Some French-speaking volunteers attended to a tour around the historic center of Krakow to learn about the French influence in the city. Here we are going to talk about some of the things we learned

Krakow, known for its rich history and architectural marvels, has long been a melting pot of various cultures and influences. While it may come as a surprise to some, the city has also experienced a significant French influence throughout its past. From the arts and architecture to cuisine and education, the impact of French culture is still very vibrant in the streets of Krakow. Let’s delve into the fascinating story of the French influence in this Polish gem.

Historical Ties

The bond between France and Poland can be traced back to the 16th century when Polish kings established diplomatic relations with the French monarchy. This relationship was further strengthened during the reign of King Stanisław Leszczyński, who, after abdicating the Polish throne, was exiled to France and became the Duke of Lorraine. His time in France and subsequent return to Poland brought French influences that left a lasting mark on Krakow’s culture.

In the late 18th century, Krakow became the capital of the Duchy of Warsaw, a state created by Napoleon Bonaparte. The era of Napoleon Bonaparte, the renowned French military leader and emperor, had a profound impact on Krakow. In the early 19th century, Napoleon’s forces occupied the city, introducing French administrative systems and institutions. This period witnessed the introduction of French law, education, and governance, which left a lasting imprint on Krakow’s development.

Architectural Gems

The architecture is one of the most prominent examples of French influence in Krakow. The city’s Main Market Square, a UNESCO World Heritage site, boasts elegant townhouses and palaces that reflect the architectural styles of the French Renaissance. Notably, the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice), a magnificent structure at the heart of the square, draws inspiration from French architectural aesthetics.

Another architectural gem influenced by French design is the historic Bonerowski Palace. This opulent building, featuring an elegant facade and intricate detailing, reflects the neoclassical style popularized in France during the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, the Bonerowski Palace stands as a luxurious hotel, preserving its French-inspired grandeur.

Additionally, the 19th-century Juliusz Słowacki Theatre, a stunning neoclassical gem, exemplifies the French architectural influence in Krakow. Designed by the renowned Polish architect Jan Zawiejski, the theater echoes the grandeur of Paris Opéra Garnier. There we can find elements of the Second Empire architectural style.

Cultural Exchange

French culture has played a significant role in Krakow’s cultural scene as well. The French Institute in Krakow, established in 1992, has been instrumental in promoting cultural exchange between France and Poland. It hosts various events, including art exhibitions, film screenings, and literary discussions. It is a platform for both French and Polish artists to showcase their talents. The city has embraced French art movements, such as Impressionism and Art Nouveau.

Additionally, it is very interesting how the Lady with an Ermine arrived to Krakow. The Lady with an Ermine, a famous painting by Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci, is one of the most treasured artworks in the collection of the Czartoryski Museum in Krakow, Poland. The painting did not originally belong to Krakow but was acquired and brought to the city under interesting circumstances.

Princess Izabela Czartoryska founded the Czartoryski Museum in Krakow in the late 18th century. Over time, the museum’s collection grew to include a remarkable assortment of artworks, manuscripts, and historical artifacts. The Lady with an Ermine became one of the prized possessions of the museum. During the early 19th century, during the partitions of Poland and Krakow came under Austrian rule, the Czartoryski family faced financial difficulties. In 1876, Princess Izabela Czartoryska sold the Lady with an Ermine to the Polish state, with the condition that it remains in Krakow and be displayed in the Czartoryski Museum.

Education and Language

Krakow’s strong academic tradition has embraced the French influence as well. The Jagiellonian University, one of the oldest universities in Europe, offers French language courses and encourages academic exchanges to France. This fosters cultural understanding and allows students to experience the French language and education firsthand.


The French influence in Krakow, Poland, is a testament to the enduring connections forged between nations. From architectural wonders to cultural exchange, the presence of French elements adds a unique charm to the city’s cultural fabric. As Krakow continues to evolve, its French-inspired heritage remains an integral part of its identity, reminding visitors and locals alike of the rich intermingling of cultures that has shaped this captivating city.

Written by Rafael Fernández Castillejos, volunteer IB Polska