Wawel Castle, Krakow
Every Polish child learns about this castle at school. It is tied to many legends and its history goes back many centuries. The most famed one is of the dragon and its lair: http://www.cracow-life.com/guide/Krakow_Wawel/Dragon's_Lair.php
This is Poland's second biggest castle. It is astonishingly beautifully. Situated by Poland's longest river (The Wisla), the castle houses the tombs of Poland's Kings, Queen, Princes' and great generals. You can also view the church and the Zygmunt Bell while you see the Wawel. Its worth it to see Wawel.
It's an important piece of Polish culture. Krakow was the centre of the country for many centuries. It is at the Wawel where many of the country's Kings reigned.
The lost Wawel is the about the Wawel buildings that are no longer there.
The archaeological remains are on display, like those of the Royal Kitchen and other remains of the earliest castle buildings.
The Royal Garden is open since 2005. At the hill there was not much space for a garden, but its restored in its former beauty.
The Cathedral hisrory goes back to the 11th century. The first church was replace around 1100 by a lime- and sandstone one built in a Romanesque style. It was a triple-aisle basilica.
This second church building was damaged by fire in 1305 and Bishop Jan Muskata took the initiative to have a new church built. This plan never came further than consruction of the foundations of the Gothic polygonal chancel.
The present cathedral was built in two perods, from 1320 till 1346 and from 1346 till 1364.
The interior is very impressive to the visitor.
Next to the Cathedral is a tomb where President Lech Kaczynski (died in a 2010 plane crash) is on display.
Free Entrance; camera's not allowed
Summer Opening Hours:
Mo-Sa: 9AM - 5PM
Su: 0.30PM - 5PM
Winter Opening Times:
Mo-Sa: 9AM - 4PM
Su: 0.30PM - 4PM
For a visit to the Sigismund Bell and the Royal Tombs tickets have to be bought at Cathedral museum (opposite the Cathedral main entrance).
The Cathedral was opened in 1978 by Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who later became Pope John Paul II. The museum is housed in the 14th-century Gothic buildings opposite the main entry to the Cathedral.
Items on display are coronation robes of Polish Kings and royal insignia.
One room is devoted to Pope John Paul II.
Admission fee: PLN 12.00 (adult); includes entrance to the Royal tombs and Sigismund Bell.
Mo-Sa: 9AM - 4PM.
The Wawel castle at the Wawel hill just North of the Wisla river is one of Kraków's main attractions.
The complex houses:
-Royal Private Appartments
-Crown Treasury and Armoury
-The lost Wawel
-The Royal Garden
-Tower and souvenir shop
The Dragon’s Den is a legendary cave at the West side of Wawel Hill.
The story goes back to the 13th century when the fierceful dragon was killed and Kraków got its name.
On top of the cave is a watchtower with a souvenirshop selling .... dragons!
The castle was the residence of Polish monarchs since the 11th to the early 17th century. The building was enlarged and rebuilt various time, but what you see there today dates mostly from the early 16th century.
Inside the castle there are many rooms to visit. I was there with a VT group and a tourist guide. We visited the second floor. On this floor and I suppose in other floors too there are lots of Belgian tapestries representing biblical scenes, animals and other things.
I was very impressed by the Ambassadors' Hall because this has a roof with 30 wooden heads. They were 194 long ago.
Unfortunately it is not allowed to take any pictures inside the castle, so I only took a couple of shots of its beautiful and huge courtyard.
Wawel Royal Castle is a landmark in Krakow. It stands on a high position, overlooking the old city center and allowing great views, both of the city and the river.
Once you go through the main gate, you are amazed firstly by the large inner garden, and by the dominant cathedral: Cathedral Basilica of St Stanisław and Vaclav, the traditional coronation site of Polish monarchs. Climb to the top of the bell tower for a good panoramic view (though only through a window) and to touche the bell with your left hand. It's suppose to bring you good fortune.
Continuing to walk you reach the fabulous courtyard of the royal castle, always throbbing with activity and people.
After taking your time admiring the courtyard, I suggest a visit to the armory, the State Rooms and the Royal Private Apartments.
At the time of my visit to the castle, one of the main attractions: the Dragon's Den was closed, so I can't comment about it.
We tried to visit the fire breathing dragon, designed by sculptor Bronislaw Chromy, after touring the grounds at Wawel Castle but they asked us for a ticket at the stairway leading to the Dragon's Den so we elected to walk back around the castle and head down to see it. He breathes fire fairly frequently, at one time the guide said that you could text to a number on the plaque to make the dragon breath fire, but that feature has been disabled.
The legend of the Wawel dragon is that he was a particularly nasty dragon, unlike those friendly sort that pop up in Disney movies, and that he liked to snack on sheep and have his way with the young town virgins. The founder of the city, King Krak, fooled the dragon into eating a sheep stuffed with tar and sulphur, causing the dragon to explode.
Another version that I heard from the Free Walking tour guide also features a nasty dragon who killed the many knights who tried to slay it and required the sacrifice of young girls. When only the king's daughter was left, the king promised his beautiful daughter's hand in marriage to anybody who could defeat the dragon. A cobbler's apprentice was the one in this tale that stuffed a sheep with sulphur, the dragon ate it and became incredibly thirsty. He drank and drank and drank from the Vistula River but no amount of water could quench his thirst and he exploded.
Although Wawel Castle is closed to visitors on Monday, you can still visit the Wawel Cathedral. It's free to visit the interior but if you want to see the Sigismund Bell, Royal Tombs and Cathedral Museum, there is currently a 12zl charge.
The cathedral you see today was built between 1320-1364. One of the highlights of the cathedral is the Zygmunt Chapel where the last two Jagiellonian kings are buried. No photos are allowed in the interior.
