Tag Archives: Sukiennice

Going Underground – Krakow

Following on from my Warsaw museum visit, I spent some time last weekend in a Krakow museum, this time in the Rynek Underground Museum (Podziemia Rynku). The market square has always been one of Krakow’s main highlights, with sights such as Mariacki church, the Ratusz (town hall), numerous restaurants with outdoor seating under umbrellas and of course, the Sukiennice (cloth hall). However, in 2005, an archaelogical dig revealed there was even more to the market square than met the eye with many items of historical significance being found just under the squares cobbles around the Sukiennice. It was then decided in 2007 to build and open a museum that would house most of the archarlogical findings, and make them available to the public. Underground 2

With about 800 years of history on show, the museum tries to blend an old world and modern feel in what is presented. There are a few visual tricks, some hi-tech options and then ‘real’ items to be touched and felt. The entrance is found just at the end of the Sukiennice, and entrance is limited to a maximum of 300 people at one time. This is controlled by musuem staff and some security guards, in order to make sure that the experience can be fully savoured without too many people. However, with temperatures of -16 last Saturday, it meant that there were no queues for entry, but rather only for the cloakroom, as everyone was discarding heavy jackets once entering. The entrance fee is 17zl for adults, with concession prices of 14zl for those young or old enough to qualify. Underground 1

The first sight on entry was a real-life smoke screen with a projector showing Krakowians from the Middle Ages welcoming you to the exhibit. Visitors can put their hands and more through it, as it is only a steam projection. Later there are some water pools showing ripples of people walking by, also using projectors. There were many kids having great fun there. From there, the exhibits get more ‘real’ as there are paving slabs from the 14th century, rebuilt houses of blacksmiths and goldsmiths, and then some re-created graves and burial grounds, with full skeletons inside. Indeed one of the surprises is when walking around and crossing a glass walkway to see a skeleton sitting in the hollowed space under the glass walkway. For me, the highlight came next in the centre of the space, where a scale model of Krakow from the 15th century was shown. It was very realistic, but it was also the only part of museum visible under natural light, as above it, there is the 4-sided pyramid skylight, which can be seen from above ground on the Rynek (as seen in a summer shot below). Pyramid

The second part of the musuem is more of a walking tour, with long passages ways with small nooks and crannies available with small archaelogical treasures found in most of them, including some skulls which had been found, and are estimated to be from soldiers who had died trying to defend Krakow from the Swedish ‘Flood’ in the early 17th century. There are many small artefacts such as necklaces, small knives, spears and so on which would have all been used in Krakow’s market through the ages.Skelton

Overall our visit lasted about 1 hour, although that can be lengthened or shortened depending on the level of detail you would wish to see. There were numerous tour groups, but as it was December, most of them were receiving the tour in Polish. Most of the exhibits had 7 language options, including Polish, English, German and French, among others. The visit was well worthwhile, and can show more of Krakow and the Rynek than just the standard options.

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Norway funding Poland's growth?

While taking a trip to visit my parents-in-law in their village about 1 hour from Kraków, we passed through many little towns and villages on the way. As we travelled, I noticed signs advertising a ‘Norway Grant’ and it seemed familiar to me. Finally, I remembered that it was also advertised on the makeover of the Sukiennice in the Kraków Rynek. My interest was raised, as it is one thing to see it on one of the main attractions in Kraków city centre, but another to see it in small towns on the borders of the Śląsk/Małopolska (Silesia/Lesser Poland) voivodship border. I decided to do some research.

The EEA & Norway Grants have been in place since 2004, as a mechanism through which Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland (as members of the European Economic Area) agreed to pool funds in order to minimise social and economic disparity in Europe. The fund is aimed at 15 countries in Central and Southern Europe (including Poland) where the economic levels and GDP (Gross Domestic Product) are much lower than other parts of Europe.


