Richard Monte looks at the history and heritage on show in Kracow, one of the European Cities of Culture 2000.
The Polish city of Krakow, with its royal castle and cathedral, its medieval university and market square, has always been a centre of political, religious, educational and commercial interest. This year, as one of the European Cities of Culture, this rich heritage has become the focus of a programme of festivities, which underline why this Polish city is one of Europe’s cultural treasures.
The castle and cathedral, perched on a hill known as Wawel above the Vistula river, are the focus of ‘Wawel 1000-2000’, which brings together a number of exhibitions tracing Wawel’s history, and runs until the end of October. The ancient history and archaeology of the hill, where legend tells us that in the seventh century a wise prince named Krak or Krakus built a castle, and like many Polish monarchs, named the city after himself, is explored in ‘Wawel Lost’. Unfortunately, he built the castle on the den of a fearful dragon, which helped itself to lambs, sheep and humans. Undeterred, the prince filled a sheep’s hide with sulphur, set it alight and hurled it into the cave. The dragon ate the sheep and, with its stomach on fire, rushed to the Vistula to drink. The monster exploded in a spectacular fireworks display and the town was saved. The dragon became the symbol of the city.