South of the Wawel lies the district of Kazimierz, originally an independent town with its own municipal charter and laws, named after Kazimierz Wielki who founded it in 1335. Thanks to the granting of special privileges the town grew rapidly and soon had a town hall and market square almost as huge as that of Krakow. The decisive influence on the character of Kazimierz was the decision, in 1495, to move Krakow’s Jewish population into the area (the population had grown rapidly in the 1330s when Poland offered the Jews shelter from persecution in the rest of Europe); it became one of the great centres of European Jewery. In time the town divided into a Jewish quarter to the east and a Christian one to the west separated by a wall. Descriptions of Kazimierz in Polish art and literature make it clear that there was something special about the Oriental atmosphere of the place. In 1939 there were about 70,000 Jews in Krakow; most were exterminated at nearby Auschwitz (the present population is around 600). The area has undergone a Jewish revival since the fall of Communism and it is a great place to visit and see the old sights including the Remu’h Synagogue and Cemetery, the Old Synagogue and the Ethnographic Museum.
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