The mascarons gaze demonically over Krakow’s famous market square, keeping the evil spirits at bay, and no one notices. Not the buskers, not the wedding couple, not the carriage drivers, not the children, and not the tourists.
And rising out of the northeast corner of the busy square, the large and impressive St. Mary’s Basilica watches over spirits of a different kind. For tourists and locals alike, this medieval square is the beating heart of Krakow’s Old Town, and all this bustle and liveliness takes lots of looking over.
Many towns in Europe boast of their historic market squares, but the tourist board in Krakow (pronounced KRACK-off) can crow the loudest because their Rynek is the largest. It dates from the 13th Century, and luckily, it survived most of the destruction in WWII. An impressive 16th Century market hall sits dead center in the square, which is still home to vendors selling local crafts and food.
The outer edge of the square is a captivating mix of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque buildings, most of which have restaurants and umbrellas spilling onto the cobblestones.
But for us, the Rynek isn’t just a place, it’s a non-stop event and a Polish pinnacle of people-watching.
An attractive wedding couple poses for the big day …
… and an 8 foot wraith poses for a few złoty.
A vendor oversees her colorful matryoshka dolls and amber jewelry …
… and a trio of Nuns oversees their flock.
St. Mary’s Basilica feeds the soul …
… and identical twins feed the pigeons.
We can’t resist, and have visited Krakow’s Market Square every day of our time here. It’s the perfect place to nab a sun-warmed granite bench and just let the entertaining world flow around us.
Guy visited for a few days after taking a course nearby a couple of years ago. But, as I’m sure you know, the city has a dark history, what with the ghettos and Schindler’s plight etc. I wrote a short story after visiting the ghetto and Auachwitz, “The Death of Helena.”…not sure if you read it? It was my first ever attempt at fiction, and am currently editing it for a competition. Maybe, and only if you’re bored, you might read it and let me know what you think? Cheers. http://www.twentyfirstcenturynomad.com/short-fiction/
Thanks Steve. There’s no doubt that when most westerners hear the name “Krakow”, the city’s horrific past is the first thing to come to mind. And when visiting, it’s almost impossible to avoid. But, the city has a 1000 year history, and lots of interesting things happened before (and after) WWII. And I must admit, when we lived in Berlin, we saw enough of the story to appreciate how indescribably sad the whole affair was. I’ll check out the fiction and get back. ~James
Your adventures never cease to amaze me, I so missed reading them.
Thanks Carol. There’s lots to see in Krakow, but the market square was our favorite. It isn’t just a tourist destination, and the people-watching is great. ~James
molto interessante questo impatto con la maestosa bellezza dei monumenti e il quotidiano scorrere della vita, complimenti
very interesting this impact with the majestic beauty of the monuments and the daily flow of life, Congrats
You description is spot on. There are many appealing characteristics about the market square, but for us, the daily flow of life was the most interesting to observe. ~James
wow this place looks excellent i would love to visit, thank you for sharing your travels with us and your fab pictures i love seeing them you help me in my armchair travelling ^_^ take care and respect to you both x
Thanks for the comment Kizzylee, and for dropping by the blog. Krakow’s 1000-year history makes it a truly interesting place to visit, and traveling there, whether in an armchair or in person, is a great experience. ~James
So many of my mental images of Krakow are gray and rainy that is would be difficult for me to think of the city as bright and colorful. Even though I know it doesn’t rain all the time, I am pleased to see your photos with the blue skies and bright colors. Thank you for sharing. I can hardly wait to discover Poland for myself. – Mike
Thanks Mike. This is our second year to spend time in E Europe in the fall. And both years, the weather pattern was similar. When it rains, it rains for 3-4 days with no let up. And when it’s sunny and nice, it holds for a few days as well. On this year’s trip, the first few days in Kyiv we gray, rainy, and cold. But once the system moved on, things were fine. Not sure if this the seasonal norm, or just our luck. I just use the training I had when living in Oregon … buy the best rain gear you can get, and keep it handy. ~James
Looks a fascinating place to spend some time. I always imagined Krakow to be grey and rainy too, so it’s a pleasant surprise to view your photos.
Thanks Vicki. My experience in Northern and Eastern Europe is that autumn can be a dreary, rainy season. But when the weather breaks, it can also be wonderful. Luckily, our time in Krakow was rain free, and most days were nice. It’s an interesting place, and if you cruise through the area, it makes a great stop. ~James
What variety! Endless entertainment. 🙂
Pam, you would’ve loved it. And it was the perfect place for photographers who like people shots. You just never knew who was going to stroll through next. ~James
Great photos! Krakow may have the best square in Europe. (Athough Cesky Budejovice nearby is pretty good, and Nancy may have the most magnificent.)
Thanks Kathy. I haven’t been to either of these squares, but Krakow’s claim to fame is size, and of course the buzz. I’ll have to try and find photos of these other two. ~James
My unedited photos of Nancy (Art Nouveau as well as the square ) are here: http://kwilhelm.smugmug.com/Travel/France-2009/Nancy – password nancy.
It looks absolutely gorgeous. Your blogs are little photo treats with captions that always express appreciation of the culture. With lots of charm. Thank you!
Thanks Louise. I enjoy pulling together these photo-driven posts. And in these days of information overload, I’m sure that most readers like them as well. BTW, I see that your typing is top-notch, so the shoulder must be doing better. ~James
She’s Swyping, not typing. It comes in handy when one arm is out of commission. Meanwhile, I wanna go to Krakow just to get my hands (both of them) on some of those dolls!
These dolls seem to be the standard tourist item in much of E Europe. Somehow, I’ve always associated them with Russia, assuming there are still lots of Russians in these countries. But who knows? They could be made in China, but they’re cool nonetheless. ~James
Glad to see the mascarons are on duty. There are always lots of evil spirits that need to be chased away. Loved the twins. Sorry Peg and I aren’t there sharing the square with you. –Curt
Thanks Curt. This square really is this cool. And from the people-watching skills that you’ve honed year after year at Burning Man, you and Peggy would fit right in. And did I mention great, cheap beer? ~James
This is the one not to be missed when visiting Poland
I couldn’t agree more. We had read that the square was nice, but it was even better than we expected. A fun place. ~ James
I’m showing this to my husband, who has some Polish ancestors. He wants to visit. These are great photos. A bridal couple! I know you’ll have a lot more wedding couples to show us. The nuns in their habits remind me of my childhood.
Poland doesn’t normally show up on most “Best of Europe” lists, but after visiting Wroclaw and Krakow, we’re certainly happy we visited, and you and your husband would probably enjoy it as well. And there are stories behind both of the photos you mentioned. Re: the bridal couple. We saw three different couples taking photos in the square. We were amazed. And I loved the line of kids trailing behind the nuns, but I had to literally run across the square to get ahead of them for the intercept. I’m sure that I looked like an idiot, but I did catch the shot. ~James
The architecture is fabulous. When we traveled throughout Mexico, visiting the town squares was usually the highlight of our trip.
You’re right LuAnn, the architecture is wonderful. In fact, the Old Town is pretty compact and it’s fun just to wander around. Just about any of the side streets will turn up something interesting. ~James
Yes, all of life passing by, and beautifully captured! 🙂
Thanks Jo. Did you get a chance to relax a bit in the square? It was chilly when we visited, and I’m sure that in summer, it’s packed and even more interesting. ~James