Treasures and tombstones on Wawel

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by marif on December 20, 2004

The best way to reach Wawel Hill from Rynek Glowny is on foot. From Krakow's huge square, walk south along ul Grodzka for about 400 metres until you reach the Church of St.Peter and St.Paul, its front courtyard adorned with the colonnaded statues of the twelve apostles. Once here, take a sharp turn right, then turn left again and walk further south along ul Kanonicza that leads directly to the foot of Wawel Hill. From here, a lane takes you up a rather steep hill past the equestrian statue of the Polish hero Tadeusz Kosciuszko and leads you to a large central square. This majestic place ringed with an abundance of stately buildings still retains an air of history, symbolism and magic.

The most splendid building here is unquestionably the cathedral, its present form completed in 1364. Its beautiful external architecture enhanced by Renaissance chapels that were constructed around the main building is as outstanding as its amazing interior. Once inside, the first attraction that catches the eyes of visitors is the silver coffin of St.Stanislaus, patron saint of Poland and former bishop of Krakow. Standing right in the middle of the church and adorned with ornate bas-reliefs in silver, it is one of the most beautiful artistic works anywhere in Poland. The coffin is further enclosed within an ornamental canopy that makes it even more beautiful.

More than a score of chapels enhance the beauty of the side naves but the most splendid is unquestionably the Sigismund Chapel, its dome gilded on the outside makes it easily recognizable. This artistic showpiece is a Renaissance gem of unique beauty; you'll never find anything of this sort elsewhere. On the southwest corner of the cathedral, the Holy Cross Chapel, enriched with Byzantine frescoes and artistic works by the master craftsman of Nurnberg Veit Stoss is another extraordinary artistic achievement.

The inside of the cathedral is a permanent exhibition of marble tombstones and burial vaults where the remains of Polish kings have been preserved for centuries. If these are not enough however and you want to see more, go down to the Royal Crypt where more kings and Polish heroes are laid to rest. From the cathedral's sacristy, climb the steps to the Sigismund Tower to see the 11 ton Wawel bell, the largest bell in the country.

A second building constructed in splendid Renaissance style is Wawel castle, its present structure dating back to the mid-16th century. Neglected and partly destroyed several times by the Prussians and the Austrians, the castle was restored after World War I. The restoration works that took several years to complete were a huge success since the castle's original form and grandeur were meticulously preserved.

Today, the castle is used to house a multi-section museum. The most impressive section contains the Royal Chambers, restored to their original Baroque style and adorned with artistic furnishings and 136 splendid tapestries. Other highlights inside the castle that you shouldn't miss are the embroidered 17th-century Turkish tents, the collection of artistic Chinese porcelain, the huge display of Persian carpets and the exhibition of Oriental Art. The Armoury on the ground floor houses a collection of original weapons dating back to the 16th century and another collection of colourful banners reproduced from those recovered from the battle of Grunwald in 1410.

Walk west along the whole stretch of Wawel's central square until you reach the west corner of Wawel Hill. From here, the view of the mighty Vistula below stretching around the Jewish district of Kazimierz is excellent. Take a look far away on the horizon at the Kosciuszko Mound, an artificial hill constructed in 1820 to pay tribute to Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a Polish defender of liberty and independence.

From here, you can climb down a flight of steps that leads you towards the Dragon's Cave. Enter the cave and walk through its interior until you exit right on the bank of the Vistula. The huge bronze statue of Wawel's legendary dragon is nearby.

Wawel Hill, Castle and Cathedral
Wawel 5
Kraków, Poland, 31-001
(+48 12) 422 51 55

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