St. Mary’s Basilica | Attraction Guides | History Hit

St. Mary’s Basilica

Krakow, Poland

Lily Johnson

05 May 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About St. Mary’s Basilica

St. Mary’s Basilica in Krakow is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks and has been at the centre of its religious life for over 700 years. Ornately decorated with captivating blue and gold artwork and a host of intricate carvings, St. Mary’s is a feast for the eyes and a must-see to any visit to Krakow.

St. Mary’s Basilica history

St. Mary’s was built in the 14th century atop the ruined foundations of its predecessor church, and was consecrated in 1320. Built in the Gothic style, it took its current form in the early 15th century when its northern tower was raised into a watchtower for the city, creating the iconic silhouette seen today. Throughout Krakow’s history it rang out to signal attack or fire in the city

A gruesome story also surrounds the basilica’s towers however. When St. Mary’s was in its early stages of construction, a pair of brothers were reportedly entrusted with building the towers, and upon one brother realising the other’s tower reached higher than his, he murdered him in a fit of jealousy. Plagued with guilt, on the day of the basilica’s consecration he too killed himself in shame.

In the 19th century, the cemetery beside the basilica was converted to a public square, today called Marian Square. The smaller 14th century St. Barbara’s Church is found in this square, as well as a small fountain with a statue of a Christian prophet perched atop.

St Mary’s today 

Today half of the church is open to visitors, with the other half reserved for private worship in front of the Eucharist. Inside it is a stunning example of Polish architecture, with brightly coloured arches and a beautifully star-studded blue and gold ceiling. One of its most famous features is also the 15th century alterpiece by Viet Stoss, one of Poland’s most prized artworks.

From the basilica’s taller tower, the city’s famous bugle call – Hejnał mariacki – is played every hour on the hour. Listen out for when the tune breaks off mid-melody – this is in remembrance of the mythical trumpeter who was shot in the neck while warning the city of Mongol invaders.

Getting to St. Mary’s 

St Mary’s Basilica is situated in the Main Square of Krakow, and as a short walk away from most central areas. It is a 10-minute walk from Wawel Castle, and a 20-minute walk to the train station. The nearest bus and tram stop is Poczta Główna, a 5-minute walk away.