Inside the Cathedral, as inside the Castle, there is a strict interdiction of taking photographs. It seemed to me that the management of this historical site shows some signs of "photophobia" in their way of chasing any tentative to take a picture as souvenir from the visit.
Consequently I have no visual marks to remember me what I liked on my visit of the Cathedral.
When entering the Cathedral I saw immediately that there were not only crowds of visitors, often groups, but that this church is really overcrowded with monuments of all kinds. As soon as you enter you face at a short distance the imposing mausoleum (1630) of St. Stanislav, Poland's saint patron, the 11th-century Krakow bishop murdered by King Boleslav II. The silver coffin is just amazing but this monument blocks any perspective on the remaining part of the nave.
And that is only the start. There are nearly one hundred tombs - often real treasures of art - of saints, kings, prelates. Not one square meter is left free. Most remarkable is the tall Black Christ's Crucifix from Queen-Saint Jadwiga. There are also 18 side chapels full of treasures.
The visit of the Cathedral took me more than one hour, nearly two hours with Crypts, Bell and Museum.
The Cathedral is open from 9h -17h, Sunday and holidays 12.30h - 16h. (Cathedral museum is closed on Sunday).
Admission price to the Cathedral together with the Zygmunt bell, Royal Tombs and Cathedral museum: normal 12 zlotys, reduced 7 zlotys. The ticket office is across from the Cathedral entrance.
I strongly recommend hiring an audio guide (7 languages on choice) at a price of 7 PLN (+ deposit of 50 PLN) to have a full explanation on the most remarkable items to be seen.
My trip to Krakow was motivated by the famous tapestry collection of King Sigismund II Augustus on display in the State Rooms as well as the historical interiors, royal portraits, Italian Renaissance furniture, Italian and Dutch paintings of the 14th to 17th century of this part of the castle.
Only guided visits are possible with booking well in advance so that I'm grateful to the VT members organizing the Euromeet giving me the opportunity to participate to this visit with an excellent guide.
From the original 350 tapestries commissioned by the King at best Brussels weavers "lissiers" 137 survived of which about 30 are shown in the Royal Chambers. There are three types of subjects: biblical scenes, landscapes with animals called "verdures" and smaller ones showing arms and grotesques .
I must say that my visit was a bit of a deception. The largest tapestries with biblical scenes have somewhat faded colors but the "verdures" are beautiful. I especially admired a "verdure" made not in Brussels but in Oudenaerde .
Irritating was the fact that our guide was pushed by some head supervisor of the museum to make it short. It was Friday afternoon and the supervisors wanted to take their week-end ! Those who participated to the visit will remember that women with a red jacket telling our guide "only 5 minutes left" .
Furthermore no photos are allowed inside the castle and I found nowhere an illustrated catalogue of the tapestries. So if you want to admire medieval tapestries better go to the Cluny museum in Paris where you can take all your time and make all photos you want .
The Royal Chambers were the only negative part of my visit of Krakow and my deception was amply compensated by the many marvels of art I saw in the many churches of Krakow .
Price: normal 18 Pln, reduced 11 Pln.
The bad photo of a "verdure" from Brussels is from the internet.
I passed 4-5 times in front of the Smok Wawelski expecting to film the Dragon's sculpture when breathing fire but each time my camera was ready "Smok" as he is called in Krakow ceased spurting fire to start again when I was out of reach !
A nasty beast not only devouring sheep but also showing sexual harassment (as it is now called) of the local young ladies.
Finally a king called Grakch or Cracus put an end to the exploits of the dragon and Cracovia was named after king Cracus.
If you don't believe the story go to the entrance of the Cathedral. After Smok exploded eating a dummy sheep stuffed with tar and sulphur, his bones were put to hang left of the cathedral's door as you can see from my photo.
I always wondered what historical facts, if any, are behind such legends. The oldest version is from the 13th c. A zoologist must be able to identify the bones at the cathedral. The largest of them seems to be a bone from a whale or a mammoth .
