It is not a simple task to describe the unique character of Cracow to those who still have not had the opportunity to visit this city. This uniqueness is primarily due to the rare cultural heritage embodied within the city walls. Here, in the year 1000, a Roman Catholic
bishopric was founded. Here, the residential royal castle was constructed on the Wawel Hill, becoming the site for the coronations and burials of kings, as Cracow was the capital of Poland from the 11th – 17th century. Here in 1364, the Cracow Academy was established, the first Polish University (today renamed the Jagiellonian University).
The city image has changed during the past centuries. During the Middle Ages, Cracow was a safe, rich, fortified city surrounded by walls with 55 towers (fragments of the city fortification have been preserved to this day). During the Renaissance, Cracow became the centre of progressive ideas, with a culture that concentrated the most outstanding humanists, writers, architects and musicians. Even a few centuries later, while the city was going through an economic decline during the period of Modernism, quite probably the whole of the Polish artistic elite found its haven in Cracow. City life focused around the Market Square, the second largest in Europe after St. Mark’s Square in Venice.
Only few European cities have such a distinct medieval architectural layout as Cracow does. When we look down the city’s roofs we will see an exceptional checked pattern of streets, which are surrounded by fragments of the surviving city walls. This view evokes the exciting picture of a medieval fortified town surrounded by city walls. The walls were strengthened with 47 towers and had a total length of 3 km. Eight main gates led to the town. Only one of them has survived. The walls not only safeguarded the citizens but also the priceless pearls of architecture inside. The medieval fortification system survived until the 19th century. The local authorities decided to demolish the walls and replace them with a strip of green land around the city called the „Planty”. Now it forms an oval city park, a rarity in the world, which extends around the Old Town.
Tradition interlaces with modern times nearly everywhere you go, and each stone has its own history. There is a multitude of architectural monuments estimated at six thousand buildings and other types and forms of construction. This is supplemented by approximately 2.5 million artefacts collected and displayed in museums, churches and archives. Thanks to the extraordinary accumulation of cultural wealth, the city was registered as one of the 12 sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
It is impossible to describe or even list all the tourist attractions in Cracow. One can be sure, however, that each tourist will discover his or her own “magical” Cracow. While some will follow the footsteps of Nicholas Copernicus, others will be interested in sites linked with John Paul II. Some will be fascinated by the worldwide unique underground corridors of the Wieliczka salt mine, and, yet others will wander around the alleys of the Jewish Kazimierz district. Still others will stand enchanted in front of the Wit Stwosz altar.
Benefiting from its geographical location, Cracow aims at becoming the meeting place of many cultures and nations, and successfully claims its position as a Central European metropolis, a city of culture, art and science. Several universities are located in Cracow. Many world outstanding representatives of Polish culture reside in Cracow. The list of cultural events organised in Cracow is long. The culmination of these events took place in the year 2000, when Cracow was proudly celebrating the nomination of the City of European Culture granted by the European Union Council of Ministers.
Cultural life is not restricted to confined spaces in official institutions. There is also a thriving street culture. The Market Square and its neighbouring streets form one more stage in this city. Moreover, Cracow has its own underground system, a vast network of historical cellars that form a maze of nightlife. Many of them house theatrical and cabaret companies, for example, the famous „Piwnica pod Baranami”. It is here where freedom of speech became a reality during the post-war communist rule, an occurance that was never accepted by the city.
Nowadays, most of the cellars and underground corridors have been turned into modern pubs, cafes, and discos.
