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(This article is about the city in Poland. There is also Krakow, Wisconsin in the United States of America.)

Kraków (sometimes also spelt Krakow or Cracow in English; in full Royal Capital City of Kraków, Polish: Kraków, Królewskie Stołeczne Miasto Kraków; ) is one of the oldest and biggest cities in Poland. This historical town is situated on the Vistula River (Wisła) at the foot of Wawel Hill in southern Poland region of Little Poland (Małopolska). It is also the capital of the Lesser Poland Voivodship (województwo małopolskie) since 1999, previously the capital of Krakow Voivodship since 14th century.

Population: 741,000 (2001)

Table of contents
1 General background
2 History
3 Kraków Today
4 Sights

General background

Kraków 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.

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


4th century

First traces of setllements on the Wawel hill.

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. They mention the fact, that the prince of Vistulians were baptised. Probably the Kraków was dependent on the Great Moravia rulers.

10th century

When the Great Moravia city was destroyed by Hungarians, Kraków is mentioned as one of the cities ruled by Kings of Bohemia. By the end of the 10th century Kraków 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) Kraków became the capital of Poland. Two hundred years later it was practically destroyed by the Tartar raids. In 1257 Kraków received city rights from Magdeburg city and was rebuilt in the form which has remained practically unaltered. During the temporary reign of king Sigismund of Luxemburg, Kraków became a member of the Hanseatic League. The archbishops of Kraków were equal in dignity to princes of the empire.

14th century

In 1308 the rebellion of German speaking citizens of Kraków is broken by the Polish King. That costs Poland Gdansk annexed by Teutonic Orders. German speaking citizens will no more have political ambitions. They learn Polish and try to Polonize as quickly as possible.

The greatest period of Kraków's history began with the reign of King Casimir III of Poland who founded a university, the Jagiellonian University in 1364, 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 Kraków bishop.

15th 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 Kraków 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 Kraków. Before 1500 Haller established a printing press in Kraków.

16th century

The 1505 Balthasar Behem Codex, named for the chancellor of Kraków, 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 the Old. Hans von Kulmbach made the altar for the Kraków 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. Kraków'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.

In 1794, Tadeusz Kosciuszko starts Kosciuszko insurection on the Kraków market. Prussian army robbers ancient treasure of Polish Kings.

Following the partitions of Poland between three neighbouring countries at the end of the 18th century, Kraków was incorporated into Austrian province of Galicia. In 1809 Kraków is liberated and become part of Grand Duchy of Warsaw. Between 1815 and 1846 the Free City of Kraków. In 1846 Kraków uprising is followed by annexation by Austria.

After Austro-Prussian war 1866, Austria in exchange of Polish loyalty, gives Galicia autonomy, with Polish language and provinical diet. Kraków 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. Kraków became the main centre of Polish modernism (Young Poland), whose greatest representatives were Wyspianski and Przybyszewski.

20th century

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

In 1918 Kraków and Galicia becomes part of Poland.

Following the German invasion of Poland, the Nazis entered the city in September 1939. It became the capital of the General Government, the Nazi colonial territory ruled by Hans Frank, who was later sentenced to death because of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The city severely suffered from war crimes committed by the German occupying forces. One example was the deceitful summon of over 150 professors and scientific workers of the Jagiellonian University to a meeting, where they were arrested and sent to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where most of them died (see Sonderaktion Krakau). Many relics and monuments of national culture were destroyed or looted by the German occupiers. There were several concentration camps near Kraków - Plaszow and Auschwitz.

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

After WWII Communist authorities ordered the construction of the biggest steelworks in Poland in the nearby town of Nowa Huta. This is regarded as an attempt to diminish the influence of Kraków's intellectual and artistic circles by attracting the working class.

Today Kraków is regarded as the cultural capital of Poland.

Kraków Today

Since the end of WWII, Kraków's population quadrupled.

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

Over three centuries ago Kraków 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.


Kraków 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 Kraków are astonishing in the richness of their architectural details, polychromy, stained-glass windows, painting and sculptures, furnishings.


St Mary's Church

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 Kraków'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 Witt Stwosz. On every hour, a trumpet signal called the hejnał is played in all four compass directions from the top of the taller of St. Mary's two towers. The plaintive tune breaks off mid-bar, commemorating the original 13th century trumpeter, who, while giving the alarm before a Tartar invasion, was hit in the throat with an arrow. The noon hejnał is heard across Poland, broadcast live over the Jedynka radio station.

Kraków 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 [[National parks (Poland)|Ojcow National Park]].


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

The cultural side of Kraków is highlighted by the collections of 28 museums and art galleries, among which the National Museum and Czartoryski Museum (Polish: Muzeum Czartoryskich) have famous collections of painting (for example Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt), sculptures, goldsmith's works, documents).

Every year many artistic events are held in Kraków, 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:


Kraków 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 :
See also: