(Duration ca. 4 hrs)
This is the classic tour around Krakow. Following in the footsteps of Polish Kings and Queens we will show you the most important monuments and places in the city. From the old fortification system with the Barbicane and St. Florian’s Gate we will take you along Florianska street to the Main Square where we will visit St. Mary’s Basilica. Then the route will take you to the University District to see Collegium Maius, the oldest Polish university building. We will continue to the Franciscans’ church and then along Grodzka and Kanonicza streets towards the Wawel Hill. On the Wawel Hill you will see the Royal Castle where for centuries Polish Kings resided and the Cathedral, where Polish Monarchs were crowned.
The pearl within the Kraków system of fortifications, the Gothic Barbican, (called with all familiarity the "Saucepan"), was built to the end of the 15th century. Its construction in 1498-1499 was ordered by King John Albert (Jan Olbracht). The main material used was brick, while stone was only used for the consoles supporting the construction of galleries and turrets. The walls are up to 3 m (10 ft) thick, while the internal diameter of the edifice is nearly 25 m (82 ft). The Barbican is crowned with machicolation: a brick gallery with shooting holes and openings in the floor that served to pour boiling pitch or water onto the attackers. Kraków's Rondel is one of three Gothic barbicans that have survived to this day. The other two are in Carcassonne (France), and Görlitz (Germany). Ours is beyond any doubt the largest of the three and the one best preserved.
It was the main gate of the seven leading into the city situated in the line of defence walls. Its other name was Porta Gloriae, that is "the gate of glory", as it opened the royal route (Via Regia). The gate was built around 1300. There has always been an eagle over the entrance, today it is the eagle of the House of Piast as designed by Jan Matejko in 1882. St Florian's gate stands 34.5 m (113 ft) high and today provides a beautiful feature in the townscape of ul. Floriańska and the royal route
Floriańska has always been one of Kraków's most important streets. Laid out at the time of the Great Charter of Kraków in the latter half of the 13th century, it has been an important fragment of the elegant road – the Royal Route – leading from the church of St Florian. Even though most of the houses standing here have been rebuilt (especially in the late 19th and early 20th centuries), many details testifying to the earlier, frequently mediaeval origin have been preserved.
The Main Market Sguare was laid out in accordance with the City Charter, which awarded it rights under the Law of Magdeburg in 1257.It was situated at the crossing of former trade routes forming in plan a square with each side slightly exceeding 200 m (665 ft). The name market square – in Polish Rynek, and originally Ring – was used for the first time around the year 1300. In the following centuries, the space within the Main Square was gradually developed. It was primarily taken up by shambles and stalls divided into separate trading sections. Thus the places where salt, chickens, coal, lead, fish, and barrels were traded were separated one from another. From its earliest days, the Main Square played a role as the centre of social and political life, whose significance frequently went far beyond the borders of the city. It provided the backcloth to major historical events: in 1525 it was here that homage was paid by the Prince of Prussia, Albrecht Hohenzollern, who swore the oath of allegiance to King Sigismund the Old (Zygmunt Stary): an event of profound political importance, as it ended the 300-year-long period of wars against the Teutonic Knights. Walking in the Main Square, it is worth turning your attention to the townhouses and city residences, traditionally called palaces, that surround it.
The first building to be erected here was built of stone soon after the city received its Great Charter in 1257.In the second half of the 14th century Marcin Lindintolde, built a solid hall – roofed and propped with buttresses – in the centre of the Main Square. The reconstruction completed in 1559 gave the Cloth Hall Renaissance architectural form, making it one of the most famous examples of the style in Kraków. The Gothic hall was bisected to half of its height by the addition of barrel vaulting, and the top storey thus produced was earmarked for trading a variety of goods, and referred to as smatruz. It was accessible by roofed staircases with loggias, situated on the shorter sides of the building. The main architectural feature of the building was the arcaded parapet wall (designed by Giovanni Maria Padovano), which concealed the sunken roof. The parapet wall was topped with a fanciful crest bearing mannerist gargoyles, probably designed by Santi Gucci. In 1875-1879. the designer, Tomasz Pryliński, added pointed-arch arcades. In the passage situated in the central part of the building, close to the Mickiewicz monument, there hangs a large iron knife on a chain: a sign of the Law of Magdeburg reminding people that thieves are punished by having their ear cut off. The knife found another explanation in a legend about the two brothers building the towers of St Mary's.
Today's image of this small temple is however strongly dominated by the later additions and reconstructions. Those in the baroque style in the early 17th century increased the height of the church and gave it a dome.Following tradition, the church was erected at the site where St Adalbert preached a sermon. The saint was ordered by Prince Boleslaus the Brave (Bolesław Chrobry) to go as a missionary to the territory adjacent to the Polish state. The price he paid for this was martyrdom, and his body was bought from the pagan tribe of the Prussians for its weight in gold. St Adalbert is one of the Catholic patron saints of Poland.
