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Cracow: The heartland of Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth

Between 1569-1795 Lithuania and Poland were a single country - Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. The collabortive efforts started much earlier by 1385 Union of Krėva (Krewo) when Jogaila (a Lithuanian) was crowned as king of Poland. Jogaila was a scion of Gediminid dynasty (ruling Lithuania at the time), but as he was the first Gediminid to rule Poland the Poles call the dynasty Jagiellonian after him. Gediminids/Jagiellonians then vied with Habsburgs for prevailing in Eastern Europe. Many dynasty kings are buried in Cracow which was the Polish-Lithuanian capital.

Main pantheon of Cracow is the Wawel Cathedral, part of the royal palace. Jogaila himself rests in a covered red marble grave. Most other leaders are buried in the cellars. Holy Cross chapel has a grave of king Casimir (1440-1491), Sigismunds (Žygimantai) chapel includes graves of Sigismund the Old (1506-1548; Lithuanian: Žygimantas Senasis) and Sigismund Augustus (1548-1572; Lithuanian: Žygimantas Augustas). Maryacka chapel is the final resting place of Stephen Bathory. Vasa chapel has been constructed for the Vasa dynasty of Swedish origin which was elected to rule Poland-Lithuania by its nobles after the Gediminids died out. There are also graves of Jan Sobieski (Lithuanian: Jonas Sobieskis), Michael Karibut Wiszniowecki (Lithuanian: Mykolas Kaributas Vyšnioveckis), Stanislaw Leszczynski (Lithuanian: Stanislovas Leščinskis) and August the Saxonian (Augustas Saksas). Adam Mickiewicz (Adomas Mickevičius) - A poet who wrote in Polish but considered himself Lithuanian because of his Lithuanian origins (something not unusual in the era) - is also buried there, as is the leader of 1794 uprising Tadeusz Kosciuszko (Tadas Kosciuška).

Medieval sites of Cracow. Wawel hill, its palace and cathedral are depicted on the bottom images and top left. Top right/center images show the remaining medieval district, once the capital of both Poland and Lithuania. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The Wawel grave of Poland-Lithuania's final king Stanislaw August Poniatowski is however empty. After Russia annexed Lithuania and much of Poland by 1795 he lived in exile in Saint Petersburg and was initially buried there. In 1930 the Soviets offered Poles to return the remains but the Polish opinion on "the king under whose rule the country collapsed" was understandably divided. He was thus reinterred in a village near Brest (today's Belarus) rather than Wawel in 1938 and moved to Warsaw's St. John Cathedral after the Poland's communist regime went bust.

Cracow University is named after Jogaila (Jagiello).

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