'Dragon's lair,' medieval saltworks top Poland draws

KRAKOW, Poland -- Although Krakow sports an endless list of attractions, some essential highlights include:

Wawel: Poland's Westminster and Windsor rolled in one, this flowery hilltop complex features a 700-year-old cathedral, complete with museum, crypt and set of "dragon's bones"; what's said to be the finest Renaissance courtyard north of the Alps, and the cave lair of said dragon, reputedly slain by pre-Christian city founder King Krak.

Polish royalty ruled one of Europe's largest empires from Wawel Hill for more than 500 years. On a New Age note, Wawel ("VAH-vel") is revered as one of the world's seven sacred chakras or energy points. Check online at www.wawel.krakow.pl.

Rynek Glowny ("RIH-neck GWOOV-nih"): The Old Town square, laid out in 1257, boasts St. Mary's Basilica and its famed wooden altarpiece; the Renaissance Cloth Hall (Sukiennice), now home to souvenir shops, and the 14th century, 320-foot Town Hall tower.

Wieliczka ("V'yeh-LEECH-kah"): This salt mine, in use since the 1400s, offers walking tours of subterranean lakes and ornate chambers, including several chapels and a church, carved entirely of salt, at depths of up to 450 feet.

Group and individual tours in English are available; open April 16 to Oct. 15. Visit www.muzeum.wieliczka.pl.

Czartoryski Museum: One of eight local branches of the National Museum, the Czartoryski ("Char-toe-RIH-skee") features ancient and Asian art; Polish arms and war booty, and masterpieces such as Da Vinci's "Lady with an Ermine." Located at ul. Sw. Jana 19.

Mounds: Pagan-era and modern-day manmade hills commemorate Polish heroes, both legendary ("Wanda," in Nowa Huta, or "Krakus," in Podgorze) and historic ("Kosciuszko," in Zwierzyniec, or "Pilsudski," in Las Wolski) with spectacular views.

-- Kenneth Kiesnoski

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