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Why Cracow??

Cracow is a beautiful city. The future and the past meet here, creating unique atmosphere. No wonder Cracow was chosen to be one of the cultural capitals of Europe. To learn more about the city, read the article entitled "Living in Cracow".

Welcome to Cracow (Kraków)!

It's a magical place where medieval heritage and 12th century meet, creating an extraordinary mixture with modern times. Here every single brick carries its own history, every corner of the street was an "eye-witness" of some important events, every building hides secrets from past centuries.

Cracow's name was first mentioned in writing around the year 965 by a Spanish Jew from Cordoba, Ibrahim Ibn Yaqub. He was a merchant, travelling north in search of salt, copper, silver produced in the Małopolska Province, of which Cracow was the capital. By the end of the first millennium, Cracow was a complex of a Romanesque cathedral, a stone castle and a citadel, all built on the Wawel Hill. Cracow experienced its "Golden Age" in the 15th-16th centuries, when it became not only a centre of the Kingdom of Poland but also a centre of trade, culture, arts and science - thanks to founding of the University in 1364. The Golden Age of Cracow was also when Poland became one of the most important countries of the Renaissance Europe.

In 1609 the capital was transferred to Warsaw. This was the beginning of both Cracow's and Poland's decline. In the previous centuries Poland had successfully protected its independence. Since the 17th century Poland had suffered from several wars that weakened its power and finally led to the partitioning of our country by mighty neighbours.

Cracow became Poland's heart of national identity and sparked the awakening of the spirit of independence. The last of the series of uprisings restored Poland's sovereignty in 1918. Marshall Józef Piłsudski, who led our nation to freedom after 123 years of foreign occupation, is buried in the Wawel crypt in Cracow, among tombs of great kings, warriors and statesmen.

Unlike most of Polish cities, Cracow was spared the physical destruction of World War II. It was a tragic period, though. Nazis tried to destroy Polish identity and historical heritage by renaming places, stealing or destroying valuable works of arts and killing people. The Nazis exterminated nearly all of 70,000 Jews who lived in Cracow before 1939, as well as a lot of Polish intellectuals, artists and politicians. After the war the totalitarian government tried to balance the "overly intellectual and bourgeois" Cracow by founding the steel industry and steelworkers' city - Nowa Huta. But workers, who were meant to be the stronghold of communism, turned out to be the main force of a new revolution. People wanted to be free and free they have become...

Today Cracow is a picturesque city, full of hospitable people. They are aware of the history and try to live their lives in peace and harmony. Past centuries have left them with a huge treasury: old churches, such as the Wawel Cathedral or St. Mary's Church with the masterpiece of late gothic art - the altar of St. Mary, made between 1477-1489 by Wit Stwosz; the Royal Castle; the Main Market Square (Rynek) - the biggest and the most beautiful in this part of Europe; the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) - the trade centre built in the 13th century; a complex of the Jagiellonian University buildings; Kazimierz - the Jewish Town with lots of remnants of Jewish culture and art; and many, many countless places, buildings, reminding visitors of the long and rich history of this city.

While staying in Cracow one can visit over thirty museums, as well as several dozens of art galleries. You can see exhibitions of modern and contemporary art. There are a lot of art openings, multimedia events, performances, happenings, festivals, meetings, etc. You can also visit Cracow's theatres, such as Teatr Stary, Teatr Słowackiego or famous Cricot 2, created by Tadeusz Kantor.

There are numerous cinemas, offering both new releases (Kijów, Wanda, Uciecha, Reduta) and underground directors' releases (Mikro, Pod Baranami, Rotunda, Paradox). For those who love music Cracow offers a lot of concerts of classical music, folk, jazz, rock, techno, a huge variety of styles, suitable for every musical taste.

If you want to eat out, you can choose from a myriad of bars, cafes and restaurants, situated in the streets around the Market Square. Here you can easily find a quiet, nice place serving both Polish and foreign meals. You can choose either relatively pricey places or cheap milk bars, ideal when you are out of funds. In summer Cracow's Market Square fills with cafe tables and parasols, where tourists and locals can sit down and have a cup of coffee or a glass of beer.

There are also plenty of cafes, pubs and bars, usually located in the old buildings in the center of the city, where you can listen to music, chat with your friends or meet new ones. At nights some of these places spontaneously change to dance floors. In this magical place you can explore its secrets for months and still have plenty to see. It's worth coming and staying here to feel the atmosphere of the place that could be called a gate between medieval times and 21st century.

Some places of interest in Cracow:

- The Mediaeval Old Town - a unique "city-and-castle" complex www.krakow.pl/turystyka
- Rynek Główny (Market Square) - the largest mediaeval square in Europe
- Kościół Mariacki ( St Mary's Church ) - a basilica church with a 15th century altar by Wit Stwosz (Veit Stoss), and the hejnał - a trumpet tune played every hour from its tower
- Sukiennice (Cloth Hall) - a mediaeval market, now selling traditional souvenirs
- Uniwersytet Jagieloński (Jagiellonian University ) - founded in 1364; Collegium Maius is the oldest part of the university; with an alchemy room and astronomy instruments used by Copernicus
- Wawel - the Royal Castle and Cathedral and Dragon's Cave
- The City Walls - with Brama Floriańska (The Florian Gate) and the Barbakan (Barbiacan)
- Kazimierz - The Old Jewish District, once an independent town. It includes locations where Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List" was filmed www.kazimierz.com

Some places of interest in Kraków Environs:

- Wieliczka - mediaeval salt mines - a 2 km tourist route leads through the galleries and chambers of the oldest part of the mine, including magnificent 17th and 19th century chapels carved out of huge blocs of salt www.wieliczka.pl
- Nowa Huta - an epitome of a socialist town
- Ausschwitz - in the years 1940 - 1945 the biggest German Nazi concentration camp, where approximately 1.5 million people were exterminated www.auschwitz.org.pl
- Dunajec Gorge - a scenic ride on rafts guided by local mountain people, through a beautiful mountain gorge in Pieniny National Park
- Częstochowa - the location of Poland's national shirne, the Jasna Góra monastery, famous for its icon of the Black Madonna
- Ojców National Park, and The "Eagles Nest's Trail" - a chain of fortified castles in Prądnik valley, with picturesque woodlands, and limestone pock formations
- Tatra Mountains - (the Tatra National Park) - the highest range of the Carpathians, with the highest Polish peak- Rysy - 2499 metres. Zakopane is capital of the Polish Tatra Mountains, a centre for mountain climbing and hiking.

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