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A Glimpse of Krakow


By Anna - Maria Bak

Posted on 20/12/2014

With the election of Mr Donald Tusk as President of the European Council on the 1st of December 2014, Poland came more into focus for many European and perhaps international observers.

However in this article I am going to leave any political observations on his appointment aside, and instead offer a little glimpse of an ancient Polish city and a taste of its culture.

Warsaw is the political capital of Poland, but this was not always the case!

For those who may not know, this position was once held by Krakow, or sometimes spelled Cracow, and was capital of Poland from 1038 to 1569.

Legend claims that the city was founded after a cobbler's apprentice called Dratewka defeated a dragon; indeed there is a metal statue of the dragon at the entrance of the Dragon Den to commemorate the story.

Wawel Royal Castle and Wazel CathedralWawel Royal Castle and Wazel Cathedral

There are many different versions of this pleasant fiction, but in reality the city grew from a Stone Age settlement to become Poland’s second most important city.

Today the city has a population of approximately 760,000, but roughly another eight million people live within a 100 kilometres (62 miles) radius. Losing its position as capital, post 1569, it moved civically from the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth until 1596, to the Free City of Krakow from 1815 to 1846; then Grand Duchy of Krakow from 1846 to 1918. It is now the capital of the Lesser Poland Voivodeship.

Being in Krakow, you must see the Old Town, Stary Rynek, the largest medieval square in Europe with a dense network of narrow streets, Sukiennice and Mariacka Basilicas with the greatest gothic sculpture of Witt Stwosz.

Also very interesting is the little Jewish town close to the Old Town, Kazimierz.

After the invasion of Poland at the start of World War II, Krakow became the capital of Germany's General Government. The Jewish population of the city was forced into a walled zone known as the Krakow Ghetto, from which they were sent to German extermination camps such as the nearby Auschwitz, and Płaszów never to return.

Today the quarter is actually a part of the city, with many synagogues and monuments.

The Old Town is surrounded by the Planty Garden Ring, created on the site of an old moat and the city walls. Nowadays, you can see there the Great Barbican, the rest of the city walls and a masterpiece of medieval military engineering.

In Collegium Maius, the oldest building, forms part of the oldest University in Poland, Jagiellonian University where you can stroll along lovely courtyard’s and arcades and see the University museum with its unique collection of science instruments used by Nicolaus Copernicus who is one of the most famous names associated with the University.



The central point of your visit Krakow is of course the Wawel Royal Castle and Wawel Cathedral.

Wawel Castle was the home of the dynasties of the Polish monarchs.

In the castle there is a Museum filled with examples of priceless art, rare ancient objects and a collection of the wonderful 16th century Flemish tapestries. In the Cathedral there is a giant bell called the Royal Sigismund Bell. Weighing in at around 13 tonnes, it is one of the largest in the world and one of Poland’s national symbols, and rang only on occasions of special national or religious importance. Many of the ancient Polish kings, their family members and other famous Poles are buried in the cathedral.

Not far away from the city there are other places well worth a visit also, including the salt mine in Wieliczka, or the Aushwitz-Birkanau Memorial.

Wieliczka salt mineWieliczka salt mineWieliczka is a World Heritage site, and certainly one of the many wonders of Poland. It has been mined since the 13th century. Inside the mine there is a special micro-climate, very much recommended for people with diseases of the upper respiratory tract. Warning; it can take you between two to three hours to complete your walk through the underground world, you will see the chambers and tunnels carved in solid salt decorated with salt sculptures and ornaments, and you will at that stage be a scary 135 metres underground!

In contrast with the old Krakow, Nowa Huta was a building project to reflect a new socialist society, one might say an engineering statement in the opposition to an old and traditional Krakow. The huge steelworks surrounded by an ideal city became one of the symbols of the PRL (pro-communist People's Republic of Poland). Actually, you can feel there the residue of the communistic spirit and see an example of idyllic socialist urban sprawl.


In 2000, Krakow was named European Capital of Culture, and will also have the honour of hosting the next World Youth Day in 2016.

Cited as one of Europe's most beautiful cities with its extensive cultural heritage across the epochs of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture this city on the banks of the Vistula river, is well worth a visit.

Of course as a Polish national myself, I could be accused of being a little partisan in presenting our second city in such glowing terms; but I am assured by more than a few non-Poles that a visit or tour of Poland without seeing Krakow is definitely a lost experience. With so many ways to enjoy yourself there from restaurants, pubs, clubs to markets museums and galleries the choices are wide and there is something of interest for all.


