Wawel Cathedral is one of the most important cathedrals in all of Krakow. Wawel Cathedral doesn’t only hold the remains of some of the most important people in Polish history or the country’s most religious art, it also holds the remains of the Wawel dragon (more on this later). This building was first built in 1364 and almost every king and queen were crowned there.  All of the most important royalty were also entombed in the cathedral.

Download the Wawel Cathedral infographic here!

History

The Wawel Cathedral, like the Wawel Castle, is located on the Wawel Hill. The Romanesque church was consecrated in 1142 and changes were made in the 11th and 12th centuries to its architecture. Most of the Gothic elements of the church we see today were built between 1320 and 1364.

The current, Gothic cathedral, is the third building: the first was constructed and then  destroyed in the 11th century: the second one, constructed in the 12th century, was destroyed by a fire in 1305.  

The two towers on the west side of the church were from 13th century, although they have been added to in gothic and renaissance styles.

Władysław the Short was crowned in the Cathedral in 1320 and he was the first king to be crowned in Wawel Cathedral.

In the 17th century, many altars were renewed or created and in the 18th century when many late-Baroque features were added. The Sigismund Chapel was the royal chapel for the Jagiellonian dynasty. The last two Jagiellonians (1572) on the polish throne gave the Wawel Cathedral new interior Renaissance and new furnishings. Now Polish kings and queens, military heroes, and artists are all buried in the cathedral (many of the coffins are masterpieces of casting art).Three saints are buried there as well.  

Architecture

Wawel Cathedral was built in 1320 and completed in 1364. After the gothic church was completed, kings started to have chapels built along its outside walls.Most of the architecture is original except for some Baroque and Renaissance chapels, now Wawel Cathedral  is basically a Gothic structure, but the chapels around it were built later in different styles. Before you enter the cathedral, you can note the massive iron door and the Wawel Dragon bones hanging  on a chain to the left. The bones were excavated in the beginning of the 20th century. In the middle of the cathedral stands the baroque Shrine of St Stanislaus, it’s polish name is Konfesja Św Stanisława. There are 12 relief  scenes from his life adorned with his silver sarcophagus. Stanislaus was the bishop of Krakow, he was canonised in 1253 and now he is the patron of Poland.

Towers

There are three main towers : the Silver tower, the Clock tower and the Sigismund Tower. The Silver tower is the oldest tower in the cathedral. There are four bells hanging in the Silver tower: the Maciek bell, the Zbyszko bell, the Jan Paweł bell and the Herman bell.The Clock tower  was built from limestone and it was 16 metres high. The first clock installed in the clock tower was built in 1519, the clock only had one hand, so it was possible to tell the time only at an hour when the clock rang. The Sigismund tower was reconstructed as a bell-tower in the 15th century.  On the Sigismund tower, four great bells were hung next to the Sigismund bell.

Sigismund Bell

The Royal Sigismund Bell is the biggest bell in the Sigismund Tower.  It was cast in 1520 by Hans Behem and named after King Sigismund. The weight of the Sigismund Bell is 9,650 kg. The diameter is 242 cm and the height of the bell is 241 cm. The first time people rang the bell was in July, 1521 . During the times of the Polish bondage, the Sigismund Bell was one of the most important national symbols.  Today it is only rung on special occasions and you can walk up the tower to view it up close.

The Two Chapels

After the gothic church was completed, kings started to have chapels built along its outside walls. In the Wawel Cathedral there are 18 chapels, most famous of these chapels is the Sigismund Chapel, crowned in gold. The Sigismund chapel is thought to be one of the purest examples of the Renaissance style outside of Italy and it was completed in 1533.  It is distinctive for its beautiful gilt dome. The Vasa chapel is baroque and was completed 100 years later. It was planned by King Sigismund Vasa in and was based on the designs of the Sigismund Chapel.

The Legend of the Wawel Dragon Bones

High above the entrance of the Wawel Cathedral are the remains of the Wawel dragon.  These bones are said to have been in the Wawel Cathedral for centuries. You can learn more about the legend of this dragon on the Wawel Dragon Statue page of this website.

Even though many people believe these bones are the bones of the Wawel Dragon, the bones are actually thought to be fossilized whale or mammoth bones. Although they are not real dragon bones they are said to be magical.

Facade of Wawel Cathedral
Sigismund and Vasa Chapel
Bones of the Wawel Dragon
Two chapels and the Sliver and Clock towers
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