The origins of Krakow are quite unclear. The town is believed to be founded by mythical ruler dubbed Krak who made a name for himself by defeating a ravenous dragon that occupied a cave below the Wawel Hill. But to be more serious: the first records of human existence in this area are believed to have been taken place here around the 8th Century. The geographical position of Cracow, lying in one line between the Black Sea and the Western Europe fostered commercial development. The town grew even richer during the reign of king Kazimierz the Great who, among others, extended the city margins, and founded the Cracovian Academy - the first university of Poland.
But the Krakow's true Golden Age was the rule of the last Jagiellonian kings: Sigismundus the Old and his son Sigismundus Augustus in the years 1506-72. That was the time when culture and arts thrived, mainly thanks to encouraging several Italians artists to come and settle here. However, in the year 1596 king Sigismundus III Vasa transferred the royal seat to Warsaw, thereby Krakow gradually started to lose its primacy in favour of the new expanding capital. During the times of partitions of Poland, the town went under the administration of Austro-Hungarian Empire. After Worlds War I, Krakow was the first Polish town to free itself from foreign rule, which was followed by dynamic growth of industry. Only the Nazi invasion in September of 1939 interrupted the development of the city assigning it for the seat of the General Government and introducing bloody regime. Cracow was liberated in the beginning of 1945, luckily, almost intact.
Now, let's move on to the central point of the town, namely the Rynek Glowny - a spectacular mediaeval market square, packed with fine architecture. It is not accidental to turn up right here because this is the place where everything started about. One of the largest squares in Europe, it focused the public, commercial and religious life of the city, often being the site of the great political events. This is where the national hero Tadeusz Kosciuszko swore an oath to the nation and proclaimed the act of insurrection. The most impressive sights of this place include Sukiennice, St. Mary's Church and many more.
Sukiennice - the vast cloth hall placed in the middle of the market square. It teems with tourists and street sellers all year round, but especially in winter when it is probably the most atmospheric place to visit. Next to the Cloth Hall there is the Town Hall Tower - the only surviving part of the medieval Town Hall which was destroyed in the early 19th Century. It houses a small exhibition of photographs documenting the town history (open in summer only).
St Mary's Church - the most imposing historic building in town and subsequently one of the most precious Gothic monuments of Poland. In its fare there are two towers, the highest of which has a pointed spire built in the 15th Century. For a long time it played the function of a municipal watchtower. It is also known for the bugle-call being played every hour from its windows into the four quarters of the globe.
The Wawel Hill, rising nearly 25 meters above the Vistula, is the living monument of Polish heritage. The tremendous complex houses the Gothic Cathedral, built between the 1320 and the 1364, on the ruins of the former Romanic Cathedral of the 11th Century. It became famous for the coronations and funerals of the Polish kings as well as the place of sepulture of national heroes and people of merit. The Royal Castle - the next place of interest on the hill, in its present state dates back to the beginning of the 16th Century when was built in Renaissance style during the reign of Sigismundus the Old and his Italian-born wife Bona Sforza. It was a long-time centre of political and cultural life of the country. Today, after successive destructions and reconstructions, Wawel is still a splendid historic monument. On no account may it be missed! Wawel is loceted in the hear of the city and you can easily reach it from your Krakow apartment.
Further evidence of the town's fascinating history is provided by the remnants of the 14th-century fortifications and the mediaeval site of Kazimierz - a separate Jewish district that originated during the reign of Kazimierz the Great to whom owes its name. The specific culture and atmosphere of this place have been cultivated for centuries.
When you only feel the early symptoms of tiredness, there's nothing left to do than settling down in one of the numerous pavement cafes and soak up the atmosphere of always vivid Krakow. This is the city where history and elegance will hit you most powerfully. With troubled past, internationally acclaimed monuments, a buzzing nightlife, a huge number of parks and a superb shopping experience, it becomes stronger and stronger concurrence to already-renown in the world Vienna or Budapest. Who could ask for more?