Monumental Krakow

It’s my final day in Poland, so just enough time to head beyond the Old Town and check out another market. The Stary Kleparz is Krakow’s oldest continuously operating market, having existed since the mid fourteenth century. On a chilly Monday morning, it’s mainly a local crowd seeking out the best bargains for fresh meat, fruit, veg and flowers. Although technically a “covered market”, there’s no grand, historic hall here; everything is open to the elements.

Every country loves a monument, and just around the corner from the market is one of particular significance. The Battle of Grunwald was a famous victory for the joint Polish and Lithuanian armies against the Teutonic Knights in 1410. The original monument was unveiled in 1901, featuring the King of Poland Władysław Jagiełło sitting atop his horse. It’s pretty hard to miss.

And yet, this is not the original. It turns out that the occupying Nazis didn’t take too kindly to this powerful symbol of victory over the bad guys so they destroyed it. However, a faithful copy was commissioned and went on show in 1976.

The late 1970s turned out to be momentous for one figure in Krakow’s history. Karol Józef Wojtyła had already been a priest for over 30 years, and in October 1978 he became Pope John Paul II. His predecessor, John Paul I, had only been in office for 33 days – in fact, Karol himself had been part of the conclave; the voting panel for the new Pope.

Clearly this still remains a big boast for the Catholic church in Krakow, and John Paul’s one time church, the Basilica of St Florian, now pays homage to him.

My two Polish destinations, Wroclaw and Krakow, have been well worth exploring. On this trip I’ve barely scratched their surfaces, clinging mostly to the comfortable environs of their Old Towns. Both cities have been hugely welcoming; culture and history are all around, and nowhere is far from a coffee and cake or a cheap refreshing beer. Nightlife is plentiful and varied, and I suspect I may return before too long.


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