Notes on the Geography of Poland: Krakow in More Detail
Krakow is on the Vistula River about 150 airline miles south of Warsaw and well over 200 by way of the lazy river. That's what happens when a river is 500 miles from the sea but only 700 feet above it. We're not here to whip a river into shape, however. (Pity: what's more fun than hydraulic engineering?)
Instead, we're here to see a city that was the capital of Poland for over 500 years. That's a good run, but it came to an end over 400 years ago, sufficiently far back for Krakow to have shriveled up and blown away. It didn't.
A handsome river, though trained a bit more than a wild man might like. That's Wawel Hill on the other side. It's hardly more than an eminence, but there are plenty of ghosts hereabouts. The fortifications date from about 1600, with the square Thieves Tower, the round and windowed Sandomierz tower, and the nearly windowless and round Senator Tower. The buildings immediately behind the wall are mundane, primarily an old hospital. Peeping over the roof are the cuprous towers of Krakow Cathedral, which adjoins the former royal palace.
A handy model of the hill. The open ground contains archaeological remains of still older fortifications. A casting like this doesn't come cheap and speaks of a rough national history combined with commensurate national pride.
The Cathedral in the flesh, so to speak. The third church on the site, it was built to house the relics of St. Stanislaw (Stanislaus), the first Polish saint and the patron saint of both Poland and Krakow. The tall spire, the Clock Tower, is late--from the 1700s. On the near side of the nave, the Silver Bell Tower is flanked by the Potocki, Vasa, and golden Zygmunt (Sigismund) chapels. Barely visible behind the nave, the Zygmunt Tower holds an 11-ton bell cast in 1520. The building on the left is the presbytery; on the right, palace kitchens.
The doors to the cathedral carry the letter K (in a font treacherously easy to misread as a B). That would be K for Kazimierz (Casimir) III, who before dying in 1370 saw the cathedral completed and quite liked the medieval equivalent of a donor wall.
The high altar was added about 1650, a couple of centuries after the building's completion.
The tomb of St. Stanislaw.
With the move of the capital to Warsaw, the castle (here its courtyard) became a barracks for the Austrian army, which remained on the site from 1785 to about 1900.
The palace from below. It's none too cozy, but then there were lots of ermine robes and roaring fireplaces.
A good view of the Zygmunt Tower with its huge bell; to its right is the much taller but more distant Clock Tower. The view is from Kanonicza ulice (Street). The large building with the banner is the museum of Cardinal Karola Wojtyla, later Pope John Paul II.
Think we're done with churches? Think again: in this part of the world, you're never, ever, done with them. Here's a strange one, St. Andrew's, rebuilt in 1200. That date is significant, because the Mongols blew through in 1241 and in their customary fashion levelled Krakow. This church was the only one to survive because it had been built as a fortress as much as a house of worship.
Next door there's the much prettier Church of Saints Peter and Paul, built about 1700 and modelled (like about a million others) on the Gesu church in Rome. There's a Polish touch in the cartouche high in the pediment. That's the coat of arms of the church's founder, Zygmunt III.
Scrolls, scrolls, everywhere scrolls. In this case they belong to the Piarist Church, also from the early 1700s. The Piarists were more formally the Order of Poor Clerics of the Mother of God. Their real title is even longer than that. In any case, they were the first Catholic teaching order.
The Church of St. Anne, from the same period, was modelled on Rome's Sant-Andrea della Valle and manages without scrolls. It was built to honor Jan Kanty, the patron saint of Jagiellonian University, which is nearby.
The interior is said to echo the Basilica Della Ghiara, in Reggio Emilia.
Something more exotic: the Holy Trinity Church was built before 1100, rebuilt after the Mongols, and burned in 1850. In other words, despite the atmospherics, this church was built when Ulysses Grant was in the White House. The style is termed Mazovian Gothic.
Here's an earlier example in the much larger Corpus Christi Basilica, a short walk away in Kazimierz and finished in the 1400s.
Yikes! Pulling out all the stops, this is St. Joseph's Church in nearby Podgorze. It was built while William Howard Taft was in the White House.
Enough with churches, please. We're continuing a peregrination north from Wawel to the Rynek Glowny or Market Square. The street is Grodzka, a processional path used by Poland's kings even after the move of the capital to Warsaw. They came this way in death, when they were brought to the burial crypts in the cathedral. (Sorry to be morbid: I'm just reading the text they give all the guides.)
The street is lined with apartment buildings that have seen better days.
It takes a while to recover from a socialist paradise.
Want to look inside?
The opposite wall.
