Kraków also Krakow, or Cracow, is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. Situated on the Vistula River (Polish: Wisła) in the Lesser Poland region, the city dates back to the 7th century. Kraków has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish academic, cultural and artistic life and is one of Poland's most important economic centres. It was the capital of Poland from 1038 to 1596; the capital of the Grand Duchy of Kraków from 1846 to 1918; and the capital of Kraków Voivodeship from the 14th century to 1999. It is now the capital of the Lesser Poland Voivodeship.
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 Slavonic Europe in 965. With the establishment of new universities and cultural venues at the emergence of the Second Polish Republic 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, Kraków was turned into the capital of Germany's General Government. The Jewish population of the city was moved into a walled zone known as the Kraków Ghetto, from which they were sent to extermination camps such as Auschwitz and the concentration camp at Płaszów.
In 1978, Karol Wojtyła, archbishop of Kraków, was elevated to the papacy as Pope John Paul II – the first Slavic pope, and the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.
Also that year, UNESCO approved the first sites for its World Heritage List, including the entire old town in inscribing Cracow's Historic Centre.
Kraków's prehistory begins with evidence of a Stone Age settlement on the present site of the Wawel Hill. A legend attributes Kraków's founding to the mythical ruler Krakus, who built it above a cave occupied by a dragon, Smok Wawelski. The first written record of the city's name dates back to 966, when Kraków was described as a notable commercial center owned by the Bohemian duke.
By the end of the 10th century, the city was a leading trading center, incorporated into the holdings of the Piast dynasty. Brick buildings were constructed, including the Wawel Castle, Romanesque churches such as St. Adalbert's, a cathedral, and a basilica. The city was almost entirely destroyed during the Mongol invasions of 1241, 1259 and 1287. It was rebuilt and incorporated in 1257, based on the Magdeburg law, with tax benefits and trade privileges for its citizens. These citizens were German settlers who moved in during the Ostsiedlung and who constituted a majority of burghers in contemporary Polish and Bohemian towns.
The 1257 foundation decree issued by Bolesław V the Chaste was unusual in that it explicitly excluded the local population. The older royal fort Wawel was connected to the new town, built on its northern side around the market square, by its former suburbium (Okol). Germans constituted the majority during the 14th century and became Polonized by the 16th century. The city rose to prominence in 1364, when Casimir III of Poland founded the University of Kraków, the second oldest university in central Europe after the Charles University in Prague. The city continued to grow under the joint Lithuanian-Polish Jagiellon dynasty. As the capital of the Kingdom of Poland and a member of the Hanseatic League, the city attracted many craftsmen, businesses, and guilds as science and the arts began to flourish.
Kraków is one of Poland's most important economic centers, and the economic center of the Lesser Poland (Małopolska) region.
Following the collapse of communism, the private sector has been growing in Kraków. There are about 20 large multinational companies in Kraków, including Google, Hitachi, IBM, General Electric, Philip Morris, Capgemini, Motorola, and Sabre Holdings, along with other British, German and Scandinavian-based firms. In 2005, Foreign direct investment in Kraków reached approximately USD 3.5 billion. Krakow has been trying to position itself as Europe's Silicon Valley based on the large number of local and foreign hi tech companies. Kraków is the second city in Poland (after Warsaw) most often visited by foreigners.
Kraków, the unofficial cultural capital of Poland, was named the official European Capital of Culture for the year 2000 by the European Union. It is a major attraction for both local and international tourists, attracting seven million visitors a year. Major landmarks include the Main Market Square with St. Mary's Basilica and the Sukiennice Cloth Hall, the Wawel Castle, the National Art Museum, the Zygmunt Bell at the Wawel Cathedral, and the medieval St Florian's Gate with the Barbican along the Royal Coronation Route. Kraków has 28 museums and public art galleries. Among them are the main branch of Poland's National Museum and the Czartoryski Museum, the latter featuring works by Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt.
The city has several famous theatres, including the Narodowy Stary Teatr (the National Old Theatre), the Juliusz Słowacki Theatre, the Bagatela Theatre, the Ludowy Theatre, and the Groteska Theatre of Puppetry, as well as the Opera Krakowska and Kraków Operetta. The Kraków Philharmonic is the one of the city's principal concert halls and is the home of the Kraków Philharmonic Orchestra (Filharmonia Krakowska).
Kraków hosts many annual and biannual artistic events, some of international significance such as the Misteria Paschalia (Baroque music), Sacrum-Profanum (contemporary music), the Cracow Screen Festival (popular music), the Festival of Polish Music (classical music), Dedications (theatre), the Kraków Film Festival (one of Europe's oldest short films events), Biennial of Graphic Arts, and the Jewish Culture Festival. Kraków was the residence of two Polish Nobel laureates in literature, Wisława Szymborska and Czesław Miłosz; a third Nobel laureate, the Yugoslav writer Ivo Andric, lived and studied in Kraków. Other former longtime residents include internationally-renowned Polish film directors Andrzej Wajda and Roman Polanski.
