Lesser Poland Voivodeship
Earth : Europe : Central Europe : Poland : Lesser Poland : Lesser Poland Voivodeship
Lesser Poland Voivodeship (Polish: Małopolskie)  is one of the sixteen constituent provinces of Poland. Located in the southeast of the country, Lesser Poland is often considered as the cradle of Polish culture. Kraków, its provincial capital and largest city, is one of the oldest continuous settlements in the country, stretching back thousands of years. Once the political heart of the medieval Polish kingdom before the capital was transferred to Warsaw at the end of the 16th century, Lesser Poland today is one of the most economically robust and most visited voivodeship among foreign tourists. The province has an array of attractions, ranging from geological curiosities and a superb selection of picturesque national parks and unspoiled wilderness. Its history includes medieval royalty, Renaissance wonders, classicist serenity, and the darkest horrors of the 20th century. Incoming foreign tourists often flock to the province's major sites, such as Kraków and Auschwitz, yet leave much of the rest of Lesser Poland's other unique cities, historic castles and natural wonders relatively unexplored. The province is home to no less than six UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Lesser Poland Voivodeship is not to be confused with the historical region of Lesser Poland, which includes much of the southeast of the modern republic. The contemporary province is only the southwestern portion of the original region.
As of 2012, the province contained a population of 3,354,077. Much of Lesser Poland's population is centered around Kraków and its surrounding metropolitan area, located in the northwest of the province. Another substantial portion of the population lives in close proximity to the border with Silesian Voivodeship in the west. Several other smaller cities are located in the east and south. The southeast of the province is sparsely populated due to the Tatra Mountains.
In ancient times, Lesser Poland was divided between different cultures, including the Przeworsk culture or the Celts. In the 9th century, the region was primarily inhabited by the Vistulans, a Slavic tribe with centers in modern-day Kraków and Wiślica. During the same period, the region is theorized to have became part of Great Moravia. By the end of 10th century, Mieszko I of the Piast dynasty annexed the lands of Lesser Poland, seizing Kraków and according to the historian Cosmas of Prague, put its Czech population to the sword. Around the year 1000, the Catholic Church consecrated an archdiocese in the town, enhancing the importance of Kraków. In 1040, Duke (and de facto king) Casimir I moved his royal capital from Gniezno to Kraków in the wake of Gniezno's ransacking during an invasion by Bohemian duke Bretislaus I, making the surrounding Lesser Poland region one of biggest and most important political regions in the early Polish state. During the fragmentation period following the death of Bolesław III Krzywousty, Lesser Poland was included within the Seniorate Province ruled by Piast duke Władysław II, with Kraków as his capital. While Poland internally fragmented into competing factions, the Mongol Empire invaded Lesser Poland, defeating Polish armies at the battles of Tursk and Chmielnik in February and March 1241, forcing much of the region's population to flee into neighboring Silesia and Bohemia. Kraków was sacked at the end of March, with the Mongols annihilating the city. However, the Mongol horde proved unable to capture Wawel Castle. Lesser Poland would again be invaded by the Mongols between 1259 and 1260, resulting in Kraków's second sack. A final Mongol invasion of Lesser Poland occurred between 1287 and 1288, though this time, the region was heavily defended and prepared, backed up by supporting Hungarian troops. The Mongols were defeated outside of Stary Sącz in 1288, forcing their retreat to the east and never returned.
When Poland was reunified in 1295, Kraków became the capital of a united Kingdom of Poland. Under King Casimir III the Great, the last king from the Piast dynasty, whose reign lasted from 1333 to 1370, heavy royal investment poured into Lesser Poland. These investments made the capital region the center of government and commerce for the medieval Polish state. Agriculture and mineral extraction expanded greatly under Casimir's reign, as Lesser Poland became a halfway point for commerce between the Black and Baltic seas. A number of cities and townships were established under Casimir reign that remain to this day. Jews from across Europe were also invited into the Polish kingdom under the enlightened Casimir, who voided older anti-Semitic decrees from previous monarchs and legally protected Jews from harm by Christian zealots. Many Jews would settle in the Lesser Poland region. Additionally, Casimir invited German settlers into Lesser Poland to farm and mine, becoming the Walddeuetsche. These intrepid German settlers would later assimilate into Polish culture. Concerned about the state of education in Lesser Poland, Casimir issued a royal charter in 1364 to establish a center of higher learning for law, medicine and liberal arts, forming the basis of Jagiellonian University.
