Sebastian Wormell introduces the Polish city that survived the worst of the Second World War.
Kraków’s Rynek Glówny is one of the great medieval squares of Europe. Its huge scale (the sides are 200 metres long) and the great burghers’ houses that surround it, the soaring brick church of St Mary at its northeast corner, the great Cloth Hall at its centre and the massive Town Hall tower are evidence of the power and wealth of the city’s mercantile elite in the later Middle Ages. The Rynek is the heart of the ‘new’ Kraków founded in 1257 by Duke Boleslaw the Bashful. The city’s ancient centre is a short walk away along Grodzka street: Wawel Hill above the River Vistula, with its royal castle and its cathedral, crowded with the tombs of Polish kings and housing the relics of Stanislaw, Poland’s patron saint.
Kraków was Poland’s capital from the early fourteenth century until the Vasa kings moved to Warsaw in 1609. After this age of political and cultural greatness, it became a provincial town, still the setting for royal coronations and burials, but dominated by the church and old university.