On the Royal Road. Cloth Hall
The Royal Road is a historical route, which centuries ago was walked by Polish monarchs during important ceremonies. For the modern tourist, walking along the Royal Way can become a fascinating journey through the heart of the former Polish capital. During such a stroll, it is necessary to stop by one of the most important buildings on the Main Market Square – the Cloth Hall.
The history of the monument dates back to the time of the foundation of Kraków: it was built in the 2nd half of the 13th century. Nowadays, on the ground floor of the Cloth Hall, just as centuries ago, there are stalls where you can buy various souvenirs. In turn, the first floor and the basement of the building house museums. The first floor of the Cloth Hall houses the Gallery of 19th-Century Polish Art, a branch of the National Museum in Kraków. Paintings and sculptures by such artists as the painters Marcello Bacciarelli, Jan Matejko, Henryk Siemiradzki, Aleksander Gierymski and sculptor Pius Weloński are exhibited in four rooms.
The Museum is also located one level beneath the ground floor Cloth Hall. It is a branch of the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków – known as the Rynek Underground, in existence since 2010. When visiting it, the tourist descends 4 metres below the present surface of the square. This peculiar journey in time allows us to get to know the everyday life of Kraków inhabitants during the Middle Ages. The visitor will learn what the old streets looked like, what goods could be bought at the market in the 14th century and why Kraków was a critical trading centre on the map of Europe at that time.
The Gallery of 19th-Century Polish Art is one of the most accessible places for people with disabilities. The renovation and modernisation of the gallery was one of the most significant conservation investments in Europe, allowing for the introduction of very high standards of use while maintaining conservation discipline, which earned it victory in the 'Kraków without Barriers 2010' competition. The gallery has no thresholds or restrictions, the glass doors are covered with unique ornaments, and there is a cloakroom for people with impaired mobility next to the museum shop. A toilet for people with disabilities can be found next to the terrace. The floor and terrace can be accessed by a lift with buttons described in Braille. The Underground Market is also adapted for wheelchair users and visually-impaired visitors. Blind and visually-impaired visitors can also take a virtual tour of the museum with an audio-description and ETR. There is also a model in front of the Cloth Hall on the side of St John's Street, presenting the Cloth Hall, which is part of a project aimed at people with visual and mobility impairments.
Wawel Hill and its exhibitions
The destination on the Royal Route is the Wawel Hill. The limestone hill above the Vistula River, with its royal castle and bishop's cathedral, was the seat of Polish rulers and the heart of the country for centuries. The Hill can be reached from the north by walking from Kanonicza and Podzamcze Streets and the south via Bernardyńska Street. The ascent from the north side is quite steep and has an uneven surface, while from the south side the road is a bit smoother but requires a lot of effort from a person in a wheelchair. After reaching the Wawel Hill, it is worth visiting the museum exhibitions (the Cathedral Museum and exhibitions in the Royal Castle) and the Cathedral. Near the Promotion and Information Centre, in the south-western part of the Wawel Hill, there is a mock-up depicting its buildings in its current configuration.
A visit to the Wawel Royal Cathedral starts from the entrance located on its west side, accessed by a high staircase. Bones supposedly belonging to the Wawel dragon hang on chains by the door. These are the bones of a mammoth, a whale and a rhinoceros. In the old days, it was believed that they would ensure the permanence of the building. Legend has it that if they fell to the ground, the end of the world would come. Near the entrance, two royal sarcophagi stand on the sides of the nave. On the right, you can see the tomb of Władysław Jagiełło – the founder of the Jagiellonian dynasty, who defeated the Teutonic Knights at the Battle of Grunwald in 1410. Opposite is the symbolic burial place of his son, the King of Poland and Hungary, Ladislaus of Varna, killed at Varna in 1444.
In the central part of the nave is the confession of St Stanislaus, which became known as the Altar of the Homeland. Under the canopy, the remains of one of Poland's patron saints rest in a silver reliquary, and rulers returning from wars would deposit their spoils here. One of them was Ladislaus the Short, who in 1411 hung some of his captured Teutonic banners at the altar. If you walk around the confession and go straight ahead, you will reach the presbyter, where you will find the main altar from around 1650. On its left side is a door leading to the northern arm of the ambit, i.e., the presbytery bypass. The sarcophagus of Ladislaus the Short – the oldest royal tomb in the Wawel Cathedral – stands in the ambulatory. Opposite the sarcophagus is a passage to the sacristy, from where you can climb the Sigismund Tower (note: the long, steep stairs are inaccessible for people with impaired mobility). The Sigismund Tower is where the famous Sigismund Bell, cast in 1520, hangs and can be heard during national and church holidays and extraordinary events. It weighs over 12 tonnes and owes its name to its founder, King Sigismund the Old. The Bell is said to have the power to make wishes come true – you must touch its heart when thinking about your dream.
