Kraków – a brief history – part I.

The first traces of Kraków’s existence are dated from around the 7th century. The earliest written record of the town dates from 966, when a Sephardic Jewish merchant from Cordova called Abraham ben Jacob (Ibrahim ibn Yaqub) visited the city and referred to the town in his account as a trade centre called Krakwa. The city has grown from a Stone Agesettlement to Poland’s second most important city.

Bridge over the river Vistula in Kraków (Poland)

In 1000 Kraków (also Cracow or Krakow) was made a bishopric. 38 years later Kraków was made the capital of the Piast kingdom. Wawel Castle and several churches were built in the 11th century and the town, which had sprung up initially around Wawel Hill, grew in its size and its power.

The Tatars burned Kraków almost to the ground in 1241 but by 1257 the new town’s centre had been set on a grid pattern. A large market square was set in the middle.

Water tram on river Vistula in Kraków (Poland)

Kraków rose to new prominence in 1364 when King Kazimierz Wielki, a generous patron of art and scholarship, founded the Kraków Academy, what would later be called Jagiellonian University. It was the second university in central Europe after the University of Prague. University of Prague was founded only four years earlier.

Wawel Royal Castle in Kraków (tower)

Kraków’s economic and cultural boom led to a golden age of expansion in the 15th and 16th centuries. Kraków became a member of the Hanseatic League, which attracted crafts­people. Learning and science prospered – Nicolaus Copernicus, who would later develop his heliocentric view of the universe, studied here in the 1490s – and the population passed the 30, 000 mark.

In 1596 King Zygmunt III. moved the capital to Warsaw. But Kraków remained the place of coronations and burials. The Swedish invasions in 17. century (beginning in 1655) accelerated the decline of the city. By the end of the following century the city’s population had been reduced to 10.000.

Krakow – A brief history – part II.

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