Kraków also known as Cracow, is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland.
The official name of the city is Royal Capital City of Krakow.
The city is situated in the southern part of Poland, on the Vistula River, in a valley at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains.
As of August 2019, the population of Kraków is about 800,000 people.
The city covers a total area of 327 square kilometers (127 square miles).
The average altitude is 219 meters (719 feet) above sea level.
The city has grown from a Stone Age settlement to Poland’s second most important city.
It began as a hamlet on Wawel Hill and was already being reported as a busy trading center of Central Europe in 965.
It was devastated by Tatar invasions during the 13th century but was quickly rebuilt, receiving “Magdeburg rights,” which consisted of a municipal constitution, in 1257.
Kraków was the capital of Poland from 1038 to 1596 and the capital of the Grand Duchy of Kraków from 1846 to 1918.
With the establishment of new universities and cultural venues at the emergence of the Second Polish Republic in 1918 and throughout the 20th century, Kraków reaffirmed its role as a major national academic and artistic center.
After the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany at the start of World War II, the newly defined Distrikt Krakau (Kraków District) became the capital of Germany’s General Government.
After World War II came communism, and another chapter of rebirth.
Over the thousand years of Kraków’s existence, all of the great European architectural styles – Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, baroque and art nouvea.
Cited as one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, its Old Town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. It was among the first World Cultural Heritage Sites declared by UNESCO. Kraków Old Town is one of the most famous old districts in Poland today and was the center of Poland’s political life from 1038 until King Sigismund III Vasa relocated his court to Warsaw in 1596.
The main square of the Old Town of Kraków is the principal urban space located at the center of the city. It dates back to the 13th century, and at 3.8 hectares (9.4 acres) is one of the largest medieval town squares in Europe. The Project for Public Spaces (PPS) lists the square as the best public space in Europe due to its lively street life.
The Kraków Cloth Hall dates to the Renaissance and is one of the city’s most recognizable icons. It is the central feature of the main square. It was once a major centre of international trade. Traveling merchants met there to discuss business and to barter. During its golden age in the 15th century, the hall was the source of a variety of exotic imports from the east – spices, silk, leather and wax.
Saint Mary’s Basilica is a Brick Gothic church adjacent to the main square in Kraków. Built in the 14th century, its foundations date back to the early 13th century and serve as one of the best examples of Polish Gothic architecture. Standing 80 m (262 ft) tall, it is particularly famous for its wooden altarpiece carved by Veit Stoss (Wit Stwosz).
The Wawel Castle is a castle residency located in Kraków Old Town. Built at the behest of King Casimir III the Great, it consists of a number of structures situated around the Italian-styled main courtyard. The castle, being one of the largest in Poland, represents nearly all European architectural styles of medieval, renaissance and baroque periods. The Wawel Royal Castle and the Wawel Hill constitute the most historically and culturally significant site in the country.
The Wawel Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church located on Wawel Hill in Kraków. More than 900 years old, it is the Polish national sanctuary and traditionally has served as coronation site of the Polish monarchs as well as the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Kraków.
The Wieliczka Salt Mine is one of the largest tourist attractions in Poland, registered on the UNESCO list and visited by over a million tourists every year.The mine, built in the 13th century, produced table salt continuously until 2007, as one of the world’s oldest salt mines still in operation.Now a museum, the mine’s attractions include dozens of statues, three chapels and an entire cathedral that has been carved out of the rock salt by the miners.
Kraków is a major attraction for both local and international tourists, attracting about 13 million visitors a year.
In 1978, Karol Wojtyla, archbishop of Kraków, was elevated to the papacy as Pope John Paul II—the first Slavic pope ever, and the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.
In 2000, Kraków was named European Capital of Culture (for a period of one calendar year).
In 2013, Kraków was officially approved as a UNESCO City of Literature.
The name of Kraków is traditionally derived from princ Krakus, the legendary founder of Kraków and a ruler of the tribe of Lechitians. In Polish, Kraków is an archaic possessive form of Krak and essentially means “Krak’s (town)”. Krakus’s name may derive from “krakula”, a Proto-Slavic word meaning a judge’s staff, or a Proto-Slavic word “krak” meaning an oak, once a sacred tree most often associated with the concept of genealogy.