I`ve been to Krakow twice so far, the first occasion being in February 2011. Unfortunately the weather was poor - no snow, just grey skies, windy and very cold. Although the Vistula, one of Europe`s major rivers and, at 1,047 km (651 miles), Poland`s longest, passes through the city there was unsurprisingly no activity on the inland section that winds its way beneath the city`s Wawel Castle. The river meets the sea at Gdansk, Poland`s principal sea port but there was no activity on the Krakow stretch of water, with just a few small tourist boats tied up awaiting the hustle and bustle of the summer season. I hadn`t done any research prior to my visit here and with the dismal weather, I didn`t bother taking many photos.
Despite this disappointing trip, my wife and I returned to the city in April 2017 and had a very enjoyable stay. Once again, we opted to base ourselves in the Jewish Quarter which has plenty of dining options and makes a great base for exploring on foot.
Krakow`s barbican, referred to locally as the Barbakan Krakowski, can be found in the Old Town and is one of the few remaining relics of the complex network of fortifications and defensive barriers that once encircled the royal city.
Dating from around 1498, the Gothic-style barbican is one of only three such fortified outposts remaining in Europe, and the best preserved. Surrounded by a moat, the cylindrical brick structure has seven turrets and Its 3-metre-thick walls hold 130 embrasures. The barbican was originally linked to the city walls by a covered passageway that led through St. Florian's Gate and served as a checkpoint for all who entered the city.
As well as serving as a modern day tourist attraction, this historic fortified gateway is also a venue for a variety of exhibitions.
Krakow`s main square, Rynek Główny, measures 200m x 200m which makes it the largest medieval town square in Europe. The plans, which are supposedly based on the layout of a Roman military camp, were drawn up in 1257 and the square has retained the same design to this day, albeit the buildings have changed over the centuries. Lying on the route once traversed by Royal parties attending Coronations at Wawel Cathedral, the square has long been considered the centre of the city.
Most of the brick buildings, churches and palaces overlooking the square have acquired a neoclassical look over time, but the basic structures are much older and many require extra support from external sloping buttresses. Architectural details and interiors also hint at a building`s original era. The square is lined with restaurants and cafes and some of the vast medieval cellars are used as pubs and clubs. One even doubles as a small theatre.
Among the square's landmarks is the Cloth Hall, which was originally designed in the 14th century as a centre for the textile trade. The building was gutted by fire in 1555 and rebuilt in the Renaissance style by Giovani il Mosca from Padua in Northern Italy. The arcades which contain souvenir shops and cafes were added in the 19th century. The Gallery of the National Museum is housed upstairs. Other noteworthy structures here are the Town Hall Tower (the town hall itself hasn`t survived), St. Mary's Basilica, a brick Gothic church built in the 14th century on the ruins of an earlier church, and the Church of St. Adalbert.
A monument to Adam Mickiewicz (24 December 1798 – 26 November 1855) stands in a prominent position in the square. Mickiewicz, a political activist, is also widely regarded as Poland`s greatest poet. He died, probably of cholera, at Constantinople in the Ottoman Empire, where he had gone to help organise Polish and Jewish forces to fight against Russia in the Crimean War. In 1890, his remains were repatriated from Val-d'Oise, in France, to Krakow`s Wawel Cathedral.
Next are some general shots of the city...
This monument is known as the `Four Legionnaires` and stands as a tribute to the men of the Polish Legions, a military unit of 144 fighters that was formed in the city during the First World War by Marshal Jozef Pilsudski (5 December 1867 – 12 May 1935). The Polish Legions fought against Russia at the side of the Central Powers until 1917.
In 1919–21 he commanded Poland's forces in six border wars that shaped the nation of Poland. In August 1920, during the Polish-Soviet War, his troops seemed on the brink of defeat when they fought the battle for Warsaw but in what has become known as the "miracle on the Vistula," they routed five Russian armies and saved Poland. Today, although some aspects of his rule remain controversial, Piłsudski's memory is held in high esteem in Poland and there are numerous statues throughout the country, including this one which stands beside the `Four Legionnaires` in Krakow.
The plaque on the left, fixed to a tenement building, commemorates Narcyz Wiatr, a.k.a.`Zawoja` (born September 1907 - died April 21, 1945, in Krakow) a Polish political activist who became a Colonel in the Peasants' Battalions (BCh), an anti-Nazi underground resistance movement, during WW2.
From 1941 until 1945 he was the commander of the VI Region of the BCh in Małopolska and Silesia. After the merger between BCh and the Polish Home Army (AK) he became the second in command of the Kraków Region of the AK.
After the Soviets `liberated` Poland at the end of the war, and the communists took over, persecution was directed at former members of the anti-Nazi underground by the new authorities, Narcyz decided to adopt a low profile.
However, Wiatr was murdered in Planty Park, in Kraków by members of the Myślenice communist secret police (UB), most likely on the orders of UB chief Stanisław Radkiewicz but at the time it was claimed that Wiatr had been the victim of a random attack by persons unknown. No investigation into the killing took place. In 1990 the Krakow office of the Institute of National Remembrance, charged with investigating historical crimes by Nazis and communists in Poland, began an official investigation into Wiatr`s death. In 1996, Stanisław Paryła, who had been an agent of the Krakow secret police in 1945, and participated in the shooting, was charged with murder but because of ill health never stood trial.