What is sure is that in the history of Poland at the end of the 8th c. a Cracus succeeded to princes of the family Lechus and that the sculpture of the dragon is not older than 1972. A pet monster for children and a tourist attraction.
The Sigismund Bell in the Wieza Zygmuntowska tower is part of the combined ticket of the Cathedral visit. The entrance is in the left part of the church, not far from the Black Christ's Crucifix.
Climbing the 70 steps is the sportive and funny part of the Cathedral visit. The staircase is in wood, sometimes a bit narrow but as there is a way-up separated from the way down the flux of visitors is rather smooth.
First are seen some smaller bells from the 15th c. before reaching the enormous Sigismund Bell weighing nearly 10.000 kg cast in 1520.
The bell is only rung on religious and national holidays, requiring the strength of twelve strong men and can be heard 50km away. I presume they wear hear protections.
You will see from my photo that visitors touch the clapper. At the same time they whisper a wish. I'm pleased to say that it works: I wished nice weather for my stay and indeed I got sunshine. The rain started only when I embarked on the plane back home.
Photos are allowed in the tower.
Well known to every Polish child, is the legendary Smok Wawelski. To this day there stands a monument in the caverns beneath the castle of Krakow to Smok Wawelski, and people from all over the world come to visit his statue and hear his tale.
Daily he rampaged on the countryside and threatened the terrified people of Kraków.
The King of Kraków, desperately worried
and sent his heralds far and wide to announce to the Royal houses and courts of Europe that whosoever could slay the dragon would - as a reward - marry his daughter and sit on his throne after his death.
Many great Princes and brave knights from all around central presented themselves to take up the challenge, but failed against the dragon.
One cold morning a young peasant boy named Krak, a shoemaker's apprentice, showed up at the palace gates to present himself. He had bravely offered his services before this time but had been turned down when there were other more noble volunteers, but by now the King was desperate and willingly accepted the challenge of such a humble peasant boy.
From the family recipe book, he prepared a menu: Three roast sheep with a stuffing of all the hottest spices and herbs he could lay hands on.
When dawn arrived, The dragon came out of his cave and found what appeared to be fat juicy sheep just sleeping there. The dragon, thinking this to be a nice tidbit, and being greedy as well as stupid, gobbled them up in the twinkling of an eye. Very soon he started to feel enormously thirsty. When the fiery spices and the sulfur hit his stomach, his singular, driving thought was to quench his raging thirst. He quickly ran to the Vistula river which wound it's way round his cave and drank... and drank... and drank...
The dragon's throat and stomach burned so much he was forced to drink half of the Vistula River, and as a result, his stomach kept swelling and swelling and eventually it exploded, killing him.
The shoemaker's apprentice married the king's lovely daughter,
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.
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.
Wawel is certainly the most important and most popular destination in Krakow and perhaps all of Poland. It has become the very symbol of Poland and its history and detailed descriptions can be found in all travel guides. My advice is to read your guides carefully with particular attention to days and hours of operation of the different parts of the complex. Not all sections are open on the same schedule. Also, the facility is vast, so try to decide ahead of time what you are most interest in. I'm not really one for spending a lot of time inside looking at displays in museum like settings but here the grounds and architecture are spectacular.
So, the next day we have started our tour through Krakow from the Wawel Castle. And here it is...
Wawel - seat of the Royal Castle and Cathedral - lies on a small hill above the Vistula river and it was here that the earliest settlements in the city began, some fifty thousand years ago.
Architecturally, Wawel is something huge and wonderful and really captures your attention. You have no doubts about its great history. It's like the spiritual home of the nation.
And there are some real jewels, like the exquisite cathedral chapels, the renaissance courtyard and the State Rooms themselves. You can also climb up the old bell-tower or burrow down into the Dragon’s Lair. All in all there is a wealth of things to do, not only for those dignified elderly folk, but for children too.
According to legend, long before the city of Krakow existed an evil dragon lived around Wawel Hill. It lived in a cave and stole sheep and feasted on virgins.
A dragon sculpture at the outside of the cave reminds on this legend. The sculpture was designed by a local artist in 1972.
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