By Anna - Maria Bak for EU Spectator




Ukrainian children's fund - euspectator at the European Parliament


Reporting on a lovely musical cultural event at the European Parliament; the walls beautifully decorated by original paintings by children from the Ukraine.


Ihor Yankovskyi national charity foundation "Initiative for the future" is a charitable organization in Ukraine. Its members, united by a common vision, devise and implement charitable projects and programs in the fields of culture and education.

The goal of NCF “Initiative for the Future” is to support talented and creative young people, and to shape humane and highly cultured society in Ukraine.

NCF “Initiative for the Future” is open for cooperation with all who share our goals and aspirations, and sincerely wish to contribute to the national cause of charity in Ukraine.

Their belief is that joined charitable initiatives are the positive force of global changes needed by our society.

 Eva Paunova MEP at Bulgarian wine expo - euspectator reports 


Bulgaria is famous for its traditional wine grape varieties. The country’s climate, landscape and soils are exceptional for vine – growing and winemaking. According to the different soils and climate conditions, the country is divided into several wine- growing and winemaking regions, each with particular grape varieties and wines. 

Interview with, now MEP; Eva Paunova at the European Parliament on the subject.

Ever since the ancient Thracians, who inhabited those lands, wine has been respected. They used it not only as a drink on the table but also for many of their religious rituals. They believed that with wine they could reach their gods. The ancient Greek god Dionysus and his Thracian analogue Zagreus were worshipped by the Thracians as gods of wine and merriment. Evidence for the ancient Thracian traditions in wine production and consumption are the magnificent Thracian treasures, which are mostly wine sets.

Grape growing and wine production have a long history in Bulgaria, dating back to the times of the Thracians. Wine is, together with beer and grape ‘rakia’, among the most popular alcoholic beverages in the country.

Even Homer often mentioned the superior qualities of the Thracian wines in his works. After the establishment of the Bulgarian state in the 7th century, the traditions in winemaking were inherited and continued. Many medieval travellers, who travelled across Bulgaria, mention the properties of the various wines they have tasted on their way. In the late 19th and early 20th century the viticulture and winemaking were already approached professionally and the foundations of the modern Bulgarian wine production were laid. Nowadays high quality wines from Bulgarian producers can be found all over the world.



Putin Russia and liberty - euspectator reports  

EU spectator based in Brussels covers a musical event entitled "Music of Hope" which sought to draw attention to the oppressive regime of President Vladimir Putin's Russian Federation, expressed by Russian expats, living in Belgium, through the medium of music. R.Calvin reports.

Globally renowned Russian musicians performed three of their country’s most evocative and enigmatic pieces of classical music at a special concert in Brussels to honour political prisoners in Russian jails.

The concert, held at the prestigious Bibliothèque Solvay, was hosted by the European Parliament classical music group, and was organised to coincide with a hearing on political prisoners in Russia, which Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s son Pavel and trial lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant were invited to address.

Young Russian musicians Polina Leschenko (piano) and Nathan Braude (viola) led a quintet of internationally renowned musicians in performing pieces by Rachmaninov, Schnittke and Shostakovich.

The concert was attended by more than one hundred Members of the European Parliament, diplomats, lawyers, officials from the European Union institutions, think-tank personnel, journalists, NGO staff and business figures.

The inspiration for the concert came from Nathan, who recently visited Russia from his home in Belgium and was shocked at the deterioration in the state of freedom of expression, particularly in the artistic world.

“I was dismayed at the sense of tension and fear that exists in Russia today,” Nathan told this site. “The atmosphere for artists and others involved in creative pursuits is deeply unpleasant at the moment. It’s a consequence of the way the country is being governed. We wanted to perform this concert as a way of raising awareness of the fact that Russia continues to jail people for their political beliefs and actions. I’m delighted we’re partnering with the European Parliament classical music group. The European Parliament has consistently stood up in favour of basic human rights in Russia, and it needs to raise its voice today more than ever. We also wanted to do this to tie in with the hearing in the European Parliament on Russian political prisoners, which itself is intended as a fiftieth birthday tribute to Mikhail Khodorkovsky.”




Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi Nobel Peace Prize 2014

Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai and Indian children's right activist Kailash Satyarthi, won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize on 1st October.

Malala, a former Sakharov Prize winner, came under the spotlight after she was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012 for defending better rights for girls, in Pakistan. At 17, she has become the youngest ever Nobel Prize winner.

In recognition of her fight for equal access to education, Malala was also awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought  in 2013, joining former winners such as Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi.'

The Nobel prize winner said in a ceremony in Strasbourg: "Let us change the ideology of being powerful, the powerful countries shall not be judged by counting their soldiers and navy, but rather we must see which country has the higher literacy rate, which country has more educated people, which country has provided their basic rights to citizens". 

