Wawel Cathedral Krakow
The Wawel Cathedral in Krakow is Poland’s most important sanctuary. Starting with Władysław the Short, it hosted the coronation of almost all Polish kings and it's the burial-place of many distinguished Poles. The first church, a pre-Romanesque rotunda, was erected on Wawel Hill after establishing the diocese in Krakow in 1.000 AD. Little is known about its appearance. The later building, a Romanesque one from the turn of the 11th and 12th century, was a three-aisled basilica of limestone and sandstone with two towers. Its fragments, including St. Leonard's Crypt and lower part of the south tower, are still intact today.
The Krakow cathedral became the center of worship for Saint Stanislaus, Bishop of Krakow. Canonised in 1253 he later became patron of Poland. He died as a martyr in 1079 by order of King Bolesław the Bold. Pilgrims from both Poland and adjacent countries would visit his grave. The cult of this saint was linked with the idea of unification of the Kingdom of Poland fragmented into provinces.
Crowning of Polish Kings
On 20 January 1320, Władysław the Short, the ruler who would unite the Polish lands, was crowned king next to his relic. Since then, all kings except for Stanisław Leszczyński and Stanisław August Poniatowski were crowned in it. Also other important state ceremonies, such as weddings, baptisms and royal funerals, took place in front of the main altar. The first king laid to rest at the Wawel was Władysław the Short. Initially, kings were buried in the burial chambers beneath the floor. Many of the coffins and sarcophagi are masterpieces of casting art. Starting with Casimir Jagiellon, rulers were buried in separate chapels built on to the temple.
The Romanesque cathedral, weakened by time and a fire in 1305, could no longer serve as the main church of the diocese of Krakow. Built in stages between 1320 and 1364 was a new Gothic three-aisle basilica with a transept (preserved almost unchanged until today). Already during its construction , bishops and magnates founded the first chapels by its external walls. The process of their foundation lasted throughout the 14th and 15th century. Noteworthy is the oldest Holy Cross Chapel with painted ornaments made by Russian painters, with King Casimir Jagiellon’s magnificent tombstone by Veit Stoss. It's a masterpiece of late Gothic art.
16th century and further
The 16th century brought further changes to the interior of the cathedral. New Renaissance altars replaced some of the medieval ones. This included the main altar. A number of tombstones for kings and bishops and epitaphs were also created. The Italian sculptor Francesco Fiorentino initiated the Renaissance style in the temple. He is the mastermind behind the tombstone of King John Albert which took the form of an ancient triumphal arch.
Renaissance and manneristic equipment was also the work of other prominent artists (who had) settled in Krakow, such as Bartolomeo Berrecci, Giovanni Maria Padovano, Santi Gucci and Jan Michałowicz of Urzędów. One of the greatest works of the Renaissance, not only in Poland but also in the whole of Central Europe, is Sigismund's Chapel founded by King Sigismund I the Old. The design is by Bartolomeo Berrecci and it's made by Italian artists between 1519 and 1533, with the tombstones of the founder, his children Sigismund II Augustus and Anna Jagiellonka as well as a silver altar.
In the 17th and 18th century the cathedral changed its décor again. Generous foundations by kings, bishops and magnates allowed replacing equipment from earlier periods with new altars, tombstones, stalls and paintings. The interior, organised, unified and subject to the principles of symmetry, gained a baroque character. Black and pink marble became the characteristic material for the new era. The baroque interior of the cathedral was mainly the work of Italian artists, such as Giovanni Trevano, Giovanni Battista Gisleni and Francesco Placidi, or those trained in Italy, such as Kacper Bażanka.
After Poland lost its independence at the end of the 18th century, the cathedral became impoverished materially, but its status as a national sanctuary grew. In the nineteenth century it became a destination of patriotic pilgrimage and a place of celebrations commemorating important events in Polish history, such as the relief of Vienna or the Battle of Grunwald. For Poles living on the annexed territories it was a symbol of Poland’s former glory. Burying national heroes who had fought Polish independence – such as Tadeusz Kościuszko and Józef Poniatowski, as well as the romantic poet and spiritual leader of the nation, Adam Mickiewicz, in the vaults was of special significance. These burials raised the cathedral to the status of the national pantheon. Already in the 20th century, the remains of another poet-bard of the days of romanticism, Juliusz Słowacki, were placed in the vault, as was the first Marshal of Poland, Józef Piłsudski, and the commander-in-chief of the Polish Armed Forces and Prime Minister of the Government in Exile during the Second World War, Władysław Sikorski. In 2010 President Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria, who died in the Smoleńsk plane crash, were buried in the vestibule of the Cathedral's Pilsudski crypt.
