Wawel Castle

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Wawel Royal Castle
Krakow - Wawel - nocny pejzaz 02.jpg
Night view of the castle
Type Castle residency
Location Old Town, Kraków, Poland
Coordinates 50°03′14″N19°56′05″E / 50.05389°N 19.93472°E / 50.05389; 19.93472 Coordinates: 50°03′14″N19°56′05″E / 50.05389°N 19.93472°E / 50.05389; 19.93472
Area7,040 m2 (0.704 ha)
Built13th and 14th centuries
Architectural style(s) Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Early Baroque
Visitors1,500,000 (in 2015) [1]
Website Official Website
Official name: Historic Centre of Kraków
Designated1978 (2nd  session)
Reference no.
Region Europe and North America
Map of Krakow center.png
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Location of Wawel Royal Castle in Krakow Central
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Wawel Castle (Poland)

The Wawel Castle is a castle residency located in central Kraków, Poland. Built at the behest of King Casimir III the Great, [2] it consists of a number of structures situated around the Italian-styled main courtyard. The castle, being one of the largest in Poland, represents nearly all European architectural styles of medieval, renaissance and baroque periods. The Wawel Royal Castle and the Wawel Hill constitute the most historically and culturally significant site in the country. In 1978 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the Historic Centre of Kraków.

Castle Fortified residential structure of medieval Europe

A castle is a type of fortified structure built during the Middle Ages predominantly by the nobility or royalty and by military orders. Scholars debate the scope of the word castle, but usually consider it to be the private fortified residence of a lord or noble. This is distinct from a palace, which is not fortified; from a fortress, which was not always a residence for royalty or nobility; and from a fortified settlement, which was a public defence – though there are many similarities among these types of construction. Usage of the term has varied over time and has been applied to structures as diverse as hill forts and country houses. Over the approximately 900 years that castles were built, they took on a great many forms with many different features, although some, such as curtain walls, arrowslits, and portcullises, were commonplace.

Kraków City in Lesser Poland, Poland

Kraków, also spelled Cracow or Krakow in English, is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. Situated on the Vistula River in the Lesser Poland region, the city dates back to the 7th century. Kraków was the official capital of Poland until 1596 and has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish academic, economic, cultural and artistic life. Cited as one of Europe's most beautiful cities, its Old Town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Poland Republic in Central Europe

Poland, officially the Republic of Poland, is a country located in Central Europe. It is divided into 16 administrative subdivisions, covering an area of 312,696 square kilometres (120,733 sq mi), and has a largely temperate seasonal climate. With a population of approximately 38.5 million people, Poland is the sixth most populous member state of the European Union. Poland's capital and largest metropolis is Warsaw. Other major cities include Kraków, Łódź, Wrocław, Poznań, Gdańsk, and Szczecin.


For centuries the residence of the kings of Poland and the symbol of Polish statehood, the Castle is now one of the country's premier art museums. Established in 1930, the museum encompasses ten curatorial departments responsible for collections of paintings, including an important collection of Italian Renaissance paintings, prints, sculpture, textiles, among them the Sigismund II Augustus tapestry collection, goldsmith's work, arms and armor, ceramics, Meissen porcelain, and period furniture. The museum's holdings in oriental art include the largest collection of Ottoman tents in Europe. With seven specialized conservation studios, the museum is also an important center for the conservation of works of art.

Renaissance European cultural period, 14th to 17th century

The Renaissance is a period in European history, covering the span between the 14th and 17th centuries and marking the transition from the Middle Ages to modernity. The traditional view focuses more on the early modern aspects of the Renaissance and argues that it was a break from the past, but many historians today focus more on its medieval aspects and argue that it was an extension of the Middle Ages.

Printmaking activity or occupation of making prints from plates or blocks

Printmaking is the process of creating artworks by printing, normally on paper. Printmaking normally covers only the process of creating prints that have an element of originality, rather than just being a photographic reproduction of a painting. Except in the case of monotyping, the process is capable of producing multiples of the same piece, which is called a print. Each print produced is considered an "original" work of art, and is correctly referred to as an "impression", not a "copy". Often impressions vary considerably, whether intentionally or not. The images on most prints are created for that purpose, perhaps with a preparatory study such as a drawing. A print that copies another work of art, especially a painting, is known as a "reproductive print".

Sculpture Branch of the visual arts that operates in three dimensions

Sculpture is the branch of the visual arts that operates in three dimensions. It is one of the plastic arts. Durable sculptural processes originally used carving and modelling, in stone, metal, ceramics, wood and other materials but, since Modernism, there has been an almost complete freedom of materials and process. A wide variety of materials may be worked by removal such as carving, assembled by welding or modelling, or molded or cast.


Wawel seen from St. Mary's Basilica Zabudowa Wzgorza Wawelskiego (widok z wiezy kosciola Mariackiego); A-7; PL-MA, Krakow, Wawel.jpg
Wawel seen from St. Mary's Basilica

People have lived on Wawel Hill at the site of the Castle as early as fifty thousand years ago, in the Paleolithic Age. The settlement was apparently bustling with trade, assorted crafts and local farming. When more people began to settle down on the Wawel Hill and when trade became more efficient, the rulers of Poland took up their residence at the Hill as well.

