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Krakow (in Polish, Kraków; sometimes also spelt Cracow in English) is one of the biggest cities in Poland. This historical town is situated in southern Poland (region Malopolska and Malopolskie voivoidship), on the Vistula River (Wisła) at the foot of Wawel Hill.

Population: 741,000 (2001)

Table of contents

General background

Krakow belongs traditionally to the leading scientific, cultural and artistic centres of the country. It was once the capital of Poland and is considered by many to be still the heart of Poland, having a more than thousand-years-long tradition.

Krakow is also a major centre of local and foreign tourism. Every year the city is visited by more than 2,000,000 tourists.


8th century

The history of the town goes back to the days before the formation of the Polish state, when it was the capital of the Vistulians tribe. A legend says that the city was founded by the mythical ruler Krak on Wawel Hill, above a cave occupied by a ravenous dragon.
The first historical records are of Slavic people settling along the banks of the Vistula River in the 8th century.

10th century

By the end of the 10th century Krakow was a major market centre and it was incorporated into land ruled by the Piast dynasty. Tangible historical data are available for events after the year 1000 ac.
On the turn of the 10th and 11th centuries the first brick edifices were built (a castle, Romanesque churches) and a cathedral and a basilica, as well as the St. Felix and Adaukt Church.

11th to 13th century

In the middle of the 11th century (1038) Krakow became the capital of land later called Poland. Two hundred years later it was practically destroyed by the Tartar raids. In 1257 Krakow received city rights from Magdeburg city and was rebuilt in the form which has remained practically unaltered. During the reign of emperor Sigismund of Luxemburg, Krakow became a member of the Hanseatic League. The archbishops of Krakow were princes of the empire.

12th century

The greatest period of Krakow's history began with the reign of King Casimir III of Poland who founded a university, the Jagiellonian University, the second oldest in central Europe after the University of Prague. Before that there had been a cathedral school since 1150 under the auspices of the Krakow bishop.

14th to 16 century

The growth of the city continued during the reign of the Lithuanian Jagiello dynasty and the close family connections to the Habsburg imperial house (1386-1572). As the capital of a powerful state it became a flourishing centre of sciences and the arts, admired by foreigners and extolled by poets.It was manifested by the great works of the Renaissance art and architecture created at that time.

15th century

In 1475 delegates of the elector George the Rich of Bavaria came to Krakow to negotiate the marriage of Hedwig, the daughter of King Casimir IV Jagiello to George the Rich. Hedwig traveled for two month to Landshut[?] in Bavaria, where an elaborate marriage celebration, the Landshut Wedding[?] (Landshuter Hochzeit) took place.
In 1488 the imperial Poet Laureate and Humanist Conrad Celtes founded the Sodalitas Litterarum Vistulana, a learned society, based on the Roman Acadiemies. In 1489 Veit Stoss of Nuremberg finished his work on the Great Altar of the St. Mary church. Numerous other artists mainly from Nuremberg worked in Krakow. Before 1500 Haller established a printing press in Krakow.

16th century

The 1505 Balthasar Behem Codex, named for the chancellor of Krakow, records the statutes of the burgher guilds of the city. In 1520 Johan Behem made the largest churchbell in Poland, called the Sigismund Bell. At the same time Hans Duerer, younger brother of Albrecht Duerer was the court painter for Sigismund I Jagiello. Hans von Kulmbach made the altar for the Krakow Johannis Church. Veit Stoss also created a marble sarcophagus for king Casimir IV. In 1572 the last Lithuanian Jagiello ruler Sigismund II died.

The Swedish Vasa king Sigismund III, transferred the royal residence to Warsaw in 1596. Krakow's importance began to decline, accelerated by the pillage of the city during the Swedish invasion and the Black Death that left 20,000 of the city's residents dead.

Following the partitions of Poland between three neighbouring countries at the end of the 18th century, Krakow was incorporated into Austria and Poland was on the map of Europe as Russian Poland for more than 120 years. Krakow once again became a national symbol - as Austrian rule was less harsh than Prussian or Russian rule, it became the centre of Polish culture and art. Famous painters, poets and writers worked here: Jan Matejko[?], Stanislaw Wyspianski[?], Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz[?], Stanislaw Przybyszewski[?], Jan Kasprowicz[?], Juliusz Kossak[?] and Wojciech Kossak[?]. Krakow became the main centre of Polish modernism (Young Poland), whose greatest representatives were Wyspianski and Przybyszewski.

Here and in Warsaw national liberation movements began. During WWI Krakow Legions led by Jozef Pilsudski, together with Austrian and German troops, set out to fight for the liberation of Poland.

20th century

In September 1939 the Nazis entered the city. The Nazis planned to destroy the Polish nation and enslave its people. In one glaring example of Nazi barbarism, over 150 professors and scientific workers of the Jagiellonian University were deceitfully summoned to a meeting, then arrested and sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where most of them died.

Krakow was the capital of the General Government, the Nazi colonial territory ruled by the war criminal Hans Frank. Many relics and monuments of national culture were destroyed or looted by the Germans. There were several concentration camps near Krakow - Plaszow[?] and Auschwitz.

Fortunately, thanks to a manoeuvre by Soviet forces, Krakow escaped destruction during World War II and historic buildings and works of art were saved.

After WWII, the Communist authorities wanted to diminish the influence of Krakow's intellectual and artistic circles, so they tried to dominate the city by the working class that was attracted to a nearby town Nowa Huta[?] by the construction of the biggest steelworks in Poland. But Krakow survived and is now the cultural capital of Poland.

Krakow Today

In 1978 UNESCO distinguished Krakow by placing it on the list of World Heritage Sites.

Over three centuries ago Krakow acquired the honourable title "totius Poloniae urbs celeberrima", which well reflected the unique character of the town, the old capital of Poland, the city of Nicolas Copernicus and Pope John Paul II.


Krakow is rich in architectural styles, mostly Renaissance architecture with some Baroque and Gothic examples (Collegium Maius of Jagiellonian University).

The interiors of palaces, churches, and old aristocratic residences of Krakow are astonishing in the richness of their architectural details, polychromy, stained-glass windows, painting and sculptures, furnishings.


Among hundreds of historic buildings the following are especially interesting: the Royal Castle and Cathedral on Wawel Hill where King John III Sobieski is buried; the medieval Old Town with one of Europe's most beautiful squares, Market Square (200 by 200 meters); dozens of old churches and museums; the 14th century buildings of the Jagiellonian University; as well as Kazimierz, the historical centre of Krakow's Jewish religious and social life.

The Gothic St Mary's Church, built in the 14th century, stands by the market place with the famous wooden altar carved by Veit Stoss.

Krakow is a convenient starting point for excursions to the salt mine[?] in Wieliczka, to the Tatra mountains, to Czestochowa, to the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz and to the Ojcow National Park.


There are several theatres are active here, including the most renowned ones:

  • The Old Theatre (Stary Teatr)
  • the Slowacki Theatre
  • Krakow Opera
  • Krakow Operetta
The cultural side of Krakow is highlighted by the collections of 28 museums and art galleries, among which the National Museum has famous collections of painting (for example Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt), sculptures, goldsmith's works, documents).

Every year many artistic events are held in Krakow, some of international significance (for example, the festival of Short Feature Films, and Biennial of Graphics). The great cultural traditions of Krakow inspire the creative efforts of modern Polish artists and a lot of them choose to live and lead their artists career in this city :


Krakow is a major centre of education. Today there are 12 university level institutions with about 10,000 scientists and 51,000 students.

The most important schools of higher education are:

The most important and popular schools of secondary education are :

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