Cracow (Polish, Kraków; German, Krakau)

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CRACOW (Polish, Kraków; German, Krakau)

CRACOW (Polish, Kraków; German, Krakau). Cracow arose on the left bank of the upper Vistula in the southern region of the Polish state known as Little Poland, at the intersection of trade routes linking Gdańsk and the Baltic with Hungary and Germany and Bohemia with Kievan Rus' and the Crimea. From 1000 it was a bishopric attached to the primatial see at Gniezno. Cracow received the Magdeburg Law for municipal self-government in 1257 and became the capital of a rising Polish kingdom by 1320, with a royal residence in the Wawel Castle. Poland's oldest university, established here in 1364, reached its peak in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, attracting humanists such as the scholar Callimachus (Filippo Buonaccorsi, 14371496) and the German neo-Latin poet Conrad Celtis (14591508), around whom a sodalitas litteraria vistulana grew up.

The early sixteenth century was the city's golden age, witnessing growth in architecture, literature, and printing. The first printed sheet dates from 1474. In 1491 Szwajpolt Fiol (d. 1525/1526) published the world's first Church Slavonic liturgical book. Jan Haller established Cracow's first permanent printing house in 1505, and Florian Ungler issued perhaps the oldest book in the Polish language in the years 15131514; these and other German immigrants predominated at the beginning and played important roles in establishing a Polish literary standard. By 1580 eight of the seventeen printing offices functioning in Poland-Lithuania were located in Cracow. Printers produced books in Latin, Church Slavonic, Polish, and German for Catholic, Calvinist, Arian, Orthodox, and Uniate readers.

German burghers and Jews arrived in numbers beginning in the fourteenth century. Conflicts arose between largely German artisans and patricians and a largely Polish commonality. By the sixteenth century, through social advancement of Polish burghers and the Polonization of Germans, the patriciate had become Polish-speaking. Germans remained important in many trades. Over the course of the sixteenth century, Italian, Hungarian, Walloon, Flemish, and Scottish immigrants joined the mix.

Cracow was for centuries home to one of Europe's most important Jewish communities. Increasing conflicts with local burghers over the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries led to the expulsion of the Jews in 1495 from within the old town and their reestablishment in the walled suburb-city of Kazimierz (named for Casimir III the Great, ruled 13331370) adjacent to Cracow on the south. By the 1570s there were some 2,000 Jews in Kazimierz, and by 1644 seven main synagogues and a number of yeshivas, making Cracow an important center of Jewish learning and printing and the leading Jewish community in the Kingdom of Poland.

Although an early center of the Polish Reformation, Cracow was quickly won for the Counter-Reformation. Arian and Calvinist churches destroyed in tumults of 1574 and 1591 were not rebuilt. By 1627 only Roman Catholics could achieve citizenship.

The city's golden age began to come to a close in the later sixteenth century with the decline of the university, the development of a rural manor economy based largely on the grain trade, a general neglect of Polish-Lithuanian cities, and the permanent establishment of the king's residence in Warsaw (1611). Cracow would remain the capital and coronation city until the end of the Commonwealth, but the absence of the court and parliament, together with a series of invasions (the Swedish occupations of 1655 and 1702), fires, and plagues over the later seventeenth and throughout the eighteenth centuries contributed to the ruin and neglect that would make it impossible for Poland's last king, Stanisław II August Poniatowski (ruled 17641795), to be crowned there. With the first partition of Poland in 1772, Cracow became a Polish border outpost, and with the third, in 1795, a provincial town in the Austrian Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria.

See also Jews and Judaism ; Jews, Attitudes toward ; Poland-Lithuania, Commonwealth of, 15691795 ; Poland to 1569 .


Bałaban, Majer. Historia Z ė ydów w Krakowie i na Kazimierzu, 13041868. 2 vols. Cracow, 1931 and 1936.

Bieniarzówna, Janina, and Jan M. Małecki. Dzieje Krakowa. Vol. 2, Kraków w wiekach XVIXVIII. Cracow, 1994.

Schramm, Gottfried. "Reformation und Gegenreformation in Krakau: Die Zuspitzung des konfessionellen Kampfes in der polnischen Hauptstadt." In Zeitschrift für Ostforschung 19 (1970): 141.

David Frick