The urban layout of Cracow, an outstanding example of medieval architecture, is based on four core areas: the centre, around the market square; the Wawel, the hill inhabited since the Palaeolithic and the site of the imperial palace; the urban district of Kazimierz; and the Stradom quarter.
The historic centre of Cracow, the former capital of Poland, is situated at the foot of the Royal Wawel Castle. The 13th-century merchants' town has Europe's largest market square and numerous historical houses, palaces and churches with magnificent interiors. Further evidence of the town's fascinating history is provided by the remnants of the 14th-century fortifications and the medieval site of Kazimierz with its ancient synagogues in the southern part of town, the Jagellonian University, and the Gothic cathedral where the kings of Poland were buried.
Stare Miasto is the old city, characterized by the rigid grid of perfectly orthogonal streets, the layout ordered by Boloslaw the Chaste in 1257 when he decided to unify the various peoples scattered around the hill of the Wawel. All that remains now of the medieval enclosure walls is the gate and the little wall that was built in 1499 near the main city gate.
The old city is separated from the old district of Kazimierz. Until the 1880 Diet Kazimierz was an island, forming the Jewish quarter of Cracow. As in every city, Jewish culture enriched Cracow, until in the Second World War the entire Jewish community of 64,000 individuals was deported to the nearby concentration camps at Auschwitz; only 6,000 returning at the end of the war.
The university quarter is the oldest in Poland and among the oldest in Europe. Students here have included Copernicus and Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II). Within the historic centre there are many churches and monasteries. The limestone hill of the Wawel is the site of a complex that houses some of the most important buildings. These include the Royal Palace, seat of the king in the period when the boundaries of Poland extended from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Today the palace accommodates a museum that displays splendid tapestries, the Royal Treasury (unfortunately depleted in periods of difficulty), royal standards, and antique furniture. Within the Wawel is the Gothic cathedral of St Wenceslas. Its exterior illustrates the complex history of this building. The cathedral was for centuries the scene of the main events of the Polish royal families - coronations, weddings, and funerals.
In the part of the castle accessible on the Wisla, there is a small park at the base of the hill with the cave of the legendary Krak, prince and head of a Slav tribe. At the entrance to the Wawel the ancient Royal Way of monuments and remarkable historical buildings begins. Then comes the heart of the old city: the Market Square (Rynek Głowny). This is one of the largest medieval public squares in Europe, 200 m on each side. The building in the centre of the square is the Skiennice, the ancient cloth market. One side is dominated by the Gothic church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.References:
German crusaders known as the Livonian Brothers of the Sword began construction of the Cēsis castle (Wenden) near the hill fort in 1209. When the castle was enlarged and fortified, it served as the residence for the Order's Master from 1237 till 1561, with periodic interruptions. Its ruins are some of the most majestic castle ruins in the Baltic states. Once the most important castle of the Livonian Order, it was the official residence for the masters of the order.
In 1577, during the Livonian War, the garrison destroyed the castle to prevent it from falling into the control of Ivan the Terrible, who was decisively defeated in the Battle of Wenden (1578).
In 1598 it was incorporated into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Wenden Voivodship was created here. In 1620 Wenden was conquered by Sweden. It was rebuilt afterwards, but was destroyed again in 1703 during the Great Northern War by the Russian army and left in a ruined state. Already from the end of the 16th century, the premises of the Order's castle were adjusted to the requirements of the Cēsis Castle estate. When in 1777 the Cēsis Castle estate was obtained by Count Carl Sievers, he had his new residence house built on the site of the eastern block of the castle, joining its end wall with the fortification tower.
Since 1949, the Cēsis History Museum has been located in this New Castle of the Cēsis Castle estate. The front yard of the New Castle is enclosed by a granary and a stable-coach house, which now houses the Exhibition Hall of the Museum. Beside the granary there is the oldest brewery in Latvia, Cēsu alus darītava, which was built in 1878 during the later Count Sievers' time, but its origins date back to the period of the Livonian Order. Further on, the Cēsis Castle park is situated, which was laid out in 1812. The park has the romantic characteristic of that time, with its winding footpaths, exotic plants, and the waters of the pond reflecting the castle's ruins. Nowadays also one of the towers is open for tourists.