Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Post 9: Old Town Kraków

The Old Town section of Kraków is among one of the oldest and most historic sections of Kraków. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Back in medieval times, the town was surrounded by nearly two miles of walls, fortifying the city from invaders such as the Tartars who destroyed the city in 1241.

View of (part of) Old Town from the top of the Town Hall Tower.

Most of the walls and moat have long since been removed and are now a pleasant greenway surrounding the Old Town and separating it from the rest of the city. Cars aren't allowed in the Old Town which makes it a pleasure to walk around in.

The main square is the largest medieval town square of any European city, and it's where you'll find St. Mary's Basilica (more on that in a bit), the Sukiennice (the renascence cloth hall currently filled with souvenir shops, restaurants, and merchant stalls) and the Town Hall Tower, which used to be part of a larger building but is now just a tower that is open for tourists to climb to the top (for a small fee, of course!) There's also an underground museum exploring the old town's original streets, sewers and stuff which had been covered and lay underground for centuries until a recent archeological dig excavated the area and opened it for tourists. It's the "Underground Kraków" tour! (I sometimes joke that I only like to live in cities that have an "underground"--Seattle has an Underground too.)

Note for anyone visiting Kraków--get tickets for this immediately if you want to visit. When I got tickets, there was a sign saying that they had no more tickets available for the day. "Okay, how about tomorrow?" I asked.

"No, sorry, but there are no tickets available tomorrow either." This was on a weekday for goodness sake! Not even a weekend!

"Pojutrze?" I said. (Polish for "the day after tomorrow.")

Finally, they had a ticket available. Fortunately, I was living in Kraków so I could have gotten a ticket a week later if I had to, but the point is, these tickets can be hard to impossible to get at the last minute. If I was a tourist in town for a day or two, I might not have been able to get one at all. So if you're at all interested in the underground tour, check the ticket counter first thing when you arrive in Kraków.

But back to St. Mary's.... It's an interesting church given how asymmetrical the church is with two entirely different types of towers on each end. I heard a legend that each of the towers were built by two brothers, each trying to outdo the other in terms of splendor. It's probably just a legend, and the story doesn't have a happy ending with one of the brothers killing the other in a murderous rage.

The church is also well-known because every hour on the hour, a trumpet signal is played from the top of the taller of the two towers and the tune cuts off in mid-stream to commemorate the 13th-century trumpeter who was shot in the throat while sounding the alarm of the Mongol attack on the city. The noon-time hejnał is broadcast live by the Polish national Radio 1 Station. I watched it several times during my stay in Kraków, but I sometimes had trouble finding where the trumpeter was located--they didn't always use the same window in the tower! I'd hear the trumpet, but couldn't see any trumpeter from where I was standing and would quickly have to move to another location to catch sight of it. But it's quick--I doubt it lasts for even one minute--so there's not a lot of time to move position to look at the windows of the other side of the tower.

I never did get any photos of the trumpeter, either.

The main square always seemed to have stuff going on when I went to visit on weekends. I didn't even know what they were celebrating most of the time. One time, there were hundreds of people, many dressed in period costumes, parading through the square and dancing and sucking in passing civilians. It was kind of hypnotic to watch, but I had absolutely no idea what the special occasion was!

The cloth hall (Sukiennice) on the left and the Town Hall Tower on the right.
Town Hall Tower
St. Mary's Basilica--note how different the two towers are!

When I first arrived in Kraków, they were repaving this section in front of the church. I was impressed at how quickly they finished, though. It was just a few days later and they were done!

The Old Town used to be surrounded by nearly two miles of defensive walls with seven gates. This is one of the old gates.

The section of the old defensive wall is mostly covered with artwork for sale.
The horse-drawn carriages are a common and popular activity in Old Town. (I never did that, but still admired the beautiful horses!)

St. Mary's--at night!

1 comment:

Grrly Girl said...

time to practice your Polish comprehension Ryan.
I could only find Wiki with English information.
Didn't see any You Tubes with English.