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Information Text: Krakow - Renaissance - Capital and Royal Court

Kraków Cathedral; Photo: Barbara Węglarz

The fact that Kraków Cathedral was the coronation and burial place of the Polish monarchs, and Wawel Castle the permanent seat of the royal court, played an enormous role in the development of the city.  It was especially visible in the 16th century, when social divisions were still not too pronounced, and the life of the court influenced the daily life of Kraków not only in its economic and political, but also cultural sphere.

As the Polish kings also carried the title of Grand Dukes of Lithuania, their duties required much travelling. That is why, although Kraków was the capital of Poland and their permanent seat, the kings did not spend much time there.

The situation changed permanently when Zygmunt I Stary ascended the Polish and Lithuanian thrones. Historians consider him to be one of the most “Kraków” rulers. The monarch spent most of the year at Wawel. Soon after having become king, he rebuilt Wawel in the Renaissance style. Thank to his efforts, the Castle turned into a vibrant social and cultural centre, from which inspiration was taken not only in Poland but also abroad.

The courtly life developed even more when Bona Sforza, a Milanese princess, married Zygmunt I Stary. She was a patron of Renaissance culture, which, thanks to her, began to flourish in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. With her court entourage, she introduced ideals of Italian Renaissance to Wawel. Their wedding was organised in a lavish manner and in an Italian style. It lasted two weeks, becoming a great event in the city.

The fact that Kraków did not only witness monarchs’ weddings or births, but their citizens also took part in many other state celebrations, is worthy of emphasis and consideration. Coronations were of the utmost importance. They took place in the Kraków Main Market Square, where a future monarch arrived with his train from Wawel. Sitting on the elevated throne prepared especially for the occasion, he received the keys to the city from the hands of the City Council. The members of the Council took an oath, and the King’s subjects pledged loyalty to him.

The Kraków Main Market Square today; Photo: Barbara Węglarz

The Prussian Tribute, yet another crucial event of political and historical importance, took place in the Kraków Main Market Square. In 1525, Albrecht Hohenzollern, the Duke of Prussia, was formally invested as the Duke of the Polish fiefdom of Ducal Prussia. As a result, the Catholic fiefdom of State of Teutonic Order in Prussia was transformed into the Protestant fiefdom of Duchy of Prussia, formally subjected to the Polish Crown.

Moreover, numerous visits of foreign envoys including the Emperor, Pope, Great Moscow Duke, and Tatar Khan constituted a huge attraction. In the last decade of Zygmunt’s I reign, sejmy convened in Kraków. The arrival of envoys and their proceedings enlivened the life in the city.

The golden epoch of Kraków ended with Zygmunt’s I death. The court of Zygmunt August , the son of the deceased monarch, did not reside in the city so often, and he was not attached to it so strongly. However, this does not mean that Wawel became deserted – the King’s Chancery and Royal Law Court still functioned there. A lot of court high officials and courtiers, some of them the most prominent literary figures of that time such as, for example, Jan Kochanowski, continued to stay at Wawel.