s Cathedral waiting to be fed again, all kinds of stands everywhere - with obwarzanki
(pretzels), beautiful flowers, little gifts and souvenirs, and
numerous restaurants set all around the square with little gardens outside tempting hungry passers by to taste their dishes… and finally you can't miss the hordes of people that are visiting this place each day – tourists walking around the square snapping tens (hundreds?) of photos (obviously that's not what I was doing😉), numerous school trips and tours, making their way through the square, patiently listening to their guide and trying to keep up his pace at the same time, happy families all around, embraced couples here and there – honestly it might seem like chaos to some, but somehow this place wouldn’t be the same without these crowds.
We were quite lucky, as the weekend we were there, there was a Jazz Festival in Kraków, so music was floating all around us and as if it wasn’t enough antiques market was taking place just in front of Sukiennice
. Astonishing the kind of treasures some people are hiding in their houses! And seeing how well some of these items are preserved, it’s a shame their owners have to get rid of them but then I guess they are hoping to find good (and most of the time younger) hands
that will look after their treasures in the future.
Sadly the time passed very quicky and we had to start moving towards Zakopane if we wanted to get there before it was dark. So... I said goodbye to Kraków for now, knowing that I will be back here again.. sooner or later that is... 😊
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