Visiting Wawel Hill, the Royal Castle & Wawel Cathedral
For many Poles, the country’s most important historic and cultural site isn’t in the capital of Warsaw. It’s on the northern bank of the Vistula River in Kraków. A visit to Kraków would be incomplete without a stop at the castle and cathedral on Wawel Hill.
Many centuries ago, the rulers of Poland chose Wawel Hill as their place of residence. The modest stone structure was built in the 11th century and gradually expanded, and in the 16th century, Italian and German artisans were commissioned to transform the castle into a magnificent Renaissance palace.
Now one of Poland’s principal art museums, the castle contains an impressive array of paintings, prints, sculptures, textiles, arms and armor, ceramics, porcelain, and furniture.
Wawel Cathedral has had great religious and political significance to the people of Poland for more than 900 years. It was the coronation site for Polish monarchs and a burial site for royalty, saints, and national heroes. For centuries it has been closely associated with St. Stanislaus, a martyred bishop who is credited with helping to bring about a united and independent Polish state. Construction on the current Gothic structure began in the 14th century and went on for centuries. It took on its late-Baroque appearance in the 1700s.
Many buildings and fortifications built over the past 1,000 years occupy Wawel Hill. Although the castle and cathedral are the most famous, other structures – including the Rotunda of the Virgin Mary, dating to 970 – comprise one of the most fascinating sites in all of Europe.