Wawel Castle is located in the heart of Krakow, at a bend in the Wisla River. It was the location chosen by the first king of Poland, Mieszko I (965-1025), as his royal residence. Around the beginning of the 11th century, it became the site for the construction of Wawel Cathedral.
The Castle itself dates back to the 12th century when it was constructed by King Casimir III the Great (1333 to 1370) and included a number of buildings constructed around the central courtyard, which was, during its history, used for tournaments and various court events.
Krakow became the royal capital at the beginning of the 14th century under King Wladyslaw Lokietek (1320–1333) which made Kraków and Wawel the cultural heart of Poland. The golden age came in the reign of King Kazimierz the Great (1333-1370), who expanded the castle, which was added to in the 14th century by King Jogaila (1386 -1434), who added a number of defensive walls and towers.
Originally in Gothic style, in the early 16th century, the castle was refurbished by King Sigismund I (1506–1548) to create a palace in Renaissance style. In 1595, the north-east part of the castle was destroyed by fire. The castle was rebuilt by King Sigismund III Vasa (1587-1632), but only the Senator Stairs and fireplace in the Bird Room still exist.
In 1609 King Sigismund III moved the capital from Krakow to Warsaw, which resulted in the neglect and deterioration of the castle. The Swedish invasions of 1655–1657 and 1702 led further to the decline of the castle.
In 1794 the place was occupied by the Prussian Army, who stole the Royal Insignia. This has never been retrieved. 1n 1795, after the Third Partition of Poland, resulting in Poland’s loss of independence, the castle was used as a barracks - which included the Royal chambers - by the Austrians who modernised the structure to add to its defenses to form a border outpost and also a military hospital. The walls were redesigned in the second part of the 19th century, making them an integral part of the castle. The Austrians remained in Krakow until 1911 when they vacated.
Following the end of World War I it was decided that Wawel Castle should represent the Polish State and was then used by the Governor. Later this passed to the President and in 1921 it officially became the residence of the President of Poland. Following World War II it became a national museum.
Visitors today can visit a number of rooms and exhibitions but unfortunately, photographs are not permitted either in the castle rooms or cathedral.
To see more photographs and take a virtual tour of the site click on the photoshow below.