Wawel Royal Castle is one of the most valuable and significant historical monuments in Poland. Home to generations of royals throughout the centuries, nowadays it’s one of the most important museums in the country, housing permanent exhibitions presenting chambers from the Renaissance and Baroque periods as well as valuable artworks – paintings, sculptures, fabrics, goldware, porcelain, furniture, and many more. The famous King Sigismund Augustus tapestry collection is a particular gem. Wawel Hill, on which the castle is situated, affords a beautiful panoramic view of the bend in the Vistula. A visit to Wawel Cathedral is also a must as it’s a superb example of the eclectic style of architecture, with a tower offering a superb view of the Main Square. Meanwhile, younger visitors are sure to enjoy a visit to the Dragon’s Den and a meeting with the fire-breathing beast.
From the early Middle Ages, Wawel Hill served as a centre of power for both magnates and church dignitaries. The first brick buildings there date back to the 11th century, although archaeologists have also found evidence of activity on the hill dating back to the Paleolithic period. Mieszko I, the first historical ruler of Poland, chose Wawel as one of his residences. After the adoption of Christianity in the country, a bishopric was established in Krakow and the first cathedral was built on Wawel Hill. Throughout its history, the castle has been repeatedly rebuilt and modernised, with numerous fires, lootings and other historical disturbances resulting in the need for it to be reconstructed and renovated in line with the prevailing styles of the time. Wawel experienced its greatest boom in the times of the last rulers of the Piast and Jagiellonian dynasties. In the 16th century, the Gothic castle was renovated into one of the most magnificent Renaissance buildings in Europe. Unfortunately, after the capital was transferred to Warsaw in 1596, the castle lost its importance. This was just the beginning of its troubles, however, as in the 17th century, during the Swedish Deluge, it was conquered and completely looted by the enemy army. Then in 1702 – again because of the Swedes stationed in Wawel Castle during the Great Northern War – a fire broke out that destroyed large parts of the building. Later on, during the Partitions of Poland, the Austrians used the castle as barracks. At the beginning of the 20th century, still during the reign of Franz Joseph, restoration and conservation work on the castle began, with the museum subsequently being established after Poland regained its independence. Apartments were also allocated for the use of the President of Poland, Ignacy Mościcki. After the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the castle was again taken over by the occupying authorities – this time becoming the headquarters of the Nazi governor Hans Frank. During this period, many valuable antiques and artworks were stolen, most of which would never be returned.
Krakow was liberated on 18th January 1945. In 1978, Wawel, along with Krakow. Old Town and the historical Kazimierz district, was entered on the UNESCO World Heritage List, making it one of the first sites in Europe to be placed on the list. The current administrators of Wawel Hill are the following institutions: the Wawel Royal Castle – State Art Collection and the Management Board of the Wawel Metropolitan Basilica, both of which work to maintain the good condition of the buildings.
Wawel Royal Castle
+48 12 422 51 55
The Wawel Museum offers a number of permanent exhibitions and seasonal audiattractions for visitors:
1. Permanent exhibitions
Crown Treasury and Armoury
Art of the Orient: Ottoman Turkish Tents
The Lost Wawel
2. Seasonal routes
Gardens, Courtyards, Church of St. Gereon
The Royal Gardens
Wawel Cathedral, a separate institution which also welcomes visitors, offers you the opportunity to admire its beautiful interiors – containing the chapel, altar and sarcophagi of Polish rulers – as well as the royal crypts. You can also go up the cathedral tower to enjoy a wonderful view of the Old Town, or touch the clapper of the Sigismund Bell, the so-called king of Polish bells and ruler of Polish hearts.