For the historically-minded traveller, Krakow is an absolute treasure-box of a city. Cobbled streets and synagogues, castles, cathedrals–Krakow has it all. In the midst of all this, the humble Archaeological Museum, hidden behind a high wall in the historic centre, can be easy to miss. Despite its unassuming appearance, however, the Archaeological Museum is one of the most enjoyable (and affordable) of the sites in Krakow.
We began a 2 1/2 hour adventure into early history and prehistoric culture of Poland in the temporary gallery, which housed a collection of mediaeval coinage recovered from a buried hoard in the area. Displayed to illustrate the social and economic aspects of life under the Polish kings, the coins also illustrated the changing propaganda of power.
From here, we descended further and further into the Polish past. Sword-fittings and helmet fragments illustrated the warrior culture still dominant in the region in the first centuries CE, while glass beads and other trade goods demonstrated the continent-wide influence of Roman civilisation.
These traditional museum displays gave way rather quickly to a more interactive presentation of the relationship between the Polish landscape, its people, and their technology. With the push of a button, we were able to light up the archaeological sites from various eras in local history, or to differentiate between castles, churches, and towns. Deeper into history still, panoramas illustrated the ways in which hunter-gatherer groups utilised the landscape, while a broad range of weapons charted the evolution of Stone Age technology. In every room, there was something new to peer at and explore, as the museum brought us into closer contact with the lives of ancient peoples.
The exhibits culminated in the display of the museum’s most famous artefact, a stone sculpture known as the Zbruch Idol. Thought to represent the Slavic deity Swiatowid, its four sides depict a range of figures capped by haunting, enigmatic faces.
Mute, little understood, the statue is nonetheless a fascinating survival of earlier cultures, earlier beliefs. Because of it, and so many other pieces in the collections, the Archaeological Museum of Krakow is able to facilitate an intimate encounter with the prehistoric peoples of Poland that visitors will find both enjoyable and enduring.
Both the museum’s website and the majority of placards within the museum are in Polish, however, information about visiting can be found in most guidebooks.