Krakow sits on the banks of the Vistula.  Settlement dates from the 7th century, finding Wawel hill a defensible position. and has long been a major center of Polish culture and economy.  It was a member of the Hanseatic league despite not being coastal and thus had its own fleet during that period (circa 1000-1500).   It was the capitol of Poland from 1038-1569, when Wawel Castle 

Wawel Castle

Wawel Castle

castle burned, after which the capital was moved to Warsaw.  It was capitol again during the Nazi era.  In 1978, Karol Wojtyła became Pope John Paul II, the first non-Italian in 455 years.  Auschwitz is close by, and Schindler had his factory here, which is now a museum.   Its current population is 760,000, with a total regional population of 8 million.  On our first day it seemed like a few million children were taking a field drip to the city, long lines of them being moved about by teachers trying to show them the town.  

Wawel Castle at night

http://www.garyjkirkpatrick.com/krakow/Wawel Castle at nightKrakow means “town of Krakus,”  a legendary ruler of the country.  The area’s first named inhabitants, the Vistulian tribe (700 CE), gave the river its name.  However, there is evidence of habitation dating well before, to 50,000 years.  Wawel Castle, now a fine arts museum, was built  circa 1350 and much renovated in the 16th century, when King Sigusmund brought in Italian architects, German decorators as well as local craftsmen.  

In 1364 Casimir III founded the University of Krakow, the second oldest in central Europe after Charles University in Prague.  By the 15th century the city had entered its golden age, whence the examples of Polish Renaissance architecture.  The architecture includes fine examples of Gothic, Renaissance and the Baroque.

Wawel Cathedral

Wawel Cathedral

St Mary CathedraL, Krakow

St Mary Cathedral, Krakow