history Eastern_Europe  POLAND  




The birth of Cracow can be drawn back as far as the early stone age, but certain dates can only be given after the year 1000. Cracow has a remarkable history thoroughly enriched in the arts and education. The city houses many world renown museums, sculptures, and paintings.
Cracow's artistic legacy began with the reign of Kazimierz the Great. Kazimierz was a patron for the arts and during his rule several significant churches were built l For example St. Mary's Church, Corpus Christi Church, and St. Catherine's Church. (Cracow Home Page. History) Kazimierz also founded the Cracow Academy, which later came the be the present day Jagiellonian University.


In 1386 Wladyslaw Jagiello became the King of Poland "and started a great Polish dynasty, which ruled Poland for over 200 years. " (Cracow Home Page, History) The royal court encouraged the arts and learning enticing some of the most gifted intellectuals and artists into the city. In 1477 Veit Stoss ( a famous sculptor) was  commissioned into Cracow to craft the " Altar of the Virgin" of St. Mary's Church ( The Cracow Altar of Veit Stoss, pg. 6)
At the beginning of the 17th century the capital seat moved from Cracow to Warsaw.




The fall of Poland in 1795 ushered in a bleak period of Polish despair. Cracow symbolizing, some of the country's happier days was "called upon to act as the spiritual capital of the Polish people." (Museums of Cracow, pg. 10) After the Austrian regime in southern Poland was liberalized in 1867 Cracow entered a second "Golden Age". Polish was again declared the official language at the Jagiellonian University, and intellectuals from all parts of the country joined the faculty. The university flourished and continues to flourish today.


As I said earlier Casimir (Kazimierz) the Great founded the Cracow Academy in 1364 and it was refounded in 1400 by Wladyslaw Jaglello making it the oldest institution in Poland and, next to the University of Prague, the second oldest in Central Europe. The Jagiellonian University itself houses a museum. The museum prospered and remained untouched throughout it's history until 1939 when the Nazi occupation looted and carried many of the collections to Bavaria. Fortunately most of the pieces were recovered after the war.

The Museum of the Jagiellonian University houses a huge spread of national  treasures. They range from pictures, hangings, and tapestries, antique scientific instruments to a cigar that a famous professor once lit.


Poland's first National Museum was opened in 1879. "It's chief aim being the patriotic one: of a propagation of national history and art." (Museums of Cracow, pg. 11 ) The National Museum played out a subtle but important role in Polish history.

 When it was officially ordained it was placed under the control of the city and not the state. The decision was justified in the following manner. 'The experiences which Poland has suffered argue against placing this institution, in which valuable Polish works of art are to be kept. under the authority of the government [i.e. Austria], even if this government be at present benignly disposed." (Cracow, pg. 22)

  It is therefore evident that the name of the museum was meant to convey the fact that it was housing Polish art and history and in effect property of the Polish nation not the "occupying officials".



One more interesting museum found in Cracow is of a more peculiar nature. Poland has a rich history in folklore. Interest in the folklore began at the turn of the 18th century. "Cracow has always been one of the most important centers of Polish folklore and ethnographic collections, accumulated not only by scientific bodies, but also by amateurs of folk art, travelers and private individuals interested in little-known habits and customs of foreign culture." (Cracow, pg. 47)

   In 1911 the Ethnographic Museum of Cracow was opened. The museum houses 50,000 objects including tools, historic implements, clothing, and manuscripts by folk poets. The present day Ethnographic Museum is of special significance to Poland due to the fact that it's counterpart in Warsaw was completely destroyed in the Second World War.In conclusion, throughout history Cracow has played a paramount role in the history of Poland. The city has been the capital, both politically and spiritually. It is a center of Polish Nationalism, and it cherishes the past in several remarkable museums. Cracow has also played an important role in education; first the Cracow Academy and later the Jagiellonian University which in 1964 celebrated it's 600th anniversary. "Today it (Cracow) is enjoying a third 'golden age' and belongs among the monuments of the world's cultural heritage placed under special care and protection." (Museums Of Cracow, pg. 91)



1 Dr. Branch, Jerzey, and the directors of the museums. Cracow. New York: Allenheld & Schram, 1977.

2. Chruscicki, Tadeusz. Museums of Cracow. New York: Newsweek, 1982.

3. Burkhard Arthur. The Cracow Altar of Veit Stoss. Munich: Bruckmann KG, 1971

4. Cracow Home Page, History Selection. Municipality of Cracow City, Cultural Department 1997.









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