Results 11-20of 24 Reviews
April 17, 2004
How to judge where the real heart beats? For me, Wawel is the most impressive and most resonant in history and significance. That seemed to be echoed by the fact that visitors numbered at least as many proud Poles as curious tourist foreigners.
For more than five centuries, Wawel was Poland’s seat of power and government and, even when the capital formally became Warsaw, kings continued to be buried in the cathedral (9am-3pm Tues-Sat, 12-3pm Sun). Fragments of the earliest structure (from 1020) can still be seen, though the current Gothic building dates from C14. On entering the cathedral, look up for prehistoric bones hanging by the door – supposedly the Krak dragon (of whom more below), though in fact a mix of mammoth/whale/hairy rhinoceros; removal is supposed to presage destruction of the cathedral. Inside, you’re immediately faced with the overwhelming giant sarcophagus (the Mausoleum of St Stanislav), and, to the side, a beautifully sculpted marble tomb of King Wladyslaw Jagiello.
Your eye is drawn down towards the choir-stalls which dominate the centre of the edifice, down to the Baroque high altar. Down signposted steps is the crypt housing the remains of 41 Polish monarchs (only four are elsewhere), and the cathedral museum (10am-3pm Tues-Sun, 5zl) in the northeast corner behind the sacristy includes illuminated texts and church ceremonial regalia and curiosities. From the outside, the dazzling golden dome catches the sun most attractively. Cathedral tickets are bought at a separate office 2 minutes back downhill – timed entry in high season.
The castle is divided into four sections, not all of which are open at once (State rooms – Komnaty Krolewskie; Treasury/armoury – Skarbiec; "Lost Wawel" – Zaginiony; and Orient Museum – Sztuka Wschodu). The first two are excellent, with guided tours round the art works, sculpture and tapestries plus salons in tableaux vivant; and a well-presented collection of jewels, crowns, china, baubles coupled with guns, swords, cannons, armour (for man, child and horse) and ferocious maces and daggars. Highly entertaining for all the family though the "star" exhibit (the Szczerbiac sword –C13 copy of 1018 original) did little for me.
The approach towards the cathedral, up the hill, gives a fine view over the river Wista, and you’ll espy below a path on which a metallic statute of the Krak dragon stands (picture below) on guard to the "Dragon’s Cave" (Smocza Jama – May-Sept 10am-5pm daily, 3zl – leave it to the school parties). Snatch a photo when Poles aren’t clambering on the rocky podium – if not, postcards abound. Occasionally, the dragon entertains by breathing fire (though he’s a law unto himself as to timing).
From journal Memories and memorials in Krakow
February 7, 2003
We had hoped to see the Wawel Castle, but arrived too late to get inside anywhere but the dragon's den. So, after walking around the courtyard, we descended a huge, claustrophobic spiral staircase down to a huge empty cave, which we walked through, and out to the dragon, a huge sculpture that breathed real fire!
From journal A day visit to Krakow
November 26, 2002
One last note: The castle is closed on Mondays.
From journal Under a Krakownian Sun
June 12, 2002
The current Gothic cathedral was constructed in the early 14th century by Ladislaus the Short, and dedicated by Bishop Nanker to St. Stanislaus the Bishop. In 1320, Ladislaus the Short was crowned here, 13 years later he was buried here, and henceforth this would be the location for all royal coronations, weddings, and funerals, even after the court had moved to Warsaw.
The centre of the cathedral is dominated by the early 17th-century Confessional of St. Stanislaus the Bishop. In the side spaces you can find such delights as Wit Stwosz's 1492 Gothic Chapel of the Holy Cross, and Francis Florentin's 1502 Renaissance Chapel of King John Albert. There is also a stairway leading up to the belfry where you will find some superb views, and Jan Beham's 1520 Sigismund Bell, an 11-ton giant. Back on the ground you will find a staircase leading down to the Crypt of St Leonard. This is the oldest part of the cathedral, and along with the lower part of the tower of silver bells, is all that remains of the Romanesque basilica that stood here in 1142.
From 1333 until the partition ended the Polish monarchy in the late 18th century, all the kings of Poland were buried here (except for King Ladislaus of Vana, whose body was not recovered after the battle of Vana in 1444, and whose absence is marked by an empty sepulcher). Following the reunification of the country in the 19th century, the Royal Crypts were interconnected to form a single necropolis that was augmented, due to the absence of a monarchy, with the remains of national heroes and artists. This created a place of pride for the newly independent Polish people.
The Cathedral is open 9am to 5pm from Monday to Saturday and 2:15pm to 5pm on Sundays; entrance is 6 zloty - it is well worth a visit.
From journal Krakow: Poland's Cracking Old Capital
The original interiors of the castle were largely destroyed by fires in 1595 and 1702, and by Austrian occupation when, in the early 19th century, the castle was used as a barracks for the occupying forces. The castle was repurchased by the Poles at the end of the 19th century and was restored by the architects Zygmunt Hendel and Adolf Szysko-Boluisz in a process which took 50 years. The interiors are now open to the public from around 9:30am to 4pm every day except Monday.
The State Rooms can be visited and have been restored to their early 16th-century glory, just as they would have appeared during the reign of Sigismund Augustus. The highlight is the Diet room. It has a coffered ceiling and contains 30 of Sebastian Taurach's original 194 carved wooden likenesses of the human head (including one that was gagged after apparently making an impromptu remark during one of the king's addresses).
