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POLAND : KRAKOW - Sightseeing

Kraków can be easily visited on foot as most of the main sights are located within the Planty, a leafy park that forms a green belt around the historic centre or Stare Miasto (Old Town). Among the most notable of the city's hundreds of historic buildings are: the Royal Castle and Cathedral on Wawel Hill, where King John III Sobieski is buried; the medieval Old Town with its beautiful square; Market Square (200 meters on a side); dozens of old churches and museums; the 14th century buildings of the Jagiellonian University; as well as Kazimierz, the historical centre of Kraków's Jewish religious and social life.

The Gothic St Mary's Church stands by the market place. It was built in the 14th century, and its famous wooden altar was carbed by Veit Stoss. Every hour, a trumpet call called the hejnal is sounded from the church's main tower.

The epicentre of tourist Kraków is the Rynek Glowny (Main Market Square), laid out in 1257, one of Europe’s most impressive public spaces, which is overrun by tourists during the high season. Relaxing in a pavement café here is a good way to get acquainted with the city.. It is dominated by the 16th-century Sukiennice (Cloth Hall), which continues to perform its role as a trading centre with lively market stalls and pavement cafés in and around the building. The surrounding lanes of the Stare Miasto (Old Town) are ringed by the Planty, a leafy, linear park that follows the line of the Old Town walls. The voluminous hulk of Wawel Hill, to the south, is home to Wawel Castle, It was here that the Polish Kings ruled from the 14th to 17th centuries and there is enough to see to occupy at least a day or two, including the Castle itself, the State Rooms, Treasury and Armoury, Royal Tombs and Wawel Cathedral. It was at this location, in 1000 AD, that the bishopric of Cracow was established and the Cathedral remains the spiritual home of Poland.

Ten minutes’ walk from Wawel is the district of Kazimierz, southeast of the Old Town, where the city’s sizeable Jewish population used to prosper before the Nazis arrived. For centuries it was a centre of Jewish culture, until the Nazis killed most of its residents and deported many of the survivors to the wartime ghetto of Podgorze and thence to nearby Auschwitz. Kazimierz had largely fallen into decline since World War II, but the area is currently undergoing something of a renaissance in response to the renewed interest brought about by the film Schindler’s List. The Jewish culture of the area is being revived, with lively art galleries, kosher restaurants and regular cultural events.

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