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    Wawel from the Vistula River

    Wawel is an architectural complex erected over many centuries atop a limestone outcrop on the left bank of the Vistula River in Kraków, Poland, at an altitude of 228 metres above the sea level. It is a place of great significance to the Polish people. The Royal Castle with an armoury and the Cathedral are situated on the hill. Polish Royalty and many distinguished Poles are interred in the Wawel Cathedral. Royal coronations took place there also.

    Wawel began to play the role of a centre of political power at the end of the first millennium AD. In the 9th century it became the principal fortified castrum of the Vistulans tribe (Polish: Wiślanie). The first historical ruler Mieszko I of Poland (c.965-992) of the Piast dynasty as well as his successors: Boleslaw I the Brave (Polish: Bolesław I Chrobry; 992-1025) and Mieszko II (1025–1034) chose Wawel as one of their residences. At that time Wawel became one of the Polish main centres of Christianity. The first early Romanesque buildings were erected there including a stone cathedral serving the bishopric of Kraków in the year 1000. Since the reign of Casimir the Restorer (1034–1058) Wawel became the leading political and administrative centre for the Polish State.

    Wawel Hill


    Illustration of the Royal Castle on the Wawel Hill (16th century)

    Wawel hill has the form of a horst that originated in the Miocene epoch (23-5 million years ago). It is made up of Jurassic limestone dating back to the Oxfordian age (161-155 million years ago). The limestone is strongly karsted and abounds in caves (e.g. the Dragon’s Den – Smocza Jama). This could explain why the hill was originally called "wąwel", meaning ravine in Polish. Once the ravine divided the hill in two. According to another theory this word means 'protrusion from the marshes' which surrounded the hill. According to the newest theory name "Wawel" is a regular continuation of the name Babel in both Greek and Old Church Slavonic languages.

    The hill is the site of a group of historic buildings, including Wawel Castle and the Wawel Cathedral (the Cathedral Basilica of St. Stanisław and St. Wacław). The complex also comprises the Wawel Hill Fortifications. The remains of other buildings, dating back to different historical periods, have also been found on the site.

    The history of medieval Wawel is deeply intertwined with the history of the Polish lands and Polish royal dynasties during the Middle Ages. The political and dynastic tensions that led to the ascendence of Kraków as the royal seat are complex, but for most of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance Wawel was the seat of the national government. As the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth formed and grew, Wawel became the seat of one of Europe's most important states. This status was only lost when the capital was moved to Warsaw in the 17th century. Beginning in the second half of the 18th century, when Poland lost its independence during the period of partitions, Wawel became a symbol of the enduring nation and wittnessed demonstrations and gatherings of Cracovians against the foreign occupation.

    The significance of the Wawel Hill comes in part from its combination of political and religious structures and their functions. The Cathedral holds the relics of St. Stanisław and stands directly adjacent to the Royal Castle. The Hill has long served religious functions; some of the oldest extant architectural remains are those of the Rotunda of the Virgin Mary, which may be visited today in a tour that takes visitors into the walls and foundations of the present-day buildings. The history of Wawel is long and complex. Throughout the centuries Wawel has undergone many changes that are presented below.

    Beginnings – up to the mid-11th-century

    Archeological studies point to the earliest settlement dating back to the Middle Paleolithic era, c. 100,000 years BC. It owed its rapid development to its location at the crossing of a number of key trading routes. Wawel is believed to be one of the strongholds of the Vistulan tribe which formed a nation at the turn of the 8th and 9th century AD. Its legendary rulers Krakus and Princess Wanda, who are said to have lived in the 7th and 8th centuries, are mentioned by the 13th century chronicler Wincenty Kadłubek. In the 10th century the Vistulans’ lands and Kraków became a part of the emerging state of Poland.

