History of Krakow

Brief history of Krakow summarized

Clear, entertaining and simple vision of the history of Krakow, a wonderful Polish city.

Old krakow

krakow flagLegend has it that Krakow was founded by a hero named Krak (or Krakus) who killed a dragon by feeding it animal skins filled with sulfur. Actually, Krakow was a prosperous settlement and a great center of commerce in the 10th century.

Kraków was first mentioned in 965 by a Spanish merchant who described a flourishing city on important trade routes. By the year 1000, Kraków already had a bishop. Then in 1028 Kraków became the capital of Poland. In 1079 Stanislaus, bishop of Cracow, was assassinated by the king. He later became the patron saint of Poland.

In 1241, disaster struck when the Mongols invaded Poland. They sacked Krakow. However, Kraków was rebuilt and in 1257 Boleslaus the Pudic (or the Chaste) gave the city a charter (a document granting the townspeople certain rights). Since then, Kraków had its own government.

Beginning in 1320, Polish kings were crowned in Kraków. The current Wawel Cathedral was built in Krakow between 1320 and 1364. The Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) was also built in the 14th century (and was rebuilt after a fire in 1555).

In 1364 Casimir the Great founded the Kraków Academy (today’s Jagiellonian University). Then, in 1499, the Great Barbican in Krakow was built.

In the 14th century there was a large Jewish community in Krakow. In the 15th century, a style of long, pointed shoes were popular in Europe. They were called crakows (poulaines) because they were believed to originate from Krakow.

Between the years 1491 to 1495, the great Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus studied in Krakow. In the 16th century, Kraków continued to prosper. Wawel Castle was rebuilt as a splendid palace.

However, Kraków ceased to be the capital of Poland after 1596. From that date the kings resided in Warsaw. Krakow remained the official capital until 1791, but Warsaw was actually the de facto capital.

Unfortunately Krakow lost some of its importance in the 17th century and the 18th century St. Anne’s Church was rebuilt in the years 1689-1705.

At the end of the 18th century, Russia, Prussia, and Austria partitioned Poland. In 1795 Kraków was taken over by Austria. In 1796 the Czartoryski Museum was founded by Princess Izabela.

Modern Krakow

In 1809, during the Napoleonic War, Kraków became part of the Duchy of Warsaw. In 1815, after Napoleon’s defeat, Kraków became its own state. It was called the Republic of Kraków.

However, in 1846 there was a rebellion in Kraków in an attempt to establish an independent Poland. The rebellion was crushed and Kraków was annexed to Austria as the Grand Duchy of Kraków.

At the beginning of the 18th century, most of the fortifications around Kraków were demolished. Fortunately, the Krakow Barbican was preserved. In 1850, Krakow was severely damaged by fire, destroying 10% of the city. Already by the end of the 19th century, Kraków was beginning to prosper. The Krakow railway station was built in 1847.

The Krakow Scientific Society was founded in 1816. The Krakow Archaeological Museum was founded in 1850 and the Krakow National Museum opened in 1879. The Juliusz Słowacki Theater was built in 1893. The Krakowski Park was opened in 1885 and the Krakow Park Jordan in 1889.

Since 1882, horse- drawn trams ran through the streets of Krakow. From 1901 they were replaced by electric trams. In 1912 the first cinema in Krakow was opened.

In 1918 Poland became an independent nation again. However, in 1939 the Germans invaded Poland. In 1939, there were about 65,000 Jews living in Kraków. During World War II the majority of the Jewish population of Krakow was deported and killed.

After the war, Nazi tyranny was replaced by communism. Fortunately, most of Krakow’s old buildings survived the war intact.

The Nowa Huta Steelworks was built in the early 1950s. The Polish Aviation Museum opened in 1964. Then, in 1978, Krakow’s Old Town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Since the collapse of communism, Krakow is thriving again. The Krakow Technology Park was opened in 1998. Nowadays tourism in Krakow is growing.

The city also has shopping malls, Galeria Plaza, which opened in 2002, Galeria Kazimierz, which opened in 2005, Galeria Krakowska, which opened in 2006, and Bonarka City Center, which opened in 2009. Meanwhile, Eros Bendato (a sculpture of a giant head) was moved to Krakow in 2003.

Today Krakow has a population of 0.75 million inhabitants.

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