Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Old Town (Kraków, Poland)

Singing group in the Maly Rynek in Kraków

Generally, my schedule revolves around the academic year, so if we take a vacation, we do so during the summer.  But this year, I'm on sabbatical (my first sabbatical ever), so we were able to take a trip in the fall.  We spent two weeks visiting Kraków in Poland and Prague in the Czech Republic.  (Note that this travelogue will not be precisely sequential, but rather thematic or by area -- we visited some areas more than once, so I'll sometimes use photos from different days of our trip in the same post.  You can click on the photos to enlarge them, if desired.)

Our visit to
Kraków coincided with the Kraków Film and Music Festival, so there were various performances, films, and booths set up in the Maly Rynek (small town square) and the Rynek Główny (main town square) in Old Town. The town squares had a festive atmosphere, even at night, which was quite delightful -- lots of vendors and food stalls, as well as performers.  The photo above shows one of the performing groups in the Maly Rynek, presumably singing traditional Polish music.

The Rynek Główny
Every day we walked through the Rynek Główny, the largest medieval town square in Europe. On the left in this photo is St. Mary's Church (the Mariacki), a Gothic cathedral with Baroque additions. The taller tower is a watchtower, from which the hejnał (bugle-call, used as a warning call in medieval times) is played by a live musician every hour. You can see and hear the hejnał in the clip below -- note that it ends mid-phrase, ostensibly because the trumpeter warning of a 13th-century invasion was shot in the throat before he could finish the song. 


The Rynek is also full of pigeons, as you can see in my photo. According to legend, these are the enchanted knights of Duke Henryk Probus, who agreed to this transformation to get gold for his coronation (after which, the knights would regain human form). But he lost the gold, so the coronation never took place and the knights are still waiting to become human again. (This leads me to ask -- who would pay gold to turn knights into pigeons, and why?  Was this just an insurance policy to make sure the lender would be repaid in a timely fashion, or was this someone who hated knights?  Or maybe it merely reflected curiosity and/or boredom -- "Sure, I'll give you the gold.  But you know what I'd like to see?  Your knights as pigeons.  Wouldn't that be a hoot?")  

Pigeon knight via  Thanks to Autumn Ward for this image.

I'm betting the pigeons were there to get scraps of the delicious obwarzanki (round pretzels) that are sold on almost every corner in Kraków. There is evidence that these were baked as far back as the 14th century (although I think the ones we ate were fresher than that!) and are now a protected regional product. Sadly, I think that means I can't get them outside of Kraków.
Obwarzanki via
 The Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) would be to the right of my photo of the Rynek Główny, but I didn't get any photos of it. The Cloth Hall is now chock full of shops and restaurants. The shops featured lots and lots of amber, as well as various folk arts. I fell in love with the szopka, Christmas cribs made of foil covered cardboard, featuring the buildings in Kraków. Even though they were beautiful, brightly colored and sparkly, I resisted buying one. 

Szopka via
I don't need a szopka. I don't need one. Truly. *sigh*  However, if you want to buy one, try this site. 

St. Mary's Church (Kraków, Poland)

The inside of St. Mary's Church was majestic and beautiful, full of black marble, gorgeously carved wooden panels, and soaring arches above. Alas, photos were not permitted. I did sneak in one photo, though, because I wanted to remember the unusual combination of black marble, gilding, and skull ornamentation. I don't remember ever being in a church that featured skull ornamentation so extensively as those I saw in Kraków. It gave them such an interestingly modern "Goth" look, and I'd love to know the history and meaning of why skulls were used as ornamentation.

We lit a candle here in memory of Q's grandmother. We try to do that as often as we can when we visit Catholic churches in our travels.

St. Adalbert's Church (Kraków, Poland)

St. Adalbert's Church (in the Rynek Główny) is one of the oldest churches in Kraków, and is fairly small, as you can see. The inside was quite pretty, and there was an interesting exhibit in the basement, featuring the history of the building (the early Romanesque elements and medieval water pipes were visible under the foundations of the current building, as well as a skeleton that was uncovered during the excavations under the church).

We later visited the Rynek Underground museum, which gives a rich picture of the history of the Rynek Główny, including interactive exhibits and the early architectural elements that still exist beneath the modern square. (In fact, the entire area was once a cemetery, and the excavations uncovered a number of skeletal remains, including several featuring vampire prevention burials.  Apparently, there was a significant fear of revenants, particularly for those who died suddenly or mysteriously.)  I love the layering of building upon building that happens over time and the sense that history is not destroyed, but continues to live on under our feet. Very cool.

St. Florian's Gate (Kraków, Poland)

Here you can see St. Florian's Gate and the remnants of the city wall in Kraków, dating from the 13th century. The medieval city was surrounded by extensive fortifications, including a (well-preserved) Barbican just through this gate (to the left of the photo). Most of the city walls and fortifications (as well as the moat) were dismantled and made into the Planty gardens (which made for a very pleasant walk on our second day in Kraków).

There were also several artists and a jeweler who were selling their work (see the paintings on the wall to the left of the photo) -- I always love to see that, although we didn't buy anything here.

We walked here from the Rynek Główny on Florianska Street (which leads directly to St. Florian's Gate -- to the right of the photo). Florianska Street used to be the Royal Route, used during coronations or royal funerals. Now it is full of shops and eateries, including a wonderfully decadent chocolatier where we had the *most* delicious ice cream (soft serve with a choice of toppings). You should go have some, if you are in the neighborhood. Trust me.

Just through St. Florian's Gate in Kraków, Poland, if you look down, you'll see this metal protuberance emerging from the cobblestones. These door stops (?) were all over the Old Town part of Kraków. Q was the first to notice their rather *unusual* shape.  Ahem.  I make no comment.

Oh, and when you walked through the gate, there was a shrine embedded in the wall. I always enjoy those outdoor niches and shrines that seem to pop up in unexpected places in old cities.

"Let It Be" (stained glass window by Stanisław Wyspiański)

This stained glass window from the Franciscan Church in Kraków was designed by Stanisław Wyspiański (a noted Polish artist and writer, who also worked on the designs for the stained glass windows in St. Mary's Church, among many other projects). The window is entitled "Let It Be" and depicts God emerging from the cosmic chaos. I love the colors and the flowing (Art Nouveau) lines. I'm also struck by the choice of image -- it is less common to depict God (as opposed to Jesus, Mary, or various saints), and I wonder what the image is meant to convey to the viewer about God.

The Franciscan Church (Kraków, Poland)

The Franciscan Church had a beautiful interior that we would have loved to explore further, but it turned out that we crashed someone's wedding. The wedding party came down the aisle while we were there and it seemed a trifle tacky to wander around during the ceremony, so we left -- after I took a couple of photos.

Horse-drawn carriage on Grodska Street (Kraków, Poland)

In the Old Town part of Kraków, Poland, horse-drawn carriages were ever-present in and around the market square. We didn't ride in one, but I was charmed by the spectacle and the clop of their hooves. On the other hand, I bet the police car behind the carriage is really annoyed at having to drive so slowly.

You'll get to see more of Old Town in a later post that will include our exploration of Wawel Hill, but next we're off to the Wieliczka Salt Mine

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