What do do in Krakow? Walk by The Royal Route!
From Plac Matejki through the Main Square in Krakow to Wawel. With the most popular attractions in Krakow along the way. See the famous Barbican, St. Florian's Gate, St. Mary's Church, the Cloth Hall, St. Peter and Paul, Wawel Castle and much, much more
About The Royal Route
Centuries ago, journeys by members of the royal family, church dignitaries or foreign diplomats along the Royal Route to Wawel represented an opportunity for festivities. Coronation processions, state funerals and the return of the monarch from war were also celebrated in the same manner.
The route itself, also called Via Regia, started in Matejko Square, which was the market square of a separate town established in 1366 under the Magdeburg Law. Initially called Florencja, the town became known as Kleparz in the 15th century – and this name is still in use today as it has been a district of Krakow since the 18th century.
The processions would then pass through the city walls built at the end of the 13th century – first through the Barbican, which is the northernmost part of the walls and has a characteristic saucepan shape, and then through Florian Gate, which was the main city entrance at that time. To this day, this is still one of the most monumental medieval buildings in the city. Mentioned in some of the oldest source materials dating back to 1307, it was presumably built in the 13th century or earlier. The City Arsenal was later built next to it. When the neglected city walls were due to be demolished at the beginning of the 19th century, Professor Feliks Radwański – the man behind the creation of Planty Park – published a statement in which he wrote that the walls should be preserved as they protected the local residents from polluted air (there were tanneries and a leper colony located in Kleparz) and they also stopped women’s dresses from being blown up by the wind.
Walk through the gate and you enter Floriańska Street, one of the most important streets in Krakow’s historic Old Town, which was marked out in 1257. The large number of travellers and merchants travelling along the Royal Route soon led to many hotels and inns being built there. The street leads to the Main Square, where you can admire the symbols of the city – the Cloth Hall, St. Mary's Church and the tower that is a remnant of the early town hall, all of which were built in the Gothic style. The building at Rynek Główny 7 was the location of Poland’s first post office from the mid-16th to the 17th century.
Later, the route went through Plac Wszystkich Świętych (All Saints Square). When Krakow gained preliminary city rights in 1220 under its initial ‘charter of location’, this was where the market square was planned to be located. Two Gothic churches are situated here – the Church of St. Francis of Assisi and the Basilica of the Holy Trinity, both of which are famous for their historical importance and also incredible interiors filled with art pieces from different eras.
The processions would then enter Grodzka Street, which is one of the oldest streets in Krakow and was once part of the trade route. Walking along it, you have the chance not only to admire the historic tenement houses, but also Scharffenberg House (Grodzka 3), which is where one of the first printing houses in Poland was located from 1570, as well as four more churches, the most popular of which is the baroque Church of Saints Peter and Paul. This church is best known for the life-size statues of saints on plinths adorning the surrounding metal railings.
From there, you can turn into Kanonicza Street, the least changed street in the city and one of the few still lined with cobblestones. Besides admiring the beautiful buildings on this street, you can also visit the Erazm Ciołek Museum, which houses a rich collection of medieval art.
The route ends at Wawel Hill, atop of which is the royal castle that is easily visible from Kanonicza Street. The hill is a limestone outcrop with a network of caves which not only housed the lair of the city’s legendary dragon but also a brothel, as well as an inn that was favoured by a number of kings. Some of these caves are currently open to visitors.
The castle itself was constructed in the 11th century and has been subsequently rebuilt many times throughout its history. The most notable changes came in the 14th century due to the influence of the early Gothic style and also during the Renaissance, when the arcaded courtyard, one of its most characteristic features, was built. Despite the castle’s turbulent history, including its partial destruction during the Swedish Deluge of the 1650s and its use as barracks by the Austrian partitioners, Wawel remains one of the most important buildings in Polish history to this day. It was home to many generations of Polish royals – since Krakow was the capital of the country for centuries – and also an outlet for some of the greatest architectural and artistic talents.
SOME LESSER KNOWN LANDMARKS ALONG THE ROYAL ROUTE
Grunwald Monument – located in Matejko Square, it commemorates the most important battle of the Middle Ages in Poland, which was won against the Teutonic Knights in 1410. The monument was created by Antoni Wiwulski in 1910 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the battle.
City Defence Walls – built in the 13th century, most of the defensive wall complex was demolished in the 19th century. In the preserved part, there is a museum with an exhibition that allows you to visit three of the towers.
Hotel Pod Różą (Under the Rose Hotel) – the building itself was erected in 1300, but in the 18th century it was converted into an inn and soon after into a hotel. In subsequent years, it was rebuilt in the Neoclassical style and then given its current name in 1864. Many notable figures have stayed in the hotel, including Alexander I of Russia and Franz Liszt.
Pharmacy Museum – established in 1946, the museum is laid out over 5 floors of a renovated tenement house. With the layout of the exhibitions corresponding to the actual order of historical pharmacies, this is one of the biggest and best museums on this subject in the world.
Cafe Jama Michalika – after it opened in the late 19th century, this cafe quickly became a favourite haunt for some of the most influential artists and writers of the time. Fortunately, the impressive art nouveau interiors have survived almost intact to this day.
Wielopolski Palace – built in the 16th century, the palace was owned and handed down through successive generations of the Wielopolski family from the mid-17th century to the mid-19th century. It is said to be haunted by the Black Lady, an unknown girl who was executed more than 200 years ago. Sightings of the ghost have been reported by numerous witnesses, and during renovation of the building in 1903 the bones of a young woman were found embedded in the walls…
Tigner Synagogue – although it is not visible from the outside, if you walk behind the building located at 28/30 Grodzka Street, you will see a courtyard with the entrance to the synagogue. Built in 1913, it was in active use until World War II. Nowadays, however, it is in a state of ruin so it’s important to increase awareness of this neglected piece of architecture.
St Giles’ Church – located at the end of Grodzka Street, it may not be as well-known as the other churches in the city but it’s certainly no less beautiful. The first iteration of the building dated from the 11th century, when it was constructed at the behest of the ruler of the country at the time, Władysław Herman, who wanted to give thanks for the birth of his son, the future Polish prince Bolesław III Wrymouth. The church that exists today was built in the 14th century, with its most interesting feature being the stalls made from different types of coloured marble.
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