Krakow from Above: Tower Views of the Medieval City

View of Market Square from Café Szal. Photo by Richard Varr
View of Market Square from Café Szal. Photo by Richard Varr

“The tower is almost 700 years old and is the only remaining part from the old Town Hall, demolished in the 1820s because the building was in very bad condition,” says tower attendant Krzysztof Przybyla. “The view is beautiful, and with good weather you can see the Tatra Mountains about 100 kilometers from here – the highest mountains in Poland.”

Huffing and puffing the 239 steps up St. Mary’s taller Bugle-Call Tower, with narrow stone stairwells followed by steep wooden ones, may challenge the hardiest of visitors. But the views are the best yet, looking down on the other side of Cloth Hall with the statue of Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz flanked by allegorical figures, and the tiny – at least from this vantage point – domed St. Adalbert’s church, one of Krakow’s oldest.

St. Mary’s Church on the Market Square at nightfall. Photo by Richard Varr
St. Mary’s Church on the Market Square at nightfall. Photo by Richard Varr

Stemming from tradition or perhaps legend, a bugler blows his horn every hour from the taller tower, stopping each time in mid-note. “An arrow pierced the neck of the guard who was playing during battle and he couldn’t finish. And now the bugler plays in the same way, suddenly stopping,” explains Weigel. “People cheer in the square – it’s a nice tradition.”

Yet another legend explains why one tower is taller than the other. The older of two competing brothers built the taller North Tower and then murdered his younger brother before the South Bell Tower could be completed. The elder brother then felt remorseful and jumped to his death.

Back on the ground, I enter St. Mary’s Church to see the 42-foot-high, multi-paneled 15th century alter paintings, a must see. I stroll over to Cloth Hall with its cramped vendor stalls selling the likes of Polish ceramics and religious figurines, dishes, music boxes and more, reminding me of just one stretch of Istanbul’s colossal Grand Bazaar. It’s here I find yet another view from above – just one flight up – on the balcony of trendy Café Szal.

View from Tadeusz Kościuszko Mound, and mound itself.
View from Tadeusz Kościuszko Mound, and mound itself. Photo by Richard Varr

A short bus ride from the city center, the 112-foot-high Tadeusz Kościuszko Mound, a tribute to the Polish and American Revolutionary war hero, beholds wide-reaching views of the entire metropolitan area.

“Kościuszko built fortifications in Saratoga and West Point, and later came back to Krakow and organized an uprising against Russia,” says Weigel. “He lost, but we made him a hero.”

Other views from above include a look down Floriańska Street from atop the 13th century stone Florian Gate and old city walls, an area now showcasing local artists’ paintings. Academy of Music students enjoy rooftop views including St. Mary’s Church from a sixth-floor restaurant terrace.

Subterranean spaces, meanwhile, allow visitors to explore Krakow from below. Under Market Square, the Rynek Underground Museum showcases ruins of brick market stalls and cobbled roads that had been filled in over the centuries – all uncovered during recent excavations.

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