Kraków , in English also spelled Krakow or Cracow (M-W: krăk'ou, krāk'ō), is one of the largest and oldest cities in Poland, with a population of 756,336 in 2007 (1,403,247 in the Kraków-Tarnów unincorporated area). Situated on the Vistula river (Wisła) in the Lesser Poland region, the city dates back to the 7th century. It was the capital of Poland from 1038 to 1596, the capital of the Grand Duchy of Kraków from 1846 to 1918, and the capital of Kraków Voivodeship from the 14th century to 1999. It is now the capital of the Lesser Poland Voivodeship.
Kraków has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish scientific, cultural and artistic life. As the former national capital with a history encompassing more than a thousand years, the city remains the spiritual heart of Poland. It is a major attraction for local and international tourists, attracting seven million visitors annually. Famous landmarks include the Main Market Square with St. Mary's Basilica and the Sukiennice Cloth Hall, the Wawel Castle, the National Art Museum, the Zygmunt Bell at the Wawel Cathedral, and the medieval St Florian's Gate with the Barbican along the Royal Coronation Route. In 1978, UNESCO added Kraków's historic centre, which includes the Old Town, Kazimierz and the Wawel Castle to the list of World Heritage Sites.
The city's full official name, used on ceremonial occasions, is Royal Capital City of Kraków (Królewskie Stołeczne Miasto Kraków). A person born, or living, in Kraków is called a Cracovian (Krakowianin).
The city is known in Czech and Slovak as Krakov, in French as Cracovie, in German as Krakau, in Latin as Cracovia, and in Lithuanian as Krokuva. Ukrainian and Yiddish languages refer to it as Krakiv and Kroke (קראָקע) respectively. Names of Kraków in different languages are also available.
By the end of the 10th century, the city was a leading trading centre, incorporated into the holdings of the Piast dynasty. Brick buildings were constructed, including the Wawel Castle, Romanesque churches such as St. Adalbert's, a cathedral, and a basilica. The city was almost entirely destroyed during the Tatar invasions of 1241, 1259 and 1287. It was rebuilt and incorporated in 1257, based on the Magdeburg law, with tax benefits and trade privileges for its citizens. The city again rose to prominence in 1364, when Casimir III of Poland founded the University of Kraków, the second oldest university in central Europe after the University of Prague. The city continued to grow under the joint Lithuanian-Polish Jagiellon dynasty (1386–1572). As the capital of a powerful state and a member of the Hanseatic League, the city attracted many craftsmen, businesses, and guilds as science and the arts began to flourish.
The 15th and 16th centuries were known as Poland's Złoty Wiek, the Golden Age. Many works of Polish Renaissance art and architecture were created there during that time, including ancient synagogues in Kraków's Jewish quarter of Kazimierz, such as the renown Old Synagogue. During the reign of Casimir IV, crowned King of Poland in 1447, numerous artists, from as far as Nuremberg and Italy, came to work and live in Kraków. The king's children were taught by an Italian humanist, Filip Callimachus. In 1488, the Holy Roman Emperor's Poet Laureate Conrad Celtes founded the Sodalitas Litterarum Vistulana (Vistula Literary Society), which was based on Roman Academies. In 1489, sculptor Veit Stoss finished his work on the High Altar of the St. Mary's Church, followed by a marble sarcophagus for King Casimir IV. Johann Haller established a printing press in the city after Kasper Straube had printed the Calendarium Cracoviense, the first work printed in Poland, in 1473.
In 1520, the most famous church bell in Poland, named Zygmunt after Sigismund I of Poland, was cast by Hans Behem. At that time, Hans Dürer, a younger brother of Albrecht Dürer, was Sigismund's court painter. Hans von Kulmbach made altarpieces for several churches. In 1572, King Sigismund II, the last of the Jagiellons, died childless. The Polish throne passed to Henry III of France and then to other foreign-based rulers in rapid succession, causing a decline in the city's importance that was worsened by pillaging during the Swedish invasion and by an outbreak of plague that left 20,000 of the city's residents dead. In 1596, Sigismund III, of the Swedish House of Vasa, moved the capital of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from Kraków to Warsaw.
