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framework of an integrated plan. Characterised by the unprecedented scale and symmetry of its urban layout, the scheme invested Kraków with a special place in the history of contemporary civilisation. Its central marketplace – one of the largest in medieval Europe – is striking for its size and regular proportions, and the foresight of its planners, who were able to accommodate the surviving components of the old urban arrangement harmoniously into their enterprising new design. Liberated from the narrow streets and lanes typical of medieval towns, in 1257 Kraków was endowed with a plan which still today is the essential framework for its metropolitan development. Magdeburg municipal law was the model on which Kraków’s local government was based, and its first implementers were newcomers from Silesia. As elsewhere throughout Central Europe at the time, German played a salient role in the shaping of the new Kraków. The influx of German settlers made the rising metropolis multiethnic. In the 15th century Kraków was one of the largest cities in Central Europe. After the Battle of Grunwald in 1410 and Vladislaus Jagiełło’s tremendous victory over the Teutonic Order it was the capital of a rising European power. Alongside its political significance, the city’s economic power was growing, too. The vivacity of the royal court and the city’s prosperity fostered a favourable climate for the growth of its intellectual and artistic milieux. The splendour of the final years of the reign of Casimir the Jagiellonian and the Veit Stoss Altarpiece mark the climax of the 15th century, a felicitous period in Kraków’s history. In the 16th century Kraków was the capital of a vast empire, and its power and influence emanated out from the south-western corner of the Jagiellonian dominions onto the huge expanses of Lithuania and Ruthenia. It was the venue for the parliamentary assemblies convened by the monarch, whose chief residence on Wawel Hill was one of the key political nodes in the Europe of the times. The grandeur of the reigns of the last Jagiellons marked the peak of Kraków’s significance on the map of Europa Minor. In practical terms its characteristic multiethnicity meant that there were large communities of Jews, Germans, Italians, Ruthenians, Hungarians, and Scotsmen living in and

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around the city. At the same time Kraków was the true focus of Polish culture. In the reigns of the Elder and the Younger Sigismund not only was it importing a variety of influences from abroad, but also creatively reprocessing them and acting as a source radiating out its own cultural influence over a broad catchment area extending well beyond the borders of the Jagiellonian empire. By the mid-16th century the Cracovian agglomeration counted about 30 thousand inhabitants, just like imperial Prague, the biggest city in Central Europe. Although Prague and Kraków were no match in size or economic importance for metropolises like Rome, Venice, Naples, Constantinople, Lisbon, Paris, London, or Antwerp, nonetheless in terms of the complexity and force of their functions they surpassed the other Central European cities – Gdańsk, Königsberg, Vilnius, Riga, Kyiv, Lviv, or Wrocław. Soon, however, its triumph became the cause of its decline. The concept of union with Lithuania hatched in Kraków in the late 14th century eventually generated a threat to the city’s status as capital. This was also associated with the 15th- and 16thcentury evolution of the country’s constitutional setup. The political foundations of the Noblemen’s Republic into which Poland transformed in the course of the 15th century were rooted in the parliamentary practice exercised by the enfranchised nobility and gentry. With its peripheral position in a state which was expanding in a north-eastward direction, Kraków could no longer keep its status as the venue for parliamentary assemblies. If we are to treat the location of a state’s supreme authorities as its capital, then we must admit that Kraków was gradually forfeiting its powers already in the course of the 16th century. Nonetheless, for a long time it preserved many of the components of its rank as capital as perceived in the feudal period, not just officially but in the practical sense as well. It was the place where the symbols of state power and authority – the royal treasury and archives – were lodged. It was the venue for the chief events in the state, ceremonies such as coronations and royal weddings, until well-nigh the end of Poland-Lithuania. At the turn of the 18th and 19th century Kraków’s reputation as the capital city was the crucial factor making it the obvious choice of a last stand for a major attempt to

save Poland’s sovereignty. It was the focal point for the main events of the Kościuszko Insurrection, which started on 24th March 1794. Unexpectedly, Kraków’s rank as capital acquired a new dimension in 1815 during the Congress of Vienna, becoming the object of keen rivalry between the three Partitioning Powers. It was still perceived as the symbol of Polish sovereignty. In outcome of a compromise reached between Austria, Prussia, and Russia, in 1815-1846 Kraków was formally an independent state, “the Free City of Cracow” under the tutelage of the three “Protector Powers”. The 19th century brought tremendous change in Europe’s settlement network. A combination of political and economic factors made Kraków remain a non-industrial city with a relatively low rate of growth until the end of the 19th century. Constricted by a belt of Austrian fortifications, it was fairly small and impoverished. But in the second half of the century it managed to find a chance for development and a way out of its complicated and difficult predicament, taking advantage of the opportunity of the switch towards a more liberal policy that occurred in Austria in the 1860s, and of the potential offered by its metropolitan tradition. This was the essential core of the Kraków phenomenon of the period, demonstrating that there is no such thing as a simple relationship between the size of a city and its metropolitan functions, and that tradition may act as a vital factor in the creation of metropolitan status. On the strength of its past Kraków became the pivot integrating the aspirations of all the Polish people, and it was here, and not in the Habsburg provincial capital at Lemberg/Lwów/Lviv, that their national affairs found their focus. Kraków’s development at the turn of the 19th and 20th century entailed many paradoxes. Its systemic economic feebleness was compensated for by its special meaning for the Polish people. Its function as the nation’s spiritual capital stood in opposition to its role as a border-zone stronghold and a provincial garrison in which foreign troops were stationed. From the vantage-point of the great metropolis into which Vienna had transformed at the turn of the centuries Kraków was merely a middling-size peripheral town. But from the point of view of the Polish raison d’état, despite its impoverishment, it still performed the function of capital city of a non-existent Polish state. These and other

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Alma mater 166  

Alma Mater 166

Alma mater 166  

Alma Mater 166

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