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Kraków (Cracow) is one of the largest and oldest cities in Polandmarker, with a population of 756,441 (2008). Situated on the Vistula river ( ) in the Lesser Poland region, the city dates back to the 7th century. It was the capital of Poland from 1038 to 1596, the capital of the Grand Duchy of Krakówmarker from 1846 to 1918, and the capital of Kraków Voivodeship from the 14th century to 1999. It is now the capital of the Lesser Poland Voivodeshipmarker.

Early history

The earliest known settlement on the present site of Kraków was established on Wawel Hill, and dates back to the 4th century. Legend attributes the town's establishment to the mythical ruler Krakus, who built it above a cave occupied by a ravenous dragon, Smok Wawelski. Many knights unsuccessfully attempted to oust the dragon by fighting it, but Krakus fed it a poisoned lamb, which killed the dragon. The city was free to flourish. Dragon bones, most likely that of mammoth, are displayed at the entrance of the Wawel Cathedral. The first written record of the city's name dates back to 966, when a Sephardi Jew traveller, Abraham ben Jacob, described Kraków as a notable commercial centre.

Before the Polish state existed, Kraków was the capital of the tribe of Vistulans, subjugated for a short period by Great Moravia. Kraków's first appearance in historical records dates back to the 8th century, and notes that the prince of the Vistulans was baptized there. The first mention of the city's name dates to 966, when Abraham ben Jacob mentioned it as a notable commercial centre of the Bohemia/Czechs.

After Great Moravia was destroyed by the Hungarians, Kraków became part of the kingdom of Bohemia. By the end of the 10th century, the city was a leading center of trade. Around that time, it was incorporated into the holdings of the Piast dynasty of Poland. Brick buildings were being constructed, including the Royal Wawel Castlemarker with St. Felix and Adaukt Rotunda, Romanesque churches, a cathedral, and a basilica. In 1038, Kraków became the seat of the Polish government. In 1079 on a hillock in nearby Skałkamarker, the Bishop of Kraków, Saint Stanislaus of Szczepanów, was slain by the order of the Polish king Bolesław II the Bold. The city was almost entirely destroyed during the Mongol invasion of Poland in 1241, after Polish attempts to repulse the invaders had been crushed in the Battle of Chmielnik.

Kraków was rebuilt in 1257, in a form which was practically unaltered, and received self government city rights based on the Magdeburg Law. In 1259 and 1287 the city was again destroyed by the Mongols. The year 1311 saw the Rebellion of wójt Albert against Polish King Władysław I. It involved mostly German-speaking citizens of Kraków who, as a result, abandoned their political ambitions. However, the rebellion cost Poland the city of Gdańskmarker (Danzig), which was taken over by the Teutonic Order in 1309.

The medieval Krakow was surrounded by a 1.9 mile (3 km) defensive wall complete with 46 towers and seven main entrances leading through them. The fortifications were erected over the course of two centuries. Kraków rose to new prominence in 1364, when Casimir III of Poland founded the Cracow Academy, the second university in central Europe after the University of Prague. There had already been a cathedral school under the auspices of the city's bishop since 1150. The city continued to grow under the joint Lithuanianmarker-Polish Jagiellon dynasty (1386-1572). As the capital of a powerful state, it became a flourishing center of science and the arts. Many works of Renaissance art and architecture were created there during that time.

Kraków was a member of the Hanseatic league and many craftsmen settled there, established businesses and formed craftsmen's guilds. City Law, including guilds' depictions and descriptions, were recorded in the German language Balthasar Behem Codex. This codex is now featured at the Jagiellonian library. In 1475 delegates of the elector George the Rich of Bavariamarker came to Kraków to negotiate the marriage of Hedwig, the daughter of King Casimir IV Jagiello to George the Rich. Hedwig traveled for two months to Landshutmarker in Bavaria, where an elaborate marriage celebration, the Landshut Wedding (Landshuter Hochzeit 1475) took place in St. Martin's church marker. Around 1502 Kraków was already featured in the works of Albrecht Dürer as well as in those of Hartmann Schedel (Nuremberg Chronicle) and Georg Braun (Civitates orbis terrarum).

