St Mary’s Basilica, Krakow, Poland

Built during the 14th century St Mary’s Basilica in Krakow is unquestionably one of the finest examples of Polish Gothic architecture and a real delight to behold. The original church was built on this site in 1221-22 but was destroyed by the Mongol invasion of Poland in the latter part of the 13th century. Around 1300 a new church was built on the remaining foundations. This church and its foundations were adapted and extended over a ten year period (1355-65) during the reign of Casimir III the Great. The main body of the church was completed during 1395-97. In the 15th century the side chapels were added and the northern tower was raised so it could act as a watchtower for the city.

The interior of the church is dramatic in its grandiosity and the attention to detail is fascinating. The main focus of the church has to be the Altarpiece by the master sculptor Veit Stoss (aka Wit Stwosz) which took 12 years to complete. It is a triptych, it consists of a central panel and two side doors/wings. The central piece depicts the assumption of the Virgin into heaven and the scenes around the altar depict moments from her life. The altar is considered the high point of Polish Gothic art and supposedly named the eight wonder of the world by Pablo Picasso. The monumental stained glass windows stand watch over this beautiful altarpiece and guide the viewers eyes upwards to the ornate ceiling painted to look like a sky with yellow stars among beautiful hues of blue and green. In the 18th century much of the interior was rebuilt in late Baroque style by Francesco Placidfi.

One of the more unusual and endearing traditions of the basilica is that every hour, on the hour, the ‘hejnal’ (a bugle call) is played. The tune breaks mid-melody in honour of a trumpeter who was said to have been shot in the neck while trying to warn the city of the Mongol invaders.

GPS: 50.06164, 19.93939

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