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GoPoland!: Where To Go: Malopolska Region (Little Poland)

Possibly in name, but certainly not in size nor significance, this region of Poland formed the southern half of the initial nation formed in the 10th century by Mieszko I. Using semantics to establish political dominance, Mieszko took the name 'Great Poland' and relegated 'Malopolska' to his Vistulanian allies. 70 years later, the region gained power when the capital was moved to Krakow and from that springboard developed into what some consider the heart of Poland.

Strengthening that claim is the multi-besieged but never-taken Jasna Gora monastery in Czestochowa, home to the immortal Queen of Poland, the 'Black Madonna'. The spiritual 'king' of Poland, Pope John Paul II, grew up in Wadowice, and eventually served as archbishop in Krakow before his election in 1978. This region is also dotted with wooden churches built by the Lemk, an ethnic minority common to the Beskidy Mountains. These peaks are joined by the limestone-ranged Pieniny and the alpine-like Tatra Mountains, which are best enjoyed from Zakopane. The Tatra draw the most tourists, but the Pieniny offer wild rafting down the Dunajec gorge in May through October which is well worth the wetting. If spas are your weakness, then visit the many nestled in the Beskidy in Krynica, Rytro, or Muszyna. In general, these still-pristine Carpathian peaks provide an excellent setting for myriad activities, be it horseback riding, hiking, biking, skiing, bird-watching, or whatever else suits your nature-loving fancy.

If architecture is of interest to you, Malopolska includes not only the renowned beauty of Krakow, but also that of Kazimierz Dolny and Sandomierz. The former in particular is still untouched by time and the tourism already commonplace in Krakow. In addition, being small (fewer than 5000 people) it is well worth a visit. If castle ruins excite your imagination, then seek out the Janowiec, Lancut, or the Krzyztopor. The latter, in Ujazd, well exemplifies the tremendous wealth of the semi-independent Polish magnates. Another well-known magnate went further and established his own town in Zamosc; because he spent his college years in Padua, he styled his town square after those he admired in Italy. Another square and castle worth seeing are in nearby Lublin. Not in the best shape, the center of Lublin provides a glimpse of time past, and atrocities committed: its 'castle' was refashioned into a prison in the last century, and functioned as one in this.

The Malopolska 'must see' list continues, but our description must end here.

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