One of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in Poland, Wawel’s iconic courtyard is emblematic of Poland’s ‘Golden Age.’ With the arrival of the Italian Renaissance in Poland in the early 16th century, solidified by King Sigismund I’s marriage to Princess Bona of the Milanese House of Sforza in 1518, a new palace was commissioned by King Aleksander Jagiellończyk (reigned 1501-06) and his brother Sigismund I (r. 1506-48) to replace the existing Gothic residence at Wawel. Italian architects Francesco Fiorentino and Bartolommeo Berrecci oversaw much of the construction, which features open cloisters, supported by slender columns, allowing free movement between the royal apartments and state rooms that surround the central courtyard, which could be used for court celebrations, theatre performances and a variety of other functions.
Completed in 1536, the palace was destroyed by fire the same year and subsequently rebuilt until 1545. Another devastating fire in 1595 caused King Sigismund III Vasa to relocate to Warsaw, a move that would eventually become permanent, thus ending Wawel’s glory days. Plundered, destroyed and partially rebuilt numerous times over the intervening centuries, the courtyard’s marvellous Renaissance design has been restored for visitors today, and though few original fragments remain, it is considered an architectural masterpiece.
The courtyard is free to enter during Wawel's normal working hours.