After having been in the countryside and the mountains for a few days, I am overwhelmed by the masses of visitors trampling all over Krakau. I walk up to Wawel Castle in the afternoon, but when I see it is swarming with people, I decide to give it a go, concentrate on places outside the city, and come back to see Krakau in the low season. The day I leave, I stay in the city and am up with the sun. This is the way to beat the crowds. I walk through an empty city centre, and head straight for the impressive historic complex atop the rocky outcrop above the Vistula river. I walk up the sloping entrance on the north side. The bell tower of Wawel Cathedral rises high above me. When I enter through the Bernardine Gate and walk past the closed cathedral door, I realise how different it feels now that there is no one else around.
Behind Wawel Cathedral, I find a large open space. Here, I see the outlines of early medieval churches. A mockup model of Wawel Hill helps to understand the complex history of this settlement. The strategic position, high above Vistula river, made it attractive since a long time to establish a presence here. The Polish kings constructed a castle on top of the vantage point, and for a long time it was the seat of government of Poland, until Warsaw took over as the capital city at the end of the 16th century. Foreign powers then took possession of the castle: the Swedes, Austrians and Prussians, among others. The Austrians changed the function of Wawel, turning it into a citadel and destroying churches and other buildings while building a military hospital. When the Austrians left in the early 20th century, the castle was restored as an official residence for the president, and presently, is a well-stocked museum.
After crossing the central area, I walk down the northern rampart again, walk around Wawel Hill, looking up at the high walls surrounding the castle. When I reach the southern rampart, I walk up the slope. There are a few more people now. I walk past Sandomierska bastion, one of the bastions surrounding the castle, and arrive at the central area on top of Wawel. Wawel Cathedral is basking in the sun, and I walk past the golden-domed Sigismund Chapel to the entrance of the castle. I find myself in a courtyard, surrounded by arcades of Sigismund I the old, an Italian renaissance style part of the castle. On the other side, I find the entrance to the Royal Gardens, which at this time of day unfortunately are still closed. I walk to the enormous door of Wawel Cathedral. On the left hand side, I find hanging bones: supposedly belonging to the Wawel Dragon. More likely, they are fossilised whale bones and look totally out of place here. Someone opens the door, and I walk behind him into the huge and empty cathedral. I absorb the cultural riches all around me, until an official kicks me out. The cathedral is not open yet, and I have to pay to enter. But I have a flight to catch, so I walk down the ramp and leave Wawel hill, with its cathedral and castle, behind me.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Wawel Castle (Poland). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Wawel Castle. Read more about this site.