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Wawel Cathedral Krakow

Wawel Cathedral in Krakow: All You Need to Know (2023)

    If you want to find out more about the origins of Krakow, then you should visit the Wawel Cathedral located within the walls of the Wawel Royal Castle.

    This cathedral dates back more than 1000 years, and for centuries it was the place where Polish kings were crowned. Going down into its ancient and mysterious crypts still today you can visit the chapels where kings, queens, poets and heroes are buried.

    What you can find in this guide to Krakow’s Wawel Cathedral:

    Some historical notes on the Wawel Cathedral

    Wawel Cathedral, also known as Royal Archcathedral Basilica, is the Polish national sanctuary and the place par excellence that celebrates the history and national identity elements, as well as the deep roots of Polish Christianity.

    What you can see today, the magnificent Gothic Cathedral, is the third edifice on this site. The first was built in the 11th century at the behest of King Boleslaw I Chrobry. A few years later, in 1140 it was replaced by a Romanesque cathedral, which was destroyed in a fire in 1305.

    Even today it is possible to visit St. Leonard’s Crypt, which is the only remnant of the first original church from the 11th century. The Silver Bell Tower, is a remnant of the 12th century Romanesque cathedral, and is the oldest tower you can see at Wawel Castle.

    In 1320, after the fire, King Władysław I the Elbow-high was crowned here anyway, and at his behest the construction of the Gothic Cathedral was begun, which we can still visit today, consecrated in 1364.

    The cathedral, and in particular the Sigismund’s Chapel dating back to the early 1500s, is a masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance, thanks to the work of many Italian artists, including Bartolommeo Berrecci, a Florentine Renaissance architect, who was also responsible for most of the Royal Palace of the Wawel Castle, and Giovanni Battista Gisleni and Giovanni Battista Trevano, prominent artists who lived at the court of the Polish kings.

    Over the centuries all Polish kings have been crowned here, and after their death they have been buried in the chapels and crypts of the Wawel Cathedral.

    This is also the place where, in a chapel in the crypt, in 1942 Karol Wojtyla, who in 1978 became Pope John Paul II, offered his first mass as a priest. And here he was also ordained auxiliary bishop of Krakow in 1958.

    Wawel Cathedral

    What to see in the Wawel Cathedral

    Wawel Cathedral is not just a church, it is a real museum where you can see the main symbols of Krakow’s history and culture.

    At the entrance to the Wawel Cathedral you can see the alleged bones of the Wawel Dragon: according to legend these are the remains of the dragon that lived on Wawel Hill and terrified the inhabitants of Krakow. Locals believe they have magical powers and that they protect the Wawel Cathedral. They are actually mammalian bones, possibly fossilized whale bones.

    Visiting the Wawel Cathedral you will immediately see the magnificent Baroque Sarcophagus of St. Stanislaus, patron saint of Poland. The silver sarcophagus was made in Gdansk in the 17th century and is adorned with inscriptions and engravings that tell the life of the saint.

    From the central nave you can see the beautiful chapels of the Wawel Cathedral, such as the Chapel of the Holy Cross (Kaplica Świętokrzyska na Wawelu) where you can admire wonderful Byzantine frescoes from the 15th century.

    Also of note is the Tomb of St. Jadwiga who was the first queen of Poland, and she died at the age of 25. She was buried with just a wooden crown and scepter, because she no longer owned jewels, having sold them to save the Jagiellonian University from decline.

    Very interesting is the Sigismund’s Chapel, a masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance, dating back to the 16th century. It was built as a funeral chapel for the last members of the Jagiellonian Dynasty.

    The highlight of the Wawel Cathedral are the crypts: from the left aisle go down into the ancient St. Leonard’s Crypt dating back to the 11th century. From here you can visit the Royal Crypts, where kings and members of royal families are buried, as well as heroes, poets and prominent national leaders, such as Tadeusz Kościuszko and Józef Piłsudski.

    The Sigismund’s Tower is also worth visiting. Climbing 70 steps you will reach the top, where you can see the famous Royal Sigismund Bell, a huge bell dating back to 1520 and commissioned by King Sigismund I of Poland. It weighs approximately 13 tons and requires 12 bell-ringers to swing it. It tolls on special occasions, such as national or religious holidays. From here you can also enjoy a beautiful view of Wawel Castle and Krakow’s Old Town.

    Wawel Cathedral Tours and Tickets

    Wawel Cathedral requires a separate ticket from other Wawel Castle attractions. However, the ticket allows you to see the cathedral, the crypts and the tower with the bell.

    You can book your ticket including audio guide (available in several languages) online.

    You can also visit Wawel Cathedral on a Wawel Castle Tour (tickets not included). There are also all-inclusive tours (including skip-the-line ticket and multilingual expert guide) that allow you to discover all the secrets of the Cathedral and Wawel Castle.

    How to get to the Wawel Cathedral

    The Wawel Cathedral is located within the walls of the Wawel Castle, between the Vistula and Grodzka Street. You can reach it with an easy 10-minute walk from the Main Market Square. For more info you can check the official website of the Wawel Cathedral.

    Things to see and do around Wawel Cathedral

    Wawel Cathedral is located in the heart of Krakow’s Old Town and within walking distance of the Main Market Square. You can also easily reach the Kazimierz Jewish Quarter on foot.

    Check out our must-read list of the Best Things to Do and See in Krakow.

    Planning your trip to Krakow? Then these will come in handy: