Wawel Castle, Krakow, Poland

December 25, 2013 by  

Wawel Castle, Krakow, Poland, History: On the high hill on the bank of the Vistula River, originally a mediaeval castle called Wawel had been built. As in 1138, Kraków became the capital of Poland and the Wawel’s Cathedral became the coronation place of the Polish kings, the castle became their most important residence. Three dynasties made their home at Wawel. First the dynasty of Piast. The last of the Piast – Casimir III the Great (1310-1370),who built tens of defensive castles throughout Poland, developed Wawel into the biggest Polish castle. Then the Angevins and the Jagiellons, who made the castle to the center of their powerful state.

The fire of 1499 destroyed Wawel, but as the reconstruction had been necessary Sigismundus I The Old invited Italian architects, Polish, Italian, German and Dutch artists to build Wawel as we see it today – a splendid Renaissance royal residence, with its impressive volume placed high on the hill, beautiful courtyard. As the works continued (1502-1536), the Royal apartements were refurbished in the early Baroque style, received marble fireplaces and painted celings. When King Sigismund III of the Vasa dynasty moved the capital of Poland from Cracow to Warsaw in 1609, trying to stay closer to Sweden, Wawel lost its importance. Nevertheless, the castle remained the coronation place and the Royal Treasury seat.

As the neighbors of Poland – Russia, Austria and Prussia grew in power, they began to divide the weak Polish Kingdom among themselves. Following the third and the final partition of Poland in 1795, the city of Kraków was within the teritories adjusted to the Austrian Empire. The Wawel castle became Austrian army caserne and served as such until 1905. Several years later, already in the independent Poland, the National Museum has been established on the Wawel hill (1930). At the same time, the castle served as as an official residence of the Polish president.

During the German occuation of the WWII Wawel was the residence of the Nazi Governor Hans Frank, whose offices were located in the new building built on the hill..
During the years after the war, the castle has been reconstructed, its collection enriched and the castle’s treasures which were given into the deposit for the time of the WWII to the Bank of Canada returned (1959).

Wawel is today an interesting museum with several exhibitions open permanently to the public: The Royal Chambers – presents the castle’s interiors, Flemish tapestry collection, royal portraits, Italian Renaissance furniture, old paintings collection a.o. works by Cranach and Rubens.
The Royal Private Apartments – presents private rooms where Polish Royalty lived.
Crown Treasury and Armory – exhibits regalia of Poland and royal jewelry, precious armors and weapons with the famous Szczerbiec – coronation sword of Polish Kings.
Oriental Art – shows Turkish Ottoman Empire tents and banners offered to Wawel by Jan III Sobieski after the battle of Vienna (1683), Turkish and Persian weapons and carpets and a collection of Chinese and Japanese porcelain.
The Lost Wawel – an exhibition showing the archaeological remains the early 11th c. church of St. St. Felix and Adauctus; exhibition of objects found during the excavations on the Wawel Hill, multimedia presentation of the Wawel Hill’s history. This exhibition is currently closed because of the renovation.

Wawel’s cathedral
Wawel’s cathedral is a shrine of national importance. Originally built in a gothic style (1320-1364) has been throughout centuries rebuilt, made richer with adjoining chapels, and transformed into the real sanctuary of Polish dramatic history. The cathedral is a most important burial place of Polish kings and national heroes. Two important Polish poets and four saints are also buried there.

Dragon’s Cave (Smocza Jama) Wawel’s hill has several caves. In the biggest of them, according to the legend, a huge dragon spiting with fire used to live and to terrorize the Krakow’s population. A simple shoemaker’s pupil poisoned the dragon giving him to eat the sheep staffed with sulfur. The dragon, ick and confused crawled out of the cave, drank tons of water from the Vistula River and burst into pieces. According to the legend, the shoemaker married the prince’s daughter and became the prince on the Wawel hill himself. Today the Cave is still free from the dragon and can be safely visited by the tourists.

The feel
Wawel is a unique place for Polish culture and history. The castle itself is an impressive structure, rich in the traces of its history, authentic, interesting to visit. If you are not into museums, just see it from outside. Its exhibitions are interesting, but crowded with tourists during the summer season.

Opening hours:
Exhibitions -The Royal Chambers, Crown Treasury and Armory, The Lost Wawel, Oriental Art:
Monday closed Tuesday 9.30 a.m. 4.00 p.m. Wednesday 9.30 a.m. 3.00 p.m. Thursday 9.30 a.m. 3.00 p.m. Friday 9.30 a.m. – 4.00 p.m. Saturday 9.30 a.m. – 3.00 p.m. Sunday 10.00 a.m. – 4.00 p.m.
Exhibition: The Royal Private Apartments:
Monday closed Tuesday 9.30 a.m.- 4.00 p.m. Wednesday 9.30 a.m.- 3.00 p.m. Thursday 9.30 a.m. – 3.00 p.m. Friday 9:30 a.m. – 4.00 p.m. Saturday 9:30 a.m. – 3.00 p.m. Sunday closed
The Wawel Cathedral (with Royal Tombs) is open:
Sundays and Holidays 12.15 p.m. 4.00 p.m.; Monday-Saturday 9.00 a.m. 3.00 p.m.
The Cathedral Museum is open each day 10.00 a.m. – 3.00 p.m except for Monday.
All exhibitions are closed: on Christmas, New Year’s Day, Easter Sunday, All Saints Day (November 1) and Poland’s Independence Day (November 11).

For each of the exhibits a separate ticket has to be purchased. Tickets cost usually 15,- PLN (ca. € 3,80), reduced ticket cost 8.- PLN (ca. € 2,-). The tickets to enter The Royal Private Apartements exhibit cost 20,-PLN (€ 5,-), reduced tickets are 15,- PLN (€ 3,80) – guided tours only.
The Wawel Cathedral (with the Royal Tombs) tickets are: normal 10,- PLN (€ 2,50), reduced: 5,- PLN (€ 1,25). The Cathedral Museum tickets are only 5,-PLN (ca. €1,20), reduced ticket is 2,- PLN (€ 0,50).
Free admittance. Please not that you may see The Royal Chambers and the Crown Treasury and Armory exhibitions for free on Sundays, There is no free admittance to The Royal Private Apartements.

How to get there
Walk along the Grodzka Street from the Krakow’s Main Market Square, within 10 minutes, you will see an impressive Wawel’s walls high on the hill on your right hand side.
Although the old center of Krakow is a car free zone, the Wawel castle located out of the old centre is accessible with the car. A parking lot is located nearby the castle.

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