Our first day in Krakow was a bit of a non-starter because we basically did not get any sleep on the train and were too tired to do anything. We saved the Royal Walk for the next day, where we roughly followed the coronation route through the city.
We started at the Barbican (Barbakan), which is a fortified outpost that used to be part of the city walls. There was a frazzled looking old man on a bench that saw us looking at it and he took it upon himself to try and pass on some info – apparently he spoke mostly Polish and German, only a few words of English. He was trying to tell us that this barbican was the biggest in Europe so he kept using the German word “gross” — “the grossest in Europe!” with his arms wide. He also used a handy brass model nearby to express that it was connected to the Florian Gate by a walkway and surrounded by water.
On the other side of the barbican is the Grunwald monument. This memorializes the Polish and Lithuanian joint victory against the Teutonic Knights. When the Nazis occupied Krakow this was one of the first statues they destroyed; when the occupation ended it was one of the first statues the Poles put back up (the one that stands now is a copy).
The Florian Gate (I always accidentally call it the “Florianska Gate,” a combo of the English and the Polish Brama Florianska) was also part of the city fortifications, built in the 14th century. It features a relief of St. Florian (to protect against fires) as well as a replica of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa in the gateway.
Walking through the gate you end up on Florianska street and head straight on to the main square and St. Mary’s Church, which I accidentally call the Mariacki Church (a combination of the English and the Polish Kosciol Mariacki).
This church is the defining silhouette of the Krakow skyline with its mismatched towers. The legend is that two brothers were each building a tower and when one brother realized his tower was shorter, he threw his brother off the tower in envy. Then he stabbed himself in the heart with a knife out of remorse. EASTERN EUROPEAN FAIRY TALES
Stolen from youtube
Every hour the bell tolls and a trumpeter plays the hejnał (sounds kinda like “hey now”) out of the taller tower, once in each cardinal direction. Listening to the song, you hear the it stops short, mid-note. The legend there is that the Tatars attacked the city in the middle of the night and the man in the watchtower sounded the alarm with this song. He took an arrow to the throat mid-note and died but his alarm was enough to alert the city and save it.
In the middle of the square there is a statue to Adam Mickiewicz, generally regarded as Poland’s greatest poet and especially known for his poem Pan Tadeusz, a national epic poem. It starts out “Litwo, ojczyna moja“ which is basically the only part (including me – I didn’t even have to look that up) anybody knows. It translates to “Lithuania, my country” — that’s right, a Polish national poem starts with talking about how great Lithuania is. To be fair, back then it was the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Remember how they defeated the Teutonic Knights together? Good times.
I took surprisingly few pics of the Rynek, I guess because been there done that. In the middle of the square there is the Sukiennice – Cloth Hall – a long hall of shops that is modeled in a Renaissance style. People are still selling the same crap they were selling when I lived there. Like, the EXACT SAME
We continued on to St. Francis Basilica, which I will talk more about in a separate post about Młoda Polska.
Oddly, as we were looking around the church, the same man from the barbican came in and pointed to the snowflakes pointed on the ceiling and said “winter…microscope” (mee-kroscope). We think he meant to indicate that they had microscopes at the time this was painted and as such knew snowflakes had that structure.
We walked down ul. Grodzka (where some sort of race/run seemed to be happening) and ended up at Wawel. Unbeknownst to us, Wawel is free on Mondays so ALL the tickets were sold out. The grounds are always free to tour but if you want to go inside places you have to have a ticket. Bummer.
Wawel was the seat of Polish political power for ages and is still a significant symbol of Polish identity. Some of the buildings can be dated back to the 9th century. You can also see how it grew over the time in a sort of collage-y way on the cathedral pic above – Gothic next to Baroque next to more Renaissance styles.
During WWII, Krakow also became the seat of Germany’s General Government – they even renamed the Rynek “Adolf Hitler Platz” – and Hans Frank lived in one of the buildings in Wawel. OFFENSIVE
The courtyard at Wawel is also done in Italian style. You really should just google Wawel if you’re interested, there is way too much history behind it for me to write here. 🙂
We went down to see the dragon statue. I like it because it’s sort of wacky – he’s got like 6 legs for some reason. He squirts out fire every 15 minutes or so. The legend goes that a dragon was terrorizing the city (as usual) and the King offered his daughter to whoever could get rid of the dragon (+1 old timey use of ladies as prizes). A humble cobbler had a plan: he filled a sheep with sulfur and laid it at the mouth of the dragon’s lair. The dragon ate the sheep but the sulfur made him hot on the inside so the dragon ran to the Wisła for a big drink of water. He got so full of water that all the cobbler had to do was throw a stone and the dragon exploded. Work smart, not hard.