In the adjoining Jewish quarter of Kazimierzmarker, some of Europe's oldest synagogues were built. The most prominent of them, the Old Synagoguemarker, now serves as a Jewish museum.


In 1468 the Italian humanist Filip Callimachus came to Kraków, where he worked as the teacher of the children of Kazimierz IV. In 1488 the imperial Poet Laureate and humanist Conrad Celtes founded the Sodalitas Litterarum Vistulana ("Literary Society at Vistula"), a learned society based on the Roman academies. In 1489 Veit Stoss of Nurembergmarker finished his work on the Great Altar of the St. Mary's Churchmarker. He later also wrought a marble sarcophagus for Casimir IV. Numerous other artists, mainly from Nurembergmarker and Italy (Francesco Fiorentino, Bartholommeo Berecci, Santi Gucci, Mateo Gucci, Bernardo Morando, Giovanni Baptista di Quadro etc.), worked in Kraków. In 1488, the Holy Roman Emperor's Poet Laureate Conrad Celtes founded the Sodalitas Litterarum Vistulana (Vistula Literary Society), which was based on Roman Academies. In 1489, sculptor Veit Stoss finished his work on the High Altar of the St. Mary's Churchmarker, followed by a marble sarcophagus for King Casimir IV. By 1500, Haller had established a printing press in the city.

In 1520, Johan Behem made the largest church bell, named the Sigismund Bell after King Sigismund I. At the same time Hans Dürer, younger brother of Albrecht Dürer, was Sigismund's court painter. Around 1511 Hans von Kulmbach painted the series of panels for the Church of Pauline Fathers at Skałkamarker and Church of St. Marymarker.

In 1572, King Sigismund II died childless, and the throne passed to Sigismund III of the Swedish House of Vasa. Kraków's importance began to decline, accelerated by the pillaging of the city during the Swedish invasion, and an outbreak of plague that left 20,000 of the city's residents dead. Sigismund III moved his capital to Warsawmarker in 1596.

After the partition of Poland

In the late 18th century, the weakened Polish state was partitioned by its more militarized and politically expansionist neighbors, Russiamarker, the Austrian Habsburg Empire, and Prussiamarker. Kraków became part of the Austrian province of Galicia. In 1794 Tadeusz Kościuszko initiated a revolt, the Kościuszko insurrection in Kraków's market squaremarker. The Prussian army put down the revolt, and looted Polish royal treasure kept in the city.

When Napoleon Bonaparte of the French Empire captured what had once been Poland, he established the Duchy of Warsawmarker (1809) as an independent but subordinate state. The Congress of Vienna (1815) restored the partition of Poland, but gave Kraków independence as the Free City of Krakówmarker. The city again became the focus of a struggle for national sovereignty in 1846, during the Kraków Uprising. The uprising failed to spread outside the city to other Polish-inhabited lands, and was put down, resulting in the creation of the Grand Duchy of Cracowmarker by the Austrian Empiremarker.

After the Austro-Prussian Warmarker of 1866, Austria granted partial autonomy to Galicia. making Polish a language of government and establishing a provincial diet. As this form of Austrian rule was more benevolent than that exercised by Russia and Prussia, Kraków became a Polish national symbol and a center of culture and art, known frequently as the "Polish Athens" (Polskie Ateny) or "Polish Mecca" to which Poles would flock to revere the symbols and monuments of Kraków's (and Poland's) great past. Several important commemorations took place in Kraków during the period from 1866-1914, including the 500th Anniversary of the Battle of Grunwaldmarker in 1910, in which world-renowned pianist Ignacy Paderewski unveiled a monument. Famous painters, poets and writers of this period include Jan Matejko, Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, Jan Kasprowicz, Juliusz Kossak, Wojciech Kossak, Stanisław Wyspiański, and Stanisław Przybyszewski. The latter two were leaders of Polish modernism.

