A Short History of Kraków

The oldest historical notes on Kraków date back to the years 965-966. All owing to a Jewish traveller, Abraham ben Jacob, who when giving an account of his journeys at the court of Emperor Otto the Great, mentioned a merchant settlement on the Vistula River. We should remember though that the first traces of man in this area date from the Paleolithic Era.

After year 1000 a church, seat of the bishopric, was built on the Wawel hill. In 1039 Duke Casimir I the Restorer chose the city of Kraków for the capital of the country.

Another significant date in the history of Kraków was 1241 when the city was almost entirely destroyed by the Tatars. However, it quickly recovered from this hardship and on June 5th 1257 Boleslaus the Chaste, Duke of Kraków and Sandomierz, signed the foundation charter of Kraków. The development plan elaborated back then was mainly based on the Magdeburg Law and has survived up to this day. The Main Market Square was marked out at the junction of eleven streets and the Small Market Square sprang up in its vicinity.

Kraków became the official capital of Poland on January 20th 1320 when Ladislaus I of Poland (known as Short or Elbow-High) was crowned the King of Poland in the Wawel Cathedral. In 1333 Wawel saw the coronation of the next king – Casimir the Great. Two years later, in the immediate vicinity of Kraków, Casimir located a new city named after himself – Kazimierz. It was a period of extraordinary growth of the city of Kraków and of the increase in the affluence of its residents. It resulted in the foundation of the Kraków Academy in 1364 – the first Polish university, which fast acquired major significance in Europe. Among the alumni of the Academy was e.g. Nicolaus Copernicus.

In the 16th century Kraków was in its heyday. Owing to Italian architects, the Wawel Royal Castle became the most beautiful Renaissance building in Poland. In 1520 the famous Sigismund Bell rang out for the first time.

Less than a hundred years later, a few significant events shook the power of the city. In 1596 King Sigismund III Vasa moved the royal court to Warsaw, in 1651-1652 the small pox and flood wreaked havoc among the residents and in 1655 the Swedes destroyed many of Kraków’s monuments.

Many a time more has Kraków been imprinted in the history of Poland. It was on the Kraków Main Market Square that in 1794 Tadeusz Kościuszko swore his oath. In 1815 the Congress of Vienna chose the city for the seat of the Republic of Kraków. In the 1860s, the universities of Kraków once more began to attract the most talented young people from all annexed territories (in the period of the Partitions in Poland) and many great artists lived and worked in Kraków, among them: Jan Matejko, Stanisław Wyspiański, Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński, Adam Asnyk.

Although both world wars of the 20th century destroyed the city a little (only in the East Prussian Offensive, of January 1945, 450 buildings were heavily damaged, including a part of the Wawel Cathedral), it was spared such dramatic losses as those suffered in Warsaw or in Wrocław.

At this point in time, Kraków is blooming. It is the home of 756 thousand people, almost 60% of whom are less than 44 years old. More than 200 thousand students are being trained in 23 schools of higher education. In 1978 the historical centre of Kraków together with the nearby Wieliczka Salt Mine were included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Each year over 8 million tourists visit Kraków – among them more than 2 million come from abroad (the majority from Great Britain, Germany, Spain, Italy, France, the USA and Russia).

Tuesday, 17th September 2019
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