Krakow and traditionally known as Cracow, is the second-largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. Situated on the Vistula River in Lesser Poland Province, 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 the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in the world.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 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 780,000, 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, and the Nazi concentration camps like Płaszów.However, the city was spared from destruction and major bombing.In 1978, Karol Wojtyła, archbishop of Kraków, was elevated to the papacy as Pope John Paul II—the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.Also that year, UNESCO approved Kraków’s entire Old Town and historic centre as its first World Heritage List alongside Quito.Kraków is classified as a global city with the ranking of “high sufficiency” by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network.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.
The name of Kraków is traditionally derived from Krakus (Krak, Grakch), the legendary founder of Kraków and a ruler of the tribe of Lechitians. In Polish, Kraków is an archaic possessive form of Krak and essentially means “Krak’s (town)”. The true origin of the name is highly disputed among historians, with many theories in existence and no unanimous consensus. The first recorded mention of Prince Krakus (then written as Grakch) dates back to 1190, although the town existed as early as the 7th century, when it was inhabited by the tribe of Vistulans.It is possible that the name of the city is derived from the word “kruk“, meaning crow or raven.The city’s full official name is Stołeczne Królewskie Miasto Kraków, which can be translated as “Royal Capital City of Kraków”. In English, a person born or living in Kraków is a Cracovian (Polish: krakowianin or krakus). While in the 1990s the English version of the name was often written Cracow, the most widespread modern English version is Krakow.