    In 1000 the Kraków diocese was established followed by the construction of a Cathedral – the residence of the bishop. However, as a result of an ongoing conflict with the Holy Roman Empire, construction did not begin until the signing of the Peace of Bautzen, in 1018. Only minor fragments remain of the original cathedral (which is sometimes called ‘chrobrowska’ after Bolesław I the Brave) and despite extensive archeological work it has proved impossible to reconstruct its exterior. Until the 1980 relicts of St. Gereon’s Church were identified with the first cathedral but this theory, advanced by Adolf Szyszko-Bohusz, has been disproved by recent research. There are also inconsistencies in the dating of the destruction of the original cathedral. Some sources place this at the time of the invasion of Bretislaus I of Bohemia in the 1040s or during a fire in the 1080s.
    As well as the cathedral, the hill was also the site of other buildings. The earliest evidence of wooden structures dates back to the ninth century, with the earliest stone buildings dating back to the tenth and eleventh century. From this period originated the remains of such buildings as:

    • The Rotunda of the Blessed Virgin Mary – probably from the turn of the tenth and eleventh century
    • Church B – the earliest parts originate from the tenth century
    • Church of St. Gereon – probably the palace chapel
    • Church of St. George – subsequently rebuilt
    • Church of St. Michael
    • 24 pillar Room – possibly the ducal mansion
    • Quadrangle construction from the turn of the tenth and eleventh century of unknown use; possibly ducal granary or tomb
    • Keep – protective and residential tower

    Romanesque (11th – 12th century)


    St. Leonard's Crypt

    At some time between 1038–1039 Casimir I the Restorer returned to Poland and it is supposed that Kraków became the royal residence and the capital of Poland at this time.

    At the end of the 11th century construction work began on the second cathedral, called ‘Hermanowska’, it is probable that Władysław I Herman was its benefactor. The cathedral was consecrated in 1142. Much more is known about this cathedral because its image is preserved on a chapterhouse seal from the 13th century and its remains are better preserved – the lower part of the Silver Bell Tower and entire trinaval St. Leonard's Crypt supported by eight columns. In 1118 bishop Maurus was buried there. The paten and the chalice were later exhumed from the tomb. This period also gave rise to:

    • The Rotunda by the Bastion of Ladislaus IV of Hungary from the 12th century; it could have been a baptistery
    • Church near the Dragon’s Den
    • Rotunda by the Sandomierska Tower – probably from the second half of the 11th century

    Gothic (13th – 14th century)


    Sarcophagus of Casimir III the Great

    In 1305 or 1306 the cathedral was only partially destroyed by a fire, which made possible the coronation of Władysław I the Elbow-high in 1320. In the same year construction of a third cathedral began at the King’s behest, the key elements of which are preserved today. It was consecrated in 1364. It is trinaval in construction, with the transept and the ambit, with chapels added in later centuries. The first ones were built at chancel – in 1322 St. Margarita’s chapel was consecrated (today it acts as a sacristy) and few years saw the completion of a chapel later called the Báthory Chapel.

    The west entrance is the site of a chapel which takes its name from its benefactress Sophia of Halshany (last wife of Jogaila) and, the Świetokrzyska Chapel, established by Casimir IV Jagiellon. Other chapels were also built (at the end of the 15th century there were nineteen of them) which were later considerably rebuilt. Władysław I the Elbow-high was the first king buried in the Wawel Cathedral. His sandstone sarcophagus was founded in the half of the 14th century by Casimir III the Great. The cathedral also contains the tombs of Casimir III the Great and Jogaila but the most valuable one is that of Casimir IV Jagiellon, carved by Veit Stoss in 1492. The late-Gothic tombstone of John I Albert was carved at the beginning of the 16th century and is attributed to Jorg Huber. A gothic castle was built at the behest of Casimir III the Great and consisted of a number of structures situated around a central courtyard. In the 14th century it was rebuilt by Jogaila and Jadwiga of Poland. Their reign saw the addition of the tower so-called the Hen’s Foot and the Danish Tower. The Jadwiga and Jogaila Chamber, in which ‘Szczerbiec’ is exhibited today, is another remnant of this period. Other structures were developed on the hill during this period to serve as quarters for the numerous clergy, royal clerks and craftsmen, as well as defensive walls and towers such as ‘Jordanka,’ ‘Lubranka,’ ‘Sandomierska,’ ‘Tęczyńska,’ ‘Szlachecka,’ ‘Złodziejska’ and ‘Panieńska.’

