Kraków also spelled Cracow or Krakow, is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. Situated on the Vistula River in the Lesser Poland region, the city dates back to the 7th century. Kraków was the official capital of Poland until 1596 and has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish academic, economic, cultural and artistic life. Cited as one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, its Old Town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The city has grown from a Stone Age settlement to Poland’s second most important city. It began as a hamlet on Wawel Hill and was already being reported as a busy trading centre of Central Europe in 965. With the establishment of new universities and cultural venues at the emergence of the Second Polish Republic in 1918 and throughout the 20th century, Kraków reaffirmed its role as a major national academic and artistic centre. The city has a population of about 770,000, with approximately 8 million additional people living within a 100 km (62 mi) radius of its main square.
After the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany at the start of World War II, the newly defined Distrikt Krakau (Kraków District) became the capital of Germany’s General Government. The Jewish population of the city was forced into a walled zone known as the Kraków Ghetto, from which they were sent to German extermination camps such as the nearby Auschwitz never to return, and the Nazi concentration camps like Płaszów.
In 1978, Karol Wojtyła, archbishop of Kraków, was elevated to the papacy as Pope John Paul II—the first Slavic pope ever, and the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. Also that year, UNESCO approved the first ever sites for its new World Heritage List, including the entire Old Town in inscribing Kraków’s Historic Centre. Kraków is classified as a global city with the ranking of high sufficiency by GaWC. Its extensive cultural heritage across the epochs of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture includes the Wawel Cathedral and the Royal Castle on the banks of the Vistula, the St. Mary’s Basilica, Saints Peter and Paul Church and the largest medieval market square in Europe, the Rynek Główny. Kraków is home to Jagiellonian University, one of the oldest universities in the world and traditionally Poland’s most reputable institution of higher learning.
In 2000, Kraków was named European Capital of Culture. In 2013 Kraków was officially approved as a UNESCO City of Literature. The city hosted the World Youth Day in July 2016.
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