Saturday, April 11, 2015
Krakow's rich history in newly opened underground museum
We followed a trail that wound through some 6,000 metres of remarkable multimedia exhibits displayed in what is essentially an archaeological site. Relying heavily on touch-screens and holograms, highlights include a fascinating look into life before Kraków received its charter and the market square was laid out, and the remains of an 11th-century cemetery replete with 'vampire prevention burials' — Tip: “chop off the head off the corpse”. There are plenty of artefacts among the virtual exhibits, including coins, clothing and other earthly remains. The part I liked the best was the short, subtitled documentaries covering different ages of Krakow's history. We sat in little stone chamber-like rooms for each one. A lovely, old Polish gentleman chatted to the characters and narrated the tales of the time. One thing we noticed here and in other museums was that very little is said about the post war communist period. It was almost as if it didn't exist, although we could have visited a soviet era industrial town.
Inside the basilica was very impressive with the altarpiece, stained glass windows of the nave, and the blue, starred ceiling. The magnificent wooden altarpiece with pivoting panels actually opens and closes. It depicts the death of the Virgin.
The Poles are very religious, and as it was Easter the church was crowded with people praying, kissing the head and torso of Jesus on a cross that was lying on the floor. There were also many like us just visiting. We had seen people in the Square with little baskets covered with white linen cloths with sprigs of boxwood sticking out. We knew that they were an Easter tradition. Here in the church was a huge table covered in a white cloth where locals were leaving these baskets for the poor. Nuns were taking some away but the table was soon covered again.
In Poland, blessing of the baskets is known as święcenie, a practice dating to the 15th century or earlier, and one which is still maintained by most families in Poland on Holy Saturday. The baskets can be filled with bacon, Easter bread, butter, a candle, cheese and ham. We did go into another smaller church right behind St. Mary's where another table was also piled high with these baskets.
After another not very good meal, we wandered over to the Jagiellonian University, where Copernicus once studied. Unfortunately, we didn't see the inside as it closed early but we were able to walk around a balcony and admire the beautiful courtyard.
For us there was just time for a final coffee and tasty crepe Suzette in the Wentzl, our favourite coffee shop on the square, before saying good-bye to Krakow and heading for the airport.