During the early 16th century King Sigismund I the Old (Zygmunt I in Polish) and his wife brought in the best native and foreign artists including Italian architects, sculptors, and German decorators, to refurbish the castle into a splendid Renaissance palace. [3] It soon became a paragon of stately residence in Central and Eastern Europe and served widely as a model throughout the region.

Sigismund I the Old King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania

Sigismund I of Poland, of the Jagiellon dynasty, reigned as King of Poland and also as the Grand Duke of Lithuania from 1506 until 1548. Earlier, Sigismund had been invested as Duke of Silesia. A successful monarch and a great patron of arts, he established Polish suzerainty over Ducal Prussia and incorporated the duchy of Mazovia into the Polish state, securing the nation's wealth, culture and power.

Gobelin tapestries, such as this one with monogram "SA" of King Sigismund Augustus of Poland, Brussels, c. 1555, were part of famous Jagiellonian tapestries, also known as the Wawel Tapestries or Wawel Arrases. ArrasWawel.jpg
Gobelin tapestries, such as this one with monogram "SA" of King Sigismund Augustus of Poland, Brussels, c. 1555, were part of famous Jagiellonian tapestries, also known as the Wawel Tapestries or Wawel Arrases.

In the fire of 1595, the northeast part of the castle burned down. King Sigismund III Vasa rebuilt it, although of his efforts only the Senator Stairs and the fireplace in the Bird Room remain today. [4] In 1609 King Sigismund moved the capital to Warsaw, and tough times for Wawel began. Both the castle and other buildings were neglected despite the concerns of local governors. The Swedish invasions of 1655–1657 and 1702 contributed to the further deterioration of the castle. [5]

Sigismund III Vasa King of Poland, Grand Duke of Lithuania, King of Sweden

Sigismund III Vasa, also known as Sigismund III of Poland, was King of Poland, Grand Duke of Lithuania and monarch of the united Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth from 1587 to 1632 as well as King of Sweden and Grand Duke of Finland from 1592 until his deposition in 1599.

Warsaw City metropolis in Masovia, Poland

Warsaw is the capital and largest city of Poland. The metropolis stands on the Vistula River in east-central Poland and its population is officially estimated at 1.78 million residents within a greater metropolitan area of 3.1 million residents, which makes Warsaw the 8th most-populous capital city in the European Union. The city limits cover 516.9 square kilometres (199.6 sq mi), while the metropolitan area covers 6,100.43 square kilometres (2,355.39 sq mi). Warsaw is an alpha global city, a major international tourist destination, and a significant cultural, political and economic hub. Its historical Old Town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Wawel Castle with the cathedral seen to the left. Wawel castle.jpg
Wawel Castle with the cathedral seen to the left.
Wawel Castle during thunderstorm Wawel lightning.jpg
Wawel Castle during thunderstorm

The Hill was occupied by the Prussian Army in 1794. Royal Insignia were stolen and never retrieved (apart from the Szczerbiec). [6] After the Third Partition of Poland (1795) Wawel, as an important defensive point, was mostly demolished and the remaining part was modernised by Austrians with defensive walls. The interior of the castle was changed and some of the buildings pulled down. In the second part of the 19th century the Austrians redesigned the defensive walls making them a part of a stronghold. However, in 1905 the emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria gave an order for Austrian troops to leave Wawel. [4] Restoration works began, with the discovery of the Rotunda of Virgin Mary as well as other relics of the past. The renovations of the Wawel Hill were financed by public subscriptions.

Szczerbiec ceremonial weapon

Szczerbiec is the coronation sword that was used in crowning ceremonies of most Polish monarchs from 1320 to 1764. It is currently on display in the treasure vault of the Royal Wawel Castle in Kraków as the only preserved piece of the medieval Polish Crown Jewels. The sword is characterized by a hilt decorated with magical formulas, Christian symbols and floral patterns, as well as a narrow slit in the blade which holds a small shield with the coat of arms of Poland. Its name, derived from the Polish word szczerba meaning a gap, notch or chip, is sometimes rendered into English as "the Notched Sword" or "the Jagged Sword", although its blade has straight and smooth edges.

Third Partition of Poland historical event

The Third Partition of Poland (1795) was the last in a series of the Partitions of Poland and the land of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth among Prussia, the Austrian Empire, and the Russian Empire which effectively ended Polish–Lithuanian national sovereignty until 1918. The partition was followed by a number Polish uprisings during the period.

Franz Joseph I of Austria Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary

Franz Joseph I or Francis Joseph I was Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary, King of Bohemia, and monarch of many other states of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, from 2 December 1848 to his death. From 1 May 1850 to 24 August 1866 he was also President of the German Confederation. He was the longest-reigning Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, as well as the third-longest-reigning monarch of any country in European history, after Louis XIV of France and Johann II of Liechtenstein.

