hidden europe 3

Kraków and beyond

by Nicky Gardner


there is more to Kraków and its region than the Polish city's beautiful main square. hidden europe visits Kraków and a nearby 17th century religious theme park

hidden europe ponders the apotheoses of urban perfection, alights on Kraków, and checks out some hidden spots outside the city’s celebrated central square. We also look at two excursions beyond Kraków’s city limits.

A while back we were called to identify what are for us the most appealing urban spaces in all Europe. That's a tough call, for there would be many contenders for such a title. The Mezquita in Córdoba springs to mind. Or a myriad of Italian town squares. There we might plump not for one of the famous piazzas of Venice or Rome, but possibly for the Piazza Vecchia in Bergamo's upper town. Presided over by the classical library at the north end and the Romanesque church of Santa Maria Maggiore at the south, the Piazza Vecchia is a hotchpotch jumble of buildings that somehow meld together to create a symphony in space. Even the Palazzo della Ragione which arrogantly juts across the middle of the square is absolutely perfectly poised in the ensemble.

Of course there are other obvious candidates. We are certainly with that guru of the history of architecture and design, Nikolaus Pevsner, in his assertion that Oxford High Street is one of the world's most memorable urban scenes. Of course port cities and waterfronts have their own special appeal, and Venice's Canal Grande rates as a watery version of Oxford High Street, again with an accent on curves and an improbable mixture of buildings and styles. For a coastal port, our vote in the attractiveness stakes might go to Dubrovnik or little Ídhra Town, little more than an hour or two from Athens, on the island of Hydra. For symbolic status, we might turn to small ports on the coasts of Spanish Galicia or western Ireland, where empty quaysides speak volumes about lands shaped by emigration.

But if really pressed to identify one spot, a precious place that might carry the crown, it would be hard to pass over the claims of Kraków's main square. The Rynek Glówny in the great Polish city is, quite simply, one of Europe's most magical urban spaces. It was already in the premier league of city squares in mediaeval Europe.

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