07 November 2016

A few days in Kraków in
the heart of mediaeval Poland

Paintings by Marc Chagall decorate the lobby in the Hotel Kazimierz II in the Old Jewish Quarter in Kraków (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

I arrived in Kraków late last night [6 November 2016] on a flight from Dublin, and I am spending the next few days in the Old Jewish Quarter this beautiful mediaeval city in southern Poland.

This is my first visit to Poland, and I am staying for three or four days in the Hotel Kazimierz II on Starowiślna street in the Kazimierz district.

I plan to visit Auschwitz today [7 November 2016] and the Salt Mine in Wieliczka tomorrow [8 November 2016], and during the week I hope to explore the Old Jewish Quarter, which is right on my doorstep at this hotel.

With this planned visit to Auschwitz and plans to explore the Old Jewish Quarter of Kraków this week, I was surprised to walk into the hotel last night and find myself surrounded by the colours of paintings by Marc Chagall (1887-1985).

Many of the rooms are also decorated with reproductions of sketches by Stanisław Wyspiański (1869-1907), the Polish playwright, painter and poet, who was also an interior and furniture designer.

Most monuments in the Kazimierz district and Krakow’s Old Town are within walking distance of the hotel, and after dinner in a Jewish restaurant last night I strolled in the dark and the rain around some of the side streets and cobbled squares and by the Remuh Synagogue and the mikvah bath.

On the way in from the airport, I caught a glimpse of the Royal Castle on the hilltop of Wawel, which is just 15 minutes’ walk from the hotel. I am told Oscar Schindler’s factory is 25 minutes away. The hotel is also 2 km from Kraków's Main Square and 3 km from Krakow Plaszow train station, and from the sounds outside my window this morning I imagine the network of tramlines is going to make moving around Kraków easy too.

Kraków was the European Capital of Culture in 2000, and the historic centre of the city is a Unesco World Heritage Site. This is a typical European mediaeval city, with streets running perpendicularly and parallel to one of the the biggest and most beautiful market squares in Europe. Kraków was left virtually untouched during World War II, and so many of its great monuments, including 120 or more churches, stand as monuments to European culture.

The Kazimierz district where I am staying is particularly notable for its many renaissance buildings and picturesque streets, as well as the old Jewish Quarter here in the north-east part of Kazimierz. This corner of Kraków has an outstanding collection of monuments of Jewish sacred architecture that is unmatched anywhere else in Poland.

Kazimierz was founded in the 14th century to the south-east of the city centre on the banks of the River Vistula, and soon became a wealthy, well-populated area. Today, Kazimierz is a well-visited area, popular with tourists and experiencing a boom in Jewish-themed restaurants, bars, bookstores and souvenir shops.

Join me in my walks around Kraków and my travels through this part of southern Poland over the next few days.

Paintings by Marc Chagall in the hotel lobby (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

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