Upon Casimir the Great's death in 1370, Lesser Poland was the most advanced region of the Polish kingdom. With the great king's death, the crown's succession passed to Louis I of Hungary, who ruled from 1370 to 1382, and then to King Jadwiga from 1384 to 1399, who, despite the masculine kingly moniker, was in fact female. Under this uncertain time of royal succession, Lesser Poland's noble families kept the region and kingdom together, strengthening it with a personal union with Lithuania. Upon the ascension of Władysław II Jagiełło to the throne in 1399, the Jagiellonian dynasty assumed control of the joint kingdom, ushering in a golden age for Lesser Poland. Under the Jagiellonians, Renaissance ideals and philosophy were readily accepted and promoted. Throughout the 16th century, Italian artists and architects traveled to Poland under the patronage of the monarchy and nobility. Within Lesser Poland itself, many Italian artisans brought their know-how to various art and architecture projects across the province. Kraków's Wawel Castle and Cloth Hall, as well as the ornate headstones inside Tarnów Cathedral are among the best examples of the Italian Renaissance genius at work in Lesser Poland.
Three years before the last of the Jagiellonians, Sigismund II Augustus, died childless, an elective monarchy replaced rule by birthright and the unification of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was established under the Union of Lublin. As the crown drifted from French King Henry III, to Hungarian co-monarchs Anna and Stephen Báthory, and finally to Swedish-born King Sigismund III Vasa, the fortunes of Lesser Poland began to wane. Under Sigismund III, political attention shifted northward, confirmed in 1596 when the royal capital was ordered to move to Warsaw. The political chaos across Europe caused by the Thirty Years' War in the first half of the 17th century did not reach Lesser Poland, though the province suffered immense damage due to the Swedish invasion in the century's second half. The invasion, known as the Deluge, destroyed most of the province's major cities. Sweden's destructive occupation was followed by decades of famine, refugees and depopulation, with the Great Northern War of the early 18th century further devastating the province.
As the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth collapsed in the late 18th century due to imperialist partitions agreed to by Russia, Prussia and Austria, Lesser Poland found itself annexed by the Austrian Empire, thereafter becoming the epicenter to Polish nationalist resistance to the annexations. Two failed general insurrections, first organized by Polish patriot Tadeusz Kościuszko in 1794, and a second organized in February 1846, failed to end the foreign occupation, though the events deeply resonated among the populace. Despite losing political independence, Lesser Poland continued to be an incubator for Polish culture, as education continued to flourish throughout the province while it industrialized under Austrian tutelage. Cities expanded in both infrastructure and population during the period. Under Austrian (and later Austro-Hungarian) authorities, Lesser Poland enjoyed a limited degree of autonomy from Vienna as the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, a crownland of the Dual Monarchy, helping Polish cultural institutions continue to function with limited interference.
During the First World War, Lesser Poland again became a hotbed for independence-minded thinkers and military planners. By 1918, Austro-Hungarian authority throughout the province teetered on collapse due to a combination of supply shortages, exhaustion, demoralization, and renewed ethnic nationalism, becoming readily apparent by October. A committee for retaining law and order during the anticipated breakaway period was established by future prime ministers Wincenty Witos and Ignacy Daszyński in late October in Kraków, quickly followed by the city of Tarnów disarming loyal Austro-Hungarian units on 31 October. Lesser Poland quickly joined the newly independent Second Polish Republic under its establishment in November 1918.
In the interwar years, Lesser Poland faced infrastructural and economic problems. Having been under Austrian administration for nearly 120 years, the region's railways and services were still largely connected to the south instead of the republic's centers in the north and west, which had formerly been under German and Russian administrations. This quickly created problems in connecting the region to the rest of Poland. Additionally, unemployment persisted throughout the province with the loss of businesses and industry during this period, fueling social discontent. Violent riots over working and social conditions broke out in Kraków in November 1923, killing nearly 40 workers and soldiers. Eleven years later, the province was again put in disarray following catastrophic flooding in 1934. The Great Peasant Strike of 1937 further destabilized the region.
The German invasion of Poland in September 1939 quickly overwhelmed the province, with the Nazi regime setting up the General Government (German: Generalgouvernement) both inside the province and its surrounding occupied voivodeships. Intended as a colony for German settlers to displace the region's native Polish population, the General Government under its Nazi authorities ruled Lesser Poland with naked brutality, responsible for the deaths of millions of Poles, Jews, Romani, and other peoples in the province and its surrounding territories. No less than two concentration camps operated in Lesser Poland under the German occupation: the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in the eastern town of Oświęcim and Płaszów just south of Kraków. Much of the province was later liberated by the Red Army by January and February 1945. Despite the severe devastation wrought on Lesser Poland by the German occupation and the war, historic centers like Kraków, Zakopane and many of the region's landmarks survived intact.
