Wawel Castle - History and Facts | History Hit

Wawel Castle

Krakow, Poland

Wawel Castle is an iconic fortified castle complex in Krakow and the former seat of the Polish monarchy.

Lily Johnson

05 May 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Wawel Castle

Wawel Castle in central Krakow is a 13th century royal residence and has been home to a host of Poland’s most important monarchs. As one of the country’s most significant cultural sites, the Castle now serves as a museum within a larger Wawel complex and has a vast collection of royal and military items on display.

Wawel Castle history

From the 11th to the 17th century, Wawel Castle operated as the primary royal residence for monarchs in Poland. It is situated atop Wawel Hill, and is said to have been established by legendary Polish prince Krakus following his defeat of a fearsome dragon who lived in the caves below. The prince then founded Krakow and built the first Wawel Castle atop the dragon’s lair.

Whether this legend is true or not, in the 11th century it is known to have become the residence of Casimir I the Restorer, whose building operations provided the earliest remains of the castle today.

In the 14th century the castle was substantially expanded by King Ladislaus I the Short and his son Casimir III the Great, before in 1504 being rebuilt by King Alexander I in the Renaissance style, much of which can be seen today. With its innovative outer design and spacious, brightly lit interiors, the building represented a new era of Polish architecture.

In the 16th century the castle was the primary site of the sessions of both the sejm (lower house of parliament) and senate (upper house), and after a fire in 1595 was again rebuilt in the Baroque style by Sigismund III Vasa. In 1610 however, the royal court moved permanently to Warsaw and the castle fell into decline.

The Third Partition of Poland in 1795 saw Austrian occupation of Wawel, who began using it as a military barracks and destroyed much of its structure. When they at last retreated in 1905, it was handed back to Poland.

Wawel Castle today

The Crown Treasury and Armoury presents a large collection of royal insignia and weaponry from Krakow’s many years of history. In Casimir the Great’s Room, the last remaining example of the 14th century formal apartments may be found, alongside relics and precious stones belonging to Polish rulers over the centuries.

The coronation sword belonging to Sigismund I the Old is also on display in the Jadwiga and Jagiello’s Room. Six rooms contain the castle’s vast collection of military artefacts, from ceremonial weaponry to full suits of armour.

Another exhibition, ‘Art of the Orient’, contains a large collection of Islamic and Asian artwork attained through years of trade contracts and successful military campaigns. Carpets, tent panels and military standards from the Ottoman Empire are on display, while in another room a vast collection of East Asian ceramics may be found.

The whole castle complex provides a fascinating look at the various eras of Polish history and architecture, and even the legendary Dragon’s Den can be explored!

Getting to Wawel Castle

Wawel Castle is situated on Wawel Hill in central Krakow and is a 10-minute walk from the Main Market Square. The nearest tram stops are Wawel, at the foot of Wawel Hill, and Stradom, a 5-minute walk away. Buses also run to Stradom and Jubilat, a 10-minute walk away.

The nearest car park is at Plac na Groblach, a 5-minute walk away and Krakow also operates a Park and Ride service at the following public transportation hubs: Czerwone Maki, Kurdwanów, Bieżanów.

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