TRADITIONS, MYTHS AND LEGENDS
Cracow is also a city of tradition where the past interlaces with the present. Cracow is a cityof myths, legends and dreams. City traditions are dominated by customs that date back to the 13th and 14th centuries, even though numerous stories and tales create the colour of this place. Cracow is said to have been visited by Doctor Faustus himself who cooperated with Master Twardowski, a court alchemist, in search of the philosopher’s stone. Two unique legends are connected with a Tartar raid, which broke into the history of Cracow in a very violent manner. Every hour you can hear a bugle call whose sound goes towards the four quarters of the world from the tower of St. Mary’s Church. It is then dramatically interrupted, as it was in the past when an enemy arrow hit the bugler. Yet another legend is associated with the fascinating personage „lajkonik”. According to the story, it was a Vistula River raftsman in a Tartar disguise on horseback who rode from the battlefield with a message that the „infidel” invasion had been stopped. The fascinating „lajkonik” still rides his wooden horse across the Market Square. Like centuries ago, during St. John’s night, the shortest night of the year, Krak’s inhabitants come down to the Vistula River. With the imposing castle in the background, they float wreaths down the river, thus recalling an old pagan custom. A huge open-air show, firework display and performances that bring various events from the city’s history back to life accompany the celebration. After all, Cracow will always remain a living legend.
However, Cracow is not only a city of rich traditions and history; a city of a unique architecture and numerous museums, art galleries and theatres – it is also a place where you can spend your free time actively. Here you will have an opportunity to do almost every kind of sport.
– Klub Sportowy Płaszowianka, ul. Stóża Rybna 19tel.: 12 653 28 21
Goods & services
In a shop
Water (1.5L): 3,5 PLN
Milk (1L): 3 PLN
Butter: 3,80 PLN
Bread: 3,20 PLN In a pub
Tea: 5-10 PLN
Coffee: 8-12 PLN
Beer: 6-10 PLN Haircut: 40-100 PLN
Cinema ticket: 18-28 PLN
Theatre ticket: 35-100 PLN
Tram/bus ticket: 3.80 PLN (normal), 1.60 PLN(student)
Ambulance (pogotowie ratunkowe): 999
Fire brigade (straż pożarna): 998
Police (policja): 997
Although Cracow is said to be one of the safest cities in Poland, general safety rules apply here as everywhere.
! Beware of pickpockets – especially on trams and buses. Do not leave your belongings unattended !
BANKING & LOCAL CURRENCY
◄ There are many Exchange Offices (kantor) in the city centre. They offer more favourable exchange rates than banks.
◄ Credit cards are accepted by many shops and restaurants. Cards can be used in banks and at cash point machines (bankomat) to withdraw cash.
◄ The Polish unit of currency is the ZŁOTY, abbreviation zł
one ZŁOTY equals 100 GROSZY, abbreviation gr
1 USD is c.a. 2,7 PLN
1 EUR is c.a. 4,22 PLN
1 GBP is c.a 5,4 PLN
but of course these rates change!
◄ Museums & Art Galleries (M&AG):
most of state M&AG: closed on Mondays
most of private AG: closed on Sundays
◄ Food shops:6/7 a.m. – 7 p.m.
◄ Other shops: 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. – Weekdays
10 a.m. – 2/5 p.m. – Saturdays
some are open on Sundays
◄ Banks: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. – Weekdays
8 a.m. – 1/2 p.m. – Saturdays
closed on Sundays
Banks, shops, restaurants, and other public institutions do not close for lunch.
◄ There are several post offices in the centre of Cracow as well as in all housing estates.
◄ The Main Post Office is situated at the junction of Westerplatte and Wielopole streets. It is open longer than all the others and some counters are open 24 hours a day. You can send letters, telegrams, and parcels as well as make national money transfers, use operator-initiated calls, and send a fax or telex.
◄ Stamps can be purchased at post office counters
◄ It usually takes about a week for international mail. To make it shorter, send a letter by Express service or Courier service, which is the fastest, but may be very expensive.
◄ Urgent letters and small packets can be sent by PKP, the Polish State Railways. Trains providing the service are indicated on the train time-table by the letter K (kurierskie)
Courier Service is available from:
• Main Post Office, ul. Westerplatte 20
• Main Railway Station post counter
• DPD, ul. Płk. Dąbka 22, tel.12 298-15-00