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Krakow (in Polish, Kraków; sometimes also spelt Cracow in English) is one of the biggest and most beautiful cities in Poland. This historical town is situated in southern Poland (region Malopolska and Malopolskie voivoidship), on the Vistula River (Wisła) at the foot of Wawel Hill.

Population: 741 000 (1998)

General background

Krakow, belongs traditionally to the leading scientific, cultural and artistic centres of the country. It was once the capital of Poland and still undisputably is the heart of Poland, the greatest Polish treasure, cherishing over a thousand years long tradition.
Krakow is a large centre of education. Today there are 12 university level institutions with about 10,000 scientists and 51,000 students.
Krakow is also a large centre of local and foreign tourism. Every year the city is visited by more than 2,000,000 tourists.


The history of the town goes back to the days before the formation of the Polish state, when it was the capital of the Vistulians tribe.
A legend says that the city was founded by the mythical ruler Krak on Wawel Hill, above a cave occupied by a ravenous dragon. The first historical records are of Slavic people settling along the banks of the Vistula River here in the 8th century. By the end of the 10th century Krakow was a major market centre and it had been incorporated into the Polish state ruled by the Piast dynasty. Tangible historical data are available for events after the year 1000. On the turn of 10th and 11th centuries the first brick edifices were built (the castle and Romanesque churches) and the cathedral and a basilica, as well as the St. Felix and Adaukt Church. In the middle of the 11th century (1038) Krakow became the capital of Poland. Destroyed two hundred years later by the Tartar raids it was rebuilt in the form basically unaltered until our times. Krakow was a Hanseatic League city. The period of Krakow's greatest splendour began with the reign of King Casimir the Great who founded here in 1364 a university, the Jagiellonian University, the second oldest in central Europe next to Prague. Before the university, since 1150 there was cathedral school under the auspices of the Krakow bishop.
The growth continued during the reign of the Jagiello dynasty (1386-1572). As the capital of a powerful state it became the flourishing centre of sciences and the arts, admired by foreigners and extolled by poets. It was manifested by the great works of the Renaissance art and architecture created at that time.
When the royal residence was transferred to Warsaw in 1596, the importance of Krakow began to decline which was accelerated by the pillage of the city during the Swedish invasion and the Black Death epidemic that left 20,000 of the city's dead.
Following the partitions of Poland between three neighbouring countries at the end of the 18th century, Krakow was the incorporated into Austria and the Polish state disappeared from the map of Europe for more than 120 years. Then Krakow once again became a national symbol, the centre of Polish culture and art. Famous painters, poets and writers worked here: Jan Matejko, Stanislaw Wyspianski, Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, [[Stanislaw Przybyszewski]], Jan Kasprowicz, Juliusz Kossak and [[Wojciech Kossak]]. Krakow became the main centre of Polish modernism (Young Poland), whose greatest representatives were Wyspianski and Przybyszewski.
Here and in Warsaw national liberation movements began. During the WWI from Krakow Legions led by Jozef Pilsudski set out to fight for the liberation of Poland. In September 1939 the Nazis entered the city.
Soon Germans started planned extermination of Polish people. The glaring example of German barbaric politics was deceitfully summoning over 150 professors and scientific workers of the Jagiellonian University to a meeting and then arresting them and putting them in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp where most of them died.
Krakow was the capital of the General Goverment - the puppet Nazi territory that was ruled from Krakow by a Nazi war criminal Hans Frank.
Many relics and monuments of national culture were destroyed and plundered by the Germans.
There were several concentration camps near Krakow - Plaszow and Auschwitz.
Fortunately thanks to a manoeuvre by Soviet forces Krakow escaped destruction during World War II and historic buildings and works of art were saved.
After the WWII the communist authorities wanted to diminish influences of intellectual and artistic circles of Krakow, so they tried to dominate the city by the working class that was attracted to nearby town Nowa Huta by construction of the biggest steelworks in Poland. But Krakow survived and is now the cultural capital of Poland.

Krakow Today

In 1978 UNESCO distinguished Krakow by placing it on the list of the 12 most precious cultural heritage centers.
Over three centuries ago Krakow acquired the honourable title "totius Poloniae urbs celeberrima", which well reflected the unique character of the town, the old capital of Poland, the city of Nicolas Copernicus and Pope John Paul II.


Krakow is rich in architectural styles, mostly Renaissance architecture with some Baroque and Gothic examples (Collegium Maius of Jagiellonian University).
The interiors of palaces, churches, old noblemen houses of Krakow are astonishing in the richness of their architectural details, polychromy, stained-glass windows, painting and sculptures, furnishings.

Sights =

Among hundreds of historic buildings the following especially interesting are : the Royal Castle and Cathedral on Wawel Hill, the medieval Old Town with one of Europe's most beautiful squares, Market Square (200 by 200 meters), dozens of old churches and museums, the 14th century Jagiellonian University as well as Kazimierz - historical centre of Krakow's Jewish religious and social life.
The Gothic St Mary`s Church, built in the 14th century, standing by the market Place with the famous wooden altar carved by Veit Stoss.
The entire Old Town complex, surrounded by the green Plant belt, is bewitchingly rich in architectural styles.
Krakow is a convenient starting point of excursions to the Salt Mine in Wieliczka, to the Tatra mountains, to Czestochowa, to the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz and to the Ojcow National Park.


Through centuries only several centres in Europe have had such great influence on the development of European culture and Krakow is among them. There are several theatres are active here, including the most renowned ones :

  • The Old Theatre (Stary Teatr)
  • the Slowacki Theatre
  • Krakow Opera
  • and Krakow Operetta

The cultural side of Krakow is highlighted by the collections of 28 museums and art galleries, among which the National Museum has famous collections of painting (for example Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt), sculptures, goldsmith's works, documents.

Every year many artistic events are held in Krakow - some of international significance (for example festival of Short Feature Films, Biennial of Graphics). The great cultural traditions of Krakow inspire the creative efforts of modern Polish artists and a lot of them choose to live and lead their artists career in this city :


Krakow is a large centre of education. Today there are 12 university level institutions with about 10,000 scientists and 51,000 students.

The most important schools of higher education are :