Cracow (Krakow), long heralded as ‘The New Prague’, is now well established as a major tourist destination. At the height of summer, Poland’s fourth largest city throngs with tour groups.
This magical city, situated in the southeast of the country, between the Jura uplands and the Tatra Mountains, on the banks of the Wisla (Vistula) River, has one of the best-preserved medieval city centres in Europe. Dozens of churches cover almost every architectural period and are surrounded by monasteries and abbeys.
The city has largely been left intact since the Tartar raids of the 13th century, which accounts for the largely unspoilt Old Town – now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Laid out in 1257, the Rynek Glowny (Main Market Square) is one of the largest medieval market squares in Europe – as well as a remarkable set piece fronted by elegant façades. It is dominated by the 16th-century Sukiennice (Cloth Hall), which continues to perform its role as a trading centre with lively market stalls and pavement cafés in and around the building.
To the south, is home to Wawel Castle, the seat of Polish kings from the 11th to the early 17th century. It was at this location, in 1000 AD, that the bishopric of Cracow was established and the Cathedral remains the spiritual home of Poland.
One area that has seen traumatic times is the Kazimierz district. For centuries it was a centre of Jewish culture, until the Nazis killed most of its residents and deported many of the survivors to the wartime ghetto of Podgorze and thence to nearby Auschwitz.
Kazimierz had largely fallen into decline since World War II, but the area is currently undergoing something of a renaissance in response to the renewed interest brought about by the film Schindler’s List.
The Jewish culture of the area is being revived, with lively art galleries, kosher restaurants and regular cultural events. In fact, Cracow’s cultural attractions in general are manifest, with almost a quarter of Poland’s museum holdings housed here and the city’s cultural scene is without equal in Poland – the city was justifiably named as one of the nine European Cities of Culture in 2000.
The city’s cultural heritage is mirrored in its intellectual achievements – the Jagiellonian University is the oldest in Poland. The student population of the city numbers almost 100,000. Cracow has sharply contrasting seasons with cold, snowy winters and ‘fresh’ springs and autumns.
Visitors should beware of the locals’ use of the word ‘fresh’ – an optimistic reference to blatantly cold weather. The labyrinthine cellars of the Old Town are an ideal place to escape the winter chill. However, come summer, the quintessential Cracow experience is relaxing in a pavement café on the main square enjoying one of the long and balmy nights.
Courtesy of www.explore-krakow.com This article is one written with passion about a passionate place!