    Renaissance (16th century)


    View of Wawel Castle constructed during the Renaissance

    The ruling of the last Jagiellon was a time of splendour for Wawel. In that time, (between 1507–1536) the Royal Seat was thoroughly rebuilt. Sigismund I the Old sponsored that enormous undertaking. The works were supervised by two Italians: Francisco from Florence and Bartolommeo Berrecci. After their death, Benedykt from Sandomierz continued their work. From light arcade galleries of the courtyard, supported by slender columns one enters spacious and sunlit chambers. The inside of the castle, including the splendid Deputy Hall with its coffering ceiling, gives evidence of the great skills of both Italian and Polish craftsmen. Palace chambers were decorated with tapestries which Sigismund August purchased in large quantities. In the beginning of the 16th century, the tombstone of John Olbracht was placed in the niche sculptured by Francesco Fiorentino. That is the first renaissance work of art in Poland. In 1517 the construction of the Sigismund's Chapel started which acted as the mausoleum of the last Jagiellon. Sixteen years later the construction was completed. From that period other tombstones remained, such as those of Cardinal Frederic Jagiellon and of bishops Piotr Gamrat, Piotr Tomicki, Jan Konarski, Jan Chojenski and Samuel Maciejowski. In 1520 Sigismund Bell was cast. In the Cathedral one may find manneristic works of art: the tombstones of Stephen Báthory and bishop Fillip Padniewski – both designed by Santi Gucci and also the tombstone of bishop Andrzej Zebrzydowski designed by Jan Michalowicz from Urzedow.

    Baroque (17th – 18th century)


    Baroque canopy and a silver coffin of St. Stanisław

    After the fire in 1595, times when the northeast part of the castle burned down, king Sigismund III Vasa decided to rebuild it under the direction of the architect Giovanni Trevano. Basically, the Senator Stairs and the fireplace in the Bird Room remain till this day. When in 1609 king Sigismund the III moved permanently to Warsaw, tough times for Wawel began. Both the castle and other buildings fell into ruin, despite the concern of governors. Also the Swedish, who stayed in Wawel between 1655–1657 and in 1702, contributed to the deteriorating condition of the castle. In addition, the hill was occupied by the Prussian Army in 1794, when Royal Insignia were stolen (apart from the Szczerbiec), and never retrieved. In the 17th century, Wawel, as an important defensive point, was modernised with defensive walls. Later, the transfer of the capital to Warsaw did not change the role and importance of the Wawel Cathedral, which was still the place of coronations and royal funerals. On that time, many changes were introduced in the Cathedral – the main altar was rebuilt, the cloister was elevated and the Confession of St. Stanislaw (a marble altar and a silver coffin) was built. Baroque tombstones were also erected, among others were the ones of bishops: Marcin Szyszkowski, Piotr Gembicki, Jan Malachowski, Kazimierz Lubienski and kings: Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki and John III Sobieski) and chapels (Waza Chapel).

    19th century


    Wawel Hill in about 1847

    After the Third Partition of Poland (1795), Wawel was under Austrian rule. Austrian soldiers converted the hill into barracks; in the process much destruction took place and rebuilding was issued: the cloisters were walled up, the interior of the castle was changed, parts of the buildings were pulled down (e.g. churches of St. Michael and St. George). When the Kraków Uprising failed and the Republic of Kraków was terminated, three enormous buildings housing a military hospital were built on the Wawel Hill. In the second part of the 19th century the Austrians rebuilt the defense walls making them a part of Kraków Stronghold (two new caponiers were made). At the same time, the Poles tried to retake the hill. In 1815 ceremonial funeral of Józef Poniatowski took place in the Wawel Cathedral. Since that event national heroes are also put to rest there (formerly only bodies of monarchs rested in the cathedral). In 1818 the body of Tadeusz Kościuszko was brought there and placed in St. Leonard's Crypt. The Potocki Chapel was reconstructed in a classicistic style. The statue of Artur Potocki, by the famous sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, was placed within the chapel. Another sculpture by the same artist was put in Queen Sophia's Chapel. In 1869, due to the accidental opening of the coffin of king Casimir III the Great, a second funeral was performed. Consequently, an initiative was taken to renovate other monarchs’ tombs in the Wawel Cathedral. The underground crypts were connected with tunnels, sarcophagi were cleaned and refurbished, new ones were funded – the emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria paid for a sarcophagus for king Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki whose wife was from the House of Habsburg.

