Monday, September 7, 2009

Krakow, Poland

It seems we somehow carried the rain from Ukraine into Poland as it was damp when the bus arrived at Krakow. This city was the former royal capital of Poland and is its most beautiful city architecturally.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived in Poland is the use of the Latin alphabet! More conspicuous around the city are its Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture as this area was ruled by the Polish and Austrian-Hungarian empires. There were so many churches that it was hard to keep track (and so many weddings on the particular Saturday I was there). My favorite was St Severus Church, with its fountain of mineral-rich water and sculptures of bishops in its surrounding park. Moreover, many of the buildings are named “John Paul II”, after the pope who used to live in the Krakow area.

My favorite building though, has to be the Collegium Maius, founded in 1400 as part of Jagiellonska University, Central Europe’s second oldest. The Gothic courtyard with its old library was especially aesthetically pleasing.

Krakow also contains Wawel hill, the seat of royal power, overlooking Krakow. On top of the hill are Wawel Cathedral and Castle. The cathedral has a distinct architecture, composed of red bricks, gray stones, green spires and a golden dome. The castle has a three-storey Renaissance courtyard with some frescoes remaining.

And perhaps not surprisingly, Krakow has a Jewish quarter, Kazimierz. The city is also near two concentration campus, Auschwitz and Birkenau (which I did not have time to visit but will go next time). Kazimierz, similar to the Jewish quarter in Prague, has its fair share of synagogues and a cemetery. It is now a tourist neighborhood filled with restaurants, bars and cafes.

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