Already weakened during the 18th century, by mid-1790 the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had been twice partitioned by its neighbors: Russia, the Habsburg empire, and Prussia. In 1794, Tadeusz Kościuszko initiated an unsuccessful insurrection in the town's Main Square that resulted in the third partition of Poland. Kraków became part of the Austrian province of Galicia. In 1809, Napoleon Bonaparte captured former Polish territories from Austria and made the town part of the Duchy of Warsaw, an independent, though subordinate, Polish state ruled by the King of Saxony, Frederick Augustus I. Following Napoleon's defeat in Russia, the Congress of Vienna in 1815 mostly restored earlier structures, although it also created the partially independent Free City of Kraków. As in 1794, the city again became the center of an insurrection, the Kraków Uprising of 1846, which failed to spread outside the city and was put down. Again, it resulted in an annexation by Austria, on 16 November 1846. The former Free City region became the Grand Duchy of Cracow (Großherzogtum Krakau, Wielkie Księstwo Krakowskie).
In 1866, Austria granted a degree of autonomy to Galicia after the Austro-Prussian War. As this form of Austrian rule was more benevolent than that exercised either by the Russian Empire in Congress Poland or by Prussia, Kraków became a Polish national symbol and a center of culture and art, sometimes known in Polish as Polskie Ateny ("Polish Athens"), to which Poles would flock to revere the symbols and monuments of Poland's past. Several important celebrations took place in Galicia during the period from 1866 to 1914, including the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Grunwald in 1910. Many leading Polish artists of that period resided in Kraków, among them the seminal painter Jan Matejko, and the founder of modern Polish drama, Stanisław Wyspiański.
Fin de siècle Kraków evolved into a modern metropolis; running water and electric streetcars were introduced in 1901, and between 1910 and 1915, Kraków and surrounding suburban communities were gradually combined into a single administrative unit called Greater Kraków (Wielki Kraków).
At the outbreak of World War I on August 3 1914, Józef Piłsudski formed a small cadre military unit, the First Cadre Company—the predecessor of the Polish Legions—which set out from Kraków to fight for the liberation of Poland. The city was briefly besieged by Russian troops in November 1914, but they were pushed back afterwards. The Austrian rule in Kraków ended on 31 October 1918, when the Polish Liquidation Committee assumed power.
With the emergence of the Second Polish Republic, Kraków restored its role as a major academic and cultural centre with the establishment of new universities such as the AGH University of Science and Technology and the Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts, including a number of new and essential vocational schools. It became an important cultural centre for the Polish Jews with a Zionist youth movement relatively strong among the city's Jewish population. Kraków was also an influential centre of Jewish spiritual life, with all its manifestations of religious observance from Orthodox, to Chasidic and Reform flourishing side by side. Following the invasion of Poland in September 1939, the Nazi German forces turned the city into the capital of the General Government, a colonial authority headed by Hans Frank and seated in Wawel Castle. In an operation called "Sonderaktion Krakau", more than 180 university professors and academics were arrested and sent to Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps, though the survivors were later released on the request of prominent Italians. The Jewish population was first confined to a ghetto and later murdered or sent to concentration camps, including Płaszów and Auschwitz in Oświęcim.
Kraków remained relatively undamaged at the end of World War II. Allegedly Germans planned to destroy it with massive amounts of explosives, but according to the most popular of several versions of the story, Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev, after being informed by the Polish patriots of the German plan, tried to preserve Kraków from destruction by ordering a lightning attack on the city. The credibility of these accounts has been recently questioned by Polish historian Andrzej Chwalba, who in his recent works finds no evidence for any German plan of massive destruction and portrays Konev's strategy as ordinary, only accidentally resulting in reduced damage to Kraków, a fact that was later exaggerated into the myth of "Konev, savior of Kraków" by Soviet propaganda.
After the war, under the Stalinist regime the intellectual and academic community of Kraków was put under total political control. The universities were soon deprived of their printing rights as well as their autonomy. The communist government of the People's Republic of Poland ordered construction of the country's largest steel mill in the newly-created suburb of Nowa Huta. The creation of the giant Lenin Steelworks (now Sendzimir Steelworks owned by Mittal) sealed Kraków's transformation from a university city to an industrial centre. The new working class, drawn by the industrialization of the city, contributed to its rapid population growth. Also, in an effort that spanned two decades, Karol Wojtyła, cardinal archbishop of Kraków, successfully lobbied for permission to build the first churches in the new industrial suburbs.