    20th century


    Decorative murals in the Queen Sophia’s Chapel by Włodzimierz Tetmajer

    In 1905 the emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria gave an order for Austrian troops to leave Wawel. Restoration works began, managed by Zygmund Hendel Adolf Szyszko-Bohusz, who discovered the Rotunda of Virgin Mary as well as other relics of the past. The renovation of the Wawel Hill was by public subscription. The names of the people who gave money were inscribed on the bricks used to raise the wall near the northern gateway to the castle. Coat of Arms Gate was built there and the statue of Tadeusz Kościuszko was placed there, too. In the years 1904-1907 Stanisław Wyspiański and the architect Władysław Ekielski designed a plan of development for the Wawel Hill called Akropolis. This project, which was never accomplished, aimed at building on the hill: the Polish Houses of Parliament, the National Museum, Skills Academy and Bishop Curia. The overall design was supposed to be based on the ancient architectural style. The authors planned to build a Greek-style theatre and Nike statue. In the 20th century the Wawel Cathedral gained two new tombstones: queen's Jadwiga of Poland (1902) and symbolical one of Władysław Warneńczyk (1906); both were designed by Antoni Madeyski. In the years 1902-1904 Włodzimierz Tetmajer decorated the walls of Queen Sophia’s Chapel with paintings depicting Polish saints and national heroes. Józef Mehoffer was the author of beautiful murals in the vault of the Wawel Cathedral, stained-glass windows in the St. Cross Chapel, paintings and a stained-glass window in the Szafrańcy Chapel. He also made stained-glass windows in the transept of the Wawel Cathedral which depict the suffering Christ and Virgin Mary. During Poland’s twenty years of independence after World War I, Polish authorities decided that the Wawel Castle was to be a representative building of the Polish Republic and would be used by the State Governor and later by the President himself. In 1921 the Polish Parliament passed a resolution which gave Wawel official status of the residence of the President of Poland (the luxurious suite of the president Ignacy Mościcki can be seen). No legal acts issued by the independent Polish authorities nullified that resolution (apart from the decision of the Stalinist State National Council (KRN) to change the Wawel Castle into a museum). In 1921 a statue of Tadeusz Kościuszko sculpted by Leandro Marconi and Antoni Popiel was placed on the rampart of king Władysław IV Vasa. In 1927 the ashes of Juliusz Słowacki were brought to the Wawel Cathedral. The bodies of Józef Piłsudski and Władysław Sikorski were placed to rest in the crypts. In the times of World War II the Wawel Castle was the residence of governor general Hans Frank. During that time many precious monuments were taken away and to this day have not returned to Poland.



    Wawel Cathedral


    Southern side of Wawel Cathedral

    The Wawel Cathedral is Poland's national sanctuary. It was the coronation site of nearly all Polish monarchs.

    The Sigismund's Chapel (Kaplica Zygmuntowska) is one of the most notable examples of architecture in Kraków. Built as a tomb chapel of the last Jagiellons, it was hailed by many historians of art as the most beautiful example of Tuscan renaissance north of the Alps. Financed by king Sigismund I of Poland, the chapel was built between 1519 and 1533 by Bartolomeo Berrecci. A square-based chapel with a golden dome houses the tombs of its founder king Sigismund, as well as king Sigismund Augustus of Poland and Anna Jagiellonka. The design of the internal sculptures, stuccoes and paintings was carried out by some of the most renowned artists of the era, including Santi Gucci, Hermann Vischer, and the architect himself, Georg Pencz.

    Wawel Castle


    Renaissance courtyard of Wawel Castle

    The Wawel Castle (Zamek wawelski) served as a royal residence and the site where the country's rulers governed Poland for five centuries from 1038 until 1596.