Lesser Poland underwent renewed industrialization under the communist Polish People's Republic after 1945, with power plants, steelworks, mines, and manufacturing centers being built or expanded throughout the region. Kraków significantly expanded during the era with the construction of the Nowa Huta district, while transport links to the rest of the country and with neighboring Silesia significantly improved. However, discontent over the communist government was present just below the surface. Student strikes in the province in 1968, followed nearly fifteen years later with mass protests in August 1982, and then later protests throughout 1988, shook the country's establishment to the core. The government's brutal response to these demonstrations only made the opposition's reasoning for political, economic and religious freedom grow more emboldened. Demonstrators in Lesser Poland (and in the rest of the country) were further reinforced with the election of Karol Wojtyla, Archbishop of Kraków, as pope in 1978. Now as Pope John Paul II, the pontiff's call for Polish to "be not afraid" in the face of repression struck deeply for those opposed to the regime.
Following the transition to democracy in 1989, Lesser Poland opened its doors to the world. Kraków has quickly become a favorite destination for European travel, taking advantage of its location, low costs, and frequent comparisons to Prague. In 1999, the Polish government created the contemporary Lesser Poland Voivodeship as part of a provincial government reform.
Lesser Poland is 15,108 km 2 (5,108 sq mi) large. Much of the province's north and center are hilly and uneven, while the south is a heavily mountainous area. Only the province's northeast is considered largely as a flat area. There are a variety of different landscapes found throughout Lesser Poland, including alpine peaks, river lands, hills, and even a desert.
As with all other provinces of Poland, native residents of Lesser Poland speak Polish, which is heard and seen everywhere throughout the province. Tourists with a keen linguistic ear may come across the Lesser Polish dialect spoken among locals, which is found throughout the voivodeship. Some features of the dialect include pronouncing the vowels ą and ę more nasally, as well as adding the suffix "że" to words in imperative or impatient moods. In the mountainous southwest of the province are small ethnic Lemko communities that speak Rusyn, a language related to Ukrainian and is written in the Cyrillic alphabet. Due to Kraków being one of Europe's major tourist destinations, a wide variety of language services (in varying degrees) are available for tourists in all major European tongues, including English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Portuguese, Hungarian, Czech, Russian, and Ukrainian, with other limited services in non-European languages, including Hebrew, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese and Korean. However, the number of language facilities declines once one travels outside of the major tourist centers. Most younger Poles of the post-communist generation in Lesser Poland have generally learned some English (and sometimes German) in school. Older individuals who grew up during the communist era will also often have some basic knowledge of German or Russian. In the border areas of the province's west, particularly in towns and families with close connections to neighboring Silesia, Silesian can sometimes be overheard. Neighboring Slavic languages, such as Czech and Slovak, are also partially understood by many Poles, though significant word differences lie ahead that could potentially cause amusement. A basic knowledge of a few words or key Polish phrases is encouraged, and is considered charming for many native residents.
Most travelers arriving to Lesser Poland by air will arrive at Kraków's John Paul II International Airport (KRK), among Poland's largest and busiest international gateways after Warsaw. Known to the locals as Balice, the location is centered 15 km (or about a 20 minute drive) from Kraków's city center. Balice is home to a high number of European and international airlines, including Aeroflot, Alitalia, Austrian Airlines, Eurolot, Finnair, LOT, Lufthansa, and Norwegian. A number of low cost airlines also operate out of Balice, such as EasyJet, Germanwings, Jet2, and Ryanair.
Another potential option for air travelers is Katowice International Airport (KTW), located just outside of Katowice near the village of Pyrzowice in Silesian Voivodeship. The airport is nearly 105 km, or roughly an hour and ten minute drive from Kraków down the S1 expressway and A4 motorway. A main hub for Hungarian low cost airline Wizzair, Pyrzowice is also a major destination for Ryanair, along with limited service provided by Germanwings. Major airlines, including Polish national carrier LOT and German carrier Lufthansa, also operate routes to Katowice.
A further and more distant option for travelers arriving into Lesser Poland by air is Rzeszów–Jasionka Airport (RZE) situated outside the city of Rzeszów, 175 km east of Kraków, or nearly a 2 hour drive on the A4 motorway. The airport is serviced by Ryanair, along with major carriers LOT and Lufthansa.
The A4 motorway, Poland's principal southern auto route, connects the east and west of the province together, forming a southern bypass around Kraków and linking the capital to Lesser Poland's second city, Tarnów. The partially completed S7 expressway will link the south and north of the province, with future connections to Kielce, Warsaw and Gdańsk planned in the coming decade. National roads (marked with red and white-numbered signs) and lower-grade voivodeship roads (marked with yellow and black signs) also crisscross the province and link its cities together. Drivers traveling in the southern mountainous regions of the province should exercise caution due to the many winding curves, impatient drivers, and quickly changing weather conditions.
