Thursday, August 16, 2007

Krakow - ancient capital of Poland

Krakow advertises itself: "A city wrapped with legend, where time flows differently, and where every moment becomes a moment of history". Said with skill...
But indeed Krakow is one of the most beautiful towns in Poland (though I liked Gdansk more :), however, I had a chance to know it better as I stayed there for a week), and has an important role to play in Polish history (for centuries, Krakow was the capital of Poland - the seat of Kings).
Krakow was first mentioned in 966. Tourists, who have only a little of time to explore Krakow, usually take the "Royal Route" to see the main sights. So did we.

As our accommodation situates just in the centre of Krakow, it's easy to walk to the Old Town in the morning. It's a little bit rainy, but we don't mind that. And soon, the rain stops. We start our walk from the Planty (see photos above) - it's a narrow ring of greenery (designed in the 19th century) to replace the demolished city wall.

In the Planty, we see the Barbican. In old times, it was both a principal gateway and a key element of defence. Built in 1499, the Barbican has survived, against all the odds, and remains the best example of its kind in Europe.

Next to Barbican, we enter the Old Town via St Florian's Gate, which is the main entrance to the City.
At once, we are in Florianska street, which leads us to the Main Square.
The Main Square (Rynek Glowny) is HUGE. It's 200 x 200 metres, and is considered to be the largest public square of medieval Europe. You do feel that when you enter it! In the very middle of the square, there's the Cloth Hall (see the photo above), which is a rare example of a medieval structure, that has serves as a commercial centre. The Cloth Hall plays an important role also nowadays - Prince Charles and Emperor Hirohito of Japan were welcomed there in 2002.
St Mary's Church - with two Gothic towers, and the largest in Krakow, situates in the Main Square as well. The talles of the towers is 81 metres. Every hour, a bugle call is played from the taller one. We enjoyed that, too :).
Now, we take the Kanonicza Street to reach the Wawel - Royal Castle. It is said that this street has hardly changed over the centuries. You can see Wawel all the time when you walk in the street.And then we climb to the Wawel Hill, to see the Wawel Courtyard. 1000 years ago. In those times the city's heart lay at Wawel, where there was a small fortified settlement. It is much like our Toompea in Tallinn.
The Wawel Cathedral is amazing... It was raised by King Kazimierz the Great in 1320.

We also wonderearound in the part of Krakow called Kazimierz - the historical part of Polish Jews. On the photo you can see one of its many Syngagogues.
We visit Collegium Maius - the oldest university building of Krakow. In Krakow, the University was founded in 1492. The Collegium Maius acquired its present-day shape in the 15th century. When you enter it, it feels like you're in Italy... yes, it does remind the arhitecture of Italian universities a lot.

And then we head to WIELICZKA Salt Mine Museum - one of the most popular Polish tourists attractions. And indeed it is... the expensive ticket and lots of tourists :). The house itself issn't expressive, but the museum itself was 64...135 metres below ground level. It is the only mining site in the world functioning continuously since the Middle Ages.
So, our trip salt mine starts... The first surprise: salt is black?!? We take a long tour, visiting many chambers and two beautiful chapels. This chamber on the photo was excavated in a block of salt in the mid-17th century. In 1967, six life-size figures (made of salt of course!) were placed there, carved by Mieczysław Kluzek.

This is St Kinga's Chapel - such an impressive underground temple. It was laid out in 1896, in the space created after the excavation of a huge green salt block. It is over 54 metres long, about 18 meters wide and about 12 meters high. Under the ground, that looks HUGE. And BEAUTIFUL.

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