Kraków lies in the southern part of Poland, on the Vistula River in a valley at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains, above sea level, between the Jurassic Rock Upland (Jura Krakowsko-Częstochowska) to the north and the Tatra Mountains to the south. There are five nature reserves in Kraków, with a combined area of ca. 48.6 hectares (120 acres). Due to their ecological value, these areas are legally protected. Kraków has also 192 nature monuments characterized by their unique scientific, historical and aesthetic value. The western part of the city, along its northern and north-western side, borders an area of international significance known as the Jurassic Bielany-Tyniec refuge. The main motives for the protection of this area include plant and animal wildlife and the area's geomorphological features and landscape. Another part of the city is located within the ecological 'corridor' of the Vistula River valley. This corridor is also assessed as being of international significance as part of the Pan-European ecological network. The city centre is situated on the left (northern) bank of the river.
Kraków has a temperate climate. Average temperatures in summer range from to and in winter from to . The average annual temperature fluctuates between and . Kraków usually sees between 23 and 58 days per year with below-freezing temperatures. Predominantly western winds, conducive to rainfall, are typical of summer months, whereas eastern winds, decreasing the amount of precipitation, blow mostly in winter.
The oldest neighborhoods of Kraków were incorporated into the city before the late 18th century. They include the Old Town (Stare Miasto), once contained within the city defensive walls and now encircled by the Planty park; the Wawel District, which is the site of the Royal Castle and the cathedral; Stradom and Kazimierz, the latter originally divided into Christian and Jewish quarters; as well as the ancient town of Kleparz. Major districts added in the 19th and 20th centuries include Podgórze, which until 1915 was a separate town on the southern bank of the Vistula, and Nowa Huta, east of the city centre, built after World War II.
Since March 27, 1991, Kraków has been divided into 18 administrative districts, each with a degree of autonomy within its own municipal government (Rada Dzielnicy). The current divisions were introduced by the Kraków City Hall on April 19, 1995. Districts were assigned Roman numerals as well as the current name: Stare Miasto (I), Grzegórzki (II), Prądnik Czerwony (III), Prądnik Biały (IV), Krowodrza (V), Bronowice (VI), Zwierzyniec (VII), Dębniki (VIII), Łagiewniki-Borek Fałęcki (IX), Swoszowice (X), Podgórze Duchackie (XI), Bieżanów-Prokocim (XII), Podgórze (XIII), Czyżyny (XIV), Mistrzejowice (XV), Bieńczyce (XVI), Wzgórza Krzesławickie (XVII), and Nowa Huta (XVIII).
Among the most notable historic districts of the city are: Wawel Hill, home to Wawel Castle and Wawel Cathedral, where many Polish kings are buried; the medieval Old Town, with its Main Market Square (200 metres, or 656 feet, square); dozens of old churches and museums; the 14th-century buildings of the Jagiellonian University; and Kazimierz, the historical centre of Kraków's Jewish social and religious life.
The Old Town district of Kraków is home to about six thousand historic sites and more than two million works of art. Its rich variety of historic architecture includes Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic buildings. Kraków's palaces, churches and mansions display great variety of color, architectural details, stained glass, paintings, sculptures, and furnishings.
In the Market Square stands the Gothic St. Mary's Basilica (Kościół Mariacki). It was built in the 14th century and features the famous wooden altar carved by Veit Stoss. A trumpet call, hejnał mariacki, is sounded from the church's main tower every hour. The melody played ends unexpectedly in midstream. According to legend, the tune was played during a 13th-century Tatar invasion by a guard warning citizens against the attack. He was shot by a Tatar warrior while playing, the melody breaking off at the moment he died. This story, however, has its origin in a book by an Irish writer, published in the USA in the late 1920s .
Public transport is based around a fairly dense network of tramway and bus lines operated by a municipal company, supplemented by a number of private minibus operators. Local trains connect some of the suburbs. The bulk of the city’s historic area has been turned into a pedestrian zone with rickshaws and horse buggies; however, the tramlines run within a three-block radius.
Rail connections are available to most Polish cities. Trains to Warsaw depart every hour. International destinations include Berlin, Budapest, Prague, Hamburg, Lvov, Kiev, and Odessa (June–September). The main railway station is located just outside the Old Town District and is well-served by public transport.
