History and beauty come together in this former capital of Poland.Text and photos by VIJAYA PRATAP
Kraków, a former capital of Poland and the cradle of Polish culture, survived two World Wars and came out unscathed. Here are a few must-see places.
1. Main market square:
Admire the facades, portals, windows and roofs of antique buildings in one of the largest medieval squares in Europe.
Kazimierz — a Jewish district — shot into fame when the Oscar-winning Schindler’s List was filmed here. Walk along its streets amid synagogues, exclusive hotels, restaurants, handicraft workshops of purses, bags, and leather engraving.
3. Schindler’s Factory Museum:
The museum combines photographs and artefacts with interactive components, set-piece reconstructions, film and photo projections, supported by a brilliant 35-minute-film with English subtitles in which former Schindler employees recount memories of those horrendous times.
4. Wawel Castle and Cathedral:
The interiors feature must-see exhibitions like the royal chambers, Flemish tapestries, Eastern art, war trophies, and archaeological discoveries testifying to the more than 1000-year presence of Christianity in Poland.
5. Wieliczka Salt Mine:
Ten kilometres from Kraków, this UNESCO World Heritage Site amazes with its underground lakes, chambers, and wooden bridges. The underground town has a sanatorium, post office, cinema, restaurant, souvenir shop and concert halls. Operating since the 13th century, the mine is spread over nine levels and 300 km of tunnels, boasts dozens of statues, three chapels and an entire Cathedral carved out of rock salt by the miners.
6. Must-see exhibits:
Leonardo da Vinci’s original painting, “Lady with an Ermine” at Czartoryski Museum. Largest permanent exhibit of the 19th century Polish painting and sculpture at Sukiennice Museum. History of Kraków through the ages cleverly combined with modern technology at Rynek Underground Museum. “Jagiellonian”, considered the oldest existing globe, and the instruments of Nicolaus Copernicus at Collegium Maius.
7. Historic Cellars:
Under the tenement houses of the Old Town are an unusual gathering of Gothic corridors and vaulted rooms that accommodate numerous restaurants, clubs, theatres and cabarets.
8. Sukiennice Cloth Hall:
A major centre of international trade in the 14th century, this was where travelling merchants met. This stunning Renaissance structure still sells souvenirs for tourists.
9. The Planty:
This unique park, designed in varied styles, adorned with monuments and fountains, was built on the site of the old moat that once surrounded the city’s former walls.
10. Local markets:
Stary Kleparz is an 800-year-old tradition, a large, covered, open-air market place north of the Barbican. The best place for local produce, fruit, meat, cheeses, spices, at bargain prices. Mingle with local shoppers and ‘feel’ the place. Plac Nowy is a historic Jewish market in the pre-war days, with its rotunda serving as a kosher slaughterhouse.
Getting there: There are daily flights to Krakow from major Indian cities. Schengen visa like other European countries.
Stay: There are excellent boutique hotels, close to the main market square.
Getting around: Best option is walking. Take the bus for longer distances.