Jerzy Banach, Jerzy Szablowski, Karol Estreicher, Jan Baumgart, Kazimierz Radwanski, Edward Waligora, Stanislaw Czerpak Cracow: City of Museums

Cracow: City of Museums

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Cracovia - tonus Poloniae urbs celeberrima. Cracow was mentioned for the first time in the years 965 and 966. It became the main center of the state and the seat of the Polish kings in the eleventh century and continued to be the capital right into the seventeenth. The plan of the city, laid out after its foundation in 1257 and one of the most advanced in Europe, has survived almost unchanged to the present day. The city's rapid development was stimulated by Wladyslaw Lo-kietek, who unified the Polish lands and had himself crowned king in the Cathedral on the Wawel in 1320. In the fourteenth century several magnificent Gothic buildings were raised in Cracow, including the royal residence and the Cathedral on the Wawel (the third), the famous Church of St. Mary, the Town Hall, and the Cloth Hall. Of the defensive walls surrounding the town only the Barbican, the Florian Gate, and three towers have survived. In Cracow, Gothic painting and sculpture reached a peak in the fifteenth century. Evidence of the interest in the development of learning in mediaeval Cracow was the foundation of the university by Casimir the Great in 1364. It was the oldest in Poland and the second oldest in central Europe. In the following two centuries it was to enjoy a fame reaching far beyond the land of the Jagiellons. The sixteenth century was Cracow's "Golden Age." Thanks to the initiative of King Sigismund I, the Old, it developed into an outstanding center of Renaissance art. Italian artists started to come to the city already in the early years of the century. In 1507 work was begun on the building of a mod-era royal residence on the Wawel, being carried out later by, among others, Barto-lomeo Berecci, who also built the famous Sigismund Chapel. The splendid, sumptuously decorated interiors of the castle were furnished by the last of the Jagiellonian dynasty, Sigismund Augustus, with a collection of tapestries specially made in Brussels. These tapestries, known as the Jagiellonian or Wawel tapestries, were bequeathed by the King to the state for all time. Cracow's importance diminished after the transfer of the royal seat to Warsaw, and the wars fought on Pob'sh soil, particularly in the middle of the seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth centuries, dealt many blows to its splendor. After the third partition of Poland and various fortunes in the first half of the nineteenth century, Cracow found itself under Austrian occupation in 1846.
Cracow's history provided excellent conditions for the assembly of collections. Although public collections in Cracow can be traced back to mediaeval times, it was not until the last twenty-five years of the nineteenth century that it began to be a city of museums. After 1867 the territories of the former Republic under Austrian rule gained a certain autonomy and soon Cracow became, during the period of partition, the center of Polish learning and art. It was Cracow where the oldest Polish National Museum came into being (1879), and the Museum of the Princes Czarloryski was opened here (1876). By the outbreak of the First World War the city had more than a dozen museums.
In the thirties, in the resurrected Republic of Poland, the first rooms and halls of the restored royal castle, the most important monument of Polish history and culture, were opened to the public. After the Second World War there began a most promising development of the museums of Cracow. Now the city has sixteen museums, some of which present their collections in several smaller departments.
In the hierarchy of Polish museums those of Cracow occupy an important position. This is not only due to the richness and variety of their collections but also to the artistic and historical value of the buildings in which they are presented. This album contains a selection of the most precious and most interesting items.