Kraków airport, (John Paul II International Airport Kraków-Balice, Międzynarodowy Port Lotniczy im. Jana Pawła II Kraków-Balice) is west of the city. Direct trains cover the route between Kraków Główny train station and the airport in 15 minutes. The annual capacity of the airport is estimated at 1.3 million passengers; however, in 2007 more than 3.042 million people used the airport, giving Kraków Airport 15 percent of all air passenger traffic in Poland. The passenger terminal is undergoing extension and is being adapted to meet the requirements of the Schengen Treaty.
Kraków is one of Poland's most important economic centres. Its population has quadrupled since the end of World War II. Following the collapse of communism, history and tradition intermingled with the general trend toward a market economy. The private sector is growing. Offshoring of information technology (IT) work in recent years has become important to the economy of Kraków and to that of Poland in general. There are about 20 large multinational companies in Kraków, including Google, IBM, General Electric, Capgemini, Motorola, and Sabre Holdings, along with other British and German-based firms. The unemployment rate in Kraków was 4.8 percent in May 2007, well below the national average of 13 percent. Since the joining of the European Union in 2004, there has been a sense of a defined future and a solid economic base for the city and the region. International investment, tourism and the property market have grown toward the Western European average. Residential prices in Kraków have doubled in three years, reaching those of Warsaw and attracting developers and banks with their exponential growth.
The city budget, which is presented by the Mayor of Kraków on the 15th of November each year, had a projected revenue of 2,150 billion złoty in 2006. The primary sources of revenue were as follows: 14% from the municipal taxation on real estate properties and the use of amenities, 30% in transfers from the national budget, and 34% in state subsidies. Projected expenditures, totaling 2,349 billion złoty, included 21% in city development costs and 79% in city maintenance costs. Of the maintenance costs, as much as 39% were spent on education and childcare. City of Kraków development costs included 41% toward road building, transport, and communication (combined), and 25% for the city's infrastructure and environment.
The Kraków City Council has 43 elected members, one of whom is the mayor, or President of Kraków, elected every four years. The election of the City Council and of the local head of government, which takes place at the same time, is based on legislation introduced on 20 June 2002. The current President of Kraków, re-elected for his second term in 2006, is Prof. Jacek Majchrowski.
The responsibilities of Kraków’s president include drafting and implementing resolutions, enacting city bylaws, managing the city budget, employing city administrators, and preparing against floods and natural disasters. The president fulfills his duties with the help of the City Council, city managers and city inspectors. In the 1990s, the city government was reorganized to better differentiate between its political agenda and administrative functions. As a result, the Office of Public Information was created to handle inquiries and foster communication between city departments and citizens at large.
In the year 2000, the city government introduced a new long-term program called "Safer City" in cooperation with the Police, Traffic, Social Services, Fire, Public Safety, and the Youth Departments. Subsequently, the number of criminal offences went down by 3 percent between 2000 and 2001, and the rate of detection increased by 1.4 percent to a total of 30.2 percent in the same period. The city is receiving help in carrying out the program from all educational institutions and the local media, including TV, radio and the press. (See also: List of mayors of Kraków, and the Members of Polish national Parliament (Sejm) elected from Kraków constituency.)
Number of women
per 100 men
In the 1931 census, 78.1% of Cracovians declared Polish as their primary language, with Yiddish or Hebrew at 20.9%, Ukrainian 0.4%, German 0.3%, and Russian 0.1%. The ravages of history have greatly reduced the percentage of ethnic minorities living in Kraków. The official and unofficial numbers differ, as in the case of Romani people. Hence, according to the 2002 census, among those who have declared their national identity (irrespective of language and religion) in Kraków Voivodeship, 1,572 were Slovaks, followed by Ukrainians (472), Jews (50) and Armenians (22). Romani people, officially numbered at 1,678, are estimated at over 5,000. Statistics collected by the Ministry of Education reveal that, even though only 1% of adults (as per above) claim their official status, as many as 3% of students participate in programmes designed for ethnic minorities.
Kraków is a major center of education. Eleven university or academy-level institutions offer courses in the city, with 170,000 students and 10,000 faculty, plus about a dozen colleges.
