The geological composition of this area largely consists of Upper Jurassic limestone. These rocks (the remains of the deposited shells and skeletons of different organisms, such as crustacea, mussels, coelenterates, lampshells), are mostly made of calcium carbonate. They were formed in the warm and relatively shallow sea which covered the Polish Jura Chain about 160 million years ago. In the region of Krakow the Upper Jurassic limestone forms a 300-metre thick complex which shows much lithologic variety.
In this area rocky limestone is the most typical. Being most resistant to erosion, it was formed from other types, thus creating the rocks typical of the Polish Jura Chain, both in plateaux and in valleys. During the formation of the current land composition, after the last sea had withdrawn in the Upper Cretaceous period (80 million years), the alpine orogenic movements of the Tertiary period, in the Miocene (23 million years) to be precise, had the greatest influence on the current shape. The overlapping of the folding Carpathian Mountains onto the stiff plate of the Polish Jura Chain made it crack into different sized blocks and the mountains’ movements along the plates of the faults led to the formation of horsts, including the Tenczynek Prominence and the Krzeszowice Trench, a tectonic hollow. About 15 million years ago the Krzeszowice Trench was covered by sea, which left thick layers of argillaceous deposits. Beneath these were formed the faults which can be found on the edges of the Tenczynek Prominence. Today they appear as steep, rocky and ragged morphological steps. After the end of the Tertiary the formation of the valleys as we can see them today began. At first streams ran directly towards the Vistula River through the Krzeszowice Trench and Tenczynek Prominence, so carving their channels through soft Mioceneous residues. After reaching a harder substratum – and also as a result of the lowering of the level of the Vistula River – they were pulled eastwards and connected to form the Rudawa Valley. The lower parts on the Tenczynek Prominence were abandoned and in some cases reused by smaller flows, such as Sanka and Brzoskwinka. In the Quarternary i.e. the contemporary period in the Earth’s history (from 1.8 million years), the composition of the land took its current shape. Older structures were largely covered by glacial deposits, such as loess on plateaux and hillsides, and sands were blown at the end of the glacial period (15 – 12 thousand years ago). A very important role in the formation of the land is played by karst effects, which involve the dissolution of carbonate rocks by rainwater. As a result karst springs, sink holes, drainless basin areas (e.g. in the Będkowska Valley), the typical local rock composition and, most importantly, numerous caves and rock shelters came into being. The geological composition can be explored further by following the red walking and educational trail. It passes through two old quarries in Zabierzów, where you can see different types of limestone which fill karts forms and Tertiary deposits and cut the rock
Aleksandrowicka Valley – also called the “Creek” – is 3 km long and is less frequently visited. Its middle and most interesting section is sparsely inhabited and has many meadows, which surround the ponds, and rocks, hidden in the forest on the hillsides. The lack of visitors is set to change as the new recently-marked trail will encourage visitors to walk along the valley. One of the features the trail passes is an exposed ridge of the legendary rock “The Crooked Court”. This is the most impressive hillside rock in the valley, appearing as a several hundred metre high rock wall. The legend has it that while hunting in the surrounding woods, Earl Mateusz, owner of Morawica, found a cavern full of treasures. His servant, becoming worried about his master’s long absence, went to look for him and also saw the treasure. Afraid that the secret would come out, the earl falsely accused his squire of leaving his favourite horse unattended, which had in the meantime been attacked and savaged by a bear. He summoned a court with himself as its chairman and sentenced the squire to death by knocking him off the steep rock, which then began to be called The Crooked Court. Justice was done as the knight Mateusz died after he had been bitten by vipers. His castle in Morawice fell into ruins and the treasure remained hidden. As a matter of fact no caverns have been discovered in the Aleksandrowicka Valley, except for small rocky shelters. But who knows? A big, old and rusted key is said to have been found, which the knight Mateusz is supposed also to have found. It made it possible for him to open the closed ‘sesame’ door.
From the north a small valley, called, in its upper part, the Zbrza Gorge, joins the Aleksandrowicka Valley. This gorge is unlike the Jurassic valleys. Cut in a thick loess cover, it has hillsides largely divided by lateral valleys. Their ridges only occasionally reveal small rocks. They resemble the Jurassic valleys in the lower part of the valley, which, although located close to Aleksandrowice, is unfortunately closed.
