The walk along the Kazimierz District
The Kazimierz quarter
No visit to Krakow would be complete without a tour of Kazimierz. Numerous cosy art cafes, galleries and antique shops, paved street and monuments of Jewish culture draw tourists with a magnetic force.
Kazimierz vibrants also with cultural life. The most famous cultural event which takes place here is an internationally renowned Jewish Culture Festival − each year attracts thousands of participants from all over the world. During the festival days streets of Kazimierz are full of multilingual talks, klezmer music and concerts − people dance and sing together.
Sightseeing Kazimierz it is worth to use one of the tourist routes − St. Stanislas Route or the Jewish Heritage Route. First one leads from the Wawel Hill through the Skałka monastery and St. Catherine's Church to the Wolnica Square. Second one leads through the streets of the former Jewish town starting at the Jewish Cultural Centre on ul. Meiselsa 17 and leading to the New Jewish Cemetery on ul. Miodowa 55.
Two towns of the Hartmann Schedl chronicle
In the beginning of the 14th c., Krakow inhabitants led a popular rebellion against King Ladislas the Short. In order to avoid similar events from occurring in the future, the next king of Poland, Casimir the Great, founded a separate town located on a large island on the Vistula River in 1335, which was to take over as Poland's capital. That is how Kazimierz was created.
It was here that the Krakow Academy which was to become famous throughout medieval Europe (today known as the Jagiellonian University) as well as splendid churches which still stun with rich ornamentation were erected. Yet with time, the king's wrath with the Krakow inhabitants diminished, and as it also turned out that Kazimierz is threatened with frequent flooding, the investments were halted. Even if Hartmann Schedl's 1493 The Chronicle of the World portrays the quarter as impressively as the town of Krakow, in reality it was much more modest.
The construction of Kazimierz was never completed and the quarter was not very attractive, which, paradoxically, was to become a reason for its future glory. When in 1495 Jews were prohibited to settle within the Krakow city walls, they began to move to Kazimierz. They took over a fifth of the town's surface, and in this way, Europe's only Jewish-governed town of the time was created, surrounded by city walls and endowed with its own government, subject only to the King's power.
For centuries, Kazimierz remained an independent town and was only joined with Krakow at the end of the 18th c. Later, Austrian authorities ordered the demolition of the Jewish town walls and allowed Jews to settle anywhere in Kazimierz, and eventually also in Krakow. Soon, the wealthier members of the Jewry moved to the town centre, and Kazimierz remained the quarter of the poor, resulting in its unique atmosphere.
The Catholic part of the quarter likewise developed in an interesting way. As early as in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the area attracted numerous workshops of artisans who were lured by lower taxes then in the lower part of Krakow. It was here that the creator of the Renaissance Sigismund Chapel and the impressive castle balconies at the Wawel Hill, had his workshop. In the 17th c., the good times came to a close. With the transfer of the national capital to Warsaw, the town lost lucrative orders by the royal court, and the recession hit Kazimierz artisans in particular. Later, the Swedish wars came with both Polish and foreign armies pillaging the town and requiring tributes from the impoverished burghers. When the Polish state collapsed and Poland was partitioned between its three neighbours, Kazimierz was incorporated into the Austrian empire, and it became a neglected, provincial suburb of Krakow, with which it shared the times of disrepair.
After the short period of independence in the 1920's and 30's, further misfortunes – Nazi occupation and the tragedy of the Holocaust befell the city. The Jewish part of Kazimierz lost its soul as its inhabitants were murdered in the Nazi death camps in nearby Bełżec, Płaszow and Oświęcim-Auschwitz. The saddest period in the quarter's history began: even if its architectural frame was not destroyed by war, Kazimierz was badly damaged: it lost those who have lovingly shaped it for centuries.
Nowadays, as many centuries ago, Kazimierz is once again a meeting place between nations and cultures. Krakow inhabitants decided to renovate the quarter, thus saving a part of the national and European heritage. Kazimierz's glory began to be recreated dynamically and the quarter started to attract tourist from all over the world. It almost seems that the quarter's lives a real "golden age" now rather than under the reign of Casimir the Great or in the splendid Jagiellonian times. Kazimierz was never so well off and so admired.