Poland’s most spectacular medieval castle, The Wawel Royal Castle (often just called Wawel), is a residency castle located in central Kraków, Poland. It is considered Europe’s greatest castle of the time. Built at the behest of King Casimir III the Great, Wawel, perched on top of the hill of the same name and immediately south of the Old Town, is by far the most important collection of buildings in Poland. This Castle and Cathedral, which has been turned into a museum, is a symbol of national pride, hope, self-rule and not least of all fierce patriotism.
Italian Renaissance arrived at Wawel in the early 16th century. King Alexander (1501-1506) and his brother Sigismund I the Old (1506-1548) commissioned the construction of a new palace in place of the Gothic residence that was there, with an impressive large courtyard with arcaded galleries, which was completed about 1540. For centuries the residence of the Monarchy, Wawel Castle, as with any other Royal Palace, was the center of royal life. The Cathedral was the coronation site as well as the burial site for Polish monarchs. Crypts and tombs of the Polish monarchs date as far back as the 14th century. The last resident of the grounds was in 1921 when the President of Poland called it home. This changes when World War II broke out.
When German and Soviet forces entered Poland during the autumn of 1939, Krakow was chosen as the capital of Poland. Nazi leader, Hans Frank, was installed at Wawel as the Governor-General. Renamed Krakauer Burg, Polish people were banned from visiting except in the capacity of construction workers and building cleaners. Guarding it all was a new, gated arch of stone, through which hundreds of tourists still pass daily.
Though many of the renowned works of art Wawel had come to house over the centuries were lost, stolen, or destroyed during the war, many were saved by the forward-thinking Castle staff beforehand. This includes the tapestries of Sigismund II Augustus and the Szczerbiec coronation sword, which found their way west across land and sea to ultimately arrive in Canada for safekeeping. The Castle itself was wired with dynamite by the Nazis yet it survived when the occupiers fled.
Poland’s ancient seat of royalty contains a vast wealth of treasures inside its heavily fortified walls.
The Wawel Royal Castle complex, overlooking the Vistula River, was once a royal residence and today contains a priceless collections, including sixteenth-century Flemish tapestries. The castle, being one of the largest in Poland, represents nearly all European architectural styles of the medieval, renaissance and baroque periods. The museum, established in 1930, encompasses ten curatorial departments responsible for collections of paintings – including an important collection of Italian Renaissance paintings-, prints, sculpture, textiles – among them the Sigismund II Augustus tapestry collection-, goldsmith’s work, arms and armor, ceramics, Meissen porcelain, and period furniture. The museum’s holdings in oriental art include the largest collection of Ottoman tents in Europe. In 1978 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the Historic Centre of Kraków.
The crown treasury and armory exhibitions contain some interesting objects from the time of Polish kings, including original royal rooms, a coronation sword, royal jewelry, and of course weapons used throughout the ages for defensive, ceremonial, and tournament purposes. For archaeology interests, descend into Wawel’s basement to view items unearthed by excavations of Wawel Hill. Other points of interest at Wawel Castle include the so-called Dragon’s Den, a medieval tower, and the royal garden. Richly decorated chapels, some dedicated to past rulers, contain examples of elaborate art pieces and relics.
An interesting tidbit of trivia is that a fragment of the Castle has been incorporated into Chicago’s 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.
Editor’s note: Wawel Castle is a fascinating place to learn about European history and how yesterday affects today. Original World travels to Poland in the Spring and the Fall. Join the tour and learn about this treasure.
View details: http://originalworld.com/travel-to-Poland-tour/