The present appearance of the cathedral is the result of the great restoration of 1895-1910. Historical stratification of successive eras of art were respected. However, part of the baroque décor was removed. New works of art were added. Some of these are outstanding examples of Art Nouveau, e.g. stained glass windows and murals in the Szafraniec Chapel and the vault by Józef Mehoffer. The 20th century was a period of continuous conservation of the cathedral. Before 2000, all façades and some of the chapels were renovated for celebrating the millennium of the diocese of Krakow and the Great Jubilee of Christianity.
John Paul II had a special connection to Wawel cathedral. On 2 November 1946, still as priest Karol Wojtyła, he celebrated his first mass here, next to the neo-Romanesque altar in St. Leonard's Crypt. On 28 September 1958 he was consecrated bishop, on 8 March 1964 his archiepiscopal inauguration to the cathedral took place, and 9 July 1967 marked his cardinal inauguration. After the election as Pope John Paul II, he described the temple in a letter to the cathedral chapter using the following words: “The heart of Poland beats there and there beats my heart.” The Pope visited the cathedral during his apostolic visits in 1979, 1983, 1987, 1991, 1997, 1999 and 2002. In 2008, a monument for him appeared in front of the entrance.
John Paul II Cathedral Museum
In 1906 the Diocesan Museum opened next to the cathedral and transformed by Cardinal Karol Wojtyła into the Cathedral Museum in the 1970's. It exhibits regalia and religious artefacts of exceptional artistic and historical value: handicraft, fabrics, paintings and sculptures gifted by kings, bishops and magnates, which have been kept in the cathedral vault since the eleventh century. The exhibits include the spear of St. Maurice presented in 1,000 AD during the Congress of Gniezno to Bolesław the Brave by Emperor Otto III (the first historic insignia of power used by the Polish rulers from the Piast dynasty), as well as a crown, sceptre and orb of Casimir Jagiellon from 1492, a velvety coronation coat of the last king of Poland, Stanisław August Poniatowski, from the second half of the 18th century, a rare element of liturgical vestments given with a special papal decree, made of precious fabrics, decorated with elaborate embroidery as well as precious and semi-precious stones, mitres and vestments, in addition to reliquaries, chalices and ostensorium.
The Papal Hall presents John Paul II memorabilia, including a cassock, biretta, zucchetto and belt, mitre, a gift from Italian goldsmiths, a chair used during his last pilgrimage to Poland and exotic souvenirs from apostolic journeys.
|Address||Wawel 3, Krakow|
|Telephone||+48 12 429 95 16|
Church of St Andrew
This defensive church with thick walls made of mining ashlar is from the 11th century. This is one of the oldest buildings in Krakow, and the best preserved example of Romanesque architecture. Its stern style contrasts with its two towers, Baroque cupolas and Baroque interior including rich stucco decoration, the polychrome, the high altar of black marble allegedly by Francesco Placidi, the boat-shaped pulpit and the rococo organ. The church adjoins the Monastery of the Sisters of St Clara founded in the 14th century. The Monastery’s treasury and library house valuable monuments. These include the 13th century reliquaries, the Byzantine-style unique mosaic icon of Virgin Mary from the turn of the 12th and 13th century, the 14th century nativity scene figures, as well as the early Gothic illuminated books.
|Address||Grodzka 54, Krakow|
|Telephone||+48 12 422 16 12|
Church of St Francis
The Franciscans’ 13th century Gothic Church was one of the first brick buildings in Krakow. The church and the adjacent monastery burned down during the Swedish invasion (in 1655). The interior was rebuilt in Baroque style. Gothic fresco's are still in the galleries of the monastery. The great fire of Krakow in 1850 marked another catastrophe in its history. Reconstruction work continued until the beginning of the 20th century. It brought with it many stylistic transformations (Neo-Gothic, Pseudo-Romanesque).
Design of the Church of St Francis
In the years 1895-1902, Stanisław Wyspiański created outstanding polychromy and stained-glass windows in Art Nouveau style. He was a painter, playwright, poet, scene designer and reformer of the theater. He was one of the most prominent artists of Polish Modernism. Wyspiański decorated the walls of the presbytery, transept and a part of the central nave with Polish flowers. Pastel and delicate lilies, pansies, common mullein, dandelions, nasturtiums and sunflowers, as well as hundreds of golden stars on the place and sapphire ceiling (some of them in the form of magnified snowflakes). Figural colored pieces: “Mother of God with Child Jesus” in Krakow traditional folk clothing, “Mercy” representing two small girls in an embrace by irises (personification of God’s love), “The Fall of the Rebel Angels”, as well as “St Michael Archangel” symbolizing the fight against evil.
