The Krakow Barbican

18th Nov 2019

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The Kraków Barbican is the element of medieval city's fortifications. Located in the centre of the Planty Park, just between the St. Florian's Gate and Basztowa Street, it is one of the most precious monuments of Kraków and one of the last remains of defensive structures in Europe.

Barbicans started to be built at the beginning of 15th century. They usually had a form of round, brick constructions which were situated outside the main line of defence and connected to the city walls. The principal role of the barbicans was to defend the main city gate. For this reason the walls of the building were provided with numerous loopholes, which gave the possibility of shooting up the enemies from the top.

The Barbican of Kraków was erected in the years 1498-1499 under the reign of Polish king Jan Olbracht, who feared the attack of Wallachian, Tatarian and Turkish enemies, threatening Kraków at that time. The king himself laid the cornerstone for the construction, whose main function was to protect the main city gate of St. Florian, which it was connected to. Built in the Gothic style in brick and stone, it had seven watch towers. The walls of 3 metres thick, which was surrounded by 30-metre-wide moat, made the barbican extremely difficult to get through.

Being the main northern entrance to the city, Barbican used to co-create the beginning of the famous Droga Królewska [E. the Royal Route]. It led from St. Florian Church, through Barbican, the Florian Gate, Floriańska Street, the Main Square by the Mariacki Church, then down Grodzka, Senacka and Kanonicza streets up to Wawel Castle. Droga Królewska was the historical coronation path as well as the funeral corteges of Polish monarchs. This is the way all the important foreign diplomats trod, and where Polish kings, returning after battles and being welcomed by the crowds of Kraków's citizens, used to come back to Wawel. For this reason Barbican was called The Gate of Glory (Porta Gloriae) of Kraków city.

Nowadays, Barbican stands as a museum and it poses a branch of the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków. It serves as a venue for multiple exhibitions. The 500-year-old fortification also features interesting sport events such as Polish championship in fencing or presentations of knight tournaments and court dances. Barbican is accessible for the tourists, who have the opportunity to get inside the building and become acquainted with the history of Kraków's defensive architecture.

The Krakus Mound

28th Oct 2019

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In Krakow, there are four separate memorial mounds and the city is a Polish champion in this regard. Two the oldest structures include Krakus Mound and Wanda Mound; then, there is the most popular one - Tadeusz Kościuszko Mound and finally, the youngest and the biggest of them is called after Józef Piłsudski.

Located on the right bank of the Wisła River in the Podgóże district, Krakus Mound (called also Krak Mound) is not only the oldest preserved objects of its kind in Kraków but also the biggest prehistoric mound in Poland. This 16m high construction was truly of a great importance, which is proven by the fact that it was visible from the Wawel Castle so that the kings, taking important decisions in Poselska Hall, could look at the mound through the window and be reminded of the greatness of their predecessor - the King Krakus.

According to the Polish chronicler Jan Długosz, the mound was built by two sons of Krakus as a grave for their deceased father. King Krakus, known also as Krak or Gracchus, was a legendary founder of Krakow, known for its righteousness and, if you believe the legend, he lived in 8th century AD. If you are interested what did Krak look like, you should see the sculpture of the king made by Franciszek Kalfas which can be found in the courtyard of National Archives on Sienna 16. After Krak's death, his daughter Wanda became his successor and this is she whom the second mound is dedicated to.

There is a great probability that Krakus Mound functioned as a place of pagan worship, since Krakus Mound, Wawel Hill and Wanda Mound create together an isosceles triangle. In addition, the recent archaeological works revealed there the remains of 300-year-old oak's roots - the tree which used to grow on the top of the mound and was cut down shortly after Poland had been baptised. For this reason it can be assumed that the oak was connected with the pagan cult taking place on the mound. In this sense there is a strong similarity between the Krakus Mound and other archaic constructions such as Stonehenge.