Będkowska Valley: formed in Upper Jurassic limestone, this 7km long valley ranks among the biggest of Krakow’s Valleys. In terms of landscape its middle part is the most interesting, as we may find the biggest group of Jurassic rocks in varied and unique forms there. By name, the most well-known rock is the Elephant’s Ass, a name given by the mountaineers, while the most impressive, dominating the valley’s landscape with its 70 meter high rock walls, is Sokolica. On its summit, which can also be accessed from Będkowice, you can find the remains of embankments from an unidentified castle from 12th – 14th centuries. In this area traces of Neolithic and Lusatian settlement have also been discovered. Other curiosities of the valley include: a rich karst spring of the Będkówka creek, preserved in its original condition (a natural monument), and the Swoosh waterfall, which cascades over several rock steps and is 5m high in total. The Swoosh is one of the very few waterfalls of the Polish Jura Chain and at the same time the biggest. In the lower part of the valley, where Łączki, a hamlet of Kobylany, is situated, your attention is drawn to the clear asymmetry of the hillsides. Orographic left ones form the massif of the Żarnowa Mountain, with scree hillsides and lines of original rocks on its upper parts. To date, the Będkowska Valley has not been included in any protection program. However, it is regarded as one of the most valuable of the Krakow Valleys by virtue of its varied flora. The valley is dominated by forests: mixed woods in upper parts, broadleaved forests and sometimes Carpathian and stenothermal beech woods on the hillsides and alder trees in the bottom. A large part of the valley is filled with colourful xerophilous and epilithic grasses and wet meadows. The mountain flora is also rich. Your special attention will be drawn to the protected Sagifraga Peniculata, an arctic and alpine species common in home gardens but very rare in the wild.
The Bolechowicka Valley, also called the Bolechowicki Gorge: formed in Upper Jurassic limestone; about 1.5 km long; narrow and winding. It is considered one of the most scenic among the Krakow Valleys. It begins with a stunning, unusually high rock gate (almost 30 metres), also called the Bolechowicka Gate. The mountaineers who have been training here since the pre-war period call its orographic left side Abazy’s Pillar, while its right (western) side, a rocky and ragged ridge, they call Penitents’ Pillar. Behind the gate is the start of a rocky gorge. Its hillsides are covered with xerophilous grass and bushes. In its middle section, which is clearly narrower and forested, you can find a small waterfall created on rock steps by the Bolechówka stream, which flows along the valley. In its upper part the valley has several offshoots, of which the longest is an inaccessible, rocky and forested ravine. In 1968 the valley was included in a protection program and turned into a landscape reserve with an area of 21.31 hectares. Beyond its borders, in front of the Bolechowicka Gate, there is a karst spring which has been deemed a natural monument.
Brzoskwinka Valley: this small valley has lost most of its charm in the last several years. From the north it has been built up, while its southern part has been covered by forest. However, through the efforts of the inhabitants of Chrosna the right hillside of the valley has been deforested, thus uncovering a series of scenic hillside rocks with interesting rounded shapes. A walking and educational 4.5 kilometre long trail has also been marked and equipped with resting facilities. Unfortunately, it has been impossible to begin a similar project on the left, equally rocky, hillside, as it is private property.
