Visitors to Kraków will be tempted to limit their visit to places such as the Rynek Glówny, the Wawel Castle, the nearby Wieliczka Salt Mine -- you know, the usual tourist draws of a city. But like many great European cities, there is much to be found off the beaten path. And Kraków has a special treasure awaiting the adventurous visitor -- the Jewish Quarter, Kazimierz.
What makes Kazimierz so special is that its character is splendidly different from the rest of the city, which is dominated by big churches, big markets, and big, big, big. Kazimierz is distinctive but simple, just like its inhabitants.
Kazimierz is only a few blocks away from the downtown, but there's no real sign that you are there... just all of a sudden you are surrounded by synagogues and lots of Hebrew writing. There are two marketplaces, the first being pictured above, where the residents sell fresh vegetables, grains, and meat. However, despite the historic setting, the markets are no longer necessarily kosher -- the actual Jewish population in Kazimierz is far less than it used to be*. On the other hand, those Jews I did meet (such as those visiting the local Holocaust Museum) asserted their heritage very strongly.
The synagogues themselves are very simple buildings, like the one at right. Many are decorated with cemetaries and memorials for those who gave their lives during WWII and the occupation years. There is one very old synagogue which lies in the main square of Kazimierz that's worth looking for.
Speaking of the main square, this is where many of the popular establishments reside. Most of the restaurants serve a distinctively Jewish menu, which is very different from the Germanic-style menu available at most Polish places. I found the Jewish cuisine to be very sweet -- it appeared that sweet spices and sugars were used on the meats, starches, and vegetables. Also very sweet was the live music played at one establishment where I dined... very nice!
Of course, the Jewish Quarter remembers the Holocaust very well, and Kazimierz has a number of places of remembrance. Look for the Jewish Pharmacy Museum in the middle of the ghetto... this was a pharmacy that was run by the only Jew in the district permitted access to the outside world around 1940. The inside is loaded with memorabilia from the occupation, definitely worth the small number of zloty for admission.
There are plenty of memorials outside as well. On the main road a short distance from Kazimierz are the two below memorials. The one in the distance commemorates all Holocaust victims, whereas the one in the foreground was erected by the Jewish community in Poland.
A visit to Kazimierz will take you among a culture and lifestyle very different from the rest of Kraków, and the Jewish people there have a story that is worth listening to. Refreshingly simple, but memorable, Kazimierz is definitely worth the visit.
Trip taken 31 August and 1 September 2001 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2001 Tom Galvin
* Acknowledgement to reader Stefan Swiszczowski who pointed out that my previous assertion of this being a kosher market was incorrect.