Fondly known as ‘the city which belongs to all the people of the world’, Kraków is love at first sight. It has everything- art, architecture, music, theatres, cafes, history, mystery and magic. The former capital of Poland, Kraków, has withstood the ravages of World War II and the Holocaust. Today, it is a harmonious blend of the past and present and is home to 20 universities for higher learning. The large student populace keeps the city young and lively. It boasts of having educated Copernicus and Pope John Paul II too. The gastronomical variety it offers is vast and sumptuous. Lody, the local ice cream, might have you skip the main course.
The venue for many coronations, funerals and burials of monarchs and strongmen in Poland, the cathedral is a structure featuring Gothic art. There are chapels built around it, which have now been restyled. The entry to the chapel is a massive iron door along with another chain of huge prehistoric animal bones. Polish folk believe that as long as the bones exist, the cathedral will remain. The interiors are a maze of sarcophagi, tombstones and altarpieces. On the tower, hangs Poland’s largest bell called the Sigismund Bell; eight strong men are needed to ring the bell. The bell is rung only on the most important church holidays and for significant state events.
Perched on the Wawel hill, Wawel Castle has been the political and cultural centre of Poland from time immemorial. A brainchild of King Sigismund I in the 16th century, the breath-taking Renaissance palace was created by some of the best artists and sculptors from Italy and Germany. It was considered a model stately residence for the royalty in Europe. Today, it is a museum containing five separate sections: Crown Treasury & Armoury, State Rooms, Royal Private Apartments, Lost Wawel, and the Exhibition of Oriental Art.
Wieliczka Salt Mines
If you thought that the Egyptian pyramids were magnificent, you may think again after you have visited the Wieliczka Salt Mines. An eerie labyrinth of tunnels, pits and chambers, the mines are hand-carved over nine levels of about 300km; the deepest at 327-meter underground. The passages and caverns are marvels created by ancient mining equipment and will leave you baffled. They are renowned for their medicinal and health-giving properties. An underground sanatorium established at a depth of 135-meter proves these healing properties. Chronic allergies and diseases are treated over one-night stays. Owing to the unique acoustics of this place, concerts and other events take place here, which add to the magnificence of the entire structure. There are statues, ornaments, altarpieces, chandeliers and an underground temple– all made out of salt.
This fascinating attraction is Europe’s largest medieval marketplace. Pigeons are found in abundance and legend says that they are the spirits of the knights of Duke Henry IV Probus, who were cursed in the 13th century and turned into birds. Earlier a large square which had a Gothic town hall, a Renaissance granary, a large weighing house, a foundry, a pillory, and hundreds of traders’ stalls, now only a few flower sellers under colourful umbrellas and some portable souvenir stalls remain. It is Kraków’s largest outdoor café area, with more than 20 cafés strewn in the vicinity of the square.
St. Mary’s Basilica
One of the most famous Poland’s churches, The Basilica of the Virgin Mary is a striking brick church with two prominent towers of different heights. A remarkable feature of this church are the stained-glass windows dating back to the late 14th century. The exquisite interiors have innumerable colourful wall paintings, which blend beautifully with the medieval architecture and are an appropriate background for the high altar. The tall altar carved out of wood is acclaimed as the greatest masterpiece of Gothic art in Poland. One cannot miss the hejnal, the hourly bugle call, from the taller tower.
The mythical aura of this place takes you to the world of legends. Everything about this place is overwhelming– sometimes the quietness of a street, or sometimes the bustling cafés and squares. That is when one realises that there’s more to the former royal capital than history and nightlife making Kraków an essential place to visit in Poland.