    The Wawel Dragon


    Wawel-dragon sculpture by Bronisław Chromy

    Smok Wawelski, also known as The Dragon of Wawel Hill or simply The Wawel Dragon, is a famous dragon in Polish folklore. He laired in a cave under the Wawel Hill on the banks of the Vistula river, although some legends place him in the Wawel mountains. In some stories the dragon lived before the founding of the city, when the area was inhabited by farmers.

    The Wawel Cathedral features a statue of the Wawel Dragon and a plaque commemorating his defeat by Krakus, a Polish prince who, according to the plaque, founded the city and his palace on the slain dragon's lair. The dragon's cave under the castle is now a popular tourist stop.

    A popular version of the Wawel Dragon tale takes place in Kraków during the reign of king Krakus, the city's legendary founder. Each day the evil dragon would beat a path of destruction across the countryside, killing people, pillaging their homes and devouring their livestock. In many versions of this story, the dragon especially enjoyed eating young girls, and could only be appeased if the townfolk would leave a young girl in front of his cave once a month. The King certainly wanted to put a stop to that awful situation, but his bravest knights fell to the dragon's fiery breath. In the versions involving the sacrifice of young girls, every girl in the city was eventually sacrificed except one, the King's daughter Wanda. In desperation, the King promised his beautiful daughter's hand in marriage to anybody who could defeat the dragon. Great warriors from near and far fought for the prize and failed. One day, a poor cobbler's apprentice named Dratewka accepted the challenge. He stuffed a lamb with sulphur and set it outside the dragon's cave. The dragon ate it and soon became incredibly thirsty. No amount of water could quell his stomach ache, and after swelling up from drinking half of the Vistula river, he exploded. The apprentice married the King's daughter as promised and they lived happily ever after.

    Fragment in Chicago

    A column fragment of Wawel Castle has been incorporated into Chicago's landmark Tribune Tower. Located in its own niche over the upper-left corner of the main entrance, it is a visual tribute to Chicago's large Polish populace, the largest such presence outside of the Republic of Poland.



    A magical place in a magical city. Thank you for posting this  :)



    Great post. Ever since seeing it up close for the first time, Wawel Hill has remained one of my favorite places in the world.


    In the years 1904-1907 Stanisław Wyspiański and the architect Władysław Ekielski designed a plan of development for the Wawel Hill called Akropolis. This project, which was never accomplished, aimed at building on the hill: the Polish Houses of Parliament, the National Museum, Skills Academy and Bishop Curia. The overall design was supposed to be based on the ancient architectural style.

    Model of Akropolis:
    [img width=700 height=525]http://bialczynski.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/wawel-akropol-p1090553.jpg”/>

    Visualization 1:

    Visualization 2:



    Wawel is for free this month!

    [size=12pt]“Modern Patriotism” – November at Four Royal Residences[/size]

    Free admission to Wawel exhibitions:
    All of Wawel’s exhibitions will be available free of charge throughout November. Please pick up a free pass at the ticket office. (Space is limited due to conservation restrictions.)

    Exhibitions and Opening Hours:

        State Rooms
        The Lost Wawel
        Leonardo da Vinci "Lady with an Ermine"
        1812–2012. Napoleon – The Grande Armée – The Poles
        Beauty Reclaimed: "Christ Blessing the Children" by Lucas Cranach the Elder, Restored
        Tuesday–Saturday, 9:30 am–4:00 pm;
        Sunday 10:00 am–4:00pm;

        Royal Private Apartments
        Crown Treasury and Armoury
        Tuesday–Saturday, 9:30 am–4:00 pm;
        Monday, Sunday – closed

        Oriental Art
        Tuesday–Saturday – entrance times at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm only

    “Modern Patriotism” is an initiative jointly initiated by The Royal Castle in Warsaw, the Wawel Royal Castle, the Royal Łazienki Museum, and the Wilanów Palace Museum have joined forces with the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage to increase the availability of cultural and educational programs of the Royal Residence Museums in Poland. Throughout November these four museums will be open to the public free of charge. In addition, the special educational program entitled “Modern Patriotism” includes 800 free museum lessons and events. The program’s aim is to allow free access to Poland’s cultural heritage to as broad an audience as possible, regardless of age or economic standing.


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