Szeroka Street is the heart of Jewish Kazimierz. Let a testimony to its significance be the fact that four synagogues used to stand on the street, which was unheard of anywhere else in Europe.
According to a medieval historian Jan Długosz, it was here that the first buildings of the university founded by King Casimir the Great (Kazimierz Wielki) in the 14th century were to be raised (of which, unfortunately, there is no proof). The Jews of Kraków began to settle here after the decree of King John Albert (Jan Olbracht, 1495), which in fact made them leave Kraków. This is where the Oppidum Judaeorum, the Jewish City, was formed, separated from the rest of Kazimierz in the customary manner by walls. Szeroka street has been its centre from at least the beginning of the 17th century. In fact, it is an elongated square with characteristic sacred and lay architecture. There used to be as many as four synagogues here, and the Old and the Remuh operate here to this day. Popper Synagogue, founded in 1620 by Wolf Popper, a financier of European magnitude, was rumoured to be the richest one in Kraków. (For the last 50 years, the building has been a branch of the Staromiejskie Youth Culture Centre). In turn, the synagogue known as „Na Górce”, the house of prayer of the eminent cabalist, Natan Spira, popularly considered a miracle worker, yielded to the destruction of the Second World War, and was finally demolished later. People, however, say that on some nights a light flickers gently in the window of a building that replaced it (today’s No. 22): this is the learned Natan Spira reflecting on the holy books and mastering the arcana of the cabal. He spent whole nights studying them by candlelight. One night the candle burned out, and Rabbi Spira, hailed as Megale Amukot – “revealer of the depths” – departed for eternity. His grave can be found in the Remuh cemetery.
Standing on the northern side of Szeroka Street (No. 6) is the building of the ritual bath, the so-called mikvah, whose pool was fed by a spring. A recording from 1567 on the drowning of ten women due to the caving in of the floor has been preserved. With the exception of curative baths, Jewish women were not allowed to bathe anywhere else, and the bath attendant was obliged to heat the water up every Friday.
The small enclosure with a clump of trees used to be a small cemetery until the Second World War. Legend has it that it replaced a house where a rowdy wedding reception occurred. It started in the afternoon on Friday and, despite the rabbi admonishing about the approaching Sabbath, it lasted long into the night. When the sun went down, the rabbi put a curse on the place, the house disappeared into the ground, and all the wedding guests perished. As a warning for all and sundry, the plot was surrounded by a wall without an entrance. Other, more rational theories hold that the cemetery contained victims of an epidemic, who were always buried separately until the end of the 19th century.
Today, the street is one of only a few spots in Kraków to be covered with the actual cobbles installed in the days of Austrian rule. In Steven Spielberg’s famous Schindler’s List, it “played” plac Zgody in Kraków’s ghetto. On every first Saturday of July, the final concert of the Jewish Culture Festival – Shalom in Szeroka – is held here.
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