Wawel Castle was once the home to all kings and queens of Poland, and now is one of the most visited places in Krakow. Wawel Castle features a few different styles of architecture, has several towers and decorative features, and holds many mysteries and legends. Wawel Castle also has a large courtyard and beautiful gardens within its grounds.
Middle ages: Wawel Castle has a lot of history. People have lived in buildings on Wawel hill for at least 1000 years. The first king who was crowned in Wawel Castle was Wladyslaw Lokietek in 1320. The kings and queens of Poland ruled from Wawel Castle until 1596 when Sigismund III Vasa moved the capital from Krakow to Warsaw. For the next 200 years the kings did not visit Wawel Castle very often. In 1795 Russia, Prussia and Austria took over Poland, and Wawel came under Austrian rule. Over the next hundred years the Austrians used Wawel Castle as a military hospital and a citadel. They also restored different parts of the castle.
20th Century: World War I broke out in 1914 and lasted for four years till 1918, when Poland gained its independence. Wawel Castle was the official residence for the president, and was also a museum. During World War II, the Germans occupied Poland and the Nazi governor general, Hanz Frank, lived in Wawel Castle. Some valuable objects were removed and sent to Canada, because when the Nazis occupied Wawel Castle the polish didn’t want the objects to be destroyed or taken by the Nazis. They were accompanied on their journey to Canada by Stanisław Zaleski and Józef Polkowski. The objects were safely returned to Wawel Castle in the 1960s.
Wawel Castle has 3 different types of architecture, Romanesque, Renaissance, and early Baroque. Baroque can be found inside of the very decorative chambers, dining and throne rooms. Renaissance is in the domes of a few towers and in the outside halls next to the courtyard surrounded by the walls. Wawel castle was built on a hill for a specific reason. The hill protected the castle in battle, so it would be harder for attackers to reach the castle, and the knights of the castle could drop down deadly things like hot coal, boiling water, arrows and spears.
Decorative features: Wawel castle has many decorations. For example, there are downspouts decorated with dragon-like gargoyles in the small courtyard. It also has many decorations on the ceilings, like golden roses or the heads in the throne room, about which there is a legend you can read about below.
Towers: There are three towers of Wawel Castle. The first is the Senatorial tower, which is the tallest of the three. It has crenelations and a low, cone shaped roof. There is also the Sandomierz tower, which looks like the Senatorial tower, but in its basement level there used to be dungeons. Lastly, the Thieves’ tower has a flat roof, crenelations, and just like in the Sandomierz tower there was a dungeon, which as you can guess, was used for keeping thieves.
The Legend of the wood carved Head: In the Royal Throne room of Wawel castle, the ceiling is decorated with dozens of beautifully carved wooden heads. There is a very old legend about one of the heads who talked to the old king. One day a thief stole a belt. The guards saw him and he started running away. He ran through markets and streets until the thief dropped the belt in front of the feet of a woman. The woman picked the belt up out of curiosity to see what the expensive looking object was. When the guards saw the woman holding the belt they immediately took her to see the king, for they did not see the thief close enough to recognize him. When the king saw her, he told the guards to put her in the dungeons, and so they began to take her away. When the woman was being taken away, one of the heads on the ceiling spoke to the king, and told him, “The woman is innocent. You can’t just throw your faithful citizens in jail without knowing the truth. Release her.”
And so they released the woman, and the king never made this mistake again. But, as for the head, the king ordered a strap to be put on its mouth so it would never speak again. You can see this head on the ceiling when you visit the castle today.
Meeting of the dead kings: There is a legend that the people of Krakow made a long time ago. The legend says that there is a secret part of Wawel under the part of the castle we can all see and visit. The entrance to this section is found in the dragon’s cave. Each year, on the night of the first day of Christmas, all the kings of Poland meet and sit together in their coronation robes. They talk about the past year and their homeland until the knights from the Tatra Mountains arrive. The knights, woken by the almighty Zygmunt bell, come and meet the king, Bolesław Chrobry. He greets the knights, holding his coronation sword, Szczerbiec. After he speaks to them, the knights mount their horses and gallop away back to their mountains. The legend also says that if a good hearted man (or woman) passes through the dragon’s cave on Christmas night, he will see the kings talking to the knights. If a bad person will pass, he will see nothing, but will feel fear and a pang of sadness.