Royal route

If you are in Matejko Square, it is a good place to start your journey along the royal road, which will give you an idea of the splendor and power of the former capital of the Polish state, which was Krakow. It was this way, until the beginning of the 18th century, when official royal delegations and other important personalities entered Krakow, after traversing Floriańska Street, the Main Market Square, and Grodzka and Kanonicza Streets, ceremonially entered the courtyard of the Wawel royal castle to meet the king.

Krakow Old Town view for Florian Gate and Florianska Street
Krakow Old Town view for Florian Gate and Florianska Street

Despite the transfer of the capital from Krakow to Warsaw, also until the beginning of the 18th century, funeral processions and coronation marches passed through the royal road. When crossing Floriańska Street, it is worth realizing that almost all the houses along this street are former homes of wealthy merchants, noble families and important people related to the city’s history, almost each of these houses has a history of several hundred years. To this day, many of these houses have rich decorations, coats of arms and other symbols from which history can sometimes be read. A good example is the Podedzwony House (Under Bells), above the entrance there is an emblem of three bells, in the 16th century the house belonged to the bell founder Marcin Kannegiser, in the 19th century a wine merchant bought the house who renovated it and added his sign, the bells above the entrance were surrounded by a wreath of grapes and leaves. At the end of Floriańska Street, there is the huge mass of St. Mary’s Church, and behind it, the largest market square in medieval Europe.A thriving medieval town, situated at the crossroads of Europe’s trade routes, needed a place for local merchants as well as those following trade routes to expand their business. The shape of the square was laid out in the 13th century, and the remains of numerous and rich merchant stalls are the Cloth Hall, which still stands in the center of the square. Various commodities were traded on the market, therefore different parts of the market in the old days had their own specific names depending on the type of commodity. The Main Market Square is not only a place to do business, it was often the scene of public executions combined with torture to the delight of the public. It is hard to imagine that there is no trace left, but until the mid-1950s a tram ran through the square, first on horseback, then electric. To see what the medieval market looked like, you have to go down to the underground museum located under the market square. Interesting exhibitions and reconstructions allow you to move back in time and taste the medieval atmosphere of the city. The Main Market Square is also a place where a number of events take place, e.g. Christmas markets, Easter markets, festival of court dances and many more.

Main Market Square with towers of the castle in the background
Krakow Main Market Square Old Town view for Wawel Castle and St Albert Church, beginning of Grodzka street

Following the royal road, we enter Grodzka Street, built up with tenement houses that once belonged to the most eminent noble families. It is worth stopping by the house number 22, here in 1840 one of the most famous actresses, not only in Poland, Helena Modrzejewska, was born. On this street you will also find the first baroque church in Krakow, modeled on the Roman church of Il Gesu, built for the Jesuit order who moved to the city at that time. This is the Church of St. Peter and Paul, in front of the entrance we pass the figures of the apostles, while inside, among other things, there is the tomb of the most famous Polish Jesuit, Piotr Skarga, the royal preacher. Opposite the church is a small square of St. Mary Magdalene, there used to be a small church dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, which was demolished at the beginning of the 19th century. The only trace of the building is its outline shown on the surface of the square. Right next door, right behind the church of St. Peter and Paul, you can see one of the oldest churches in Krakow, the church of St. Andrew erected in the 11th century. A typical Romanesque basilica served not only sacral functions, narrow windows used as loopholes testify to the defensive nature of this building. Before we reach the end of Grodzka Street, we will meet two more churches on our way. The Baroque Church of St. Martin from the 17th century and the smaller Gothic Church of St. Idzi which, together with the surrounding greenery, forms the picturesque end of the street. A lot of churches, sometimes three or four close to each other on the same street, that is why Krakow was often called little Rome in the past. Behind the Church of St. Giles, on the right you can see the majestic royal castle, Wawel, the end of the royal road.

Wawel Castle
Wawel Royal Castle and Tatras Mountains, view from North

The origins of the castle date back to the 11th century, over the centuries it was rebuilt in various styles many times due to fires, wars and damage caused by the marches of foreign troops. Today it is a great museum, the State Art Collection. You have to look there and it’s best to reserve a few hours for it …

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