Krakow city guide
Words simply fail to describe the drop dead beauty of Krakow (Cracow), Poland’s biggest draw card and tourist magnet. Being the royal capital for 500 years Krakow has always been Poland’s main centre of scientific, cultural and artistic life. The city absorbed so much history and attracted so many artistic talents that is became the jewel to the Polish crown. In Krakow you can find the greatest gems of Gothic and Renaissance architecture which luckily escaped from serious damage during World War II. The Main Market Square, the Wawel Royal Castle, the Barbican Fortress, the gothic St Mary's Basilica, the trade pavilions of the Cloth Hall and the historical Jewish city of Kazimierz are some of the city’s highlights. In 1978 Krakow's historic centre was included in the list of World Heritage Sites but does not mean Krakow has turned solely into an open air museum. The city is vibrant and cosmopolitan and you won’t find any other World heritage Site boasting such a crazy high number of bars and pubs. When being in Krakow you will be dazzled by the huge number of historical buildings and monuments and you will certainly need a break after such an overkill of cultural highlights in one of Krakow’s pubs. Many buildings date back to the 13th century when the city was rebuilt after being completely devastated to the ground by the invasions of central Asian Tartars. Krakow's most glorious period was during the mid-14th century when King Kazimierz the Great commissioned many of the city's finest buildings. In that period also the Jagellonian University was founded in order of the king, which was the second university to be established in central Europe after Prague's Charles University.
Krakow’s centrepiece is the fairytale like Wawel Royal Castle but the city’s biggest attraction lies definitely in its Old Town. There you will find magnificent Gothic churches and a breath taking Main Market Square (Rynek Główny) which is the largest of the country. The former Jewish quarter Kazimierz, with its deserted synagogues, reflecting the tragedy of the Jewish people during World War II, will leave not any visitor unaffected. This district named for the king, Kazimierz, has been a haven for Jews since the 14th century. It started as a separate Polish town, but slowly transferred into a traditional Jewish quarter. At the beginning of the 20th century Kazimierz has become one of the leading Jewish settlements in central Europe. Anyone who has seen Steven Spielberg's Oscar awarded movie Schindler's List, will recognize many of the film locations while walking around Kazimierz. The German industrialist Oskar Schindler a prevented more than 1000 Jews to be exported to the extermination camp of Auschwitz by employing them in the local factory. Schindler’s factory, now closed down, is still standing. The most impressive trip outside of Krakow will be a visit of the former Nazi extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau (in the town of OSwiecim, about 81 km West from Krakow). Besides the Jewish tragedy, Krakow will also be linked forever with its most famous favourite son, the late Pope John Paul II. Karol Woytya, was born not far from Kraków, in the town of Wadowice. Shortly after being elected pontiff the pope's made a landmark trip to Poland in 1979 which would unite the country in opposition to the Soviet-imposed government. The Communists never liked the city anyway because of its royal roots, intellectual ambitions and Catholic pretensions.