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Wawel

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Greetings from Krakow.

Yesterday I spent a few hours wandering around the Wawel Castle. (Pronunciation guide:  in Polish, the “w” makes the sound of the “v” in English, so the castle is pronounced “Vaa-vel.) As the sign says, it is the supreme monument to the Polish nation.

Before it was a supreme monument, it was a basically a royal city situated on a hill above the rest of Krakow.  Within the walls of the Wawel complex there is a palace with royal apartments and state rooms. A huge Cathedralthat rivals any in France or Italy in sheer gilded decadence. Underneath the Cathedral there are the tombs of a lot of famous Poles, including every Polish monarch, as well as more modern Polish heroes like Jozef Pilsudski.

Once inside the Cathedral, visitors with steady legs can ascend the belltower. I have been told by more seasoned travelers that this is kind of stupid, but I liked it. The tower is narrow and the stairs are rickety and wooden and the bells are immense. The point of climbing to the top is not to get awesome views of the city (though those are to be had as well), but its to see the Zygmunt Bell. This bell was crafted in the 16th century supposedly from the armor of an army the Poles had defeated. The bell is not rung anymore except on extremely special occasions, and when that happens it takes 10 men to ring it.

To control crowds, there are only a set number of tickets available to some parts of the Wawel complex during the day. I was one of the last twenty to get tickets to the state rooms, and tickets to the private apartments were already sold out. The state rooms were pretty spectactular, though under-explained. The placards–in Polish and in English–didn’t really give visitors a sense of when certain pieces were acquired and why. For instance, I was especially confused about the addition of “first half of twentieth century” Persian rugs that were on every floor. Anyway, much of the castle is in an Italian Renassiance style since a 16h century Polish king commissioned the Italian architect Giovanni Trevano and the painter Tomasso Dolabella to carry out a restoration of the castle. There is also a large collection of Dutch art. My favorite room was the “Envoys Room,” which used to hold sessions of the “Lower House.” The ceiling of this room , which dates to the mid 16th century, has thirty wood-engraved  heads staring down to the floor.

Unfortunately, there is no photography allowed in the interior of any of Wawel, so I can only leave you with links to the wikipedia pages above which have some pictures.

This afternoon we are off to Warsaw to visit a friend and to see the funeral of Bronislaw Geremek, who was important in the Solidarity movement.

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Written by dailyquotidian

July 18, 2008 at 8:27 am

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