Interior of the Church of St Francis
Glass windows decorate the High Altar representing the patron saint of the church. He's barefooted, with his face raised to the sky. It's Christ whose outstretched arms with stigmata. Blessed Salomea, the first Polish sister of St Clara (buried in the church), as well symbols of the elements of fire and water. The most beautiful glass window, entitled “Become!” is on the western side above the organ gallery. It's an expressionist vision of the world's creation with a monumental figure of God leading the world out of chaos. Józef Mehoffer painted 14 pictures of the Stations of the Cross in the years 1933-1946, one of the leading representatives of the Symbolism from the turn of centuries. The most interesting picture is “Death on the Cross” (Station 12). Angels' hosts go with the crucified Christ. The light of their candles illuminates figures standing at the foot of the cross and the way to heaven.
In the Lord's Passion Chapel, a faithful copy of the Shroud of Turin is kept in a glass sarcophagus. The Church of St Francis was one of the favorite houses of prayer of Karol Wojtyła, the Holy Father John Paul II. The bank in the central nave he used to sit in has a commemorative plate.
|Address||pl. Wszystkich Świętych 5, Krakow|
|Telephone||+48 12 422 53 76|
Basilica of St Mary
|Address||plac Mariacki 5, Krakow|
|Telephone||+48 12 422 05 21|
Church of St Anna
The Church of St. Anne dates back to the turn of the 17th and 18th century. The design is by Tylman van Gameren. It's considered one of the most beautiful Baroque buildings in Poland. The architect modelled it after Sant'Andrea della Valle in Rome. This is an academic church of the Jagiellonian University. Two towers topped with cupolas stand on both sides of the bright, two-floor façade.
Niches house statues of saints. St Casimir, St Florian, St Bernard of Clairvaux, and St John Cantius. A relief of the Blessed Virgin with Infant Jesus is above the main entrance. The Eye of Providence, symbol of the Holy Trinity, crowns the whole. The façade is also decorated by massive columns and mouldings.
The interior of the church is light and spacious. The painting decoration and stucco work on the ceiling are by a design by Baldassare Fontana and Karol Dankwart, among others. 6 chapels decorate the nave. The High Altar includes a picture representing St Anna Samotrzeć and sculptures of St Adalbert and St Stanislaus. In the right transept, there is a monumental Confession of St John Cantius. He's the patron of Krakow, its university, the Jagiellonian University, professors and students.
A tomb with the saint’s remains is in the arms of four allegoric figures symbolizing the faculties of the university. Theology, philosophy, medicine and law. Four spiral columns surround it. It's modelled after the Confession of St Peter in Vatican. Each of them crowned with a figure of a different St John. A classicist monument of Mikołaj Kopernik made of black marble is in the left-side transept. Poland’s first monument of the scientist dates back of the first half of the 19th century. The 17th century pulpit held by an angel and the 18th century baptismal font are examples of Baroque illusionism. Paintings imitating sculptures are more reasons to visit to the church.
|Address||św. Anny 11, Krakow|
|Telephone||+48 12 422 53 18|
Royal Castle on Wawel Hill
The Wawel Hill, for many centuries the seat of kings and their final resting place, looks back on the most important events in Poland’s history. The Wawel Hill is a special place. It associates with the most important events in Polish history. First it was the seat of princes, then of kings, and finally one of the royal residences, but always the most important one. The Wawel Cathedral houses the Ara Patriae, or the Altar of the Fatherland, the tomb of St. Stanisław, one of the main patron saints of Poland. After partition of the country, when it lost its statehood and its disappearance from the map, Wawel remained a symbolic place reminding Poles of the former greatness of their state.
Towering over Krakow, the Wawel Hill (at an altitude of 228 meters above sea level) became a centre of political power at the end of the 10th century. It was when the first historical ruler of Poland, Mieszko I, chose it as one of its seats. In the second half of the 11th century, Krakow became the capital of Poland. A solid stone palas was erected in the Romanesque style the remains of which are preserved in the castle’s northern wing. Over the ages, the residence, rebuilt by successive rulers, expanded. It turned into a monumental architectural complex featuring Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque objects.
In 1506, when Sigismund I the Old ascended the throne, he decided to rebuild the castle in the Renaissance style. His decision ushered in the golden age of the Wawel Hill which coincided with the period of Poland’s greatest all-around expansion. The king commissioned Italian architects, sculptors and painters, such as Francesco Fiorentino and Bartolommeo Berrecci, to build a four-winged palace surrounding an arcaded courtyard. A magnificent Sigismund Chapel enriched the castle cathedral, the most outstanding work of Tuscany Renaissance. It includes the 11-tonne bell called “Sigismund”, the biggest in Poland, in honor of the king. The Wawel became one of the most magnificent royal residences in Europe of its time.