We missed the official VT visit to Wawel and I hadn't really done much research so of course we headed over there to visit on Monday, the day we were leaving Krakow, and found that it was closed on Mondays. Not very good planning! But you can still walk the grounds of the Castle, visit the cathedral and check out the courtyard even on Mondays, there's no charge to wander the grounds or go inside the cathedral.
Poland was ruled from Wawel Hill and the various incarnations of castles and fortresses for over 500 years, Polish kings were crowned here and buried here, even after Warsaw became the capital. It's an impressive building, towering over the city, even if it seems to be a mish mash of styles.
If you do go, I've read that going early is best as it is possible for tickets to sell out. And I imagine it also beats the group tours.
I missed the first day of Euromeet2010 and the Wawel tour so ZiOOlek and I did a trip up on our own. I think it is a must see in Krakow. I knew I would only get to see the Cathedral as tickets to other sights are limited and ZiOOlek noted that tickets were sold out. The Cathedral had an entrance fee of 8pln (i think) and more for a photo. The Cathedral experience was horrible as it was so busy. I had to get out quick, 8 plns well spent. Some of the architecture was very nice and the cafe a good spot with a few chances of a bit of a view toward Kazimierz but not the old town.
This beautiful 11th century cathedral served as the crowning and burial place of almost all Poland’s monarchs. In more recent years Polish national heroes have also been laid to rest here, including most recently President Lech Kaczynski, sadly killed in a plane crash in Russia in April 2010 (just weeks before our VT meeting in the city).
The cathedral has some Romanesque elements but is mostly in the Gothic style. One focal point is the 1630 shrine of St. Stanislaus in the centre of the nave. Stanislaus is the patron saint of Krakow and Poland, an 11th century Krakow bishop who was murdered by King Boleslav II. His silver coffin (circa 1670) is adorned with 12 relief scenes from his life and his posthumous miracles.
The cathedral also contains many monuments and finely decorated chapels, the most famous of which is the Sigismund Chapel, considered a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture and sculpture. Trying to explore properly on my own was difficult however, as tour groups blocked my path time and again. In the end I resolved the problem by going where they were not, a strategy that found me alone for a while in the stunning little Holy Cross Chapel just to the right as you enter. The chapel’s walls and vaulted ceiling were painted in 1470 and depict scenes from the life of Christ. Even more impressive than these though are the two triptychs which were painted here in Krakow and date back to the late Middle Ages. One shows the Holy Trinity, the other Our Lady the Sorrowful, and the latter is notable for being one of the first examples of the art form to include a backdrop of scenery rather than gold decoration – a very early form of landscape painting. Unable to buy any postcards of this chapel, and frustrated by a bizarre rule that would have let me video it but not take a still photograph, I am afraid I sneaked one anyway (photo 4)!
Outside the cathedral, look out for the bones hanging in the porch (photo 3). These are the remains of an Ice Age mammoth, excavated on the grounds at the beginning of the 20th century, but if that is too prosaic an explanation for you, you might prefer to believe instead in the local legend that claims that they are the bones of the Wawel Dragon. Apparently the cathedral will be safe for as long as they hang here ...
From the 11th century Wawel Hill, to the south of Krakow’s Old Town, was home to Polish royalty in both life and death. They had their coronation in its cathedral, lived in its royal castle, and were buried in the same cathedral where they had been crowned.
I visited on a Monday, when unfortunately many of Wawel’s highlights are closed (and in any case I was short of time) so I focused mainly on the cathedral, but the arcaded Renaissance style castle courtyard at least is a must even if you don’t go into any of the castle’s several museums. Built by Francesco Fiorentino in 1507, this is an awe-inspiring space, even when filled with groups of modern-day tourists and school-classes. How must it have looked in its heyday, a stage for tournaments and the pageantry of court events? .
When open, you can visit the castle’s royal chambers and the private apartments. Each requires a separate ticket, bought at the entrance to the complex, and as numbers for each day are restricted it helps to get here early. Elsewhere on the hill is the cathedral (see separate tip), the treasury and armoury, the ruins of several smaller churches (including the early 11th-century church of St. Felix) and, beneath the hill, a cavern said by legend to have been the home of Krakow’s mythical dragon – see my local customs tip.
For a Belgian its sounds funny that the tapestries made in Brussels are called "Arrases".
Arras is a city from the north of France and there is, to my best knowledge, no tapestry made in Arras to be seen at the Wawel castle!
Actually Arras was in the 15th c. a town with a textile industry specializing in fine wool tapestries which were sold to decorate palaces and castles all over Europe. So that the term "Arras" is still used to name tapestries of that period even made elsewhere. Very few original Arras tapestries still exist because at the French revolution many of them were burnt to recover the silver and gold wires often woven into them.
In the 16th c., when the tapestries of the Wawel castle were commissioned (1553-1571) by King Sigismund II August, towns like Brussels, Oudenaerde, Tournai and others from the present Belgium had become the leading centers of tapestry manufacturing so that most of the tapestries shown at the castle are from Brussels or more generally from Flanders.
The tapestries from Brussels often show on the lower border the letter B B meaning Brussel-Brabant.
Sometimes the name of the weaver "lissier" is added. But that is not always the case.
Tracing the true origin of tapestries of that period is not easy. There were four actors: the customer usually choosing the subjects, a merchant established in one of the tapestry manufacturing towns, a painter preparing the colored sketch called "carton" and finally the weavers "lissiers". Several were working on one tapestry. It has been calculated that one "lissier" would weave about 1 square meter in one month! In Brussels alone 15.000 persons were active in that field of decorative art.
As photos are not allowed inside the castle I'm showing here a photo found on the internet.