Kluczwoda Valley – also called the Wierzchówka Valley; 7 km long. Its most scenic and interesting section is in the middle, between the Zelków Gorge and Gacki. Its route is winding ravine-like in character. It contains many Jurassic rocks. Particularly worth seeing are the Castle Rocks. On their flattening, in 1993 – 1995, an outline of the ground floor walls of a knight’s castle was uncovered and subsequently preserved. The castle was built in the first half of the 14th century upon the instruction of Jan of Syrokomla, a Krakow judge (today Janowiec lies within Lublin Province). The castle was abandoned after some walls had slid, and moved to Korzkiew (Gmina of Zielonki, outside the map), where it survives until this day. Another historic curiosity is the stylized border poles of Russia and Austro-Hungary, located on private land close to the mouth of the Zelków Gorge. They tell visitors that under partitions the border between Russia and Austro-Hungary ran along the bottom of the Kluczwoda Valley (from Ujazd) and then along the Zelków Gorge. The natural charms of the valley are best seen in the forest reserve, occupying 35.22 hectares of the valley’s western hills and some plateaux. It was established to protect the broadleaved forest, which dominates the forest complex in Kluczwoda, an ancient forest of Carpathian beeches, whose undergrowth includes many species of flower plants, in particular the protected Lilium martagon. Visiting the reserve is possible along a 2 kilometre walking trail. The upper part of the valley, which is no less interesting, is built up with households of Wierzchowie village. In its centre, close to the parking lot, there are some rich springs of the Kluczwoda river. From here a beaten track leads up the valley at the foot of a forested rock group Berdo, where three caves can be found: Mammoth’s Cave, apx. 100 m long, known for many archaeological finds from the Upper Paleolith, including handicraft from mammoth’s tusks; Wild Cave, apx. 61 meters long; and Upper Wierzchowska Cave, the second biggest cave in the Polish Jura Chain. This cave is 975 m long, and the tourist trail extends within for 700 m. It can be visited only with a guide (about 50 min). The sightseeing tour is made even more interesting by the chance to see reconstructed extinct mammals and primitive man and a small exhibition about cave exploration.
Kobylańska Valley, incorrectly called the Karniowicka Valley. It is one of the most frequently visited of the Krakow Valleys. Although only less than 4 km long, it surprises with a variety of landscapes. With its small and rocky Kobylańska Gate, its lower part resembles a winding canyon several meters deep and covered in grass and occasionally birches. The hillsides form steep rock walls, with ragged ridges and rock groups with unusual shapes and also with original names coined by mountaineers who have been training here for years, such as Sickly Ridge, Above Shit Peak or lofty peak Frog’s Horse (with a chapel), where you can find a spring which is a natural monument. It should be noted that in this part of the valley Władysław Pasikowski shot scenes for his film “War Demons by Goya” (1998), which is set in Bosnia during the war after the collapse of Yugoslavia. The middle part of the valley is distinct for its forests and asymmetry of hillsides. The hillsides and part of the valley floor are covered with broadleaved forest, above which rare rock groups can be found on the left hillside, the right hillside having hardly any. Here you may find a few small springs which flow into the valley steam Kobylanka, once called Brynia, which starts at the rocks called Over the Spring. Just behind them the valley ends. This is the least interesting and rarely visited upper part of the valley, with a forested left hillside and a rock called The Last. In terms of nature the valley does not stand out, although its flora is highly varied. Here you can find the little-known bush-sized Betula szaferi – considered an endemic species – and Ojców birch, which used to be found only in Ojców. It can be found in the upper, almost top areas of the left hillside in the lower part of the valley.
Nielepickie Valleys: the plateaux over Nielepice are cut by two small valleys: the Nielepicka Valley, which is especially scenic in its upper unspolit section called “Holes” and formed on a loess cover and ends at the rock “Stone”, and the valley called Pierunkowy Hole, along which the green trail goes. It omits, however, the left hillside, where interesting Upper Jurassic limestone rocks can be found. In form they are similar to those in the reserve the “Cold Hole” (see the Sanka Valley).
Rudawa Valley – Kmita’s Rock
WHICH SHALL COME HERE,
BRAVE ON THAT DAY,
JOY HE MAY HAVE;
BUT WHICH COMES HERE,
IS DISTRESSED ON THAT DAY,
PEACE HE MAY HAVE.
