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Krakow is the second largest city in Poland, situated on the banks of the river Vistula with a population of approximtely 750,000 people. Since World War II, the Jewish community in Krakow has diminished considerably, and there is estimated to be less than 2,000 jews living in the city, many of which do not disclose their identity. The majority of inhabitants speak Polish, with 20% speaking Hebrew and there is a very small minority who list German or Russian as their primary language.
The Krakow metropolitan area is divided into eighteen seperate administrative districts. Nowa Huta is the most populous district in the city and is the industrial hub of Poland, home to an expansive complex of steelworks and other factories. Stare Miasto, more commonly known as the Old Town, is Krakow's primary tourist area, Here you will find all the main attractions and amenities, including Wawel Hill and the city's enormous market square.
Read more on this destination in the AA City Pack Guide to Krakow.
The history of Krakow
Krakow is one of Poland's oldest cities, with settlements dating back as far as the 4th century and archaeological findings prove that humans have lived here as long as 50,000 years ago. In 965, a Jewish merchant named Abraham ben Jacob, described Krakow as the bustling commercial centre of Slavic Europe and recent discoveries by historians confirm that.
In 1038, Krakow became the capital of Poland and the 11th century saw the construction of important buildings in Krakow, which include Wawel Royal Castle, home to Polish royalty. By 1241, Krakow was completely demolished during the Mongol invasion of Poland, led by the Duke of Silesia. After the city's restoration in 1257, Krakow began to flourish, and by medieval times the city had erected an impressive defensive wall and series of beautifully crafted watch towers to protect it's civilization. By 1800, Krakow had plundered considerably. A plague had swept the city killing thousands, a series of wars with Sweden had crippled the city and King Sigismund III opted to move the country's capital to Warsaw.
In 1939, at the onset of World War II, the city was partitioned under Hitler's regime to eradicate all Jews from the city. Concentration camps were established on the outskirts of Krakow and the city's Jewish population were exiled into ghetto's across the Vistula river.
Krakow today is regarded by many as the cultural capital of Poland, after being placed on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in 1978. Poland was one of the later countries to join the European Union in 2004, leading Krakow to establish itself as one of Poland's most important economic centres. It is often referred to as "Silicon Valley" due to its technological influence over central and eastern Europe.
Krakow is recognised as one of Europe's most significant student cities with almost a quarter of a million students living in the city, attending one of Krakow's 22 universities, including the prestigious Jagiellonian University. The city is also recognized for its reputation as one of Europe's "party capitals", with the Old Town district of the city having more bars per m2 than any other city on the planet. A lot of the nightlife in this area is centered around young people due to the presence of students in the district.