Video: European Parliament ©

Dmytro Sukhovienko at the EU Parliament - euspectator private interview  


EU Spectator magazine caught up with Ukrainian piano maestro at the European Parliament for a unique private recital and interview.

This video is a shortened version of both. The piano featured, was a gift from Estonia to the European Parliament in 2009, and Dmytro was the first musician to play it there.

He believes strongly that the common European shared cultural heritage of classical music should serve as a powerful example of what we collectively have in common, unlike other negative issues that so often divide and separate people.

Dmytro Sukhovienko was born in the Ukraine in 1972 and in the tradition of highly talented young musicians devoted himself to protracted intensive studies in his formative years.

He began playing the piano when he was seven years old, attending the Kyiv Special Music School "Lysenko", for eleven years. He studied for five intensive years at the Kyiv National Conservatory with Vsevolod Vorobyov who transmitted to Dmytro his profound passion for pure interpretation in the tradition of Felix Blumenfeld, thus making Dmytro Sukhovienko the last to carry on the great tradition of the Felix Blumenfeld Piano School, whose famous attendees included, among others, Vladimir Horowitz.

The following year Dmytro Sukhovienko studied and performed chamber music at the International Menuhin Music Academy in Gstaad (Switzerland). He continued to study as a soloist with Paul Coker at the Neuchâtel Conservatoire for three years, winning the Prix de Virtuosité in 1999. At the same time he attended master-classes with Paul Badura-Skoda, Barry Douglas, Dmitri Bashkirov, Abdel Rahman El Bacha, Philippe Entremont and also took private lessons with a former pupil of Nikita Magaloff, Alexei Golovine.

Dmytro Sukhovienko obtained a certain notoriety after having taken part in the Festival Menuhin in Gstaad in 1996. The following year, he won First Prize at the International Music competition in San Bartolomeo in Italy and Second Prize at the International Clara Schumann Piano Competition in Düsseldorf in Germany.

After listening to Dmytro Sukhovienko at the Biarritz Music festival in 1998, Pierre-Petit wrote in "Le Figaro": "it is a name to remember". Philippe Entremont said "Dmytro Sukhovienko is the most promising talent he has heard in the last 30 years".

Dmytro Sukhovienko has featured at several prestigious music festivals such as, Fête de la Musique de Genève, Festival International de Musique Universitaire de Belfort, Musique en été de Genève, Les Sommets Musicaux de Gstaad, Les Classiques de Villars, Santo Domingo Music Festival, Chopin Festival in Geneva.

He has produced five CD's. The first was recorded at the Kiev Philharmonic Hall; the second was recorded during a live recital on the radio Suisse Romande in Geneva, the third "Schubert" published by the Amiataemozioni, the fourth "Schumann, Rachmaninov" recorded at the Galaxy studios in Belgium and the fifth "Liszt" recorded Live in Lausanne.

In 2004, under the patronage of UNESCO a film documentary was made of Dmytro's life as a pianist.

Since making his remarkable debut with Philippe Entremont and the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Dmytro is benefiting from an active performance schedule as a soloist. He was invited to play with l'Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg, Kyiv Philharmonic Orchestra, London Soloists Chamber Orchestra, Dusseldorfer Symphoniker, Lviv Philharmonic Orchestra, Kyiv Radio Orchestra, l'Orchestre Regional de Bayonne-Côte Basque, The National Symphony Orchestra of the Dominican Republic, Novosibirsk Philharmonic Orchestra, Zaporizhia Academic Symphony Orchestra. Under the direction of famous conductors such as Tougan Sokhiev, David Josefowitz, Volodymyr Sirenko, Neil Varon, Xavier Delette, Mykola Diadiura, Viacheslav Redia.

Dmytro Sukhovienko also plays chamber music with, amongst others Pierre Amoyal and Michael Kugel.

In 2005 Dmytro became a Bösendorfer artist which led him to a brilliant debut in one of the most prestigious music halls in the world the Musikverein of Vienna.

In 2009 under the "Open Days" European Week of the Committee of the Regions Dmytro has performed in the most prestigious concert hall of Belgium, BOZAR.

In 2012 Dmytro Sukhovienko was invited to give a concert during the “Semaine de la Francophonie” in Saudi Arabia. Also in 2012 he was invited as a member of the jury of the International Competition Lysenko in Kiev, Ukraine.

From 2012 Dmytro Sukhovienko is appointed Artistic Director of a series of classical concerts at the European Parliament in Brussels.

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