Krakow’s famous ‘szopka’ – pronounced ‘shopka’ –
Christmas creches are portable theaters for traditional
puppet Nativity plays. The ornate structures can be two
meters high and three meters wide. Those colorful,
ingenious, richly decorated and brightly illuminated
extravaganzas take fantastic shapes inspired by Krakow’s
architectural marvels, the bizarre spires of the church of Virgin Mary’s in the first
UNESCO has inscribed the Krakow tradition of
building szopka Nativity
scenes on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural
Heritage of Humanity.
History of making the szopka creches in Krakow
In the past the Christmas cribs were mostly works of Krakow
masons in their idle weeks of the Polish rainy late autumn.
Nowadays it is a pastime of many Krakow dwellers of all
walks of life. And the city boasts several dynasties of
Christmas crib makers where two or three generations
construct brand-new creches every year.
City of Krakow Historical Museum at
35 Grand Square has collected the best examples of
traditional Christmas cribs for decades. And every year the
museum’s contest gathers szopka builders with their
latest works round the monument to Adam Mickiewicz at the
Grand Square where a plethora of newly built szopka
cribs of various size can be seen before noon on the first
Thursday of December. Then the successful entries are
displayed in the Historical Museum throughout
the holiday season in Krakow.
Original Krakow szopka nativity scenes are on sale in the
museum shop of the History Museum (Muzeum Historyczne)
at 35 Rynek Glowny central square and Szczepanska
street, all year round.
Another szopkas – traditional nativity scenes in the churches of
Krakow church takes pride in its
own Christmas 'szopka' – the Nativity scene that is usually
lavish and elaborate, often in motion, and sometimes
centuries old. Those most popular can be found in
the historical city center – in the late-17th-century
church of Annunciation at the Loretanska street, in the
17th-century church of Annunciation at the Karmelicka
street, in the early-17th-century church of St. Peter and
St. Paul’s and in the adjacent 13th-century church of St.
Andrew’s (both at Grodzka street). It's one of the city's
Christmas traditions to visit as many churches as possible
and admire their different szopkas.