The Kazimierz district is one of the most famous areas of Krakow. Its fame is not only due to the many historical monuments there that are on the UNESCO World Heritage List, but also because it was the centre of life for generations of the Jewish community.
The first settlement there was located around the Romanesque rotunda on Skałka. On 27th February 1335, the then king of Poland, Casimir the Great, granted a town charter (known as a location privilege) to Kazimierz under the Magdeburg Law. The city layout was subsequently remodelled several times due to the changes in urban planning required from amalgamating separate villages into a single town. The streets were laid out in a regular pattern around the market square, while construction of a brick town hall was also commenced in 1414.
After the Prague pogrom of 1389, Poland became a haven for many Czech Jewish people forced to flee their homeland. Most of them settled in Krakow and the surrounding areas. Jews enjoyed a number of privileges at this time as they were the most highly educated group in the community.
The Jewish quarter grew dynamically and covered the area comprising the present-day streets Starowiślna, św. Wawrzyniec, Miodowa, Wąska, Józef and Nowa. Soon after its creation, the district became the centre of Jewish culture in Poland, also becoming famous abroad. Many rich Jewish families lived there, and schools, universities and synagogues were also built in the district. The Old Synagogue, which was built at the beginning of the 15th century, remains one of the most important examples of Jewish architecture in Europe to this day.
After the Swedish invasion, Polish towns and cities began to revive economically and demographically. In Kazimierz, the construction of new Baroque churches was started – the current-day Holy Trinity Church and Church of the Conversion of Saint Paul.
During the Partitions of Poland, the Austrian authorities decided to incorporate Kazimierz into Krakow as a new district, and this change finally took place in 1800. Austrian policy during the partitions made Kazimierz a very poor, neglected and isolated district, but thanks to the work of many Poles in the second half of the 19th century, it was gradually revived and began to develop anew. In the late 19th century, the northern riverbed of the Vistula was filled in and Planty Dietla was created in its place – a wide street running alongside a square which still remains to this day.
During World War II, Kazimierz was an obvious target, even though many Jewish people lived in other neighbourhoods at this time as well. Most of the inhabitants were displaced to the Lubelskie voivodeship. A ghetto was established in the nearby Podgórze district in 1941, and a total of about 17,000 people of Jewish descent were subsequently moved there. The ghetto operated for about two years before it was liquidated in March 1943.
The end of the war found the district in a severely damaged state. Kazimierz was heavily destroyed, the Old Synagogue was devastated and the Tempel Synagogue had been turned into a warehouse and stables. Meanwhile, the old cemeteries lay in ruins. The post-war world was a very difficult one to organise, especially since there were almost no pre-war inhabitants or owners of what was left remaining in the city.
In 1978, Kazimierz, alongside the Old Town, Stradom and Wawel Castle Hill, was entered on the UNESCO World Heritage List as the “Historic Centre of Kraków”. It was the first Polish site to appear on the list.
Since that time, Kazimierz has begun to develop very dynamically, with the Jewish Culture Festival being the most important event to be held there. First organised in 1988, it has been attracting people from all over the world to celebrate the richness of Jewish culture ever since.
Urząd Miasta Krakowa
pl. Wszystkich Świętych 3-4
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