The tower is the only remnant of the building of Kraków Town Hall, which reached halfway into the Main Square. >From the Middle Ages to the 19th century, the Town Hall was the headquarters of the municipal authorities. It was built around 1300 as a 2-storey stone construction, with a tower that served both defensive purposes and as a symbol of power and elegance. Built from limestone and brick, the preserved tower used to be one of the most opulent towers in mediaeval Poland.
Grodzka is one of the city's oldest streets. It existed even before the city received its charter in 1257 as an important section of the early mediaeval trading route leading from north to south. Initially, the street ended at the fortifications of the Okół: a settlement whose origin was much older than that of Kraków and used to spread out between Wawel and the City of Kraków as defined by the Charter.The street then terminated at the foot of the castle in Grodzka Gate, and in the 14th century the houses along the street were already solidly built and its shape – the one we see today – was finally defined early in the 16th century. At the same time, the name Grodzka began to cover the entire street.
King Sigismund III Vasa earmarked appropriate funds for the foundation and the new church was built in 1597-1619. The Jesuit church was the first church in Poland to be built in the new, baroque style. The interior of the church is as monumental as it is austere. Enclosed in a semi-circle, the chancel is home to the high altar designed by Kacper Bażanka and including a 19th-century painting depicting the presentation of the keys to St Peter. Attention is attracted to the elaborate stucco decoration by Giovanni Battista Falconi on the vaulting of the apse which illustrates the lives of St Peter and St Paul. Buried in the crypt of the church (open to visitors) is Father Piotr Skarga: theologian, writer, preacher, and confessor of King Sigismund III Vasa. The towerless façade is clearly derived from the Il Gesù Church in Rome, the precursor and touchstone for early baroque. Early in the 18th century, Kacper Bażanka designed the railings of the church on the Grodzka Street side incorporating 12 plinths on which late-baroque figures of the 12 apostles, by a German Jesuit sculptor David Heel, were placed (those standing there today are copies).
Picturesque Kanonicza Street is the best preserved historic street in old Kraków. Each of the houses along the street boasts a long and rich history, those on the Western side (i.e. adjacent to the city walls), often dating back to the early half of the 14th century. The eastern side (with even numbers) is somewhat younger, as it dates back to the 15th century. Most of the buildings belonged to canons of the Catholic Church, members of the Kraków Chapter House at Wawel Cathedral. Even though their form and walls may be mediaeval, the façades date back to various styles from the 16th to the 18th centuries since they were rebuilt after a fire that consumed nearly the whole street in 1455.
The steep and lofty limestone hill, rises 25 m (over 80 ft) above the level of the Vistula River. It was formerly surrounded by riverine bogs and marshes and has always been a settlement site with very favourable defence conditions. In the 9th century, the bailey standing on Wawel Hill must have been the seat of the ruler-Prince, and the main hub of the tribal state of the Vistulanians. Once Małopolska was incorporated into the Piast state around AD 990, Wawel became one of the main centres of power. The hill must have been developed with a number of lay, pre-Romanesque structures in the late 10th and early 11th centuries. These were built quite clumsily from stone boulders which replaced wood as a construction material around that period. An interesting and partially preserved structure from that time is the Rotunda of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which may have played the role of the Castle's chapel.
The cathedral that followed was called the Hermanowska to commemorate Prince Ladislaus Herman. The church had already become a three-aisled, four-tower basilica church. Erected in 11th/12th centuries, it was in turn ruined by the accidental fire of 1305. What remains of this cathedral are the three-aisle crypt of St Leonard, supported on eight columns with cross vaulting (from before 1118) and the bottom parts of the Tower of Silver Bells. The remains were temporarily made secure and the church was used for liturgy for over a decade. In 1320 it became the site of the ceremonial crowning of King Ladislaus the Elbow-High (Władysław Łokietek) – the first such event to take place in Wawel.
Today’s Cathedral is a three-aisled Gothic basilica with a straight-enclosed chancel, transept and ambulatory (a walkway around the chancel).The church was built of brick and limestone. Today’s external appearance of the Gothic Cathedral is far from uniform, as in the course of the following centuries the original corpus received a variety of accompanying constructions, primarily chapels.There are three towers surrounding the Cathedral. Hanging in the Zygmuntowska Tower, standing to the north, is the famous Sigismund Bell, while the taller one standing next to it – the Clocktower – proudly flaunts its intricate baroque spire.
On the southern side of the Cathedral, there is the Tower of Silver Bells. The bottom part of this tower, built of small stone cubes complemented later with bricks, is a remnant of the second cathedral (11th/12th centuries). The most eye-catching element of the southern face is the Sigismund Chapel with its golden dome. A famous work of architects of the Italian Renaissance working under Bartolommeo Berrecci, who also supervised the Renaissance reconstruction of the castle.
The tourist route is 81 m (266 ft) long, and includes – after walking down the former well – three rock chambers with fossils and highly divergent karst formations. The last of the three chambers, closest to the cave’s mouth by the Vistula River, is the place where a famous inn – widely described in the accounts of visitors and travellers – operated in the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1972, a sculpture of the Wawel Dragon by Bronisław Chromy was erected on the embankments in front of the Dragon’s Den.