In contrast, nowadays the Krakus Mound functions as a recreational spot which seems to be perfect for afternoon walks. It is a popular target for couples in love who want to spend some time in nature. Besides, Krakus Mound is a great touristic destination, as it provides a wonderful panoramic view of the city. It is definitely worth to visit the mound and climb up to the top of it, which gives a golden opportunity to admire a breathtaking scenery of Krakow, including the Old Town, Płaszów and the Liban Quarry with the remains of the scenery for Steven Spielberg's film 'Schindler's List'.

(photo: Magiczny Kraków)

Plac Nowy (The New Square)

17th Oct 2019

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Plac Nowy (eng. The New Square), also called the Jewish Square, is the very heart of Kazimierz district. Surrounded by the Nowa, Beera Meiselsa, Warszauera and Estery streets, it is one of the most original marketplaces of Poland.

On the north side of the square, extending along defensive walls of Kazimierz, there are the houses once belonged to the Jewish hospital near the Kupa Synagogue From the end of 16th to the mid 19th century, the area of Plac Nowy was the part of Jewish town, called Libuszhof. This is where the paths of the inhabitants of Kazimierz used to cross. Today's constructions around the square took shape mostly in the years 1870-1923 and from the 1900 this area has been serving as a marketplace.

The central point of Plac Nowy is the Okrąglak (Rotunda) with the hole-in-the-wall food hatches. Okrąglak was built in 1900 as a market hall. In 1927 the building was leased to Jewish Community and it was transformed into a ritual poultry slaughterhouse, which was liquidated only during the German occupation. After the World War II, the Okrąglak again started to serve as a market hall. Currently, in its walls there are fast food windows located. This is exactly where you can taste the best 'zapiekanki' in the whole Kraków. Being of enormous size, they are really unmatched. If you do not believe, you can just look at the endless queue of hungry people waiting to get them. But it is worth to wait! Plac Nowy is the place where yearly concerts of Krakow Jewish Festival take place – and they are performed on the Okrąglak's roof. In 2008, the building was entered into the register of historical monuments of Kraków.

From early morning hours in Plac Nowy merchant stalls offer a variety of goods, including fresh vegetables, food and industrial products. On every Saturday a flea market takes place there, which attracts collectors from the whole Poland as everyone can find various precious antiquities (like old books and jewellery). In addition, on Sundays for the past few decades a clothing market has been carried out there. It is a great opportunity to search out an original second-hand outfit and do not lose a fortune. The square of Plac Nowy is surrounded by numerous lovely bars and cafes which allude to the magical atmosphere of old Kazimierz.

photo: Jan Graczyński

Wawel Dragon Statue

3rd Oct 2019

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Wawel Dragon Statue is a longtime symbol of Kraków. The six-metre monument, being a major tourist attraction of the city, is dedicated to a beast from popular local legends.

According to the oldest story, in the 12th-century Kraków there was a dragon who terrified the residents of the city for years. To avoid casualties, local people used to feed the dragon with their own cattle, which resulted in financial losses. Then Krakus, who was the king of Poland and founder of Kraków city, decided to disembarrass his people and ordered his two sons – Lech and Krakus II - to kill the monster. The young men, being aware of the predominance of the dragon, came up with a clever idea. At feeding time, they put in front of the dragon's lair a calf skin which was staffed with brimstone. The creature, unaware of the deceit, ate up the whole meal and immediately rushed to the nearest water point which was the Wisła River. Unable to quench thirst, the Wawel Dragon was drinking the water uncontrollably until it consumed half the river and its enormous stomach exploded. In this way the royal sons rescued inhabitants of Kraków from the cruel monster. In later versions of the legend, this brave feat is credited to a poor cobbler Skuba, who, as a reward, won the hand of king's daughter.

No matter which variant of this story is closer to the truth, the dragon located at the foot of Wawel Hill since 1972 is to remind us of these legendary events. The Dragon Statue, designed by the local artist Bronisław Chromy, breathes real fire every 10 minutes, which brings a smile on the faces of visitors. Contrary to popular belief, the creature has seven heads, not just one, that most of the people don't know about, assuming that the smaller heads are its limbs. Literally every tourist wants to take a souvenir photo with the Wawel beast!

