Kraków – a brief history – part II.

In 1596 King Zygmunt III. moved the capital of Poland from Kraków to Warsaw, although Kraków remained the place of coronations and burials. The Swedish invasions, beginning in 1655, accelerated the decline; by the end of the following century the city’s population had been reduced to 10, 000. In the Third Partition of Poland (in 1795), Kraków was made part of the Austrian province of Galicia.

Wawel Royal Castle - inside viewWawel Royal Castle in Kraków

The city surprisingly enjoyed reasonable cultural and political freedom under the Austrian landlords.  Kraków had become by the close of the 19th century a major centre for Polish culture and the spiritual capital of a country that officially no longer existed.

The avant-garde artistic and literary movement known as Młoda Polska (Young Poland) was born here in the 1890´s, and it was here that a national independence movement originated. The latter would go on to spawn the Polish Legions under the command of Józef Piłsudski.

By the outbreak of World War II the city had 260.000 inhabitants. 65.000 of inhabitants were Jews. During the Second World War, Kraków, like all other Polish cities, saw its Jewish citizens herded into a ghetto and transported to Nazi work and extermination camps. Most of the Jewish people would never be seen again. The city was thoroughly looted by Nazis but didn’t experience major combat or bombings.

Wawel Royal Castle - detailWawel Royal Castle – detail on the wall

After the war, the communist government moved quickly to open a huge steelworks at the newly created suburb of Nowa Huta, just 10km east of the Old Town, in a bid to break the traditional intellectual and religious framework of the city. The social engineering proved less successful than its unanticipated by-product – ecological disaster. Monuments that had managed to survive invasions by the Tatars, Swedes and Nazis have been gradually eaten away by acid rain and toxic gas.

Kraków - Horse taxiKraków – Horse taxi

With the creation of Nowa Huta and other new suburbs after World War II, Kraków trebled in size to become the country’s third-largest city in Poland, after Warsawand Łódź. The historic core, though, has changed little and continues to be the political, administrative and cultural centre of the city. Kraków is virtually the only large Polish city that has retained its old architecture and appearance.

Krakow – A brief history – part I.

This entry was posted in Poland and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.