Krakow is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. Between 1038 to 1569, Krakow was Poland’s capital. The city has grown from a Stone Age settlement to Poland’s second most important city. It began as a hamlet on Wawel Hill and was reported as being a busy trading centre in the year 965. New universities and cultural venues were established at the emergence of the Second Polish Republic in 1918. The city has continued to reaffirm its role as a major national academic and artistic centre.
After the invasion of Poland at the start of World War II, Krakow became the capital of Germany’s General Government. Poles and Jews were targeted for extermination at camps such as Auschwitz. The Jewish population of the city was moved into a walled zone known as the Krakow Ghetto. In 1978, Karol Wojtyła, archbishop, was elevated to the papacy as Pope John Paul II. He the first ever Slavic pope ever. In the same year, UNESCO approved the first ever sites for its new World Heritage List and included the entire Old Town. It is often cited as one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. It has an extensive cultural heritage ranging from Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture. It includes the Wawel Cathedral and the Royal Castle on the banks of the Vistula river, St. Mary’s Basilica, the market square in Europe and the Rynek Główny train station. Kraków is home to Jagellonian University, one of the oldest universities in the world and Poland’s most reputable institution of higher learning. In the year 2000, Krakow was named European Capital of Culture.
The city has a population of approximately 760,000 whereas about 8 million people live within a distance of 100 kilometres (62 miles) from it. It is situated on the Vistula River in the Lesser Poland region, at the foot of the Royal Wawel Castle, has numerous historical houses, palaces and churches. Many of these buildings have breathtaking interiors. Krakow is now one of the leading centres of Polish academic, cultural and artistic life. It is one of Poland’s most important economic hubs.