The dragon motif is so popular that even the street leading towards the castle is called Smocza [Eng. Dragon Street] and every year on June there is the famous Great Dragons Parade taking place on the streets of Kraków. Having seen the statue, it is worth to visit also the Dragon's Lair, which is situated nearby on the bank of the Wisła River. The chamber, that used to be home to the dragon, is available for tourists from the second half of April until the end of October, from 10:00 to 19:00. You can purchase the tickets by the entrance for 5zł. Enjoy yourself! :)

Schindler's Factory

19th Sep 2019

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Oskar Schindler's Deutsche Emailwarenfabrik (DEF), widely known as Schindler's Factory, is one of the most important place to visit during your stay in Krakow, especially when you are interested in World War II.

You cannot miss learning the real history of a man who, being a German under Nazi occupation, saved the lives of over a thousand Jewish people. So-called Schindler's Factory was established two years before the Second World War by the three Jewish businessmen. However, in March 1939 it gave up its production and three months later it had to go bankrupt. As a result, on November 1939 a Suden German industrialist Oskar Schindler (1908-1974) took over the factory. Before the war, Schindler was famous for his interest in making quick money, drinking, and love affairs. When the German occupation started, he moved to Kraków in search of business opportunities.

Being a member of a Nazi party NSDAP and most probably also an associate of German Abwehr, Oskar Schindler managed to make a fortune of his Enamel Factory. The works produced enamelled dishes, pots and spoons, and from 1943 also arms related products including mess kits and artillery shells and fuses for the Wehrmacht

Initially, Schindler employed Jews for economic reasons – they were just free labour force. Actually, it was a common practice applied by many industrialists like Volkswagen, Bayer and IG Farben to profit from low-paid Jewish workers. But ghetto liquidation and resulting from this cruel deportations made Schindler aware that Jewish community is in trouble and he himself, being the owner of a prosperous company, is able to help them. Providing his Jewish workers with Kennkarte could save them from deportations and transports to death camps. Thanks to his good connections and bribery, Oskar Schindler got permission to create on the territory of his factory a subcamp of Płaszow labour camp, so that his employees were allowed to move there. In this way, the Jews could avoid the certain death in Auschwitz after the Krakow ghetto was liquidated on March 1943. Thus, the Schindler's Factory became a shelter for the elders, the sick and children, who entered in a so-called Schindler's List. Afterwards, when faced with losing the war the Nazis started to prepare for evacuation and liquidated the subcamp in Enamel Factory, Oskar Schindler established an ammunition factory in Brünnlitz (Czech Republic) and hired 'his Jews' there. Through his bravery and empathy, Oskar Schindler managed to save about 1 100 Jewisch people sentenced to death. In 1962, he was declared a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem and after his death in 1974, Schindler was buried in Israel at the Catholic cemetery on Mount Zion, as he had wished.

Today the former administrative building of Oskar Schindler's Enamel Factory houses the Schindler's Factory Museum which is the department of Historical Museum of the City of Krakow. The permanent exhibition presented there, entitled 'Kraków under Nazi Occupation 1939-1945', tells the story of the factory at Lipowa Street 4 in a broader historical context, including Krakow and both its Polish and Jewish inhabitants during World War II. The exposition has been divided into a dozen parts devoted to individual issues: the World War II, the role of Krakow as power centre of General Government, everyday life of Krakow residents during the war, the fate of Krakow's Jews, the Polish Secret State and also the story of Oskar Schindler, his workers as well as the German occupiers. The Schindler's Factory Museum was officially opened on 10 June 2010. The story of Oscar Schindler and his employees was firstly described by an Australian writer Thomas Keneally in his novel 'Schindler's Ark', whereas in 1993 Steven Spielberg made it into a movie - a world-famous 'Schindler's List', which was shot mostly in Poland.

(photo: Magiczny Krakow)

Rynek Underground Museum

7th Sep 2019

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If you've already visited every famous place on the surface, it is high time to dig deeper into the history of Krakow.

