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:
The Palazzo Colonna is a palatial block of buildings built in part over ruins of an old Roman Serapeum, and has belonged to the prestigious Colonna family for over twenty generations.
The first part of the palace dates from the 13th century, and tradition holds that the building hosted Dante in his visit to Rome. The first documentary mention notes that the property hosted Cardinal Giovanni and Giacomo Colonna in the 13th century. It was also home to Cardinal Oddone Colonna before he ascended to the papacy as Martin V (1417–1431).
With his passing, the palace was sacked during feuds, and the main property passed into the hands of the Della Rovere family. It returned to the Colonna family when Marcantonio I Colonna married Lucrezia Gara Franciotti Della Rovere, the niece of pope Julius II. The Colonna"s alliance to the Habsburg power, likely protected the palace from looting during the Sack of Rome (1527).
Starting with Filippo Colonna (1578–1639) many changes have refurbished and create a unitary complex around a central garden. Architects including Girolamo Rainaldi and Paolo Marucelli labored on specific projects. Only in the 17th and 18th centuries were the main facades completed. Much of this design was completed by Antonio del Grande (including the grand gallery), and Girolamo Fontana (decoration of gallery). In the 18th century, the long low facade designed by Nicola Michetti with later additions by Paolo Posi with taller corner blocks (facing Piazza Apostoli) was constructed recalls earlier structures resembling a fortification.
The main gallery (completed 1703) and the masterful Colonna art collection was acquired after 1650 by both the cardinal Girolamo I Colonna and his nephew the Connestabile Lorenzo Onofrio Colonna and includes works by Lorenzo Monaco, Domenico Ghirlandaio, Palma the Elder, Salviati, Bronzino, Tintoretto, Pietro da Cortona, Annibale Carracci (painting of The Beaneater), Guercino, Francesco Albani, Muziano and Guido Reni. Ceiling frescoes by Filippo Gherardi, Giovanni Coli, Sebastiano Ricci, and Giuseppe Bartolomeo Chiari celebrate the role of Marcantonio II Colonna in the battle of Lepanto (1571). The gallery is open to the public on Saturday mornings.
The older wing of the complex known as the Princess Isabelle"s apartments, but once housing Martin V"s library and palace, contains frescoes by Pinturicchio, Antonio Tempesta, Crescenzio Onofri, Giacinto Gimignani, and Carlo Cesi. It contains a collection of landscapes and genre scenes by painters like Gaspard Dughet, Caspar Van Wittel (Vanvitelli), and Jan Brueghel the Elder.
Along with the possessions of the Doria-Pamphilij and Pallavacini-Rospigliosi families, this is one of the largest private art collections in Rome.