Krakow is famous for the many monasteries that are found here. We’d like to focus on some of the more interesting sites and the incredible treasures they keep. More and more of these they are on public display or otherwise accessible if you know where to go so come along with us to learn how to get up close with these relics from a fascinating past.
Dominicans and Franciscans
Both the Dominican and Franciscan orders appeared in Krakow in the first half of the 13th century, not long after receiving their Papal decrees. Establishing monasteries here differed from their previous activities in that it was the first time that they moved into a city. The Domincans came here at the invitation of Bishop Iwo Odrowąż. A relative of the Bishop received his monk robes directly from St. Dominic and brought the brotherhood here to Krakow all the way from Bologna. The Dominican temple, built after a fire destroyed the original Romanesque Basilica of the Holy Trinity, was to be the first Gothic structure in the city. The Franciscans came to Krakow from Prague and built their church thanks to the patronage of the royal family. Both churches, found at opposite ends of All Saints Square, were badly damaged by fire in 1850. Still, many treasures have survived until today and new additions were made when the reconstruction began. The chapels in the Dominican church and the incredible, vivid stained glass in the Franciscan church will make it clear that they both have much to offer visitors. But we’re here to take a closer look at the monasteries connected with these and other churches. In the Dominican complex, you can stroll around the 14th century cross-ribbed vault and admire the magnificent Renaissance and Baroque epitaphs embedded in the wall. Moving on from the cloister entrance leads will lead you through a beautiful Romanesque refectory, with a lovely braided portal. Further inside, you’ll find the 13th century library and Gothic hall. The halls are lined with portaits commissioned by generations of members of the royal family.
Speaking of portaits, you could make the case that the Franciscan complex is first and foremost a portait gallery. A collection of paintings of Bishops from the 15th century right up until today adorns every part of the building. The oldest among them are painted right onto the walls with others on board or canvas.
Both the Franciscan and Dominican cloisters are open to the public. Be sure to check the hours they are accessible in advance as they are subject to change.
Krakow sightseeing – Black monks, white monks
Let’s move on to the Benedictines and the Cistercians, two other monastic orders. They are both represented in Krakow in places that used to be considered outside of the city. Any tour focusing on the religious history of Poland has to make a stop at the Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec, the oldest functioning monastery in Poland. The building complex alone could keep anyone especially keen on cultural, religious and artistic subjects busy for days. The abbey is picturesquely situated on a steep hill above the Vistula River and you can visit the church, cloisters (with Romanesque relics on the walls) and an interesting museum. You can find more information about all there is to see and admire at this amazing site about Krakow sightseeing at http://guide-krakow.com/
The Cistercian Abbey is surrounded by today’s Nowa Huta, a district built after the war on what was then the Eastern edge of the city. The abbey was first built in the 13th century and while it is open to the public, arrangements must be made in advance. Though it may require a bit more effort and planning, it’s very much worth the trouble to arrange a tour, which is often lead by one of the monks themselves. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a peek at their library and archives. Also part of the complex is the wooden church of St. Bartholomew, dating from the 15th century.
The Camaldolese Hermit Monastery
The monastery at Bielany has a truly unique character. The Camaldolese order is quite small, perhaps due in part to the rather strict rules they use to organize their lives. Their home in Krakow is a well-known landmark since it sits majestically on a hilltop overlooking a vast area. The monastery is only open to female visitors twelve days a year but taking a walk around its beautiful grounds is an extremely rewarding and memorable experience.
The Church and Monastery of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The perfect place to bring our journey around Krakow’s monasteries to a close is the home of the Carmelite monks. If you make arrangements ahead of time, you can visit the library, archive and museum. The walls of the monastery hide a brilliant collection of medieval and baroque musicla manuscripts along with drawings and medical sketches, many of them rare or one of a kind.
A trip to Krakow’s monasteries really is a colorful, inspiring and dramatic journey through eight hundred years of the city’s history.