The grants have been assigned in the form of individual projects, larger programmes or in block grants. However, the main criteria used for determining which countries get funding are population and GDP per capita. This means that Poland is actually the biggest beneficiary in this programme, receiving 43% of funds allocated so far. And interestingly, on the opposite side, Norway is the biggest contributor by far. It supplies 97% of the funding for both the EEA and Norway Grant programmes. This means that Norway and Poland have a strong working relationship due to this interaction.

As a result of the above effect of Norway being key contributor and Poland being the biggest receiver, it means that Poland has received over €550 million since the grant programme began. This would be almost 2.25 billion PLN using today’s conversion rates. Some of the key areas in which funding have been focused include:

–          Environmental improvements, by improving energy efficiency in over 300 public buildings.

–          Conservation of Poland’s cultural heritage

–          Improvement of border controls in line with the Schengen agreement

–          Strengthening police cooperation against organised and cross-border crime

Some of the more interesting projects that caught my eye include:

–          Krakow Sukiennice improvements

–          The Carpathian Troy Open-Air Museum, Trzcinica

–          Protection of lynx, wolf and bear species in Poland

–          Psychological Causes and Consequences of Traffic Accidents

The grant programme originally ran from 2004 to 2009 but a new programme has been agreed for the years of 2009 to 2014, so this should see continued interaction between Norway and Poland.

Thus, it shows that the improvement of Poland continues with thanks to Norway and others using projects and grants such as these. So, it’s worth saying “Takk/Dzięki” to the Norwegians here!

More information on the grant programmes can be found below:

Overview of Poland’s involvement (in English): http://www.eeagrants.org/id/46

News on Polish projects (in English): http://www.eeagrants.org/id/13?sector=-&country=46

Information from the Norwegian embassy in Warsaw on the grant programme (in Polish): http://www.amb-norwegia.pl/News_and_events/Pomoc-z-EOG/

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Christmas fairs and how to avoid them

There are few contemporary evils more pernicious than the Christmas Fair. If you live in Krakow you just have to accept that a particularly virulent incarnation of the phenomenon takes over the otherwise blameless main market square for much of December. These days I avoid going anywhere near the center of town between October and February just to be on the safe side, but I have been enveloped by its cheesy jinglings in the past so I know what I’m talking about.

A Christmas Fair, in case you enjoy a blessed state of ignorance, is essentially a method of inducing innocent human beings into standing around in the freezing cold looking at overpriced tat. Otherwise sane people are enticed to fly halfway across Europe in bright orange sardine cans to shuffle around stalls loaded down with the kind of ludicrous objects they would be heartily disappointed to receive as gifts. They then buy these objects, fly back across half of Europe and give them to people they love. Apparently this is “Christmassy.”

christmas fair

Notice how the hot wine stall is shaped like a giant barrel of beer… I mean wine

The kind of doomed souls who write copy for inflight magazines get very excited by Christmas Fairs. Phrases such as “a cornucopia of gift ideas for Christmas – ranging from handmade arts and crafts to original clothing and decorations” are not uncommon revealing both a serious misunderstanding of the word “cornucopia” as well as tendency to mistake the “from… to” construction for a comprehensive list. There is nothing else apart from handmade arts and crafts and original clothing; “original” in this sense meaning “amusing for about 5 seconds but not something you would ever consider being seen dead in” and “handmade” meaning “churned out by the crate full in Bulgaria.” At any other time of the year all of this stuff is safely stored in the kind of tourist gift shops that only the most obese of American tourists would consider entering, like the Sukiennice.

Defenders of the Christmas Fair often respond to my unprovoked rantings on the subject by pointing out that you can buy nice burgers and hot wine there. This is entirely true, I retort, but by far a better way of buying appetizing meat and alcoholic beverages in the middle of December is to go into one of those conveniently fully enclosed and heated buildings dedicated to their production called restaurants. Queuing in freezing fog for an overpriced paper cup of bad wine is not something that fills my dreaming hours.

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