Krakow, Poland - June 2008

In June we both took our first trip to Poland and decided to go to Krakow. Instead of going to the Warsaw which is the capitol of Poland and the largest city we went to the smaller Krakow. Warsaw was heavily damaged during WWII and Krakow was able to avoid much of the warfare, therefore preserving much of its historical character so it seemed like a better choice.

Wawel Castle is one of the important symbols of survival among the Polish people. It was built in the 14th century on a hill overlooking Krakow and was the original seat of the Polish Kings before the royal seat was moved to Warsaw in the 16th century.

Inside the castle there is entire almost another little town with numerous buildings spread out. The most famous is the Cathedral which is in the background.

Once inside the Cathedral you can climb up the bell tower. It is a steep climb with small stairs, but at the top you get to see the large bells of which the oldest dates from 1520 and is rung on important occasions.

As mentioned previously, Wawel Castle sits on a hill overlooking Krakow and gives you some great views of the city.

Inside the castle there is the arcaded courtyard, one of the better examples of Renaissance architecture outside of Italy.

The Wawel Cathedral has been the burial ground for Polish kings since the 14th century. It has been altered many times over the years as the different kings have added multiple burial chapels. It was also the cathedral of the archdiocese of Pope John Paul II.

Rynek square is the largest medieval square in Europe and dates back to the 13th century. The square is surrounded by a number of old buildings, many centuries old and now house restaurants and other shops. Pictured here is the Town Hall tower built in the 13th century, it does lean a bit due to a wind storm in 1703.

Also in the square is the St. Mary's Basilica, built in the 14th century. Every hour a trumpet signal is played from the taller of the two towers to commemorate a trumpeter who was shot in the throat while sounding an alarm of a pending Mongol attack. The tune breaks off in mid-stream as the trumpet player was killed by the Mongol arrow while sounding the alarm.

Not far from Krakow is the famous Auschwitz concentration camp and so we took a half day tour of Auschwitz and the nearby Birkenau camp. Upon entry into Auschwitz there is still the gate on which there is the famous sign that says "Work will set you free".

To the left and right you can see the buildings that held the inmates as well as some other buildings which were used for other functions.

Between two of the buildings there was a small courtyard with the wall at one end where certain inmates were tortured and killed for a variety of offenses.

Surrounding the camp were two sets of electrified fences with barbed wire and numerous guards building to keep an eye out for potential escapes.

About one year after the war the commandant of the camp, Rudolf Hoss was captured by British troops. He was tried and convicted and was hung on the gallows here, which were constructed specially for that purpose.

In addition to Auschwitz we took a shorter tour of the Birkenau camp, which was a few miles away. While not as well known as Auschwitz the Birkenau camp was much larger and many more people were killed here. Unlike Auschwitz where the trains stopped a distance away from the camp, in Birkenau the train tracks went through the camp so that the inmates would go directly to their final destinations more quickly.

After the tour of the concentration camps we were dropped off and had an hour or so until our afternoon tour of the Salt mine. Near the drop off place there was a restaurant where it was not only serve yourself, but cook yourself. We were given two Polish sausages and told to cook them over the fire you see here.

In Krakow there is a famous salt mine called Wieliczka that had been in use from the 13th century until it closed operations in 2007, now it is only a tourist destination. The mine goes down 1000 feet and there are regular tours down to about the 400 feet level. Inside the mine there are carvings made out of the salt throughout and there are even chapels and large halls that can be rented out for a variety of functions. The next seven pictures are all of the salt mine. The first picture is a carving to commemorate the legend of Princess Kinga who received an engagement ring from her future husband, the king of Poland.

Our hotel in Krakow was near the Old Jewish district so we took the opportunity to visit some of the old synagogues that still remained in Krakow. The synagogue Remuh dates from the 16th century and as you would expect it is one of the few temples still in the city.

Built in the 1300's Saint Florian's gate is the only surviving gate from original eight built during the middle ages. The old city had been surrounded by a wall with the gates but the rest were taken down during the 19th century.

The Barbican was a fortified outpost built during the 15th century as part of the defensive network surrounding Krakow.

A side view of the Barbican which gives you a better idea of its size and cylindrical shape.

Tom is standing near the Barbican and the Florian gate. In the background to the right are the paintings that are sold by amateur artists, they were not too bad.

In the middle of Rynek square is the "Cloth Hall", also known as Sukiennice, it had been a major trading area since before the 15th century. Today it mainly caters to tourists selling a variety of Polish trinkets.

Another picture of Rynek square, this one has a better view of the St. Mary's Basilica and some of the surrounding buildings.

The final picture of Rynek and of Krakow, this was taken not long before we left the city and made our way back to Paris.