One of the highlights of any European city is the great market square and Kraków does not disappoint. After the Tatars destroyed the city in 1241 it was rebuilt in a near perfect grid and with a square that is one of the city's best attractions. Our hotel was just steps from this square and we enjoyed sitting there waiting for the "Trumpeter of Krakow" to play the hourly "bejnal" song from the tower of St. Mary's Church. According to legend, during the first Tartar invasion a young boy was attempting to warn the townspeople by playing his bugle from the tower but an enemy arrow pierced his throat, stopping him in mid song and that is why he still does so today. ( Today there are 12 firemen who serve as the trumpeters, each one working 24 hour shift, keeping this legend alive.) Note that this legend is recounted in the Newberry Award winning book (1929) "Trumpeter of Kraków" by Eric P. Kelly
St. Mary's Church has stood on this spot for 800 years and I will remember it best for the amazing three part altarpiece, which RS calls one of the best medieval woodcarvings in existence. Other artwork in the church is equally impressive, making it one of the most beautiful churches of this trip. We have a "one church a day" rule but we broke it on the day we attended a concert at the Church of St. Adalbert which also sits on the main square. Built in the 10th century, it is the oldest church in Kraków. It is very small and since only 40 people could attend the concert this was as close as I'll ever sit to the performers!
Another major site near the square is the Cloth House a place where cloth sellers had their market stalls in the Middle Ages and a market still exists today. I spent a considerable amount of time puruseing the many stalls looking for what I thought would be the perfect Kraków souvenir - a trumpet Christmas tree ornament! I was astonished that not a single vendor had such an item! A serious marketing failure in my opinion.
|Wawel Cathedral was completed over centuries and it's eclectic exterior reflects this|
|Wawel Castle Grounds|
|On the Castle grounds|
On our last day in Kraków we visited the Jewish quarter (Kazimierz) and later Schindler's Factory. Unfortunately this was the only rainy day of our tour and a cloudburst drenched our group and cut short the time we had to really explore the Jewish quarter. Before the rain we did learn about the history of the area, how Jews had lived here since the 15th century and this became a flourishing community in the 1800s. At the start of World War II, 65,000 Jews lived in Kraków but only a few thousand survived the Nazi control. Today only a few hundred Jews live here but our guide explained that this number is growing and there is a renaissance of Jewish culture happening.
The popularity of the movie "Schindler's List," which was partially filmed here may play a part in this and a visit to Schindler's Factory Musuem was the second part of our day in this part of Kraków.
We took a tram across the Vistula River to the neighborhood called Podgorze where the Nazis forced Krakow's Jews into a ghetto in early 1941. Our first stop was Ghetto Heroes Square where empty metal chairs sit as a reminders of the how the Jews were forced to this place, along with all their furniture and possessions. The empty chairs are a somber reminder of what happened to the people who lived here.
Thomas Keneally's 1982 book "Schindler's Ark" first brought the story of German industrialist Oskar Schindler to the world's attention. When the Nazis first invaded Poland Schindler was very much a sympathizer who saw business potential in acquiring a pots and pans factory staffed by over 1000 Jewish workers. At some point however his allegiance changed and he secretly became an advocate for his Jewish workers using any means possible to ease their miserable living conditions and save them from probable death. When the factory was ordered moved and directed to begin manufacturing war materials he argued for the necessity of keeping his workers and it is said that the items produced for the war effort were largely sabotaged to fail. The museum tells Schindler's story but also depicts the World War II experience of all of Kraków.
Leaving the museum we got caught in the second big downpour of the day. This time it came with a very big wind which turned my umbrella inside out and that was the end of my Paris umbrella. . Another reason why I need to go back to Paris!