Just south across the river from Kazimierz, lies Podgórze - a large district rich in natural beauty, tragic history and unusual attractions. The name means ‘foothills,’ and its unique geography makes it one of Krakow’s greenest districts and most exciting to explore, thanks to wooded hills, limestone cliffs and ridges that offer panoramic views of the city centre. It is this same sinister geography, however, which resulted in Podgórze being the site of the city’s greatest human tragedy. The Nazis saw its natural placement between the river and the cliffs of Krzemionki as the ideal place for establishing a prison district, and in March of 1941 Kraków’s Jewish population was marched into the centre of Podgórze and walled off in what became known as the Kraków Ghetto. Liquidated two years later, the majority of the Ghetto’s residents were murdered inside, while others met death in the nearby KL Płaszów concentration camp, or in the gas chambers of Auschwitz and Bełżec.
Traces of the Ghetto are still visible today, and Podgórze’s wartime history and 20th century connections to Oskar Schindler remain what people most associate with the district today. However, Podgórze has a long history which dates back over 10,000 years ago to the city’s founding myth. Legend explains Podgórze’s Krakus Mound as the burial place of the city’s first ruler, and scientific studies have proven it to be Kraków’s most ancient structure dating back to the Iron Age. Podgórze also has a proud tradition of independence, having been granted the rights of a free city in 1784 by the Austrian Emperor Joseph II. Incorporated into greater Kraków in 1915, the district proudly reasserted its independence when on October 31st, 1918 local militants led by Antoni Stawarz seized control of the district from the Austrian Army in what is regarded as the first the action of the Second Republic of Poland following WWI.
Although slow to develop in the years after the fall of communism, the opening of the world-class Schindler’s Factory Museum in 2010 not only helped the city come to terms with the ghosts of the Holocaust, it also established Podgórze as a bona fide destination for tourists. The construction of the Bernatek footbridge soon afterwards opened the floodgates even further, creating a direct link from Plac Wolnica to Rynek Podgórski and leading to a burst of cafes and restaurants on the other side of the river. Today Podgórze is accepted as an obligatory part of the Kraków tourist trail, but still retains an evocative atmosphere of anguish and independence that sets it apart from Kraków’s other neighbourhoods. To get the most out of it, make time to explore its mysterious, lesser-known landmarks in addition to its marquee museums.
What to See
One of Kraków’s largest districts, there are basically three areas of interest to tourists on this side of the river: Old Podgórze - once the historic centre of an independent city, this area also happens to be the territory of the former Jewish Ghetto; Zabłocie - the former industrial area east of Podgórze’s historic centre where you’ll find several museums including Schindler’s Factory; and Krzemionki - the large territory of scenic limestone cliffs which rise above the historic centre and extend all the way to Krakus Mound. Old Podgórze (Stare Podgórze) and Zabłocie can largely be explored in one day, especially if you rent a bike, while Krzemionki should be considered a separate adventure.
Old PodgórzeBegin by crossing over the picturesque Bernatek footbridge and enjoy the neighbourhood atmosphere of the cafes, ice cream parlours and restaurants immediately along ul. Brodzińskiego en route to Rynek Podgórski to see the stunning St. Joseph’s Church. Next work your way to Podgórze’s other main square - Plac Bohaterów Getta, today a memorial for the victims of the Ghetto. Ulica Jozefińska will not only lead you that way, but also still possesses a certain aura connected to those times; keep your eyes peeled for plaques describing the role of several of the buildings during the time of the Ghetto, and also an enormous mural dedicated to local sci-fi author Stanisław Lem.
For those that don’t have the strength for the 3hr undertaking that is the Schindler’s Factory Museum (or Auschwitz for that matter), the Eagle Pharmacy on Plac Bohaterów Getta provides a manageable (but just as moving) alternative, particularly for those with an interest in the wartime experience of the city’s Jewish community; if you’re more of a general WWII buff, you’ll probably prefer the larger scope of Schindler’s Factory. Head to the latter via the Plac Bohaterów Getta underpass and then down ul. Kącik, or make a detour to see a stretch of the original Ghetto Wall still standing on ul. Lwowska.