There is still something worth a visit, despite being hidden 5 metres beneath your feet. The Historical Museum of the City of Krakow presents an underground tourist route – an archaeological park established in 2010. Next to Wawel Royal Castle, Cloth Hall and Mariacki Basilica, the Underground Market is the most significant tourist attraction of Krakow for visitors from all over the world. Under the eastern side of the Market Square plate, there is the underground museum with total area of over 6000 square metres.

The Rynek Underground presents a permanent as well as temporary exhibitions. The first one, titled 'Following the traces of European identity of Krakow', is a multimedia time travel which enables us to move to medieval Krakow, whose intrinsic feature was trade. Right from the beginning of the tour, visitors are greeted with the sounds of traders bargaining in different languages, which evokes the atmosphere of medieval marketplace. No wonder - you are in Krakow! You can strain your ears and try to hear your mother tongue or maybe discern the English of Shakespeare's times. In the next step of the route, numerous objects make it possible for you to imagine daily life in Krakow of a few centuries ago. Reconstructions and remains of the oldest secular buildings of the city, historical farms and houses, stalls, water mains, tombs, stone roads and city walls as well as 14th-century tools and coins are a great wealth of this place. What's more, you can touch the real cloth that residents of Krakow used to wear back in the day. It is truly impressive how the museum managed to combine the old times atmosphere with new technology at the highest level. Films presenting the scenes from the past, light effects and even holograms accompany visitors on every step of their journey.

As its guests say themselves, this place proves that museum doesn't have to mean boredom. To visit, you only have to buy the ticket in the Cloth Hall. The museum offers free admission on Tuesdays. 😀

The Słowacki Theatre

29th Aug 2019

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The Juliusz Słowacki Theatre in Krakow (Polish: Teatr im. Juliusza Słowackiego w Krakowie), built between 1891-1893 on Holy Ghost Square in place of the former Holy Ghost Church, ranks among the most precious relics of a theatre architecture in Europe.

The building, designed by Jan Zawiejski, is maintained in an eclectic style with the emphasis on Neo-Baroque. This 19th-century theatre-opera house was the first construction in Krakow, where electric lighting was installed. Originally, the theatre was called Municipal Theatre (Teatr Miejski) and only in 1909 it was named after Polish poet Juliusz Słowacki. The main facade is decorated with an inscription: Kraków Narodowej Sztuce - which means - Krakow For the National Arts. The interiors of the building are painted with frescoes by the Viennese artist Anton Tuch and embellished with a splendid curtain by Henryk Siemiradzki. The official opening of the new theatre was held on October 21, 1893 at midday and from that moment this place has been operating continuously. At the first spectacle, fragments of Mickiewicz, Słowacki and Fredro were presented. During the next five weeks only Polish repertoire was staged.

The choice of location for the Słowacki Theatre was not without heated arguments. Finally, after many disputes, the Holy Ghost Square was chosen, which resulted in demolishing of many historic buildings. The Holy Ghost Church and other architectural landmarks of this area were strongly defended by Jan Matejko himself. When his protests appeared to be fruitless, the artist renounced the honorary citizenship of Krakow city and forbade to exhibit his paintings in Krakow.

At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Juliusz Słowacki Theatre was at its boom times. It was none other than Polish national playwright Stanisław Wyspiański who determined the unique position of this place. This great artist blessed with genius for poetry, painting, as well as stage designing, presented at the Municipal Theatre the majority of his works. The premiere of his 'Wesele' ('The Wedding') on 16 March 1901 is one of the most significant events in the history of Polish culture. In the interwar period, Słowacki Theatre managed to keep its high position, despite being among the greatest theatres of independent Poland such as these of Warsaw, Lviv and Vilnius. In 1921 the most prominent representative of Polish Avant-Garde of 20th century – Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Witkacy) - made his debut here. The premiere of his grotesque and full of absurd drama 'Tumor Mózgowicz' resulted in few compliments and the wave of criticism. Just before the outbreak of the World War II, Słowacki Theatre paid its respects to the free Fatherland with a patriotic spectacle of A Hymn to Polish Arms by L.H. Morstin, performed in the Wawel courtyard. After the war started in the autumn of 1939, the staff of the theatre was soon forced to leave the edifice. For the following five years the building housed a German theatre which was the object of Hitler's propaganda. The theatre reopened for Polish audience in February 1945. In 1980, shortly after the Polish Pope Jan Paweł II was elected for the Holy See, the Słowacki Theatre staged the world premiere of Karol Wojtyła's drama 'Our God's Brother' ('Brat naszego Boga'), which attracted great interest.

