Krakow, the Old Town – A Continental Venice
By Maria Urmă
ANASTASIS. Research in Medieval Culture and Art, Volume 4, Number 1, 2017
Abstract: Surviving the destructions of the war, the old town of Krakow is a lesson of architecture and urbanism through the multitude of architectural styles, coherence and urban continuity. These features were preserved despite the numerous stages of construction, just as in San Marco Square from Venice, thus proving the power of consolidation of the values which had naturally been constituted, in time.
Introduction: Krakow, the cultural, academic and artistic centre, the main economic centre of Poland, is the second largest city and one of the oldest in Poland. It has a population of approximately 760.000 inhabitants and the metropolitan area has 8 million people. It was the capital of Poland from 1038 to 1569.
The origins of the city can be found in a small settlement in the Stone Age, on the present site of Wawel Hill. Constituted as a small village on this hill, the settlement existed since the 7th century, and there lived the tribe Wiślanie. In 965, it started to be mentioned as a trade centre, and from 1190 dates the first mentioning of the Prince Krakus (Grakch). In 990, Krakow was added to Poland, led by Boleslav I of Poland who built Wawel Complex and the first cathedral of the town.
In 1241, the town was almost completely destroyed during the Mongolian invasion. It was rebuilt in 1257, but it was destroyed again in 1259 by the Mongols. In 1287, there was a third attack but this time it was partially rejected by the new fortifications. In 1364, the town became prominent when king Casimir III of Poland founded the University of Krakow (today the Jagiellonian University, the second oldest university in Central Europe after Charles University from Prague). In the 15th and 16th centuries, the Golden Age of Poland, the majority of art and architecture masterpieces belonging to the Polish Renaissance were created, including the old synagogues from the Jewish quarter Kazimierz.