The drive to Kraków was long and beautiful, with a KFC every few miles! The bridges were fantastic and the forests dark and mysterious. Clouds kept the drive from getting too hot and added interest to the drive. We spent the weekend in Kraków. There was so much to see there we didn’t explore anything else. Our host’s dogs, Onyx and Amber, like to play soccer with their ball! Onyx is good keeping the ball going and Amber is good at chasing Onyx and cheering her on. Lori took us into Kraków for a short tour the evening we arrived. Kraków started as a hamlet on Wawel Hill and is the second largest, and one of the oldest city in Poland. It dates back to sometime int he 7th century! By 965 it was reported as a busy trading center in Europe.Following the invasion of Poland in September 1939 by Nazi Germany, Kraków became part of the Nazi’s General Government and eventually its capital. It was headed by Hans Frank who was based in Wawel Castle. The Nazis envisioned turning Kraków into a completely German city after removing all Jews and Poles. Legend says women saved this portion of old city walls from being destroyed by the men. They told the men that if this wall were taken down, the wind would gust through the market square and lift the ladies’ skirts on their way to church, thus embarrassing the women and making the men think badly of them. So the men did not tear down this wall. This is how the women saved the wall of Kraków. There are roughly 120 churches registered in Kraków. We walked by many, and went into only two (St. Mary’s Basilica and the other were a wedding was taking place, so no pictures were allowed). Cloth Hall was originally designed in the 14th century as a center for international trade. The ground floor is continually used for commerce with its many souvenir shops and cafés; upstairs houses the Gallery of the National Museum. It has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978.We did not spend much time at Wawel Castle because we had so many other things to see, but it was lovely! And the other tourists were a HOOT to watch!Legend tells about a dragon, Smok Wawelski, who was terrorizing Kraków during the reign of King Krakus, the city’s legendary founder. Each day the evil dragon would reign down destruction across the countryside, killing the civilians and devouring their livestock. The king wanted to put an end to the dragon, but his bravest knights failed. In desperation, the King promised his beautiful daughter Wanda’s hand in marriage to anyone who could defeat the dragon. Great warriors from near and far fought for the prize and failed. One day a poor cobbler grew tired of the ongoing terror. He stuffed a lamb with sulfur and set it outside the dragon’s cave. The dragon ate it and became incredibly thirsty. He turned to the Vistula River for relief and drank and drank, but no amount of water could quench his aching stomach and after swelling up from drinking half the Vistula river, he exploded. The cobbler refused the princess’s hand in marriage because his wife would not be happy. Read more legend versions about the dragon here. During the reign of Casimir III the Great (1333 to 1370), St. Mary’s Basilica was rebuilt on the remaining foundation of an earlier church destroyed in the Mongol invasion. Vicar Jacek Augustyn Łopacki had the interior rebuilt in the late Baroque style in the 18th century.Legend says two brothers were hired to design and build St. Mary’s Basilica towers, but they wouldn’t work together. This is why each tower is different. The brother who built the shorter tower was jealous of the other’s tower so killed him. The knife hangs in an arch in the Cloth Market across the square.
Every hour a fire fighter climbs to the top of the main tower to sound a trumpet call, the Hejnał mariacki. The melody is plaintive and historically was played to signal the open and close of the city gates. It stops unexpectedly mid-stream to salute the famous 13th century guard who was shot in the throat by an arrow while playing the tune to warn the city of the coming Tatar invasion.
The extravagant Altarpiece is the largest Gothic altar piece and a national Polish treasure. It was designed and carved out of lime (linden), oak, and larch wood by Veit Stoss (Wit Stwosz) between 1477 and 1484. During the German occupation, the altarpiece was dismantled and shipped to the Third Reich on order of Hans Frank. It was sent to Nuremberg Castle in Bavaria, where it survived heavy bombing to be recovered and returned to Poland in 1946. It underwent major restoration and was put back in its place at the Basilica 10 years later.
Julia took us to the Jewish Quarter where we saw a few Synagogues and an ancient Jewish cemetery. I learned how in the Jewish culture, stones are left on the headstones to tell the family that someone stopped by to pay respects. And thus ended our tour through Kraków. The next day we went back to do our tourist-ly duty of shopping and souvenir buying before we drove to Auschwitz, which I am posting about next week.