Listen carefully in Kraków’s main square for the hourly bugle call that mysteriously stops mid-tune.
One of the more interesting traditions we found in the city is the “hejnał” (pronounced “hey-now”). It is a fairly short bugle call played hourly from nearly 180 feet (54 m) above the main square. It took us awhile before we discovered the source and location of the sound. If you watch very carefully you may spot the trumpeter high up at an open window near the top of the left tower of St. Mary’s Basilica.
There are seven trumpet playing firemen selected for the job and they have a 24-hour on / 48-hour off rotation. While on call, each hour their job is to ring the church bells then immediately follow by playing the trumpet’s mournful and interrupted musical notes.
The story goes that during medieval times, when the city was enclosed by walls, a melody, played on a trumpet, was used to announce both the opening and closing of the city gates as well as a communication tool for alerts. Early one morning, in 1241, the Tatars were about to invade Kraków and the warning bugle song was blown to awake and prepare the city. The man playing was shot in the neck by an archer by the invading force whilst playing, effectively halting the song mid-melody. To this day, the tune cuts off midway commemorating the lone night guard who aroused and saved the city.
Prior to the 15th century and the completion of St. Mary’s towers, the warning calls were made from the city walls, which is most likely where the legendary trumpeter was shot. The tune is also broadcast live throughout Poland daily at noon on one radio station. What an amazing and incredibly long-lasting tradition!
Kraków, pronounced ‘krakoof’, is in southwestern Poland near the border of the Czech Republic. It is said that Kraków lies in the very center of continental Europe, halfway between Lisbon, Portugal in the west, the Ural Mountains in the east and equidistant from the Mediterranean and the Arctic Barents Sea. The current population of about 770,000 makes it the second largest city in the country.
In 1038, Kraków became the seat of the Polish government and remained the capital for more than 500 years. In 1596 the administrative capital was moved to Warsaw. Krakowianin are justifiably proud that their beautiful city became one of the first ever UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1987.
Auschwitz – Birkenau
During our stay in Kraków, we felt it was important to tour the large nearby concentration camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau and pay homage to the victims of one of the biggest tragedies of the 20th century. It is a very popular destination with dozens of buses in the parking lot. Nearly all visitors have tour guides that provide the horrific details and most guests are respectful and quiet.
Located just 40+ miles (66 kilometres) west of Kraków is the medieval city of Oswiecim. Auschwitz is the German name of both the city and the infamous Nazi concentration and extermination camps that were built and used between 1940 and 1945.
Still today, entering the camp is a dispiriting experience and difficult to write about. We struggled with the emotional detachment of the crowds as we were hurried from place to place, leaving no time for solemn reflection; leaving that for only after the visit. Obviously an unpleasant place but seeing it in person also serves as a way to commemorate the millions of Jewish, Polish and other victims of the tyrannical Nazi regime of the 1940’s. We are attaching photos we hope are fairly self explanatory. Let us never forget or ever repeat these atrocities.
The metropolitan city of Kraków is called the city of churches and in the past, was referred to as “Northern Rome”. There are currently more than 120 churches, temples and places of worship with more being built. We visited a handful during our stay and each of the interiors were impressive.
Holy Trinity Church, Kraków – this large Gothic Dominican church is just a couple of minutes from the Rynek Glowny central square. It dates back to when the Blackfriars arrived in the city in 1223 and has been a bastion of the Dominican priory ever since. (The name Blackfriars came from the French word ‘frère’ meaning ‘brother’ and derives from the black cape worn by the Dominican Friars.)
Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi – each St. Francis of Assisi church we have visited in our travels in Europe seems to have an environment of kindness and acceptance within and this church in Kraków felt the same. We loved the painted color on the walls in the Polish churches, something we saw very rarely in Spain, France or Italy.
Basilica of St. Florian – A magnificent church with a legend and a famous resident.
The legend goes that in 1184 the remains of St. Florian, the future patron saint of Poland, were being carried by oxen to the city and miraculously became so heavy they could not be taken any further. It was decided that a church be erected at that exact location. Between 1185-1216 the church was built and the relics were placed inside. When the city was ordered to be burned down during a war with Sweden a few centuries later, the church, and it’s relics survived and from that day forward St. Florian has been the patron saint of firefighters.
Father Karol Wojtyła, who became Pope John Paul II, was the famous resident and vicar of this church between 1949 and 1951.
St. Mary’s Basilica – a spectacular church located in Kraków’s Market Square and we felt like we could have been back in Rome again when we stepped inside. It is a spectacular inside!
The Gothic 14th century St. Mary’s Basilica is the home to the largest Gothic altarpiece in the world and the church’s main tower is where the trumpet call is sounded each and every hour. We also spotted another of our favorites – a well maintained solar clock.
Church of St. Wojciech – one of the tinier churches we have been in it recently and it sits right in the center of the main square in Kraków. The robins-egg color of the inside of the dome particularly caught our eye.
St. Florian’s Gate and the Barbican
St. Florian’s Gate, built in 1307, is an outstanding Polish Gothic tower and was once the main entryway into the city. The walls that surrounded the city at one time included an amazing 47 watchtowers and 8 gates and unfortunately the 110 foot tall (33.5 m) St. Florian’s Gate is the last remaining gate.
St. Florian’s Gate was connected by a long covered bridge to the circular Barbican built on the other side of the moat.
Also Gothic in style, the Barbican was built in 1498, nearly 200 years after St Florian’s Gate. It is a large barrel-shaped brick structure with 10 foot (3 m) thick walls and was instrumental in defending Kraków many times throughout the centuries.
We visited the beautiful St. Peters and St. Paul’s Church one morning and like many churches it offers summer classical concerts in the evenings. We reviewed various other church programs and chose to attend a concert in St. Peters and St. Paul’s Church for both the glorious setting and the classical program. The programs are fairly short lasting slightly more than an hour but included favorite selections by Grieg, Vivaldi, Mozart, Haydn, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Sarasate and Saint-Saëns and the ensemble of talented performers was excellent.
It was a fantastic finish to our day of exploration.
Over the centuries, as the city grew, building designs continually changed so that today Kraków presents an eclectic mix of Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance architecture. The combination of these styles and the variety of colors make this destination a visually exciting place to see.
Na zdrowie (Naz-droh-vee-ay) from these Krakowianin / Cracovians
Ted and Julia