Krakow began as a small Stone Age settlement on what is now known as Wawel Hill. According to local legend, the Smocza Jama cave system was inhabited by a dragon at that time and continues to attract tourists to the present day; the dragon currently in residence, however, is constructed of bronze and breathes fire through a mechanical apparatus. As one of the largest metropolitan areas in Poland, Krakow is a key center for the arts, academia, economics and cultural life in the country.
Early Commercial Activity
The area that now comprises Krakow was once controlled by Moravian businessmen who built a commercial network that included this trading center. The settlement was captured by Boleslaus I in 955 A.D. and became part of the Bohemian holdings in the area. By 992 A.D., Krakow and the surrounding areas were under the rule of Mieszko I, the first monarch of Poland and the first king of the Piast Dynasty, which began in 930 and ended with the death of the last male scion in 1675 A.D. Krakow became the capital of the Polish government in 1038 and served as the center for trade and industry in the country throughout the next two centuries.
The Mongol Invasion
In 1241 A.D., Krakow was overrun by Mongols and most structures in the town were destroyed. The city was rebuilt and was attacked again in 1259. New, stronger fortifications were added to the city during the second rebuilding project, allowing Krakow to rebuff the Mongols in 1287 during a third wave of attacks. By 1335, the city had recovered sufficiently to inspire its partial renaming by King Casimir III. Kazimierz comprised two of the westernmost suburbs and was heavily fortified to prevent invaders from overrunning the town once more.
The Polish Renaissance
During the 1400s and 1500s, Poland experienced a resurgence in art, science and architecture. Many of the most famous and renowned structures in the country were built during this period. Krakow’s Old Synagogue is representative of the Polish Renaissance style; the Wawel Royal Castle was built a century before and represents the Gothic style in vogue previously. Artists traveled from throughout Europe to live and work in Krakow; some of the most famous of these include Francesco Fiorentino and Giovanni Battista di Quadro. The city also boasted several famed philosophers and scientists, including Nicolaus Copernicus, Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski and Bernard Wapowski.
Despite serious setbacks during World War I and World War II, Krakow managed to retain its status as the leading academic center for the region. Although Warsaw is currently both the capital and the largest city in Poland, Krakow’s location on the Vistula River has allowed it to maintain a strong economic base. Additionally, the educational opportunities and cultural attractions present in this area have ensured that Krakow remains vibrant and relevant to its residents and to travelers visiting Poland from all parts of the world.