The Kraków’s Barbican
One of the very few surviving structures of its kind in Europe, was built about 1498 based on Arabic rather than European defensive architecture. It is a moated cylindrical brick structure with an inner courtyard and seven turrets. Its 3-metre thick walls have 130 loopholes.
It was originally linked to the walls by a covered passage. On its eastern wall is a tablet commemorating the feat of the Krakow burgher, Marcin Oracewicz who, during the Confederation of Bar, defended the town against the Russians and shot the enemy colonel, Panin.
St. Florian's Gate and the Florianska street
The Brama Florianska gate, built about 1300 as a rectangular Gothic tower of wild stone, is 33.5 m tall. In the Middle Ages the Krakow furriers defended it. Its present baroque roof dates from 1694 and a big 16th-century bas-relief of St. Florian adorns the south wall.
The famed 19th-century painter Jan Matejko designed a stone eagle on the other side of the gate tower. At the Brama Florianska gate Krakow’s Royal Road begins. Here entered kings and princes, foreign envoys and guests of distinction, coronation processions and other parades, to move up the Florianska Street to the central Grand Square (Rynek Glowny), and further down the Grodzka Street to the Wawel Royal Castle.
Krakow’s central Grand Square (Rynek Glowny, often translated wrongly as “Main Market”) has been the hub of the city ever since its Old Town historic district got the present grid of streets in the 13th century.
The huge 10-acre square, the largest of all Europe’s medieval cities, is a curio in itself. At the same time, it is arguably one of the world’s most beautiful plazas.
St Mary's Basilica
The basilica of the Virgin Mary’s (or Kosciol Mariacki) at Krakow’s central Grand Square has been traditionally the temple of choice of the city’s burghers. It also seems to be the most famous of all Poland’s churches.
The Gothic edifice of the present St. Mary’s church replaced its Romanesque predecessor by the end of the 13th century. In 1365 a chancel was added and soon its splendid big stained-glass windows, of which three are still in place, were ready as well.
By the end of the 14th century the body of the church got its current form of a basilica. The taller (81 meters) of its two towers, with a fantastic Gothic spire of 1478 and a gold-plated crown of 1666, curiously belongs to the municipality and the Krakow signal is played from it every full hour. The lower tower (69 meters), with the 1592 Renaissance roof, accommodates five bells. Two of them date back to the late 14th century. In the Baroque front porch of the mid-18th century one finds two early-Gothic holy-water basins.
The oldest college of the Polish oldest and best university, was rebuilt by the end of the 15th century as a splendid late-Gothic edifice around a vast courtyard with surrounding arcades and a well of 1517 in the center. Professors lived and worked upstairs, while lecturing downstairs.
In the 1490s they had Copernicus among their students, and the astronomer that revolutionized entire European science remains the most illustrious of Krakow university’s graduates together with Pope John Paul II. Over centuries a whole university quarter has arisen around the Collegium Maius, while the old college became first the university library and then the university museum rich in unrivaled exhibits.
Grodzka street and The Church of Saints Peter and Paul
Grodzka Street is one of the oldest streets in Kraków. It existed even before the charter of 1257. It was an important section of the early medieval trade route that led from north to south. Later on, it constituted part of the so-called salt tract, leading to Wieliczka, Myślenice and farther on to Hungary. Initially, the street would end at the fortifications of Okół, an old settlement between the Wawel Hill and Kraków, which was much older than Kraków itself. This border probably ran somewhere near today’s Senacka Street.
Its first section at the Main Market Square is characterised by a deformed layout caused by the location of St. Adalbert’s Church, which had stood on a slight hill in the 14th century. The street’s course and width have not changed since the Middle Ages, except for the section that goes from the Main Market Square to Dominikański Square, where the external faces of the rebuilt houses of the even frontage were retracted after the great fire of 1850, thus widening the street by several metres.
When Okół was finally incorporated into Kraków in the 14th century, both parts of the previously divided Grodzka Street, terminated at the foot of the castle by the Grodzka Gate, were integrated and organised. The buildings of the street were made of brick as early as the 14th century, and its shape, as it appears today, was ultimately formed at the beginning of the 16th century. This was when the name Grodzka started to apply to the whole street.
Kraków’s premier Jesuit Church was built in the early 1600s, and its crypt serves as the new national pantheon for Poles distinguished in the arts, science and culture (Sławomir Mrożek was the first interred here in September 2013). The twelve disciples standing on the gates outside are the church’s most striking feature, although the interior has been extensively renovated and the airy, austere grandeur of this late Renaissance building is now evident. Possessors of a 46.5m Foucault Pendulum – a device invented by French physicist Leon Foucault in 1851 which proves the earth’s rotation, shows demonstrating its use generally occur on Thursdays at 10:00, 11:00 and 12:00.
