“The Historic Centre of Kraków, located on the River Vistula in southern Poland, is formed by three urban ensembles: the medieval chartered City of Kraków, the Wawel Hill complex, and the town of Kazimierz. It is one of the most outstanding examples of European urban planning, characterised by the harmonious development and accumulation of features representing all architectural styles from the early Romanesque to the Modernist periods.” – UNESCO
The Wawel Royal Castle is located in central Kraków and among the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the world. It was admitted to the list at the very first session in 1978 (there were only twelve from seven countries). It was one of two Polish sites, the other being the Wieliczka salt mine also in Krakow. It was the first European City to be added to the list. It played a blinder there, getting in before Paris, Rome, Madrid and London. The following year Poland got two more – Auschwitz Birkenau German Nazi Concentration Camp near Krakow and Białowieża Forest and in 1980 it added the city of Warsaw.
In many respects it seems a rather curious first list. To begin with it is rather like Noah’s Ark with sites going in two by two. Two for Canada – L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site and Nahanni National Park. Two for Ecuador – the city of Quito and the Galapagos Islands. Two also for Ethiopia – Simien National Park and Rock Hewn Churches, the USA with two National Parks, Messe Verde and Yellowstone and two for Poland. To complete the list only one for Senegal, the Island of Goree and one for Germany and the Cathedral at Aachan.
Italy had to wait until 1978 to get a listing, France until 1981 and United Kingdom until 1986. Australia had to wait even longer until 2003.
There are only two European countries without a UNESCO site – Monaco and Liechtenstein. I don’t hold out a lot of hope for Liechtenstein, I went there once and it went straight onto my list of most boring places I have ever visited, the capital Vaduz especially so. I have never been to Monaco and don’t really expect to, it doesn’t look especially fascinating either.
Anyway, back to Krakow. At the ticket office we had a lot of difficulty working out the ticket options that were nearly as confusing as buying a lottery scratch card at the local Co-op.
The place has so many precious treasures that understandably visitors can’t just buy a ticket and go wandering about by themselves in case precious treasures go wandering about.
Our first choice of the Royal Palace was no longer available because the English speaking guides had all gone home already so instead we bought tickets for the State Rooms. The tickets were timed and there was clearly no leeway but fortunately we made our entry time by the skin of our teeth and made the tour of the impressive rooms and displays.
Of course Kim, who has a history of this sort of thing, had to let us down by touching an exhibit in the very first room and that bought a sharp rebuke from the attendant museum guard.
This was a very impressive place full of treasures that we can see today because at the outbreak of World War Two they were rapidly evacuated out of Poland to safe storage in Canada where they remained until 1961 to prevent the Soviet Union getting possession. We especially liked the room with the heads in the ceiling and everywhere there were remarkable tapestries and medieval furniture and treasures exhibited with generous space in which to appreciate them.
I have no photographs of the interior because picture taking is predictably not permitted. These are the Polish Crown Jewels courtesy of Wikipedia.
The rooms were huge, each one as big as a modern four bedroom detached house and I bet they were a bugger to heat in the Winter. The tour ended in the most impressive room of all, the Senators Hall, which was large and spacious with a balcony at one end, an interestingly slanting ceiling and an obsession with tapestries depicting Noah and his Ark.
After an hour or so the tour was over and we were back in the courtyard, it was beginning to get cold and dark so we walked the mile or so back to our hotel stopping off at the Crocodile Bar on the way.