For most of Poland's history the capital was located in Krakow, not in Warsaw, so it's here that you'll find most of the early history and pageantry. As the seat of the archbishop of Krakow, the cathedral was the home church of Karol Wojtyła for most of his life, and he was the archbishop here from 1964, until he became Pope John Paul II in 1978.
The cathedral provides evidence for the long and rich history of Poland, with a Gothic nave, Renaissance chapels, and a Baroque bell tower. Inside you'll find the ornate tombs of many of Poland's kings and queens, as well as other notable Polish figures.
The Czartoryski family is one of Poland's most prestigious noble families. Their private collection includes major works by Leonardo da Vinci (Lady with an Ermine, above), Rembrandt, and Renoir, and well as many ancient Greek, Roman and Etruscan works. A museum displaying the collection was first opened to the public in Krakow, Poland in the early 19th century.
This had been one of my favorite museums in Europe when I first started visiting Poland (more than 20 years ago), a really stunning collection, displayed in a low-key, relaxed museum. It's had some difficulties recently, though, in keeping up with maintenance and demands placed by increased tourism to Krakow. This is nothing new for the Czartoryskis. The collection has had a tumultuous history, including being seized by the Nazis during World War II – numerous pieces disappeared and are still missing – and by the Communists. Recently much of the collection has been displayed at the National Museum, or at Wawel Castle.
The current head of the foundation that administers the collection, Adam Karol Czartoryski, recently agreed to 'donate' everything to the State of Poland for €100 million. Since the collection has been valued at €2 billion, that's quite a discount, if not quite a donation.
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