Every time I have said goodbye to Krakow, I have done it in the same way, in the same place, located on the top floor of a hotel facing the Vistula river, on the terrace of a bar-restaurant with a Latin name, “El Malecon”. The skyline of the city right there along the river and the presence on one side of the Wawel Royal Castle provide an unforgettable view and collect in a single glance the splendor of the royal capital city of Krakow.
Krakow, the current capital of the Lesser Poland Voivodeship, was the capital of Poland in the past. To this day, it retains its title as the most active cultural, artistic and collegiate city in Poland, as well as the most visited city for tourism.
The architecture of Krakow dazzles with its many nuances. Throughout its existence, all the great architectural styles (Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Art Nouveau) have left their traces, and this architectural kaleidoscope beckons us to stop and admire its eclectic beauty. It was not by mere coincidence that Krakow was the first UNESCO site to be considered in Europe, and also the first inhabited city center to be considered a World Heritage Site (1978).
Wawel Hill, with its royal castle and cathedral, has always been the seat of political and spiritual power; and together they have shaped the nation’s identity over the centuries. It is in the old city however where you can breathe in that refined air produced by an academic setting, thanks to the presence of the old Jagiellonian University that attracts thousands of students.
Stare Miasto is the ancient part of the city that is surrounded by Planty Park and the remains of the old medieval wall. Its heart is the majestic Rynek Glówny — the Main Market — in which the two imposing towers of the Saint Mary’s Basilica (Kościół Mariacki) stand out, along with a Gothic church from the 14th century.
In 1939 Poland was divided between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and in September of that same year Nazi forces entered Krakow. The occupation was devastating, with relics and vestiges of national culture destroyed and the large Jewish community persecuted and annihilated. The city is now associated with the persecutions of the “Krakow ghetto” and with stories of terror and survival as seen in the film “Schindler’s List”. The Kimierz district remains today as a living testimony of this important community, and an essential part of Krakow’s history. In the evening, like the young people, I like to go to the pubs and walk around Kimierz. This area has become perhaps the most fashionable and glamorous part of the city, and despite the fact that its current Jewish community is small, it still maintains its original atmosphere.
The longest river in Poland, the Vistula, passes through Krakow and Warsaw, and when in Krakow I usually stay in the same hotel on one of its banks. The cyclists, skaters, boats, couples, and families who stroll along the riverside, and those who do their morning runs like me, give an air of vibrant activity to the river.
The Kładka Ojca Bernatka Bridge, linking the Kazimierz and Podgorze districts, with its bronze acrobats by sculptor Jerzy Kędziora, dancing day and night to the beat of the wind, add a touch of magic to the harmonious fusion of lives and styles that Krakow represents.
Pablo Munini,© January 2023