Krakow: where cultures, regions and traditions merge: a testimony to the meanders of history and legends lastingly fused with facts. The city of kings and rebels, stately bourgeois and inspired artists, academics and students. Teeming with life and yet tranquil. A city of contrast. Always attracting. Never boring.
Krakow is located in the south of Poland, on the Vistula River (the largest Polish river). It is the capital of the Malopolska region. Krakow is a city with a history of more than a thousand years. For several centuries, it served as the capital of Poland, with the Wawel Royal Castle as the seat of Polish kings until the end of the 16th century. The 1257 founding charter based on the Magdeburg Law confirmed the city’s new urban plan, with a centrally located Main Square and a regular chequered pattern of streets around. The Main Square was the largest in medieval Europe: each side is 200 meters long. It has been preserved in an unmodified shape and is still the heart of the city. In 2005, Krakow’s Main Square came first in the World’s Best Squares ranking held by the Project for Public Spaces.
In 1364, the city also became the seat of the Academy of Krakow, one of Europe’s oldest universities. Krakow has long been renowned as a thriving economic, artistic and intellectual centre. Its splendour gradually increased over the centuries and was fortunately preserved from the unrest and destruction that marked Poland’s tumultuous history.
Krakow is an excellent example of a time-honoured ensemble of tangible heritage and cultural traditions, whose uniqueness was recognized by UNESCO in 1978, when the city’s historic centre was among the first sites to be inscribed on the World Heritage List. The inscription area covered approximately 150 hectares: including area of the Old Town, Wawel Hill, the districts of Kazimierz (a medieval Jewish town) and Stradom. Wieliczka Salt Mine, together with Krakow and 10 other world objects has been on the UNESCO List for 40 years now!
Today, Krakow proudly stands as a modern European metropolis, a university city and a hub of new technologies, with a historic centre that has retained its 13th century urban design. Although, “time flows differently” in Krakow, its medieval buildings and Renaissance Royal Route are vibrant, attracting young people from around the world and encouraging contemporary scientific research and creativity. Krakow’s designation as the UNESCO City of Literature in 2013 has been a confirmation of its creativity. Now Krakow’s literature team is a member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network Steering Committee. In the framework of the Organization of World Heritage Cities and other international organizations Krakow actively works to build peace by safeguarding cultural diversity and fostering intercultural dialogue worldwide. Krakow’s development strategy defines the city as an active platform for international dialogue and peace to ensure that its valuable legacy will be appreciated and enriched by generations to come.
Krakow is famous for its rich history but it isn’t worth limiting a visit here to just the legendary bugle call and sightseeing at the Wawel Royal Castle. Krakow also offers festivals of international renown, innovative museums in which modernity links with tradition, dozens of places connected with Pope John Paul II, the Jewish district Kazimierz as well as the Nowa Huta district, designed in the early 1950s as a model of a communist planned settlement in the style of socialist realism. Nowadays this ‘socialist town’ is becoming a favoured spot for tourists and a newly discovered heritage. Krakow and the surrounding Małopolska Region can boast eight UNESCO listed world's heritage sites: Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mines, Auschwitz Birkenau, German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp, Kalwaria Zebrzydowska: the Mannerist Architectural and Park Landscape Complex and Pilgrimage Park and Wooden Churches of Southern Lesser Poland.
Although Krakow’s monuments survived the ordeal of World War II largely unharmed, the following period abounded in new dangers of industrialization, nationalization and planned economy. The communist authorities faced a challenge of converting a university city, the symbol of Polish culture and history into a modern heavy industry hub thus in the 1950’s, decided to build Nowa Huta – Poland’s largest steel works and aluminium plant. The progressive industrialization resulted in heavy air pollution which, within the 30 years of its destructive influence, kept damaging the historical core of the city. Generally, restoration of Krakow’s heritage started with ratification of the Convention concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage by Poland in 1976 and Krakow’s inscription on the UNESCO List in 1978. The story of the restoration of our heritage is stimulating and interesting. The wealth of the preserved heritage and high-rankings of the city in the country require a multi-directional approach in the management process. To mention some facts: since 1978 the Civic Committee for Restoration of Krakow Heritage, financed from the state budget has been operating; in 2010 the Krakow City Council adopted a document introducing the principles of protection and management of the heritage site i.e.: the ‘Old Town’ spatial development plan. The city authorities as well as research and educational institutions and organizations in Krakow, are involved in international projects in the field of cultural and environmental heritage preservation. It is also here where the debate revolves around fundamental issues related to heritage, its management, strategies and culture industries. In the last decade, heritage studies have emerged as a field of cross-disciplinary research covering numerous topics including the built environment, museums and collections, urban planning, memory, and tourism - all in Eastern and Central Europe’s perspective.
Krakow has a story to tell, experiences to share, power to cooperate with local and international partners for heritage development, capacity to facilitate discussions on about heritage and tourism as well as involvement of citizens and tourists in activities valuable for historical cities.