Europe

Krakow, Poland – Wawel, Dragons, and Cathedrals

We slept and slept and slept some more. In fact, we slept through breakfast and went straight to lunch. Our plans for the day included Wawel Castle, the Dragon’s Den and Krakow Old Town (some of which we saw through our fugue state yesterday.)

The first stop was Wawel Castle, commissioned by King Casimir III the Great, who reigned from 1333 to 1370. Since that time, the castle has had 24 different ‘owners’, ending with King Stanislaw II August (1764-1795). Each century brought different refurbishments and additions, leaving it looking a bit hodge-podge in the style department.20140603-194257.jpgInterestingly, there is a column fragment from Wawel Castle incorporated into Chicago’s Tribune Tower. It’s located in its own niche over the upper-left corner of the main entrance, it is a tribute to Chicago’s large Polish populace.

The centerpiece of the Castle grounds in the Wawel Cathedral, which is pictured above. The Royal Archcathedral Basilica of Saints Stanislaus and Wenceslaus on the Wawel Hill (say that 5 times fast) is more than 900 years old. It has served as the coronation site of the Polish monarchs. Pope John Paul II was ordained to the priesthood there on November 1, 1946. He offered his first Mass as a priest in the Crypt of the Cathedral.

You are not allowed to take pictures inside, which would have been near impossible to do anyway, as it was packed to the rafters with school children (my favorite). We shelled out some extra bucks to visit the Cathedral Tombs, hoping to get away from the kids…alas, they had bought tickets too.

The tombs have been the main burial place for the Polish monarchs since the 14th century. Many additional burial chapels have been added since then to hold not only monarchs, but national heros, generals and revolutionaries, the national bards and Prime Ministers. Pope Johnny Paul II considered being buried there…apparently an ancient Polish custom involves bringing the heart back to be kept alongside the great polish rulers. However, if you do get to wear the big pointy hat, you get buried under St. Peter’s. There were throngs of children kicking the dust around and looking bored out of their minds…but there were also some very serious mourners present around some of the tombs. There was no english descriptions, so I have know idea who they were, having declined the audio guide at the ticket office. The best part of the castle grounds are the dragon spouts, which we have become quite enamored with.20140603-203253.jpgContinuing the Dragon theme, we climbed down a spiral staircase to the Dragon’s Den. The Dragon’s Den is a limestone cave in Wawel Hill, first mentioned in the 12th century in Chronica Polonorum, a medieval text documenting the history of Poland. This text is the the source of the first known version of the Wawel Dragon legend, which we’ve previously documented. In the 16th and 17th century, a “public house of ill fame” operated inside. We got our Dragon Dance on:20140603-200408.jpg20140603-200430.jpgIt’s odd that after making all the fuss about Smok eating everyone, they sure do love him. He’s the mascot of the city…he’s on everything. There’s even a statue of him right outside his den.20140603-200858.jpgWe left Wawel Hill to explore the Market Square in Old Town Krakow. It’s dominated by St. Mary’s Basilica, completed in the 15th century, and seen lurking here in the background on the right.20140603-201607.jpgOn every hour, a trumpet signal is played from the top of the taller of St. Mary’s two towers. The tune is broken off in mid-stream, to commemorate the 13th century trumpeter, who was shot in the throat while sounding the alarm before the Mongol attack on the city. The noon time blast is broadcast by the Polish national Radio 1 station in Poland and abroad.

The interior of the Basilica is, well, pretty spectacular. 20140603-202441.jpg20140603-202500.jpg It’s dominated by a huge Medieval alter, designed for the worship of St. Mary. It’s designs cover scenes such as the Assumption, the birth of Jesus, the Three Kings all the way to the Resurrection and the Descent of the Holy Ghost. There are 10 other alters throughout the interior, dedicated to a number of Saints. John found a scene which he decided depicts the circumcision of Jesus. Ouch!

20140603-202615.jpgA steady drizzle greeted us when we left…so we decided to kill some time before dinner, drinking cheap beer in an empty cellar bar. We made a dent in their stock, wrote some postcards and then wobbled our way off to eat. We consumed roast duck, potato pancakes covered in Goulash and crepes smothered in chocolate…we don’t eat out that often, but the place was recommended by a friend of John’s. Thanks, Tom!

Tomorrow is Auschwitz day…we are doing our best to mentally prepare for it. I’m sure we wont even come close.

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