30 April, 2015

Kraków part I - Barbican, Florianska, St. Mary's Basilica

I got all excited about Kraków last year only to find out the ESO conference was reserved to post-graduates. This year however, they decided to invite another species: the student. Way to go!
Since going to Kraków by train takes about 13 hours, it would be a waste of time and money to go for business only, so I decided to extend the conference trip to a nice little holiday with mom and explore the magic of Kraków.
The trip itself was pretty ordinary, and as it was by night train I didn't get to see much of what was passing by outside. Except of a wonderful sunset that promised a great day.
As we could check in at the hotel after noon, we would go directly to the old town. 
First things you see when going from the brand new train station to the center is probably the massive monument dedicated to the victory in the battle of Grünwald
and the medieval checkpoint Barbican (Barbakan) just in front of the Florianska gate.
Next is the park Planty, that surrounds the Kraków old town like a green ring. It is decorated with many flower beds, fountains and monuments, such as the one of Jan Matejko - which is quite accurate for a painter ;)
Florianska gate with artists beside the city walls and its patron facing the Florianska street, that leads towards the main market square (Rynek Główny).
The early morning photo is deceiving as this is one of the most crowded streets of the old town ;)

Like all the main streets, it leads to the Rynek where two major buildings stand out: first, the gothic Basilica of Our Lady (Kościół Mariacki)
Even though it looks rather simple from the outside, it hides very rich decorations and colourful wall paintings, and a huge wooden altarpiece by Veit Stoss (Wit Stwosz). Unfortunately, the photos in bad light do no justice to the true beauty.
You may wonder, How come the towers of this impressive building are not the same size? How could an architect, who was obviously great, do something so obvious out of place?
According to a legend, there were two architects - two brothers - who were responsible for one tower each. The older one was eager to finish his task first to prove he was the greater master. However, once he was done, it became obvious that he was not only a great master, but also a great teacher to his brother. Out of envy because of the beautiful tower that was still in progress, he stabbed his younger sibling one day, and threw his body in the neraby river. After that, the city council decided to cover the roof of the unfinished tower as it was. The older brother, not able to live with his guilt, made a confession and commited suicide.
In fact, one of the towers was raised some time after the church was build to serve as a watch-out with trumpet players who used to warn people of fire and impending attacks. Till today a tune is played every hour in memory of the trumpeter who once saved the city by playing the hejnał as Tatars were approaching for a surprise attack in the early morning. And till today, the tune stops at the moment it stopped back then when the guard was shot by an arrow.
~ to be continued ~

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