Kraków's historic center, which includes the Old Town, Kazimierz and the Wawel Castle, was included as the first of its kind on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1978. The Old Town (Polish: Stare Miasto) is the most prominent example of an old town in the country. For many centuries Kraków was the royal capital of Poland, until Sigismund III Vasa relocated the court to Warsaw in 1596. The whole district is bisected by the Royal Road, the coronation route traversed by the Kings of Poland. The Route begins at St. Florian's Church outside the northern flank of the old city walls in the medieval suburb of Kleparz; passes the Barbican of Kraków (Barbakan) built in 1499, and enters Stare Miasto through the Florian Gate. It leads down Floriańska Street through the Main Square, and up Grodzka to Wawel, the former seat of Polish royalty overlooking the Vistula river. Old Town attracts visitors from all over the World. Krakow historic center is one of the 13 places in Poland that are included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The architectural design of the Old Town had survived all cataclysms of the past and retained its original form coming from the medieval times. The Old Town district of Kraków is home to about six thousand historic sites and more than two million works of art. Its rich variety of historic architecture includes Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic buildings. Kraków's palaces, churches, theatres and mansions display great variety of color, architectural details, stained glass, paintings, sculptures, and furnishings.
Points of interest outside the city include the Wieliczka salt mine, the Tatra Mountains 100 kilometers (62 mi) to the south, the historic city of Częstochowa, the former Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz, and Ojcowski National Park, which includes Pieskowa Skała Castle.
Kraków is a major centre of education. More than ten university or academy-level institutions offer courses in the city, with 170,000 students. Jagiellonian University, the oldest and best known university in Poland and ranked by the Times Higher Education Supplement as the best university in the country, was founded in 1364 as the Cracow University and renamed in 1817 to commemorate the Jagiellonian dynasty of Polish-Lithuanian kings. Its principal academic asset is the Jagiellonian Library, with more than 4 million volumes, including a large collection of medieval manuscripts like Copernicus' De Revolutionibus and the Balthasar Behem Codex. With 42,325 students (2005) and 3,605 academic staff, the Jagiellonian University is also one of the leading research centers in Poland. Famous historical figures connected with the University include Saint John Cantius, Jan Długosz, Nicolaus Copernicus, Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski, Jan Kochanowski, King John III Sobieski, Pope John Paul II and Nobel laureates Ivo Andrić and Wisława Szymborska.
AGH University of Science and Technology, established in 1919, is the second-largest technical university in Poland, with more than 15 faculties and student enrollment exceeding 30,000. It was ranked by the Polish edition of Newsweek as the best technical university in the country for the year 2004. During its 80-year history, more than 73,000 students graduated from AGH with master's or bachelor's degrees. Some 3,600 persons were granted the degree of Doctor of Science, and about 900 obtained the qualification of Habilitated Doctor.
Other institutions of higher learning include Academy of Music in Kraków first conceived as conservatory in 1888, one of the oldest and most prestigious conservatories in Central Europe and a major concert venue; Cracow University of Economics, established in 1925; Pedagogical University, in operation since 1946; Agricultural University of Cracow, offering courses since 1890 (initially as a part of Jagiellonian University); Academy of Fine Arts, the oldest Fine Arts Academy in Poland, founded by the Polish painter Jan Matejko; Ludwik Solski Academy for the Dramatic Arts; The Pontifical Academy of Theology; and Cracow University of Technology, which has more than 37,000 graduates.
The metropolitan city of Kraków is known as the city of churches. The abundance of landmark, historic temples along with the plenitude of monasteries and convents earned the city a countrywide reputation as the "Northern Rome" in the past. The churches of Kraków comprise over 120 places of worship of which over sixty were built in the 20th century. Denominations include Roman Catholicism (48 Churches,), Jehovah's Witnesses (10 Kingdom Hall), Protestantism (8 Churches), Buddhism (5), Polish Orthodox Church (1 Church), Polish Catholic Church (1 Church) and Mariavite Church.
Kraków contains also an outstanding collection of monuments of Jewish sacred architecture unmatched anywhere in Poland. Kraków was an influential center of Jewish spiritual life before the outbreak of World War II, with all its manifestations of religious observance from Orthodox to Chasidic and Reform flourishing side by side. There were at least ninety synagogues in Kraków active before the Nazi German invasion of Poland, serving its burgeoning Jewish community of 60,000–80,000 (out of the city's total population of 237,000), established since the early 12th century.
Most synagogues of Kraków were ruined during World War II by the Nazis who despoiled them of all ceremonial objects, and used them as storehouses for ammunition, firefighting equipment, as general storage facilities and stables. The post-Holocaust Jewish population of the city had dwindled to about 5,900 before the end of 1940s, and by 1978, the number was further reduced in size to a mere 600 by some estimates. In recent time, thanks to the efforts of the local Jewish and Polish organizations including foreign financial aid from Akiva Kahane, many synagogues underwent major restorations, while others continue to serve as apartments.
Contributed by: Mohinder Pal Singh
Date: January 22, 2012