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    The old city of Cracow, former capital of Poland and a fine example. of medieval?

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    The old city of Cracow, former capital of Poland and a fine example. of medieval architecture has survived many wars, but finds peace difficult. Unlike Venice which is slowly sinking into the sea -- Cracow faces destruction by the chemical-laden air and traffic.

    SYNOPSIS: A richly endowed city in southern Poland, Cracow has not suffered serious damage since the marauding Tartars put it to the torch in 1241. During the Second World War a rapid Soviet advance coupled with a tactical German retreat left the city miraculously unscathed. Today the enemy at the gates is not the Golden Horde but too many people, too many cars and the air polluted by local industry. "We are bursting at the seams", Cracow people say.

    There are seven hundred buildings of a historical value in the city and many of them are part of the world's cultural heritage. Four million tourists visit Cracow every year, half of them from abroad. The city has much to offer anyone who likes to dream of centuries past.

    The old market square with its Gothic Drapers Hall, restored two years ago, lies in the centre of the city. The Old Town of Cracow still houses 10,000 people - a number more or less unchanged for centuries.

    Barbican, once the gate to Cracow and what is left of the city's wall have also been renovated. But plaster is peeling off the front of many 14th - century palaces. When the wind blows from the northeast it brings chemical-laden air from an industrial centre just outside the city. Under the weight of the 20th-century the subsoil of old Cracow is setting and shifting. Some buildings have begun to tilt.

    The university, the second oldest in central Europe, was founded by Casimir the Great in 1364. The Collegium Maius dating from the 15th Century is one of the few Gothic university buildings surviving in Europe. Nicholas Copernicus, the astronomer, was a Collegium student.

    Efforts have been made to restore and preserve the most valuable of Cracow's buildings. But it is a difficult task, requiring meticulous work, time and money. Thus although a decision has been taken to restore dangerously decayed parts of the Old Town, it may take a generation to be effective.

    Overlooking the city from a hill circled by the broad Vistula River stands the Royal Wawel Castle, a treasure for tourist and historians with its Renaissance interiors and riches, including the celebrated Wawel tapestries, once sent to Canada for safekeeping. The city sparkles with such individual jewels as Leonardo da Vinci's "Lady with an Ermine" and the Wit Stwoszaltar triptych, a supreme example of late Gothic wood sculpture.

    Cracow's total population has risen to 700,000. How to protect something precious without closing it to day-today life -- this is the problem of Cracow's planners. There is a scheme to evacuate people and offices from Cracow Old Town. But families whose great-great-grandfathers gaze down from the walls are aghast at the thought of leaving for a tiny prefabricated flat on the city outskirts.

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