Lesser Poland Voivodeship, as in many other regions across Poland, is connected together by a complex network of bus routes, with a variety of companies offering transportation links to and from many of the province's communities, as well as to other cities across the country and throughout Europe. PolskiBus, one of Poland's largest national bus carriers, offers connections between Kraków and Zakopane, as well as to a number of other Polish cities. Bus carrier Eurolines also operates throughout the province with connections to cities throughout much of western Europe. Hungarian-based service Orangeways provides service to the capital city. Both Link-Bus and Lajkonik offer bus service operating between Wrocław and Kraków, with Lajkonik offering additional inter-provincial connections to Oświęcim. Latvian bus carrier Ecolines services Kraków from a number of cities, mainly in eastern and southern Europe. Czech company Student Agency operates routes between Kraków and the Czech Republic. A number of smaller domestic companies offer additional connections to other communities, which can be researched by e-podroznik.pl. The comfort, speed and price of bus transportation varies from company to company.
Tourists arriving by train in the province will likely stop at Kraków Główny, the hub for the region's rail network. Other major stations in the province include those in Tarnów and Nowy Sącz. National rail operator PKP Intercity provides service from Kraków to virtually all of Poland's other major cities. Przewozy Regionalne, the national regional line, provides services between many of Lesser Poland's regions and smaller communities. The province's own rail operator, Koleje Małopolskie, operates between Kraków airport and the city center, as well as between Kraków and Wieliczka, providing access to the town's famous salt mines.
UNESCO World Heritage sites
Foreign tourists visiting religious sites, including Wawel Cathedral, the Kalwaria Zebrzydowskaare, or other churches, are advised to show maximum respect when inside these buildings. Men are advised to remove their hats when entering inside, and voices are encouraged to remain low. Visitors also going to Auschwitz should also show solemn respect to the million or so dead at the site. Opinions doubting the validity of the Holocaust or other crimes committed during the German occupation are considered deeply insulting, and can be legally prosecuted. Tourists are encouraged to refrain from using the term "Polish death camp," as the term is highly inaccurate and offensive to Poles, who will point out that Nazi Germany was ultimately responsible for the genocide.
Throughout Lesser Poland, visitors can try traditional Polish cuisine, which includes bigos, gołąbki, pierogi, kiełbasa, golonka, gulasz, and various fish meals. Like many other cuisines throughout Central Europe and the Slavic world, Polish food can be quite heavy, utilizing various meats, breads and farm products. Within the province itself, some culinary specialties include oscypek, a salted goat milk cheese originating from the Tatra Mountains. Another similar cheese, redykołka (sometimes made in the shape of hearts or animals), comes from the Podhale region, and can be found throughout the province. Kraków is famous in much of Poland as the birthplace of the obwarzanek, a bagel often sold by street vendors that includes salt, poppy and sesame seeds. Adding to its claim to fame, the obwarzanek is legally protected by the European Union. Zapiekanka, a halved baguette covered with cheeses, meats, mushrooms and ketchup, is another popular fast food, especially among economically conscious students.
For tourists who desire a more international selection of cuisines, Kraków offers an array of international cuisines, including French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Arabic.
As Poland marks the border between the European vodka and beer belts, a variety of alcoholic drinks can be found in the voivodeship. The province is home to Okocim beer, originating from the town of Brzesko in Lesser Poland's east. Within Kraków, the microbrew C.K. Browar is popular among both locals and visitors alike. Vodka (Polish: wódka) is another favorite drinking staple in Lesser Poland, and can be found in bars and stores. Śliwowica, or plum brandy, is also widely found, with many families living in rural villages continuing to make homemade versions of the drink.
As elsewhere across Poland, violent crime in the province is extremely rare, and should not be a major concern for visitors. However, smaller crimes, including pickpocketing, currency exchange scams, taxi and bar scams (where women or overly-friendly people approach visitors to have drinks with them in a bar, and later receive an outrageous bill) are known to happen in Kraków. In particular, the Russian Mafia-owned bar Hard Candy has been the subject of multiple criminal investigations and should be avoided at all costs. Like in other major cities in Europe, visitors should keep their wits about them and remain conscious of their surroundings. Avoid people hovering in squares or streets, looking at your pockets or purses. Also, never exchange foreign currency with people advertising their services on the street.
Visitors traveling through Lesser Poland's mountainous south are advised to be cautious when climbing on rocks after recent rainstorms. Due to heavy snowfall in the winter months, tourists should stay on defined skiing and hiking routes in mountainous areas in order not to get lost.
If an emergency does happen, visitors are advised to dial the all-purpose emergency number 112 on their phone. For a better specification of the kind of emergency service you are requesting, people can also dial 999 for an ambulance, 998 for a fire emergency, or 997 for the police.
The province also shares an international border with Slovakia.
Kraków and Lublin airports offer a wide choice of direct connections to Ukraine.