In the northern arm of the ambit, not far from the sarcophagus of Ladislaus the Short, is the 18th-century altar of the Crucified Jesus. It contains the cross of St. Jadwiga of Poland from around 1380, held in special reverence as an image famous for its graces. According to legend, Christ spoke from the cross to the Queen praying in front of it. Continue straight ahead for a few metres and then turn right. In the southern arm of the ambit stands the sarcophagus of King Casimir the Great. It is said of this last ruler of the Piast dynasty that ‘He found Poland wooden and left it brick.’ A few steps away, near the white sarcophagus of Queen Jadwiga of Anjou, is the Sigismund Chapel, built between 1519 and 1533 by a team of Italian artists led by Bartolomeo Berrecci, a prominent architect and sculptor. The chapel is considered one of the finest Renaissance monuments in Poland.
In the northern arm of the ambit, not far from the sarcophagus of Ladislaus the Short, is the 18th-century altar of the Crucified Jesus. It contains the cross of St. Jadwiga of Poland from around 1380, held in special reverence as an image famous for its graces. According to legend, Christ spoke from the cross to the Queen praying in front of it. Continue straight ahead for a few metres and then turn right. In the southern arm of the ambit stands the sarcophagus of King Casimir the Great. It is said of this last ruler of the Piast dynasty that ‘He found Poland wooden and left it brick.’ A few steps away, near the white sarcophagus of Queen Jadwiga, is the Sigismund Chapel, built between 1519 and 1533 by a team of Italian artists led by Bartolomeo Berrecci, a prominent architect and sculptor. The chapel is considered one of the finest Renaissance monuments in Poland.
In addition to the cathedral, it is worth visiting the nearby Cathedral Museum, where you can see relics from the cathedral treasury. Among them is a copy of St Maurice's spear, which was given to Bolesław I the Brave by Emperor Otto at the Gniezno Congress in the year 1000.
Wheelchair users can gain entrance to the Wawel Cathedral by alerting a staff member, who will push the wheelchair up the steep stairs leading into the church or unfold a ramp at the side entrance. Another obstacle is the high threshold in the doorway, and inside, stairs and high single steps hinder movement. People with impaired mobility can visit the ground floor of the Cathedral, but only when accompanied by a strong companion. Turning left after the Cathedral, you reach the Royal Castle.
One enters the courtyard of the Royal Castle through the Berrecci Gate, where one can see a Latin inscription: Si Deus nobiscum quis contra nos (If God is with us, who can be against us?). The magnificent arcaded courtyard is worth walking around, noting the Renaissance cloisters and the characteristic ends of the gutters, known as gargoyles. Some believe that under the north-west corner of the castle is a chakra – a stone with extraordinary powers. People can sometimes be found leaning against the walls of this part of the tower. They believe they can absorb at least a particle of the energy that the boulder emits.
One can now visit thematically diverse museum exhibitions inside the castle and at other locations on Wawel Hill. These include the representative royal chambers, the private royal flats, the crown treasury and armoury, Eastern art, and the Lost Wawel. Also open to the public are the Dragon's Cave, the Sandomierz Tower and the open-air tour – Wawel Buildings and Gardens. The latter is entirely accessible for wheelchair users. Three stairs must be climbed to see the exhibition ‘Wawel Lost’. At the visitor's request, the staff activates a lift that takes you to the representative chambers. However, several stairs must be climbed to reach the lift.
The unique collection of the Princes Czartoryski Museum
Historical, cultural and artistic values make the Princess Czartoryski Museum a must-see on the museum map of Kraków. This institution has a long and exciting history. Its origins are linked to the collecting passion of Izabela Czartoryska, née Flemming Czartoryska. The Duchess collected patriotic memorabilia and, at the beginning of the 19th century, established the Temple of Sybil in Puławy, the first Polish national museum. Much later, the Czartoryski family's collection was transported to Paris and later, in the 1870s, found its way to Kraków. Prince Władysław Czartoryski then bought the buildings from the city to house the family collection.
Today, the museum owns a building on St. John's Street, connected by a characteristic connecting passage with the former Piarist Convent and the former City Arsenal. The permanent exhibition in the Palace of the Princes Czartoryski Museum presents Poland's most valuable art collection and one of the most precious in Europe. The Czartoryski Collection contains memorabilia of eminent Poles such as Jan III Sobieski, Tadeusz Kościuszko, Prince Józef Poniatowski and numerous works of art and handicrafts. A gallery of ancient art is on display in the City Arsenal building. Among the absolute masterpieces of world painting that the National Museum branch boasts are the famous painting ‘The Lady with an Ermine’ by Leonardo da Vinci and ‘Landscape with the Good Samaritan’ by Rembrandt van Rijn.