There are also a number of rooms restored to the way they would have looked in the 17th century, during the reign of Sigismund II Vasa. Following the 1592 fire, the Italian architect Giovanni Trevano remodeled the rooms, the highlight of which is the Bird room featuring portraits of the Vasa dynasty.
The Royal Private Apartments are accessible on organised tours only. The English language tour leaves at 12:10pm and costs 18 zloty; these rooms are largely how they appeared after the remodeling work (which took place after the last great fire in 1702), and still contain many original features. The rooms contain a good collection of glass and silverware, and there is a particularly fine collection of tapestries.
The State Rooms are a joy to wander around, although they can get a little crowded with tour groups. The organised tour of the apartments, on the other-hand, is inconvenient, overpriced, and doesn't really add much to the experience.
Inside the rock are a series of caves which, according to legend, were once home to a fierce dragon. It was only after Prince Krak had defeated the dragon that the city of Krakow could be established. For 8 zloty, you can descend into the atmospheric caves and soak up their spooky ambiance. At the exit from the cave stands Bronislaw Chromy's 1972 bronze recreation of the dragon; it breathes real fire every couple of minutes.
A sizeable settlement with roots going back to the Bronze Age was built up here, and, in the 10th century, the rulers of the Piast dynasty erected a Romanesque residence here. That was replaced by a stone building, Krakow's first castle, when Poland's capital was officially moved here from Poznan in the mid-11th century.
The castle was rebuilt in the early 14th century in Gothic style by Ladislaus the Short; the surviving turret and pavilion from this phase now house the treasury and armory. The rest of the surviving fortifications, including the Thieves Tower, the Sandomierz Tower, and the Senator's Tower, are 15th-century additions built at the behest of Ladislaus Jagiello to refortify the castle during the early years of the rule of the Jagiellon dynasty.
Nowadays the rock is most famous as the home of two of Poland's finest tourist attractions, the 16th-century Royal Castle and the 14th-century Krakow Cathedral. These have both become symbols of Polish pride and are covered in separate journal entries.
May 19, 2002
From journal Little Poland, Big Time
January 24, 2002
Wawel Castle is the home of many museums - 5 if I remember correctly - and all different. There are the state apartments, the private apartments, the oriental art museum, the lost Wawel museum and the armour museum. Thinking back now, the only two worthwhile ones are the last two of the above list - the others are pretty, but I have seen better ones in other countries. For all museums you need separate entry tickets, to be bought at the entrance of the hill - so know beforehand what you want to visit.
The Wawel Cathedral is a sort of National Temple. Many heads were crowned in there, and many royal corpses were brought to their final resting place there, too. The present building dates back from the early 14th century, and it`s in Gothic style. Inside there are many interesting things to see, so use your guidebook to understand them. Don`t miss the Shrine of Saint Stanislaus (Patron Saint of Cracow) in the middle of the church. There`s an admission fee of 6 zloti (less than 1 US dollar) to visit the church and you buy your ticket in the little office opposite. No one will check it so, it`s really up to you if you want to pay or not.
The Wawel Dragon is an iron statue that you can find by walking around the base of Wawel Hill. It`s not a very nice statue, but it represents a legendary omnivore dragon that apparently used to live there. Everyone was scared of it and people lived in terror, so one day a powerful prince (Krakus) decided to stop this and placed a sheep hide filled with burning sulphur in the dragon`s den. When he ate it the sulphur started to burn in his stomach until the poor dragon finally exploded. Fireworks were seen in the sky and the and its citizens were saved.
From journal Once upon a time there was a capital...
July 31, 2001
The construction of the Renaissance castle was begun by Master Rosemberger and Francesco the Florentine, who executed decorative stone elements and the arcaded galleries. Their work was continued by Master Benedykt and Bartolomeo Berrecci. The castle is one of the most stately monuments of Renaissance architecture in Europe.
The rooms of the Renaissance Wawel residence had a truly royal decoration. The idea was to glory the righteousness of the sovereign of Poland and to arouse fear in his enemies. Some elements of the decoration have survived like the painted friezes, wooden ceilings, and carved architraves. I can't believe anything could survive eleven hundred years.
A collection of the Flemish tapestries that once belonged to King Sigismund Augustus is historically connected with the Wawel. Towards the end of the 18th century, during the third partition of Poland, they were carried away to Russia and were returned in the 1920s. In the first days of the Second World War they were evacuated to Romania, then France, then England and then Canada. They came back to Wawel in 1961 and were hung in the royal chambers once again. After seeing all of the Egyptian treasurers that are housed in London museums, I am surprised that Poland got its treasurers back.
Some of the rooms have marble fireplaces and ceilings with paintings in gilded frames. After King Sigismund III left Cracow in 1609, Wawel in fact lost its function as a royal residence.
Following the third partition of Poland in 1795, Wawel was converted into Austrian army barracks. The army did not leave Wawel until 1905 at which point restoration work began. The Wawel castle began to function as an official residence of the president of Poland.
During the Second World War, Wawel was the seat of the occupation authorities of the Government General and residence of Hans Frank. The year 1992 marked the commencement of large-scale repairs and conservation work in the Royal Castle and the nearby Cathedral, to prepare Wawel for the celebrations of the millennium of the Bishopric of Cracow in 2000.
Today the Wawel Royal Castle is a museum. The permanent exhibition in it features a 19th century furnished interior. In addition, temporary displays are mounted here. It is an architectural marvel not to be missed.
From journal Surprisingly Beautiful Cracow