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Wawel Royal Castle - HOME

Wawel Royal Castle
State Art Collection

31-001 Kraków, Wawel 5

(+48 12) 422-51-55, 422-61-21

Tourist Information:
(+48 12) 422 51 55
ext. 219

Reservations and Guide Service:
(+48 12)
422 16 97

Press contact:
(+48 12) 422 51 55
ext. 380, 341

Wawel Architecture and Gardens

opening hours

guided outdoor tour

For centuries the Wawel Hill, with its towering castle and cathedral, was the seat of political and ecclesiastical power in Poland. Over the course of nearly one thousand years, the architectural and garden landscape of the hill changed; buildings were erected, remodeled, knocked down and replaced. Today, the castle and cathedral constitute a harmonious monument complex, for the most part restored to its Renaissance grandeur. The reopened gardens complete the picture.

The guided walking tour gives visitors an opportunity to learn about the magnificent architecture and to explore secluded areas, such as the sunlit royal gardens on the eastern side of the hill. The tour begins in the "Lost Wawel" exhibition next to a model of the Wawel as it looked in the 18th century, continues to the Arcaded Courtyard of the castle, and then to the gardens. From the lower terrace of the royal gardens the tour continues around the perimeter of the castle: up the narrow stone steps next to the Hen’s Foot Tower, past the tower built by King Sigimund III Vasa, onto the ramparts and along the north elevation of the castle. From this spot visitors can take in the magnificent panorama of Cracow’s old town. The tour then leads back to the Arcaded Courtyard through the so-called Tatar Passage and on to the Báthory Courtyard. The tour ends with a visit to the Sandomierska Tower, which offers great views of Krakow and the surrounding countryside.

This tour replaces the Wawel Hill – Former Buildings and Fortifications tour.

Tour Description

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The tour begins in the Lost Wawel exhibition. Using an architectural model of the Wawel Hill as it appeared in the 18th century as a starting point, the guide will introduce tour participants to the history, development, and transformations of the elements that make up the complex: the castle, the cathedral, other churches, residential buildings, and fortifications.

The architecture of the cathedral and the foundations of buildings that are no longer extant will be discussed in the outer courtyard. Next the tour continues to the splendid Italianate Arcaded Courtyard built in the first half of the 16th century.
photo Ł.Schuster
A visit to the Renaissance royal pleasure gardens is next. The historical existence of terraced gardens on the eastern slope of the hill from about 1540, known from written sources, was also confirmed by the discovery of stone steps, brick garden walks, and other elements of garden architecture during an archeological excavations. The Swedish invasion of 1655 put an end to the cultivation of the Wawel gardens. The present gardens have been developed to reflect the Renaissance gardens of the period around 1540. The reconstruction of Renaissance gardens dating from the first half of the 1500s is a rarity in Europe; gardens from the latter half of the century are more frequent. The Wawel gardens are the only reconstructed Renaissance gardens in Poland.

The upper terrace of the gardens was reconstructed based on the uncovered relics, historical and archival sources, and consultations with experts including paleobotanists. It opened to the public in 2003 but closed again several years later. Subsequent excavations on the lower terrace revealed more relics of garden architecture (on view in the Lost Wawel exhibition) and the foundations of a 16th-century summerhouse. From 2004 to 2007, the architectural elements were preserved or, where possible, restored; from 2012 to 2015 the gardens were planted and developed.

Relics excavated on the upper terrace made it possible to reconstruct the brick walks and wooden beds. Raised beds were installed based on the mention of “boxes” in the Wawel gardens in archival sources. The remaining area of the terrace holds a small “meadow” with a bench and trellis. The box beds hold a variety of herbs and flowers including thyme, sage, mint, catnip, lavender, hyssop, iris, lilies, and even wild strawberries.

The southern end of the lower terrace was designed around the excavated relics of a summerhouse. Boxwood-edged parterres hold a variety of flowers and herbs punctuated by potted topiaries. The central section of the lower terrace is devoted to ornamental boxwood knot garden which evokes forms developed in the Renaissance. The northern end of the terrace holds a small apple orchard. Among the varied and numerous plants on this terrace are different varieties of roses, honeysuckle, peonies, chrysanthemums, snapdragons, and herbs such as thyme, lavender, verbena, basil, and oregano.

While not an exact reconstruction, the gardens of the lower terrace, along with the wooden garden architecture such as arbors, summerhouses, and fences, are based on historical and iconographic period sources. The gardens, like the castle, integrate medieval and Renaissance features.

The gardens also include two small, rose-bordered vineyards. The broad walkway (a military road built in the 19th century) is lined with oleanders and olive trees in terracotta flowerpots.

The curator of the gardens has endeavored to present as many varieties cultivated in the 15th and 16th centuries as possible.

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Upon leaving the gardens, visitors continue to the Báthory Courtyard, a small, picturesque courtyard between the castle and the cathedral. (The queen’s baths were once located on this site.)

photo A. Wierzba
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The tour ends with a visit to the Sandomierska Tower, one of the castle’s two defensive towers (“fire towers”), it was built in 1460 to fortify the royal residence from the south, the side most vulnerable to attack.
Visitors tour the tower individually (without guide) upon presenting tour ticket.

photo S. Michta
photo A. Stankiewicz
more about the Sandomierska Tower