Sigismund II August continued his father’s work. Tapestries, which he ordered from the best Brussels workshops, are among the most prized Wawel collections. At the end of the 16th century, the royal court moved to Warsaw and monarchs would visit Wawel for coronations, weddings, and funerals. At the end of the 18th century, when Poland lost its independence, the Austrians converted the hill into barracks and destroyed some of its buildings. During the 1939-45 German occupation, General Governor Hans Frank took Wawel over. The most precious items, such as the tapestries and Szczerbiec, the coronation sword of Polish kings, had luckily been taken to Canada, from where they returned as late as 1959-1961.
Wawel Castle Museum
Destroyed and in need of partial reconstruction, the castle has retained its original shape. The walls and most of its decorative elements are original. Today the castle houses a historical and residential museum with five permanent exhibitions: State Rooms, Royal Private Apartments, Crown Treasury and Armoury, Oriental Art Exhibition, and the Lost Wawel Exhibition.
The Wawel Collections
The Wawel collections consist mainly of Polish and European paintings (over 1,000 easel paintings and several hundred watercolors, pastels and drawings), ceramic, furniture, military items, fabrics and goldsmith’s items dating back to 13th till 20th centuries. The most valuable is no doubt the Szczerbiec, a coronation sword of Polish kings from the second half of the 12th century or the first half of the 13th century. It's a symbol of state sovereignty. Since 1320 it was used for the coronation of every Polish monarch. Together with other royal insignia it's kept in the Crown Treasury. In 1795, Prussian partitioners looted the treasury and the Polish regalia. Crowns, sceptres, and orbs went to Berlin to melt them down. Only the Szczerbiec remained and now it is the most important Polish historical memorabilia. It's exhibited in the Jadwiga and Jagiełło Hall.
The second unique collection is a set tapestries commissioned by King Sigismund August in Brussels in the second half of the 16th century for decorating Wawel interiors. Originally the collection numbered around 160 tapestries woven from wool, silk, gold and silver threads. Preserved untill today are 138 of them (136 are in the Wawel collection). This is the biggest collection of tapestries ever commissioned by one ruler and one of the most precious collections of this type in the world. It includes a series of monumental size tapestries depicting biblical scenes, vegetation with animals against a landscape, grotesque scenes with the monogram of Sigismund August and the coat-of-arms of Poland and Lithuania. The tapestries represent monuments of special value for Polish culture since they are the only original element of Wawel interior decorations from the time of the Renaissance. They are on display in several rooms, especially the Senate Chamber, the biggest Wawel room, decorated with tapestries from the ceiling to the floor.
One of the most unusual Wawel exhibitions is the Oriental Art Exhibition displayed mainly on the first floor of the western wing. Islamic art and crafts were very fashionable in erstwhile Poland as a result of lively trade contacts with the Near East and many wars waged with countries in the region. Carpets, silk, weapons, as well as intricately decorated horse harnesses and saddles, which were quite popular with the szlachta (Polish nobility) and the royal court, came to Poland from Turkey, the Crimea, the Caucasus and Persia.
The most important part of the exhibition consists of the spoils of the 1683 Battle of Vienna. This was a historical victory for Polish troops led by Jan III Sobieski over the Turkish army of Kara Mustafa.
Among them are 13 Turkish tents, magnificent “field palaces” sewn from thick and water-resistant linen. They have decorations inside with colorful applications made of silk and gold-plated leather, which form the biggest collection in Europe and one of the biggest in the world. You can also see 4 Turkish banners captured near Vienna, the sword of Kara Mustafa, 16th-century Turkish horse armor and Turkish and Persian sabers dating from the 17th - 18th centuries.
Dragon’s Den Krakow
The western part of the Wawel Hill has a 270-meter long drip-stone cave with an 81-meter long section open to the public. A staircase in the brick turret near the Thieves’ Tower descends to the den. The cave links to a legend whose oldest version is found in the Polish Chronicle written by Wincenty Kadłubek at the turn of the 12th and 13th centuries. It tells the story of a terrifying dragon that lived “in the recesses of a certain cave”. He forced the local population to bring him offerings of cattle, otherwise he would devour humans.
King Gracchus ordered his two sons to kill the oppressor. After many unsuccessful attempts, the princes came up with a trick. Instead of animals, they fed him calfskin stuffed with smoldering sulfur. He devoured it whole and then suffocated with the smoke from the fire raging in his intestines. The king’s younger son used this occasion to get rid of his competitor to the throne. He killed his brother and blamed the dragon. The crime came out and its perpetrator was banished. Krakow, a city named after the king, was built on that rock. A sculpture of the Wawel Dragon stands in front of the entrance to the cave on the boulevard on the Vistula River.