After World War I, the authorities of the newly independent Polish Second Republic decided that Wawel Castle was to become a representative building of the Polish state and would be used by the Governor and later by the President himself. [4] In 1921 the Polish Parliament passed a resolution which gave Wawel official status as the residence of the President of Poland. Following the ravages of World War II, by the decree of the State National Council, Wawel Castle became a national museum.

Crown Treasury and armory

The Crown Treasury situated in the historic Gothic rooms which were used from the 15th century on for storing the Polish coronation insignia and Crown Jewels, feature on display priceless objects from the former Treasury that survived plunder, among them the memorabilia of Polish monarchs including members of their families and eminent personages, like the hat and sword given to John III Sobieski by the pope after the Battle of Vienna, as well as the coronation sword Szczerbiec. [6]


Fragment in Chicago

A column fragment of Wawel Castle has been incorporated into Chicago's landmark Tribune Tower. Located in its own niche over the upper-left corner of the main entrance, it is a visual tribute[ citation needed ] to Chicago's large Polish populace, the largest such presence outside of the Republic of Poland.

See also

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Royal Road, Kraków Road in Kraków, Poland

The Royal Road or Royal Route in Kraków, Poland, begins at the northern end of the medieval Old Town and continues south through the centre of town towards Wawel Hill, where the old royal residence, Wawel Castle, is located. The Royal Road passes some of the most prominent historic landmarks of Poland's royal capital, providing a suitable background to coronation processions and parades, kings' and princes' receptions, foreign envoys and guests of distinction traveling from a far country to their destination at Wawel.

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Niepołomice Castle

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Jagiellonian tapestries

The Jagiellonian tapestries are a collection of tapestries woven in the Netherlands and Flanders, which originally consisted of 365 pieces assembled by the Jagiellons to decorate the interiors of the royal residence Wawel Castle. It is also known as the Wawel arrasses, as the majority of the preserved fabrics is in the possession of the Wawel Castle Museum and the French city of Arras was a large center of manufacturing of this kind of wall decoration in the beginning of the 16th century. The collection become a state property of the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland according to the will of Sigismund II Augustus.

<i>Prussian Homage</i> (painting) painting by Jan Matejko

The Prussian Homage is an oil on canvas painting by Polish painter Jan Matejko painted between 1879 and 1882 in Kraków. The painting depicts the "Prussian Homage," a significant political event from the time of the Renaissance in Poland in which Albrecht Hohenzollern, the Duke of Prussia paid tribute and swore allegiance to King Sigismund I the Old in Kraków's market square on 10 April 1525. Matejko depicted over thirty important figures of the Polish Renaissance period, taking the liberty of including several who were not actually present at the event.

<i>Zawieszenie dzwonu Zygmunta</i> painting by Jan Matejko

Zawieszenie dzwonu Zygmunta is a painting by Jan Matejko finished in 1874. It depicts the installation of the Sigismund Bell in the Wawel Cathedral in Kraków in 1521. The bell was installed in the Sigismund Tower and rung for the first time on 13 July 1521. The bell is considered to be one of the national symbols of Poland. This painting is one of a number of historical paintings by Matejko. It shows a crowd of people, with a number of identifiable figures of historical importance. It conveys the Golden Era of the Polish Renaissance, and the power of the Kingdom of Poland.

Evacuation of Polish National Treasures during World War II

Between 280 and 300 objects of fine and decorative art deemed to be of exceptional artistic or historical value, which became known collectively as Polish National Treasures, were evacuated out of Poland at the onset of World War II in September 1939 and transported via Romania, France, and Britain to Canada. The bulk of them came from the Wawel Castle in Kraków and included a rich collection of Jagiellonian tapestries, as well as Szczerbiec, the medieval coronation sword of Polish kings; these came to be known as Wawel Treasures, an appellation sometimes erroneously extended to all of the evacuated items. Most of the rest of the salvaged objects were manuscripts from the National Library in Warsaw, including the earliest documents in the Polish language and Frédéric Chopin's autograph sheet music. The treasures were complemented by works of art from the Royal Castle of Warsaw and a Gutenberg Bible from the library of the Catholic Higher Seminary of Pelplin. After the end of the war, the treasures remained in Canada for nearly two decades due to competing claims made by the new communist government of Poland and the London-based Polish government-in-exile. Negotiations spanned over fifteen years before they were eventually returned to Poland in 1961.



  1. Głowicka-Wolska,Redakcja, Eliza. "Zoo Wrocław – rekord frekwencji w 2015: lepiej od Wawelu i Wieliczki - www.wroclaw.pl" . Retrieved 6 May 2017.
  2. "Castles.info - Krakow castle, Wawel". www.castles.info. Retrieved 6 May 2017.
  3. Ostrowski 1992 , p. 47
  4. 1 2 3 Ostrowski 1992 , p. 139
  5. Ostrowski 1992 , pp. 57, 139
  6. 1 2 Ostrowski 1992 , p. 156


  1. Ostrowski, Jan K. (1992), Cracow (in Polish), International Cultural Centre, ISBN   83-221-0621-1 .