A couple of blocks more and we're in Europe's largest square, 200 meters by 200 meters, not quite cardinal and with an almost perfect surrounding grid of blocks extending a couple of blocks to a former moat except on the south, where the fortified area extends to Wewel Hill. The open space is too large to be comfortable, but it's a recent thing: there used to be many buildings in the space. Now the only significant one is the Cloth Hall, a bit of which is on the right. If you're in the mood to gawk at celebrities, you should know that both Goethe and Nicholas I, Czar of all the Russias, stayed at the Deer Inn, which used to occupy the building behind the kiosk. At the time, Nicholas was also King of Poland.
The west side of the square is fronted mostly by former palaces such as the Malachowski Palace, fourth from the left.
The bright building on the right was the Spis Palace.
At the south end of the west side, the Potocki family's palace is known as the Palace Under the Rams from the balcony supports. More recently, it's been a cabaret.
We've stepped back a bit to take in the Town Hall Tower, remodelled after 1945. It's the surviving bit of the original town hall, built about 1300 and demolished in 1820. No, the "helmet" isn't original. It's from 1800, more or less. On the right, a bit of the Cloth Hall.
On the far side of the Cloth Hall there's a monument to the poet Adam Mickiewica, who died in exile in 1855. (His relations with the Czar of All the Russias weren't good. The statue arrived in 1895, after the czar's departure.) The figure on the right is supposed to be the Motherland; on the left, a girl listens while poetry plays a lute.
The Cloth Hall was originally a Market Hall. Once again, it may look old but was built in 1875 to house a picture gallery.
The ground-floor corridor is loaded with souvenirs.
The east side of the square is dominated by the huge Church of St. Mary's and the tiny one of St. Adalbert. Sorry: it's time for more churches. Can't avoid the things, unless you just want pizza.
Exterior view of the nave.
Interior: there are so many bells and whistles that the whole thing seems to move or at least vibrate.
The Virgin appears three times on the altar: below at her death; above at the assumption; and up top at her coronation as queen of heaven. The figures framing her at the top are Sts. Stanislaw and Adalbert, the latter a Bohemian who evangelized the Poles (and was killed while trying the same thing in Prussia). The ensemble is by a wood carver named Veit Stoff, who worked in the 1570s and '80s.
The top figure shows the resurrection, the middle shows the ascension, and the bottom shows the day of pentecost, with the holy spirit descending on the apostles.
On the left: up top the annunciation; in the middle, the nativity; at the base, the adoration of the magi.
The Collegium Maius is the oldest building in the Academy of Cracow. Once a library, it was rebuilt in the mid-19th century. Now it's a museum.
An oriel window in the professor's refectory at the Collegium.
A wall with character.
Oh, God! Not another one.
If there must be McDonald's, let it be this one.
In 1285, after the Mongol invasion, the city won the right to build fortifications, and for a time the city's wall had 47 towers. Most were demolished in the early 19th century, but a few survive, including this one. The street itself, Florianska, was part of the old royal processional way, but the buildings all got makeovers at one time or another in the 20th century. Yes, that's the same McDonald's in the distance.
Two nearby survivors, the towers of the Carpenters and the Joiners, separated by the city's arsenal.
Just outside the gate and across what was once a moat, there's this barbican, built in 1499. A Turkish victory at Bukavina, in northern Romania, persuaded the Poles that they'd better be ready for the worst.
Facing the Barbican is the Grunwald Monument, which shows King Wladysleq Jagiello's moment of victory over the Teutonic Knights at Tannenberg, or Grunwald. This section of Krakow is from the 19th century. Until 1791, it was the village of Kleparz, whose parish church you see in the background. The neighborhood boomed after Krakow's railway station was built a few blocks off to the right. The Germanic mass of the building on the left was completed in 1888 as the headquarters for the Polish State Railways. Only then, in 1910, did the statue appear. It marked the 500th anniversary of the battle at Grunwald and was commissioned by none other than Paderewski. Never passing up the chance to demoralize the enemy, the Nazis destroyed the monument, which was rebuilt in 1975. Not that critics ever much liked it. The only figure with any dramatic power, they thought, was that of the dying leader of the Knights, the Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen.
You have to go to school to learn all this stuff. Here's one.
The words say Urban School, 1886. The school is in Kazimierz, the old Jewish Ghetto.
Another building in the same neighborhood.
What do you think it is?
You're right: it's the Jewish cemetery.
A not-so-happy place.
Crowded and much of it wrecked, as was the living community.
Over on the other side of town, a great many Poles live in the prefab paradise called Ludwinow.
The buildings are all plattenbau or plate-buildings, assembled from modules trucked in.
I've got to get something to eat.
Just like home.
But wait! Real bread! Now we have to find butter.
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