The Juliusz Słowacki Theatre in Krakow is recognized also as 'Krakow Salon' which gathers all honourable celebrants on occasions of anniversary parties of scholars and artists from different countries. What's more, the theatre regularly hosts international and domestic medical conferences. In 2016 Stanisław Wyspiański was chosen a spiritual guardian of this place. Nothing strange about that - it would be difficult to find more suitable patron, whom the theatre owes so much. Wyspiański's idea of searching for deeper meaning, turning back this place, Krakow and the whole Poland from mediocrity and conformity keeps inspiring.

(Źródło - Strona Główna Teatru)

Piwnica pod Baranami

18th Aug 2019

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Piwnica pod Baranami is a cult cafe, famous drink bar, jazz club and, first of all, premises of the most popular literary cabaret in Poland! The Piwnica pod Baranami (E. The Basement under the Rams), which is the name of the cabaret too, was established in 1956 by Piotr Skrzynecki and a few other students of Krakow universities. Located in the basement of 'Pod Baranami' palace at the Main Market Square in Krakow, Piwnica Pod Baranami served as the most renowned political cabaret in the country, until the end of the communism era.

With the only break between 1962-1964, Piwnica still keeps functioning. At first, it was supposed to be a gathering place for Krakow students, under the name of Klub Młodzieży Twóczej. Soon, this student club turned into a cabaret and its first performance was presented on 16 December 1956. The performances of Piwnica pod Baranami involved different texts, from the Holy Bible and philosophical treatise to press releases and manuals. Scenography was made of unanimated objects, in the spirit of Marcel Duchamp. Costumes consisted of incomplete clothes, wigs and hats. During the show, banknotes and rags were thrown from the stage and the audience was pelted with chopped cabbage! On the stage of Piwnica pod Baranami professional actors and artists connected with Piwnica gave their performances, as well as special guests, who often were amateurs. Piwnica referred to Dadaism and surrealism.

At the turn of 50s and 60s, Piwnica pod Baranami became a really popular place. At the end of 50s, it was the centre of jazz music in Poland and many great Polish musicians like Tomasz Stańko started to give their concerts there. With time, the entourage of the cabaret was made up with other famous Polish artists and intellectuals including actors: Anna Dymna, Jan Nowicki, poets and writers: Czesław Miłosz, Sławomir Mrożek, Agnieszka Osiecka,Jacek Kaczmarski, director: Andrzej Wajda, and musicians: Marek Grechuta and Grzegorz Turnau. Piwnica freguently gave guest performances, i.a. in Cologne, Paris and Vienna.

Over the years the crucial figure of Piwnica Pod Baranami was its founder Piotr Skrzynecki. Skrzynecki was the embodiment of the underground style and one of the most important personality of Krakow, in 1994 he was awarded the title of Honorary Citizen of Krakow. After he died (1997), Society of Friends of Piwnica pod Baranami decided that Piwnica should continue to operate and they didn't stop performing. Today, Piwnica is one of the greatest cabarets in Poland. After almost fifty years of activity, the eccentric artists of Piwnica became iconic and the style of the cabaret functions in colloquial language as 'styl piwniczny' (the underground style).

