The travel blog series about Krakow, Poland continues with: Visiting Wawel Castle and Cathedral in Krakow, Poland
After seeing the main square in Krakow, Poland you should set off to see the Wawel Castle.
The Wawel Castle was built for King Casimir III the Great and rebuilt by Jadwiga of Poland (late 14th century monarch of Poland) who made many additions including more towers and defense walls. The 16th century brought about more reconstruction and additions to the castle. After World War I the Polish Second Republic designated the Wawel Castle as a building of the Polish state to be used by the Governor and President. In 1921 the castle became the official residence of the President of Poland until it became a national museum after World War II.
Visiting the Wawel Castle – You can actually see a lot of the castle by walking around the grounds. I actually only visited the castle cathedral and the small historical museum across from the cathedral. The signs and ticket booths for the Wawel Castle were complicated and involved having a reservation (seemingly days in advance) and tickets were sold out right in the morning. Unfortunately I found this to be the case in a few other locations as well. Nevertheless getting tickets to see the Wawel Cathedral was much easier and doable, see details below. I highly recommend seeing the cathedral if you aren’t able to get tickets to the castle, and if you figure out how to get castle tickets let me know!
Wawel Cathedral – Cathedral Basilica of St. Stainslaw and Vaclav in Krakow
The Wawel Cathedral is right in the heart of the Wawel Castle grounds and appears to be a jumble of small buildings and towers with an interesting interior with hundreds of years of history.
Fun Facts about the Wawel Cathedral in Krakow, Poland
– The Wawel Cathedral was the coronation site of Polish monarchs.
– The current Wawel Cathedral was constructed in the 14th century with two previous churches occupying the site in the 11th and 12th century.
– Over the main alter is a black marble canopy; underneath it lies the silver coffin of St. Stainslaw. Stainslaw was a Bishop of Krakow in the 11th century who was martyred by King Boleslaw II the Bold.
– The Wawel Cathedral is the burial site for Polish monarchs. You can visit the crypts and see the tombs of the Polish monarchs as far back as the 14th century. The crypt also holds the tombs of generals, national heroes, poets, revolutionaries, and other important leaders.
– In front of the Wawel Cathedral is a monument to John Paul II.
The overall church is impressive and steeped in history. Each chapel is different and the artistic quality is astounding.
*My favorite chapel is Queen Sophia’s Chapel, with murals by Wlodzimierz Tetmajer, which reminded me of Alphonse Mucha’s work. You are not permitted to take photos in the Wawel Cathedral and sadly I was unable to find any postcards or books on it that fully covered the church and especially highlighted the Queen Sophia Chapel, so I simply have to remember it. But if you are an art history buff or a fan of Mucha’s work, make sure you see Queen Sophia’s Chapel.
The Bell Towers of the Wawel Cathedral – Your tour of the Wawel Cathedral is along a directed route and includes a climb up the bell tower. Note that the climb up the bell tower is narrow, dark, and steep!
There are actually two towers with 8 bells, the most famous is the Sigismund Bell at the top, and there is a clock tower as well. The bells were all made at different times but dates range from the 12th to the 17th centuries. Each bell has a plaque next to it which tells you the technical data such as the weight and dimensions of the bells.
The Sigismund Bell has a total weight of 12,600 kg and has to be rung by twelve bell-ringers! The sound range of the Sigismund Bell is said to be 186 miles/30km! Read more about the Sigismund Bell by clicking here for the official website of the Wawel Cathedral where you can also hear a sample of the tolling bells! The bells are still used today to mark special occasions and holidays.
* Ticket to see the Wawel Cathedral – Admission to the Wawel Cathedral is free but you need tickets to enter the bell tower, the royal tombs, and the Cathedral Museum which is the building across from the cathedral. Tickets are 12zt for one person.
The next post will talk about the University of Krakow!