“Stanisław Kmita, an armed knight
Fighting with the Tatars, powerful with his sword
Towards Bonerówna he turned his heart
And from this rock he fell down the chasm
Today the inscription engraved in 1854 on the wall of the one of the most well-known Jurassic rocks near Krakow is totally unreadable. The first stanzas come from the poem by Jadam of Zator (actually Adam Gorczyński), while the following ones were written by Wincenty Pol, who was also one of the instigators of the poem’s engraving. The date “1515″ refers to another dictum that is supposed to have once been used “The great power of my love torments my soul. Faith – God – Love – Love – Love – Kmita and Bonerówna – 1515. This inscription is believed to have been made by Kmita himself after the father of his beloved Olimpia Bonerówna, heir of Balice, disappointed with treacherous schemes, had refused to let him marry his daughter. As we know, the desperate Kmita committed suicide and his beloved was sent to a convent. The legend, which is presented here in brief, came into being in its current form on the basis of many 19th century poems which take up this tragic thread of the unhappy love of Kmita and Bonerówna, including the poem by Jadam of Zator (Balice. A story from the times of Sigmund I). However, history does not support the tale, which anyhow may be based on real people. After all, at the end of 1515 Balice was given as a dowry to Seweryn Boner, who also had a daughter, Zofia.
At around 40 metres high, Kmita’s Rock is a most unique and scenic part of the landscape of the Rudawa valley. It cuts into the valley, thus forming a ravine through the Tenczynek Prominence with the opposite hill Bukowina and the Bonerówna’s Rock (its current name). Both the steep and forested hillsides of the ravine as well as their plateaux were designated a landscape reserve of 19.36 hectares in 1959. Back in the 19th century Kmita’s Rock was a popular destination for Cracovians’ Sunday walks; today it is a convenient starting point for walks into the Zabierzów Forest, which is the biggest forest west of Krakow, with an area of about 500 hectares. Its topography is varied and intersected by ravine valleys, with numerous outcropping beds of Upper Jurassic limestone. The forest is dominated mostly by beeches, oaks, larches and also by hornbeams, pines, spruces and many other species. On the ground you can find hazel, alder buckthorn and mountain ash, while in the undergrowth there are omnipresent raspberries and blackberries, many species of flower plants, including protected species such as daphne mezereum, lilies, asphodels, May lilies of the valley, orchids and violets. The natural features of the Zabierzów Forest, together with its management, are shown on the natural trail which follows the Grzybowska Valley as well as its two circular walking and educational trails. The yellow trail makes it possible to climb the Kmita’s Rock, while the red trail reveals geological curiosities, passing through a closed quarry located at the edge of the forest and close to a radiolocation station (commonly called “the matchstick”) for Balice airport. The station’s 3 metre tower, located on a hill and topped with a ball to protect the radar, has been a landmark of the eastern part of the Tenczynek Prominence and the Gmina of Zabierzów since 1996.
Sanka Valley: the biggest valley of the Tenczynek Prominence; 8 km long. Of particular note, shown on the map, is that part which lies at the end of the Cold Hole with its unique and huge rock Byczyn, and also the massif Grodziska, which cuts into the valley. On its peak you can find remains of the walls and moat of a castle from the 9th – 10th century. Also worth seeing is the nearby small (2.2 ha) reserve of inanimate nature “Cold Hole”, which protects a complex of original Upper Jurassic rocks. Rock mushrooms, passes, blocks with overhangs at their feet give the impression of a stone-spelled town densely covered by forest. These forms developed as the external parts of the hillside rocks leaned, slid and settled under the influence of gravitation and karst processes. A floral curiosity of the reserve is the age-old common ivy which blooms and bears fruit, covering the vertical wall called Great Tear. The final 2 kilometre part of the Sanka Valley, on the edge of the Tenczynek Prominence and designated a landscape reserve of 20.43 hectares, is called the Mnikowska Valley. It is one of the most well known and most frequently visited of the Krakow Valleys. It is narrow and has vertical and party forested hillsides, from which scenic Jurassic rocks emerge. In its middle part, in a rocky bend called the Circus, your attention is drawn to an image of the Virgin Mary which was painted high in the rock in the second half of the 19th century by Walery Eliasz – Radzikowski. Disabled access to the Mnikowska Valley is provided from the parking lot (Mników Rocks).
Szklarka Valley: about 9 km long and mostly built up by Szklary village. Its most interesting part is the lower forested section above the 19th century trout farm “Rózin” in Dubie (before the outlet into the Racławka Valley). Here the valley is deep, winding and clearly narrowed and its hillsides are dominated by Upper Jurassic limestone, typical of the Krakow Valleys, and also grey Lower Carboniferous limestone, which forms older deposits. This is the result of numerous latitudinal faults cutting this area in the Tertiary.