Wawel Castle with the Cathedral
People lived on the Wawel Hill at least as early as fifty thousand years ago, in the Paleolithic Age. In the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, i.e. some three thousand years ago, the settlement was apparently bustling with trade, with assorted crafts and with farming.
It was at the turn of the past millennium when the rulers of Poland took up their residence here. During the early 16th century King Sigismund I the Old (1506-1548) brought in the best native and foreign artists (Italian architects and sculptors, German decorators, etc.) to create the splendid Renaissance palace-cum-castle which survived, little changed, till now.
The Wawel Royal Castle proved to be a paragon of stately residence in Central and Eastern Europe and served widely as a model throughout the region. Its magnificent arcaded courtyard of great dimensions and immaculate proportions formed the ideal setting for tournaments and various court events. They were watched by royalty, courtiers and guests from the galleries which otherwise served as the main communications between rooms.
The Wawel Royal Castle has its “piano nobile” – i.e. the state apartments – on the top, third floor rather than the second like Italian palaces. The castle’s second floor contained private apartments of the royal family, whereas the court officials worked and lived downstairs. Visitors can see many exquisite interiors of the Royal Castle complete with beautiful period furniture and world-class objects of art. Some exhibits prove absolutely unique by any standards. The Wawel Cathedral, Katedra Wawelska in Polish, was the coronation site of Polish monarchs and remains Poland’s most important national sanctuary. Thanks to its 1000-year-old history and numerous treasures the Krakow cathedral is arguably the most interesting place in the whole country, with the adjacent Wawel Royal Castle being the close second. Its present 14th-century walls shelter a great variety of top-class objects of art, from Gothic to Renaissance, Baroque,Classical and Modern. It is also the burial ground of most Polish royalty as well as the greatest national heroes, two poets, one Polish president, four saints and countless Krakow bishops.
Standing on the Wisła riverbank in the shade of Wawel Castle is a rather ugly likeness of the Wawel Dragon (Smok Wawelski), who – according to local legend – once reposed in the large cave behind him when not out and about in town scarfing up virgins and sheep. Finally vanquished when he was tricked into eating a bag of sulphur, this monument in his honour was unveiled in 1972 to a design by the local artist Bronisław Chromy. Extremely popular with the kids you’ll find climbing all over it, it was once possible to send Smok an SMS which would send him into fits of fire-breathing bliss, however he now does it without checking his phone first, so just be patient and don’t look down his throat.
Outside the entrance of Wawel Cathedral, you may also notice an odd collection of massive bones chained up on the left outside the entrance. While legend obviously purports these to be the bones of Wawel’s fearsome dragon, more conventional wisdom has claimed they might be parts belonging to a blue whale, woolly mammoth, rhinoceros, or all three. At any rate, they haven’t been removed and inspected for centuries due to their magical properties, which are credited with protecting the city from destruction during centuries of Polish partition and particularly during WWII when almost every other major city in Poland got destroyed.
Jewish District and Ghetto
In 1495 King Jan I Olbracht transferred Krakow Jews to the nearby royal city of Kazimierz, which gave rise to its once bustling Jewish quarter and a major European center of the Diaspora for the next three centuries. With time it turned into virtually separate and self-governed 34-acre Jewish Town, a model of every East European shtetl, within the limits of the gentile city of Kazimierz. As refugees from all over Europe kept coming to find the safe haven here, its population reached 4,500 by 1630.
In March 1941 the German war administration forced all Krakow Jews to resettle in the newly created ghetto south of the Kazimierz area. The Nazis liquidated it only two years later on March 13, 1943. Most of the 17,000 ghetto inhabitants perished in the Nazi concentration camps, such as Auschwitz-Birkenau and Krakow’s Plaszow whose site has been turned into a commemoration park with an impressive monument.
Strolling old narrow streets of the eastern half of Krakow’s Kazimierz district one still finds a unique atmosphere of the Jewish past of this area. To it attest also the exhibits of the Museum of Judaism at 24 Szeroka street, in the stately brick building of the Old Synagogue, dating back to the 15th century and rebuilt to Renaissance tastes in the 1560s. Other interesting synagogues are Isaac’s Synagogue at 25 Jakuba street (17th c., Baroque), High Synagogue at 38 Jozefa street (16th c., late-Gothic/Renaissance), Tempel at 24 Miodowa street (19th c., neo-Romanesque), Popper’s Synagogue at 16 Szeroka street (17th c., Baroque), and Remuh Synagogue at 40 Szeroka Street (l6th c., Renaissance) with the adjoining Remuh Cemetery.
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I. „An unexpected complication of urinary tract infection in gliflozin-treated patient”
II.”Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy – from the mitochondrial pathology to the vision loss”
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