Kraków – Wawel Royal Castle
Kraków – Wawel Royal Castle
It is one of Europe’s most famous historic buildings, and one of the two largest and most important castles in Poland. The courtyard of the Royal Castle, which impresses with the grandeur, but also the lightness of its slender arcades, as well as “the pearl of Tuscan Renaissance north of the Alps”, i.e. the Sigismund’s Chapel of the Wawel Cathedral, were both raised in the 16th century by Italians, brought from Tuscany by King Sigismund I of Poland. Thanks to the architect and stone mason Bartolomeo Berrecci from Florence, both the chapel and the castle’s arcaded cloisters became the repeatedly copied, yet unrivalled patterns of Renaissance buildings on Polish lands.
The Royal Castle and the Wawel Cathedral are perched on a limestone hill overlooking a bend of the Vistula river. Fortified by nature, the place was subsequently developed and surrounded by powerful fortifications. The pre-Romanesque Rotunda of St. Felix and Adauctus is the evidence of its ancient history. For a few centuries, the Wawel Castle was the seat of rulers from the Piast and Jagiellon dynasties, as well as the first elective kings. Although King Sigismund III Vasa and his court moved to Warsaw at the end of the 16th century, the importance of Wawel did not diminish. The Wawel Cathedral remained the site of coronation ceremonies and burials of most of the subsequent Polish Kings.
Before entering Wawel, visitors pass mighty fortifications surrounding the hill. They were built by the Austrians in the 19th century. However, even older walls with the Thieves’ Tower, Sandomierz Tower and Senator’s Tower still stand. From the arcaded courtyard, you can enter the magnificent chambers to admire, among other things, the famous Flemish tapestries and the ceiling decorated with the “Wawel Heads”. The castle adjoins a Gothic cathedral surrounded by a corona of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque chapels. The most beautiful among them is the already mentioned Sigismund’s Chapel. The cathedral and the underground crypts hold the tombs of not only Polish kings, but also national poets and heroes such as Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Słowacki, Tadeusz Kościuszko and Józef Piłsudski. Visitors can climb on of the cathedral’s towers in order to have a close look at the famous Royal Sigismund Bell, which is rung only on very significant national occasions.
Wawel Royal Castle Museum, Wawel 5, phone: +48 12 422 5155, www.wawel.krakow.pl; opening hours: Apr–Oct, Tue-Fri 9.30am–5pm, Sat and Sun 11am–6pm; Nov–March, Tue-Sat 9.30am–4pm, Sun 10am–4pm; tickets for permanent exhibitions: State Rooms – PLN 17, concessions: PLN 10, Royal Private Apartments – PLN 24, concessions: PLN 18, Crown Treasury and Armoury – PLN 17, concessions: PLN 10, (Apr–Oct additional opening hours: Mon 9.30am–1pm; Nov–March closed on Sundays), Oriental Art – PLN 8, concessions: PLN 5 (Nov–March closed on Sundays), The Lost Wawel – PLN 8, concessions: PLN 5 (Apr-Oct additional opening hours: Mon 9.30am–1pm). Wawel Cathedral, phone.: +48 12 429 3327, www.katedra-wawelska.pl; opened for visitors: Apr-Sept, Mon-Sat 9am–5pm, Sun 12.30pm–5pm; Oct–March, Mon-Sat 9.00am–4pm, Sun 12.30am–4pm; admission free, tickets are obligatory only to visit the Clock Tower or the Royal Tombs: PLN 12, concessions: PLN 7. Admission to the courtyard: daily from 6am until dawn; free of charge
Other local attractions
Kraków Old Town situated in the Planty area (a park surrounding the centre of Kraków), and the Kazimierz district that used to be home to the “Jewish town”. Both are inscribed on the UNESCO list.
Nowa Huta, i.e. the industrial district of Kraków with characteristic architecture of socialist realism, the historic Cistercian Abbey and the charming small wooden Church of St Bartholomew situated on the territory of the former Mogiła village.