I have been in Krakow for a few days now and I have loved exploring the city. The architecture is beautiful, the food is delicious (but I already knew that about Polish food), and overall it is just a wonderful city. However, I wanted to learn more about the history of Krakow so I could better understand the historical sights. I decided to take a walking tour of Old Town yesterday and I am very glad that I did.
*If you’re bored by the historical anecdotes, skip to the last paragraph.
The tour began in Main Market Square, in front of St. Aldabert’s Church. The church is a small building, it looks slightly out of place, but it is one of the oldest structures in the city (I forgot to take a picture). We then walked around the square, focusing on the Main Market, then St. Mary’s Basilica.
Notice how the basilica has two uneven towers. Legend has it that two brothers built the towers, competing with one another to make the best tower. According to this legend one brother was killed, allowing the other to create the taller, more intricate one. That man later climbed to the top of the basilica, confessed to killing his brother, then jumped to his death. Across from the church lies the main market, from which the “murder weapon” (a knife) hangs from the entryway.
The tour guide later brought us to the north end of Old Town. There we saw the remains of the original wall that was used to protect the city’s residents from invaders. I learned that the city intended to destroy the rest of the wall (preserving history was not considered important during the time period). However, a few people (scholars and others) who had the unpopular belief in historical preservation, decided to spread a lie in order to convince the residents to keep it. They told people that a large wind was coming, a wind that would spread a terrible disease. People thought that the wall would help keep the wind out and, therefore, save themselves from the disease (more conservative people wanted to keep the wall because they were afraid that the wind would blow women’s skirts up).
We then ventured through Planty, the park that surrounds Old Town (was once protective swamps during the medieval era), until we reached Jagiellonian University where Pope John Paul II studied literature.
The final destination on the tour was Wawel Castle. There lies the Cathedral in which Pope Jean Paul II preached before becoming the Pope. At the entrance of the Cathedral hangs “dragon bones,” which are symbolic of another city legend. The tale has inspired many fairytales in which knights compete for a beautiful princess by attempting to slay a dragon (not exactly a feminist story…but not the fault of the princess, of course).
In addition to learning about the history of Krakow, I met some really nice people. My tour group consisted of people from the United States, England, Scotland, and Israel. I spent much of the tour getting to know a woman from Los Angeles (originally from Taiwan). Then at the end of the tour the two of us sat for a while, talking with the couple from Israel. We talked about where we’re from, our lives, and our travels. One of the best parts about traveling is meeting people that I would probably have never met otherwise. I will probably never see these people again, but I will treasure the moments we shared. This clearly sounds super cheesy, but one cannot simply forget connecting with a complete stranger. Despite our different backgrounds, ages, and nationalities, we bonded over our passion for travel, learning, and our newfound love of a city. The world is a large place so it is easy to forget how interconnected we are. By forgetting this, we often rank ourselves, prioritizing certain types of people over others. However, every time I travel to a new place and meet people from other countries, the world gets just a little bit smaller. This may not sound like a good thing, but it really is. It is a constant reminder that we are all human beings, inhabiting the same earth. We are more similar than we are different. This is important to keep in mind as we move forward. As an American, I feel as though the next few years are uncertain and that makes me feel uneasy. However, if we can remember how similar and interconnected we all are, our country and our world can be a more welcoming place for all.