Saturday, November 1, 2014

Wawel Hill & the Jewish Quarter in Kazimierz (Kraków, Poland)

Wawel Cathedral (Kraków, Poland)

We had another beautiful day to explore Wawel Hill, the site of Wawel Castle and Wawel Cathedral. This Gothic cathedral held coronations, royal funerals and entombments for centuries.

The tower on the left is a clock tower, topped by a Baroque spire (18th century) and statues of saints Wacław, Adalbert, Stanislaw, & Kazimierz. The tower on the right is a bell tower.

But behind it (not visible from this angle) is Zygmunt/Sigismund Tower which holds the Zygmunt/Sigismund Bell, the largest historic bell in Poland. It is 2m high, 2.5m in diameter and weighs 11 tons (the clapper alone weighs 350kg). It takes eight strong people to ring the bell. We walked up the twisty and narrow stairs to see it and it is indeed huge and heavy-looking. You can see the bell and hear how it sounds here.

Photos were prohibited inside the Cathedral, so I can't show you the gorgeous stained-glass windows. But you can see some nice photos of the interior of the cathedral here.  

The Sigismund/Zygmunt Chapel, Wawel Cathedral

Alas, I can't show you the interior (no photos allowed), but the Sigismund/Zygmunt Chapel is often called "the most beautiful Renaissance chapel north of the Alps."

As a side note: I can understand why photos are prohibited, but then I need a really good selection of postcards or books or something. I couldn't get any postcards or images of the windows I loved most in the Cathedral. Meh.

Embroidered vestments (Wawel Cathedral Museum)
I took a quick tour of the Cathedral Museum while Q relaxed in the sunshine in the courtyard. The museum had all kinds of historical and religious objects, so I looked at the textiles.  The label for the embroidered vestments in the above photo indicated that this was created in the 15th, 18th and 19th centuries (I think different parts were made at different times).

Then I was told that no photos were allowed -- so I finished up my quick tour and went out to find Q.  We didn't see the inside of the castle (it was closed when we visited), but apparently it is spectacular and definitely worth seeing -- something to do next time we visit Kraków, right?  We did explore the castle courtyard, though. 

Entrance to Wawel Castle Courtyard

I just love the color here, and the big doorway/little doorway pairing.

Wawel Castle Courtyard
A building like this is full of beautiful details, like these painted walls. This Renaissance-style courtyard was built in the 16th century. 

Wawel Castle Courtyard
Just look at the elaborate carving surrounding the door to the Crown Treasury and Armory.

Wawel Castle Courtyard

It turns out that this was a popular wedding photography location. We saw two or three couples in wedding regalia while we were at Wawel -- you can see a bride on the right hand side of the stairs in this photo, with the photographer in front.

Q and I stopped to take a "relfie" (relationship selfie) in front of Wawel Cathedral.

After we finished exploring Wawel Hill, we walked along the Vistula River, which had very nice pedestrian/bicycle pathways, to the Kazimierz neighborhood. 
Kazimierz was founded in the 14th century and over time, became a vibrant center of Jewish culture. It was incorporated into Kraków in the 18th century and became a Jewish suburb, maintaining a distinct culture. The community was largely decimated by the war (of the 65,000 Jews living in Kraków, only 6,000 survived the war).

The Remu'h Synagogue
The Remu'h Synagogue was founded in 1558 and is still regularly used for religious services. It was undergoing restoration when we visited, mostly on the outside and in the entryway.  In the photo above, you can see the Aron Hakodesh, where the Torah scrolls are stored. 

Bima doors at the Remu'h Synagogue

Many older synagogues have the bimah (the platform where the Torah is read and some prayers are given) in the center of the prayer hall. (Newer synagogues often have the bimah in front of the Aron Hakodesh.) We saw several bimah that were enclosed by wrought-iron fences (in the Remu'h Synagogue in Krakow and also the Old-New Synagogue in Prague), which was apparently done for decorative purposes (according to the docent at Remu'h). The Remu'h bimah also had these richly carved doors.

Ceiling of the Remu'h Synagogue

The ceiling was beautifully painted, with gilt stars. We saw some gorgeously painted synagogues in Prague, as well, particularly the Spanish Synagogue.

The Remu'h Cemetery

We often visit cemeteries in our travels -- they are interesting both artistically and culturally, and we find them peaceful and contemplative spaces.

The Remu'h cemetery was established in 1533 and was almost entirely destroyed in WWII. However, postwar conservation work unearthed over 700 gravestones that were probably buried in the 18th century to protect them from invading armies. There is also ongoing restoration of the tombstones that we saw while we visited.  This is considered one of the best preserved Renaissance Jewish cemeteries in Europe.

The Remu'h Cemetery

The Nazis vandalized and destroyed the tombstones in the Remu'h Cemetery during WWII. The broken pieces of tombstones were then used to create a Wailing Wall in the cemetery. It was moving and beautifully done -- I took lots of photos here, and will let this one stand in for them.

While visiting the Remu'h Cemetery, I was reminded of Susan Lenz's artwork using grave rubbings and vintage textiles.  Check out "Last Words", a solo show of her series related to mortality and remembrance; individual pieces in her grave rubbing series can be found in her online gallery

After viewing the synagogue and the cemetery, we enjoyed a delicious meal at Ariel, just down the street. Luckily all the walking we had done justified our sumptuous repast.

Next up: The Ethnographic Museum (folk art and costumes)