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Panoramic view of Krakow in the 18th century

Krakow in the mid 18th century.

Very long history of Krakow

Archeological finds prove humans have lived in the Krakow area since 200,000 BC at least, and some 50,000 years ago a hamlet with a factory churning out stone tools prospered on Krakow’s central Wawel Hill where the Royal Castle stands now. In 965 a travelling merchant from Spanish Cordoba wrote about Krakow as the bustling trade center of Slavonic Europe, and recent excavations confirm it. 


Krakow in the Middle Ages 

Its northern neighbors of the Piasts’ dynasty incorporated the Krakow province into their principality in the 990s and thus the Kingdom of Poland was born. In the year 1000 Krakow got its own bishop, and in 1038 the city became Poland’s capital and its Wawel Royal Castle the residence of Polish kings. Mongols demolished Krakow in the mid 13th century, so the then ruler, Prince Boleslaw the Shy, established it anew in 1257 and endowed with both self-government and immense trade privileges. 

The historic glory of Krakow 

King Sigismund I accepts the oath of allegiance from Albrecht I, prince of Prussia

Poland’s monarch Sigismund I (1506-1548) ruled over vast realms from the Baltic to the Black Sea. In 1525 he received the oath of allegiance from Albrecht I, prince of Prussia, on the Krakow central Square. Concurrently his brother Wladyslaw was the king of Hungary and the Czech lands.

The city’s Golden Age came by the end of the 15th century when it was the thriving metropolis of a vast and prosperous kingdom stretching from the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea. Krakow remained Poland’s official capital till 1791 but from 1609 on successive kings after their coronation in Krakow chose to reside in Warsaw where the country’s political center moved with them (monarchs kept returning to Krakow for good: to be buried in the Wawel Cathedral). 

The city's ups and downs 

Throughout the 18th century Krakow suffered a series of sieges, foreign occupations and plunders. After Russia, Prussia and Austria invaded and divided Poland between themselves in the 1790s, the last empire took Krakow. In 1815 the Congress of Vienna created an independent, miniature Krakow Republic forcibly incorporated into the Austrian empire in 1846. After Emperor Franz Joseph I granted Krakow the municipal government in 1866 the city became Poland’s vibrant center of gravity again, which eventually led to the 1918 rebirth of the nation in the aftermath of the World War I. 

Through the second world war and afterwards 

Krakow remained the most important city in the southwest part of the Republic of Poland till September 1939 when Hitler’s Third Reich and Stalin’s Soviet Union invaded the country and divided it between themselves. On the German-occupied territory the Nazis created a protectorate with their governor-general’s residence in Krakow. Fortunately, the historic city of Krakow survived almost intact the Soviet offensive in January 1945. After the WW II Krakow retained its status as Poland’s second most important city and has vied with Warsaw for the cultural supremacy.


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