Kraków by Day… Sacral Architecture and Kopiec Kościuszki

October 31, 2009


On Friday, I made the long train ride to Kraków from Łódź to spend some time with my cousin Rafał. He’s studying kulturoznawstwo (cultural anthropology– philosophy, psychology, sociology, linguistics, art history, history of film, literature, etc.) at the Akademia Górniczno-Hutnicza in Kraków. Another artistic soul in the family….

Anyway, the first two and a half hours of my train ride were nice… some time for quiet reflection. There was a 15 minute stop in Częstochowa, so my aunt and uncle met me on the platform and handed off a bag full of homemade pierogi for us to enjoy in Kraków!! The other 2.5 hours of my train ride to Kraków were spent talking to a lawyer for the Polish Army. I saw him running to the train right before it pulled away from Częstochowa and of all the compartments… he had to come panting into mine. Anyway, it made for some very interesting conversation and the time seemed to fly by. When my train finally pulled into Kraków, my cousin was on the platform to meet me. We ended up walking around the town square for a while, talking and catching up, waiting for his girlfriend’s train to come in from Sosnowiec– where she’s studying journalism. Her name is Klementyna (Klema). That night, we just hung out, ate the pierogi my aunt made for us, and watched a great Polish movie called “Dzień świra,” directed by Marek Koterski.

Saturday, we headed out early to do as much as possible before my train to Częstochowa that night at 6:15. We caught a tram into town and hit up possibly every cathedral and church in Kraków (I’m obviously exaggerating). My cousin knows I have an affinity for sacral architecture and wanted to show me the variety Kraków has to offer. We started with — of course — St. Mary’s Basilica (Kościół Mariacki).


This Gothic church dates back to the 13th century, but was rebuilt during the 14th and 15th centuries. Its most famous component is its wooden altarpiece carved by Wit Stwosz (Veit Stoß).


The interiors of the basilica were painted by Antoni Gramatyka, Edward Lepszy, Stanisław Bańkiewicz, Józef Mehoffer, and Stanisław Wyspiański– among others. The stained glass windows are by Józef Mehoffer, Stanisław Wyspiański and Tadeusz Dmochowski.


As a textile kid, I was drooling over all the patterns and colors…



Adjacent to the basilica is St. Barbara’s Church (Kościół św. Barbary), of the Jesuit Order.



The church was built in 1338 but has a predominantly Baroque interior…


Two noteworthy things about St. Barbara’s: Jakub Wujek–the Jesuit priest who translated the Bible into Polish–is buried here.


…and the back of the church looks completely different from the front… =)


Anyway, on the way to our next destination, we couldn’t help ourselves. We threw this guy a złoty… =)

krakow streets

We then headed to Plac Wszystkich Świętych (All Saints Square) to visit the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi (Bazylika św. Franciszka z Asyżu).


The basilica was glorious. It dates back to 1249, but its interiors are neogothic… wait, there’s more. The walls of the nave and transcepts were painted by… none other than my favorite Polish artist ever: Stanisław Wyspiański. There were different patterns all over the walls… it was incredible. I didn’t even know Wyspiański designed repeating patterns… my soul grew that day.



Here’s a stained glass window by Stanisław Wyspiański.


The next church we visited was St. Gile’s Church (Kościół św. Idziego). I learned something new here… I had no idea that Idzi in Polish was Giles in English. Anyway, according to tradition, the church was founded by Prince Ladislaus Herman in the 11th century as thanksgiving for the birth of his son, Boleslaus…. however, it was most probably built  in the early14th century.


Right across Plac Wszystkich Świętych, opposite of St. Gile’s Church, is the Basilica of the Holy Trinity (Bazylika Świętej Trójcy), built in the 13th century. It is under the Dominican Order.


The interior of this basilica was incredible. I especially loved the blue ceilings…


There was an entrance to the Dominican monastery from the basilica… so obviously we wandered around a bit. The atmosphere in the monastery was incredible. There was this particular kind of light coming in through the windows (which looked out onto a courtyard). The floors were all worn-in and uneven from centuries of Dominican monks shuffling about. The history I sensed in this place was incredible. It was definitely one of the coolest places we visited that day…




Across from the basilica and monastery is the Bishop’s Palace, where Pope John Paul II would stay whenever he came to visit Kraków. Above the main gate of the Bishop’s Palace is the famous window (“okno papieskie“) from which the Pope would look out before going to sleep and talk to the masses of young people that would gather below.


Next, we made our way to the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul (Kościół świętego Piotra i Pawła), the first baroque church in Kraków (17th century). The Jesuit church is best known for its statues of the 12 disciples, which line the entrance to the church.


I forgot to turn off my flash and I was scolded for taking this picture. So worth it, though…


I thought the interior of the church was very elegant–it was all white with gold and dark brown/black accents.



Next door to the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul is St. Andrew’s Church (Kościół św. Andrzeja). It dates back to the 11th century and is the finest example of Romanesque architecture in Kraków.


The interior of the church, however, was given a Baroque makeover in the 18th century. It’s quite surreal to walk into a church with such a humble exterior and unexpectedly find an excessively ornate interior… it just doesn’t seem to make sense.


But the most memorable thing about the church was its smell… it smelled like rosewood. It was so unusual.


So, that was it for churches and basilicas. Next, we hopped on a tram and (clumsily) made our way over to the Kopiec Kościuszki (Kościuszko Mound) across the Błońia krakowskie (Błońia Park). Błońia Park is a vast meadow measuring approximately 119 acres (48 hectares). It’s basically a huge expanse of… grass. It’s so big! It took us a good 5-10 minutes to walk to other side. Today it’s mostly used for concerts and large exhibitions, but it’s best known for hosting the masses celebrated by Pope John Paul II when he came to Poland in 1979, 1983, 1987, 1997 and 2002.

Anyway, we didn’t really know how to get to Kopiec Kościuszki, so we just hiked up to it through all the lovely fall foliage from one of the steep streets that seemed to be leading us towards it. Needless to say, we were exhausted by the end of it. We later found out there’s a bus that drops you off right in front…


The Kościuszko Mound was erected in commemoration of the Polish national leader Tadeusz Kościuszko.  The construction was financed by donations from Poles living in all territories of Poland under foreign occupation. It was completed in November 1823 and reaches 34 metres (112 ft) in height. Urns were buried inside the mound with soil from the Polish and American battlefields where Kościuszko fought. The location selected for the monument was the Blessed Bronisława Hill (Wzgórze bł. Bronisławy), also known as Sikornik. The brick citadel around the Mound and the neo-Gothic chapel of Blessed Bronisława were built between 1850 – 1854.



Klema ran ahead up the serpentine path that led to the top of the mound.


Rafał tried catching up…


Not quite at the top–almost there. We couldn’t help but stop to admire the view.


We made it! What a view. You can see Błońia Park behind us… I told you it was huge!


What a way to finish off the day.


On our way down, we finally figured out a way to get all three of us in a photo!


There is a great website for Kopiec Kościuszki, (the site can be viewed in English). I’d recommend a look at the history of the mound, but even moreso–the 360 panorama of Kraków from the top.


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