Krakow, a city, located on the banks of the Vistula River in southern Poland, is considered one of the most inspiring metropolis in northern Europe. It was the Polish capital from 1038 until 1596 when King Sigismund III Vasa moved the capital to Warsaw. For this reason, it is known by the nickname "Pearl on the Crown," as it was the seat of the monarchy for centuries.
It is a beautiful and monumental medieval city with one of the best preserved historic centers in Europe. Contrary to what happened in many other Polish cities— including Warsaw—Krakow was not destroyed by the Nazis during World War II. In 1978, UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site.
When you visit Krakow, you should get to know its secrets strolling the charming streets and letting your steps take you from one place or another since most of the landmarks are very close.
Start your tour at the market square (Rynek Główny in Polish), the largest in the city and one of the most striking of the Old Continent. Opened in the 13th century, it was the center of social and political life during the Middle Ages. Here you can see a monumental bronze bust by Polish artist Igor Mitoraj.
Krakow's architecture showcases magnificent examples from the Romanesque , Gothic, and Baroque styles.
At the Rynek—as the square is known— there are several churches, including the pride of the city, the Church of Santa Maria. Inside there is an exceptionally beautiful Gothic altarpiece carved in linden wood. Also worth a visit is the baroque church of St. Peter and Paul, built by the Jesuits between the 14th and 15th centuries.
The next stop should be at Jagiellonian University, one of the oldest in Central Europe, founded in the 14th century. Among the students who sat on its benches are world-renowned historical personalities such as Nicolaus Copernicus and Karol Jozef Wojtyla, known as Pope John Paul II.
The monumental city was the capital of Poland from 1038 to 1596. It was spared of the Nazi destruction and maintains some of its emblematic old buildings.
Krakow is a fortified city where you can still admire some of the old walls and its impeccable barbican. Other marvels not to be missed are the Cathedral, and Wawel Castle, the former residence of Polish kings, where the Crown Jewels are housed.
The city is divided into several districts, including Kazimierz, which was—for centuries—a refuge for the Jewish community coming from all over Europe. The Jewish Museum—a remembrance of the Nazi Holocaust--is also worth a visit for its impactful historical value.
Krakow is a crucial destination for those who want to keep alive the memories of the past and pay tribute to the millions of people brutally murdered in the nearby extermination camp at Auschwitz. As you visit the camp, you will find it impossible to contain your tears for its terrible barbarity and injustice. ■
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