For many centuries Krakow has been the capital of Poland and the country’s largest city. Polish rulers resided at Wawel Castle. The royal court moved to Warsaw in 1609, after parliamentary sessions and the election of kings began to take place there. Until the collapse of the First Republic, however, Krakow continued to be regarded as the official capital. Deprived of its former status, the city suffered a deep crisis in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Despite all the past upheavals, Krakow has retained its magnificence. It is more than 400 years since it ceased to be the seat of national government, and yet the city maintains its leading role in preserving Polish national identity. Wawel, the seat of Polish kings, the Cathedral that bore witness to their coronations and houses their tombs, as well as the Paulite Church “On the Rock” in whose crypt prominent Poles are buried, belong to the most treasured national heritage. The 600-year-old Jagiellonian University, formerly known as the Academy of Krakow, is the oldest and one of the most important universities in the country and a pillar of Polish culture.
Bearing in mind the small population of Krakow (approximately 760,000), visitors may be surprised by the great number of theatres, cabarets, concert halls and art galleries, which are always popular with regular audiences.
All polish medieval cities suffered badly during World War II. Luckily, the losses were minimal for Krakow.
With its rich heritage, Krakow is certainly the place to go for those interested in old Polish art. For many years the city’s architectural treasures were in a state of neglect, hidden beneath peeling plaster, cracking paint and layers of dirt caused by pollution, although many buildings have now been renovated and returned to their former splendor.
Krakow is different than other large European cities where the historical centers have been transformed into open-air museums. The medieval Market Square remains at the heart of today’s city. It is the venue for some of the most important events and the traditional meeting place for locals, visitors and all who enjoy Krakow’s unique atmosphere and heritage.