All levels of the Museum are adapted to the needs of people with mobility impairments. Lifts, sufficiently wide corridors and adequately equipped toilets have been provided. This takes into account the exhibition and lecture rooms as well as the education room. The path for the visually-impaired is marked from the entrance with stripes and buttons in the attention fields. The Place of Cognition and Experiment is in the courtyard. This is a low, mobile piece of furniture with pull-out drawers and seating with places for books. The Place is equipped with drawers filled with, among other things, contemporary copies of antiquities from the collection of the Czartoryski Princes. All drawers contain a caption in Polish, English and Braille, as well as descriptions of the monuments in Braille and enlarged print for the visually-impaired.
In the exhibition halls of the Palace of the Princes Czartoryski Museum are stations of the Sensory Trail with educational copies of selected monuments gathered in the permanent exhibition. These stations are intended primarily for visually-impaired visitors but all viewers are welcome to use the stations. There is an audio guide to the exhibition for visually-impaired visitors that features an audio-description of the monuments, especially those whose copies are available within the Sensory Path. A video guide for deaf people with films in sign language has also been prepared. The Princes Czartoryski Museum can also be visited virtually – online walks allow you to see select rooms of the permanent exhibition and expand your knowledge of the Czartoryski collection.
Schindler's factory and the history of the occupied city
After leaving the city centre, it is worth planning a visit to the right bank of the Vistula River and Podgórze, which has become increasingly popular among tourists in recent years. Here, not far from Bohaterów Getta Square at Lipowa Street, a branch of the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków – Schindler’s List – deserves special attention. Visitors can learn about the history of Kraków during the years of German occupation, see Schindler's secretariat and office, and listen to accounts by witnesses of World War II events.
Here, the First Małopolska Factory of Enamelled Pots and Tin Products ‘Rekord sp. z.o.o.’, began operating in 1938. Taken over by Oskar Schindler a year later, the factory produced pots, bowls and cartridge cases for the German army, thanks to which it was possible to pay off the factory's debts and begin its expansion. The name of the factory also changed – it was, henceforth, Deutsche Emailwarenfabrik (DEF). In 1940, more than 100 Jews were employed there; four years later, there were already more than 1,000. Over time, Schindler began to help the Jewish workers and their families working for him, providing them with relatively good working conditions and security. In the summer of 1944, Schindler evacuated his factory to Brünnlitz in the Czech Republic, where a branch of the Gross-Rosen concentration camp was located. This saved the lives of more than 1,000 people, who lived to see the end of the war while interned in the camp. Oskar Schindler was awarded the Righteous Among the Nations medal. His story became well-known thanks to Thomas Keneally's book ‘Schindler's Ark’ and ‘Schindler’s List’, Steven Spielberg's 1993 film adaptation of Keneally’s book.
The Museum provides facilities for people with disabilities. The central exhibition ‘Kraków – the Time of the Occupation 1939–1945’ has been made accessible for visually- and hearing-impaired visitors thanks to the pre-recorded audio-description. This is the first such undertaking at the Historical Museum of the City of Kraków. Each audio-description text consists of two parts – a description of the room or a specific exhibit and a factual description of the issue presented at the exhibition. While visiting the exhibition, visually-impaired and blind persons may also use typhlographic materials, i.e., relief models facilitating the reconstruction of selected elements in their imagination. For deaf and hard-of-hearing visitors, video translations (into sign language) and subtitles for desired multimedia presentations and films have been prepared, as well as a guide to the sounds of the exhibition, which form an integral part of it.
Memory of Nowa Huta
It is worth stopping in Nowa Huta on the museum route to get to know the atmosphere of the last years of the previous regime in Poland. Such a trip will allow you to learn the history of the villages near Kraków on which Nowa Huta was built and the history of ‘Kraków's youngest sister’, as it is often called.
While passing through Nowa Huta housing estates, the Museum of Nowa Huta, located in the historic building of the former Światowid cinema, is worth visiting. The exhibition space of the branch includes the former cinema hall, where temporary exhibitions are presented, and the basement of the building together with the area of the air raid shelter, where the exhibition ‘Atomic Horror. The Shelters in Nowa Huta’. The Museum of Nowa Huta is also the main organiser of the annual ‘Zajrzyj do Huty’ (Look into Nowa Huta) event in September, which has been a regular item on the Nowa Huta cultural calendar for several years now.
Currently, the building needs to be modernised and adapted following the requirements of a modern museum facility. Due to the lack of a lift in the building and the necessary level difference, the possibility of visiting the exhibitions for people with physical disabilities is limited. When visiting the museum, it is advisable to have an attendant to help you overcome structural barriers. With a view to visitors with special needs, the museum has ‘quiet hours’ every Thursday, during which the exhibitions are ‘calmed down’. The offer is mainly aimed at susceptible visitors, those on the autism spectrum, and anyone looking for a break from excessive stimuli.