Jagiellonian University, the oldest and best known university in Poland and ranked by the Times Higher Education Supplement as the best university in the country, was founded in 1364 as the Cracow Academy and renamed in 1817 to commemorate the Jagiellonian dynasty of Polish-Lithuanian kings. Its principal academic asset is the Jagiellonian Library, with more than 4 million volumes, including a large collection of medieval manuscripts like Copernicus' De Revolutionibus and the Balthasar Behem Codex. With 42,325 students (2005) and 3,605 academic staff, the Jagiellonian University is also one of the leading research centres in Poland. Famous historical figures connected with the University include Saint John Cantius, Jan Długosz, Nicolaus Copernicus, Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski, Jan Kochanowski, King John III Sobieski, Pope John Paul II and Nobel laureates Ivo Andric and Wisława Szymborska.
AGH University of Science and Technology, established in 1919, is the second-largest technical university in Poland, with more than 15 faculties and student enrollment exceeding 30,000. It was ranked by the Polish edition of Newsweek as the best technical university in the country for the year 2004. During its 80-year history, more than 73,000 students graduated from AGH with master's or bachelor's degrees. Some 3,600 persons were granted the degree of Doctor of Science, and about 900 obtained the qualification of Habilitated Doctor.
Other institutions of higher learning include Cracow University of Economics, established in 1925; Academy of Music in Kraków, first conceived as a conservatory in 1888; Pedagogical University, in operation since 1946; Agricultural University of Cracow, offering courses since 1890 (initially as a part of Jagiellonian University); Academy of Fine Arts, the oldest Fine Arts Academy in Poland, founded by the Polish painter Jan Matejko; Ludwik Solski Academy for the Dramatic Arts; The Pontifical Academy of Theology; and Cracow University of Technology, which has more than 37,000 graduates.
Kraków hosts many annual and biannual artistic events, some of international significance, such as the Misteria Paschalia (baroque music), Sacrum-Profanum (contemporary music), Cracow Screen Festival (popular music), Festival of Polish Music (classical music), Dedications (theatre), Festival of Short Feature Films, Biennial of Graphic Arts, and the Jewish Culture Festival. It became the residence of two Polish Nobel laureates in literature: Wisława Szymborska and Czesław Miłosz; a third Nobel laureate, the Yugoslav writer Ivo Andric also lived and studied in Krakow. Other former residents include famous Polish film directors Andrzej Wajda and Roman Polanski.
Points of interest outside the city include the Wieliczka salt mine, the Tatra Mountains to the south, the historic city of Częstochowa, the former Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz, and Ojcowski National Park, which includes Pieskowa Skała Castle.
Planty is the best-known park in Kraków. It was established between 1822 and 1830 in place of the old city walls, forming a green belt around the Old Town. It consists of a chain of smaller gardens designed in various styles and adorned with monuments. The park has an area of 21 hectares (52 acres) and a length of 4 kilometers (2.5 miles), forming a scenic walkway popular with Cracovians.
The first public park equipped with exercise fixtures was founded by Dr Henryk Jordan on the banks of the Rudawa river in 1889. The Jordan Park, equipped with running and exercise tracks, playgrounds, swimming pool, amphitheatre, pavilions, and a pond for boat rowing and water bicycles, is on the grounds of Kraków’s Błonia. The less prominent Park Krakowski was founded in 1885 by Stanisław Rehman but has since been greatly reduced in size because of rapid real estate development. It was a popular destination point with many Cracovians at the end of the 19th century.
The Cracovia Marathon, with over a thousand participants from two dozen countries annually, has been held in the city since 2002.
The city's official symbols are the coat of arms, the flag (see top of this page), the seal, and the banner (right). In addition to these, a number of semi-official and unofficial symbols, such as the "Cracovia" logo used in Kraków's promotional materials, or an image of the Wawel dragon wearing a Kraków cap, are also used.
Kraków is twinned, or maintains close relations with, more than 30 cities around the world: Bordeaux, Bratislava, Curitiba, Cuzco, Edinburgh, Fes, Florence, Frankfurt, Gothenburg, Grozny, Innsbruck, Kiev, Lahore, La Serena, Leipzig, Leuven, Lviv, Milan, Niš, Nuremberg, Orléans, Pécs, Rochester (NY), Seville, Solothurn, Vilnius and Zagreb.