20th century

Fin de siècle Kraków under partitions was famously the center of Polish national revival and culture, but the city was also becoming a modern metropolis during this period. In 1901 the city installed running water and witnessed the introduction of its first electric streetcars. (Warsaw's first electric streetcars came in 1907.) The most significant political and economic development of the first decade of the 20th century in Kraków was the creation of Greater Kraków (Wielki Kraków), the incorporation of the surrounding suburban communities into a single administrative unit. The incorporation was overseen by Juliusz Leo, the city's energetic mayor from 1904 to his death in 1918. Thanks to migration from the countryside and the fruits of incorporation from 1910 to 1915, Kraków's population doubled in just fifteen years, from approx. 91,000 to 183,000 in 1915. Russian troops besieged Kraków during the first winter of the First World War, and thousands of residents left the city for Moravia and other safer locales, generally returning in the spring and summer of 1915. During the war Polish Legions led by Józef Piłsudski set out to fight for the liberation of Poland, in alliance with Austrian and German troops. The Austro-Hungarian and German Empires lost the war, but the terms of the Treaty of Versailles (1919) established the first sovereign Polish state in over a century. Between the two World Wars Krakow was also a major Jewish cultural and religious center (see: Synagogues of Kraków), with the Zionist movement relatively strong among the city's Jewish population.

Poland was partitioned again in 1939, at the outset of the Second World War. The Nazi German forces entered Kraków in September of that year. It became the capital of the General Government, a colonial authority under the leadership of Hans Frank. The occupation took a heavy toll, particularly on the city's cultural heritage. On one occasion, over 150 professors and other academics of the Jagiellonian University were summoned to a meeting, arrested and dispatched to the concentration camp at Sachsenhausenmarker (see also Sonderaktion Krakau). Many relics and monuments of national culture were destroyed and looted. The Jewish population was first ghettoized, and later murdered. Major concentration camps near Kraków included Płaszówmarker and the extermination camp of Auschwitzmarker, to which many Polish Jews were sent. Specific events surrounding the Jewish ghetto in Krakówmarker and the nearby concentration camps were famously portrayed in the film Schindler's List, itself based on a book by Thomas Keneally entitled Schindler's Ark.

A common account, popularized in Soviet-controlled communist People's Republic of Poland, held that due to a rapid advance of the Soviet armies, Kraków allegedly escaped planned destruction during the German withdrawal. There are several different versions of that account."The Germans planned to blow up Krakow, which has many medieval buildings and museums, but they were foiled when the map of mines and explosives placed around the city, was delivered by a couple of Polish citizens to the Russians, who were closing in on the city."

Anna M. Cienciala, "The German Occupation of Poland and the Holocaust in German-occupied Poland." Chapter: " The Polish Resistance Movement against the Germans." The Polish Review, v.48, 1, 2003, 49-72. According to version based on self-writteen Soviet statements, Marshal Ivan Konev claimed to have been informed by the Polish patriots of the German plan, and took an effort to preserve Kraków from destruction by ordering a lightning attack on the city while deliberately not cutting the Germans from the only withdrawal path, and by not aiding the attack with aviation and artillery. The credibility of those accounts has been questioned by Polish historian Andrzej Chwalba who finds no physical evidence of the German master plan for demolition and no written proof showing that Konev ordered the attack with the intention of preserving the city. He portrays Konev's strategy as ordinary—only accidentally resulting in little damage to Kraków—exaggerated later into a myth of "Konev, savior of Kraków" by Soviet propaganda.

The Red Army's arrival brought mass rapes on Polish women and girls, as well as the brutal plunder of all private property by Soviet soldiers. This crime wave reached such scale that even the communists installed by the Soviet NKWD in the city wrote a letter of protest to Joseph Stalin; meanwhile, masses in churches were held in intention of the quick Russian withdrawal from Kraków.

After the war, the government of the People's Republic of Poland ordered the construction of the country's largest steel mill in the suburb of Nowa Hutamarker. This was regarded by some as an attempt to diminish the influence of Kraków's intellectual and artistic heritage by industrialization of the city and by attracting to it the new working class.

The city is regarded by many to be the cultural capital of Poland. In 1978, UNESCOmarker placed Kraków on the list of World Heritage Sites. In the same year, on October 16, 1978, Kraków's archbishop, Karol Wojtyła, was elevated to the papacy as John Paul II, the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.

21st century

Kraków's population has quadrupled since the end of the war. Offshoring of IT work from other nations in recent years has become important to the economy of Kraków and Poland in general. The city is the key center for this kind of business activity. There are about 20 large multinational companies in Kraków, including centers serving IBM, General Electric, Motorola, and Sabre Holdings, along with British and German-based firms.


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