Wawel Castle in Krakow- nearly 1000 years in the making

Wawel Castle
Wawel Castle

June 15, 2018

We climbed Wawel Hill today,  as people have been doing for the last 50,000 years.  Only since circa 1000, however,  has this climb served to gain the entrance to the castle.  Now it’s a museum (1931), sitting in a complex of structures including the Royal Cathedral, atop the modest hill overlooking the Vistula River.

In the 9th century the castle was in its first iteration, a forticiation (castrum) built by the Vislanes. The remains of the castrum are in the northern wing of the present-day Castle.  Subsequently the Piast dynasty (965-1034) chose Wawel Hill as a residence.  Early in the 11th c.  King Bolesław I built the castle that is the forebear of today’s structures.  
Kazimierz III Wielki (Casimir III the Great, 1330-70) transformed it into a fortified Gothic castle.  After its destruction from fire 1499 Zygmunt I Stary (Sigismund I the Old; 1506–48) ordered a  new building in the Renaissance style, with an impressive large courtyard with arcaded galleries,  completed 30 years later,  thus creating the basis for what we have today.
Poland lost its independence in 1795, the castle coming under Austrian control.  The Austrians converted some portions of the site to military hospital use, and some destroyed buildings.  Eventually  the castle because a residence of Emperor Franz Josef I, and occupied by the Austrians until 1911.
Wawel Cathedral
Wawel Royal Cathedral
Krakow Castle, watercolor, 20x20cm, 8×8″ $150
The Nazi governor resided in the castle, but not before securing some of the treasures and in some cases moved to Canada. 

Today there are ten collections, including important Italian Renaissance paintings, prints, sculptures and textiles, including the Sigismund II Augustus tapestry collection, gold, Oriental art including Ottoman tents, armor, ceramics, Meissen porcelain,  as well as period furniture. There are specialized conservation studios, making it a significant restoration center.


Polish cuisine

Polish food has long since been a part of American cuisine, even if a small part.  Who has not had kielbasa sausage or dill pickles.   Polish cuisine is a calorie and fat rich cuisine, heavy on pork, chicken and beef to a lesser extent.  Cabbage is a major item —  there were three types of cabbage served with the huge platter we shared on our first night.  They use a lot of cream and eggs, as well as grains. Bigos is a hearty stew made of finely chopped meats sauerkraut and cabbage.  Pirogi are a major feature, stuffed noodles or rolled pancakes–  I had one stuffed with cheese and spinach.  You can get a variety of pretzel (but soft) in food carts and bakeries everywhere.    Sour dough breads are common, including its use in soups.  In the main square there are booths.  At one we tried a grilled smoke cheese with cherry jam.  It was excellent!


Breads and meats in the main square

A small place open just for lunch is called Lunch-  that’s right, Lunch.  We noticed that locals were piling in so figured it was probably both good and a good value, and it was indeed.  This meal plus a beer and coke was just $15.00, and either would have been enough for two people.  The pirogi had a potato pancake on top and another on the bottom.

goulash with potato pancakes
Cheese and spinach pirogi, pancake style

Goulash was borrowed from the Hungarians, becoming an integral part of the cuisine.









I have my doubts about spinach as a traditional ingredient.

I’ll have more to add as we go.  

Krakow: city of architecture and culture

Krakow sits on the banks of the Vistula.  Settlement dates from the 7th century, finding Wawel hill a defensible position. and has long been a major center of Polish culture and economy.  It was a member of the Hanseatic league despite not being coastal and thus had its own fleet during that period (circa 1000-1500).   It was the capitol of Poland from 1038-1569, when Wawel Castle 

Wawel Castle
Wawel Castle

castle burned, after which the capital was moved to Warsaw.  It was capitol again during the Nazi era.  In 1978, Karol Wojtyła became Pope John Paul II, the first non-Italian in 455 years.  Auschwitz is close by, and Schindler had his factory here, which is now a museum.   Its current population is 760,000, with a total regional population of 8 million.  On our first day it seemed like a few million children were taking a field drip to the city, long lines of them being moved about by teachers trying to show them the town.  

Wawel Castle at night

http://www.garyjkirkpatrick.com/krakow/Wawel Castle at nightKrakow means “town of Krakus,”  a legendary ruler of the country.  The area’s first named inhabitants, the Vistulian tribe (700 CE), gave the river its name.  However, there is evidence of habitation dating well before, to 50,000 years.  Wawel Castle, now a fine arts museum, was built  circa 1350 and much renovated in the 16th century, when King Sigusmund brought in Italian architects, German decorators as well as local craftsmen.  

In 1364 Casimir III founded the University of Krakow, the second oldest in central Europe after Charles University in Prague.  By the 15th century the city had entered its golden age, whence the examples of Polish Renaissance architecture.  The architecture includes fine examples of Gothic, Renaissance and the Baroque.

Wawel Cathedral
Wawel Cathedral
St Mary CathedraL, Krakow
St Mary Cathedral, Krakow