Sunday, 27 September 2015

Kazimierz


Kazimierz is the Jewish District of Kraków. It is also now THE place to hang out due to its abundance of characterful bars, restaurants, shops brimming with artwork, antique shops and unique Kazimierz cafe culture. It is bohemian, full of spirit and its own vibrant atmosphere. 

It flourished for 500 years as the centre of Jewish life in Kraków. However, this life and culture was snuffed out by the Nazi invasion when the district's residents were decanted firstly to the Ghetto in Podgorze across the river, and then finally to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. After the war the area became run down, brimming with vagrants and crumbling, empty buildings. The life and culture gone and the ghosts of the dead whistling with the wind through the gaping holes in walls and collapsed roofs. 
Dilapidated courtyard, Kazimierz
What happened to the residents of these apartments?
Kazimierz 1990
With the fall of the Berlin Wall however, and the end of communism, the area has started to flourish once again. Life has returned to the abandoned buildings. There is such an abundance of remnants of Jewish life from the past that it has become a pilgrimage for many to experience the area. This of course has been encouraged by it featuring prominently in Speilberg's "Schindler's List". The area also hosts a world renowned Jewish Cultural Festival every late June/early July which culminates in a massive street party on Szeroka. 

Synagogues, Jewish museums, book shops, historical sites mean that this has to be the best, and only place left in Europe, that gives a true feel of what Jewish life would have been like pre WW2. 

For more on this amazing district click the link to the Kazimierz Page.


Attractions

Kraków - Old Town

For most visitors to Kraków, the first port of call is the Rynek Glowny. This is the vast medieval central square which dates back to the 13th century and is reportedly the largest of its kind in Europe. It's centre is dominated by the huge Renaissance Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) which is in fact a large market hall. Guides will tell you it is 700 years old and stands on ground that housed a market for many hundreds of years before that. Today the scourge of tourism means that the principal wares on sale inside are endless stalls of tat. However, it still for me harbours the feel of being in an eastern bazar. What is really worth visiting is the wonderful Rynek Underground museum underneath it. On display are artefacts unearthed by archeologists proving that this spot was a very important hub of trade for many hundreds of years. That probably sounds quite dull, however the brill audio-visual technology used throughout brings past existence back to life. 
In addition, the Cloth Hall also has an impressive art gallery on its upper floor.
If you need a wee sit down after this, retreat to the terrace cafe above the cloth hall. Cocktails are great value here! 
http://www.podziemiarynku.com/?lang=eng
Cloth Hall Arcades
The next most dominant structure on the Rynek is the imposing gothic Church of St Mary's Basilica. The rather drab brick exterior disguises the wonders held inside. The decor quite simply has to be seen to be believed! Truly awesome! What is jaw dropping is the very famous alter by Veit Stoss (Wit Stwosz in Polish. It is an incredibly elaborate wooden carving of vast proportions and quite a festival of colour. However, the best time to view this masterpiece is at 11 50am on weekdays. Up to this time, the altar is enclosed by colourful wooden shutters. However, at 11 50am, to a Disney style fanfare, a nun swishes her way from a side door, brandishes a very long iron pole and dramatically hauls the shutters open with much pomp, ceremony and "oohs" and "ahs" from the gathered crowd to reveal the great intricacy lurking beneath. This has to be seen to be believed! Tickets to visit the church can be purchased from a ticket office opposite the side entrance. The front door of the church is for worshippers only.
 St Mary's Basilica, the Old Town Square
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