Szeroka Street

2nd Aug 2019

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Szeroka Street couldn't be called in any other way, since it is the widest street of Krakow (and 'szeroka' means wide in English). The street resembles rather a rectangular square, so that it was previously called Wielka Streat (E. Great Street). Jews started to live in Szeroka Street as a result of a decree of King Jan Olbracht from 1495 which required from Jewish people to leave Krakow and settle on Kazimierz district (see: THE ORIGIN OF JEWS IN KRAKOW). Cracovian Jews moved to the area of former Bawół village, whose centre was Szeroka Street and where the lives of inhabitants were focused.

The evidence for the importance of Szeroka Street for residents of Kazimierz is the fact that four different synagogues have been located there, which was unique on the European scale. At the turn of 15th and 16th century, the first synagogue called 'Old' was built. Old Synagogue is not only the oldest synagogue in Krakow but also within the whole territory of Poland. The second synagogue in Szeroka Street – Remu – has been established in 1557 next to already existing Remu cemetery which is known from the famous Wailing Wall, resembling the one in Jerusalem. In 1620 in Szeroka 16 the third, Wolf Popper Synagogue was built. Before II World War, just behind Old Synagogue there was the fourth synagogue called 'Na górce' (E. 'on a little hill'). In fact, it just housed prayer rooms and small mikveh in the basements. What's more, on the other side of the street - Szeroka 6, there is a monumental building of ritual bathhouse, called Great Mikveh. Mikveh existed on Kazimierz from 1567 for the needs of Jewish community in Krakow. Nowadays it has been rebuilt and it is available for visitors.

Entering Szeroka from the side of Miodowa Street, you have a rare opportunity to go back in time. Old shutters, displays and signboards, where you can read the names of former owners like Nowak, Holcer, Kac, Weinberg or Kohan, evoke the atmosphere of those days. The interiors of shops and workshops have been furnished in old style and hotels and restaurants try to hark back to Jewish tradition. Despite the fact that Szeroka Street is no longer Jewish property and the synagogues are closed, it is not uncommon to meet there some orthodox Jews who are following the footsteps of their ancestors.

Szeroka Street can be recognised in some scenes of famous Steven Spielberg's film - 'Schindler's List' – where it played Zgody Square of Krakow's ghetto, known today as Plac Bohaterow Getta (E. Ghetto Heroes Square). Finally, Szeroka is really famous for the final show of annual Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow – Szalom in Szeroka - which is held there on every June from 1996. Within 10 days of the festival, over 150 artists present modern music and the event gathers more than 30 000 viewers from all over the world.

The Man Who Spoke But Was Not Listened

10th Jul 2019

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Wandering about Szeroka Street of Krakow Jewish Quarter, it is impossible not to stumble across a unique statue located in the heart of this place, right ahead of Remuh Synagogue. Being the work of the local artist Karol Badyna, the statue presents an old, smart man sitting on the bench with his legs crossed. The man is a Polish-Jewish hero, Jan Karski himself.

Jan Karski was a legendary courier of Polish Underground State during II World War. This glorious emissary, putting his life in danger, got across the Warsaw Ghetto to prove to the Western world the truth about the Holocaust. In 1942 Karski informed the Allies about the mass extermination of Jews in Poland. For that reason, he is known as 'the man who tried to stop the Holocaust'.

For his courageous activity, Jan Karski was awarded with the highest decoration in Poland – the Order of the White Eagle. In addition, he was honoured by Yad Vashem with the titles of the Righteous Among the Nations and the honorary citizen of Israel.

The bronze statue of Jan Karski located in Krakow was unveiled on January 26, 2016 and it is the most recent of the Jan Karski Benches' series. The remaining benches, created by the same artist, are situated i.a. in Warsaw, Washington, New York and Tel Awiw. As the author emphasizes himself, Karski memorial bench in Krakow is different from the others – it is characterized by drama of those days. When we take a closer look at details, we'll notice that the bench is in the shape of imprinted bodies – this is the symbol of absence and emptiness after these people who used to live there not very long ago. In this way the statue brings associations with the Holocaust. However, despite being so popular, Karski memorial bench meets with opposition from the closest family of the deceased courier.

'History does not want to be a story. History still lives among us.'

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