on August 30, 2006
The Wawel stands proud over the curve of the rivel Wisla. The castle was the residence of Polish kings from the 10th century up until 1611. The Cathedral is the mother-church for Poland, and kings and national heroes from the nation’s turbulent past are honoured in the crypts below. The complex is the chief tourist attraction in Poland and it does get horrendously busy. I would recommend getting there as early as possible – it opens at 9.30 – to help beat the afternoon rush. The complex system of ticket charges doesn’t help much either. Just glancing through my leaflet reveals charges of 20 Zloty for the Royal private apartments, 15 zloty for the state rooms, 15 for the treasury and armoury, 10 for the belfry and royal crypts of the Cathedral, and 3 zloty for the dragon’s caves. What you can get for free is the stroll up the ramp to the hilltop, the views over the Wisla, the stroll past the green where the foundations of the earlier castle can be seen and into the stunning palace courtyard ringed with balconies, and the main body of the cathedral.The royal apartments and state rooms are nice, but not hugely inspiring. What you do get is the thought that compared to our preconceptions of what sort of lifestyle royalty tends to enjoy, these apartments are actually pretty spartan: lots of undressed stone with tapestries, carpets and the odd exquisite item of furniture – a chair, a bed, a chest. There are some very nice frescoes too. The armoury contains weapons. Lots and lots of weapons. This might not be a must-see unless you can already tell your pike from your halberd from your glaive. Kids might like the suits of armour though, and a few exceptionally massive swords.The Cathedral is well worth a look. There are some finely-carved sarcophagi, and some pretty stained-glass windows. The altar-pieces and paintings are lovely. It is definitely worth buying a ticket for the royal crypts and the belfry. In the crypt you can view a who’s-who of Polish monarchy and various national figures such as the poet Adam Mickiewicz and hero of both American and Polish independence struggles Tadeusz Kosciuszko. Climbing up the belfry gives a sky-high view of the surroundings, and a close-range view of the Zygmunt (Sigismund) Bell, one of the largest in the world. If you have children, do not neglect the chance to leave via the Dragon’s Den for 3 zloty. A narrow stairway spirals down to a series of natural caverns. Exiting you are guaranteed a sight of the castle’s legendary fire-breathing dragon.
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