Kraków Old Town is the historic central district of Kraków, Poland. It is one of the most famous old districts in Poland today and was the center of Poland's political life from 1038 until King Sigismund III Vasa relocated his court to Warsaw in 1596. The entire medieval old town is among the first sites chosen for the UNESCO's original World Heritage List, inscribed as Cracow's Historic Centre. The Old Town is known in Polish as Stare Miasto. It is part of the city's first administrative district which is also named "Stare Miasto," although it covers a wider area than the Old Town itself.
Medieval Kraków was surrounded by a 1.9 mile (3 km) defensive wall complete with 46 towers and seven main entrances leading through them. The fortifications around the Old Town were erected over the course of two centuries. The current architectural plan of Stare Miasto – the 13th-century merchants' town – was drawn up in 1257 after the destruction of the city during the Tatar invasions of 1241 followed by raids of 1259 and repelled in 1287. The district features the centrally located Rynek Główny, or Main Square, the largest medieval town square of any European city.
There is a number of historic landmarks in its vicinity, such as St. Mary's Basilica (Kościół Mariacki), Church of St. Wojciech (St. Adalbert's), Church of St. Barbara, as well as other national treasures. At the center of the plaza, surrounded by kamienice (row houses) and noble residences, stands the Renaissance cloth hall Sukiennice (currently housing gift shops, restaurants and merchant stalls) with the National Gallery of Art upstairs. It is flanked by The Town Hall
Tower (Wieża ratuszowa).
The whole district is bisected by the Royal Road, the coronation route traversed by the Kings of Poland. The Route begins at St. Florian's Church outside the northern flank of the old city walls in the medieval suburb of Kleparz; passes the Barbican of Kraków (Barbakan) built in 1499, and enters Stare Miasto through the Florian Gate. It leads down Floriańska Street through The Main Square
, and up Grodzka to Wawel
, the former seat of Polish royalty overlooking the Vistula
In the 19th century most of the Old Town fortifications were demolished. The moat encircling the walls was filled in and turned into a green belt known as Planty Park.
The first mention of Kraków dates back to the second half of the 9th century. By the end of 10th century the city was incorporated into the Polish state under the rule of Piast
dynasty. The episcopal bishopric was awarded to Kraków in 1000 and around that time, it became the residence of Polish kings for centuries to come. The history of the old city of Kraków revolves mainly around its Old Town District of today. Here, the regalia were stored and, back in early Middle Ages, a cathedral school was erected.
The Old Town saw considerable development during the Renaissance. It was then when, for instance, Wawel Cathedral
was rebuilt to include the architectural features of the Italian Reneissance. Bona Sforza, the second wife of Sigismund I of Poland, asked Bartolommeo Berrecci, Francisco the Florentian, Giovanni Maria Padovano, Santi Gucci and others to do this task.
The Baroque Era emerged in the beginning of the 17th century. In Poland Zygmunt III Waza became a prominent patron of the arts. Under his direction, architect Giovanni Trevano worked in Kraków and redesigned the Church of Saints Peter and Paul in a Baroque style. During that period the Old Town was destroyed twice during a Swedish invasion. Towards the end of the 17th century, the Church of St. Anne was built as was the Church of St. Casimir the Prince, known for its catacombs.
In the 19th century, Austrian Emperor Franz I decided to liquidate the long neglected city fortifications. The liquidation was carried out during the time of the Duchy of Warsaw. Thanks to the efforts of Professor Feliks Radwański, the northern part of the walls were saved, including the Barbican, the Florian Gate and three towers which once marked the starting point of the Royal Road along which a new monarch would parade to the place of his coronation at Wawel Cathedral. The Planty Park was created in the place of the destroyed fortifications.
The Old Town district of Kraków is home to about six thousand historic sites and more than two million works of art. Its rich variety of historic architecture includes Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic buildings. Kraków's palaces, churches, theatres and mansions display great variety of color, architectural details, stained glass, paintings, sculptures, and furnishings.
Museums and Theatres
Many renowned points of interest in the Old Town, drawing constant stream of visitors, include galleries as well as departments of the National Museum
in Kraków such as the Sukiennice Museum, the Jan Matejko Manor, Stanisław Wyspiański Museum at 11 Szczepanska, Czartoryski Museum with Arsenal at 19 Św. Jana Street, as well as the Historical Museum of Kraków (Rynek Główny 35) with its departments: the Barbican, the House under the Cross housing History of Theatre museum, Hippolitow House, Town Hall Tower, Archdiocesean Museum and Archeological Museum.
The extended list of Catholic churches in the Old Town include: Church of St. Andrew, Church of St. Ann, Church of St. Barbara, Church and Monastery of Franciscans, Church of St. Giles, St. John's The Baptist and St. John's The Evangelist Church, Reformatory Church of St. Casimir, Church of Our Lady of Snows, Church of St. Martin, Church of St. Mary, Church of St. Marc, St. Peter's and Paul's Church, Pijary Church, Church of St. Tomas, St. Trinity Church (Dominican Church) and Church of St. Wojciech.
Among the best known places to visit in and around the Old Town is Wierzynek restaurant at the Main Market Square
. Its name refers to the figure of a townsman Mikołaj Wierzynek and a feast held by him in the 17th century. The artistic café, Jama Michalika, boasts over a hundred years of literary traditions. Here the Zielony Balonik Cabaret has come into being and the Spirit of Young Poland has arisen. At the Main Market Square there is also the Piwnica pod Baranami cabaret, created by renowned local artists, and a students’ club Pod Jaszczurami. The club is a legend in academic cultural circles. It is a popular place of meetings for the academic environment of Kraków where visitors are always welcome.