WALK 1: The Main Market Square (Rynek Główny)

Rynek Główny, Kraków

The largest square in mediaeval Europe was designed in 1257 at the interconnection of ancient trading routes, on the plan of a square with sides of slightly over 200m (650ft) each. The Main Market Square and the grid of adjacent streetsforming the city centre were staked out when the city was re-chartered under the Law of Magdeburg. This is when its layout was designed with itscharacteristic Hippodamian grid, i.e. (mostly) perpendicular streets. Three streets leave each of the sides of the square, with only Grodzka, running along an even more ancient trading route, breaking the plan. The symmetry was also neglectedfor the buildings that had already stood on the site of the city: the churches of St Mary and St Adalbert. Together with the Main Market Squareproviding its core, historic Kraków, was entered on the original UNESCO World Heritage List in 1978, making it one of the original 12 world heritage sites.

Standing in the Main Market Square to this day is the centrally situated Cloth Hall (Sukiennice). It has retained its original commercial functions, and over a century ago gained a new one, that of home to the National Museum in Kraków.Other features also include the diminutive Church of St Adalbert, the solitary tower of the town hall demolished in the 19 century, and one of Kraków’slandmarks: St Mary’s Church with its characteristic lofty steeples and the monumental High Altar by Wit Stwosz (Veit Stoss).

The ring of cafés in the gardens surrounding the Main Market Square does encourage sitting down. Some are open throughout the year, many from early in the morning to the small hours of night. Another characteristic of the city centre are the cafés and clubs operating in the cellars. Many offer concerts, often with jazz music, as Kraków is hailed the capital of Polish jazz. The Main Market Square is also the traditional meeting spot: locals love to make appointments “pod Adasiem”, that is at the foot of the monument to the poet Adam Mickiewicz. Elements of the local air include the florist stalls, horse-drawn cabs, and pigeons.

Quite a few Kraków legends and traditions, as well as many historical events, have their links to the Main Market Square. Some recall the Bugle Call played every hour on the hour from the taller tower of Saint Mary’s, the parade of the Lajkonik Hobby Horse of Kraków and his cortege in June, and the December competition for the most beautiful Kraków Nativity Scene. Lying astride the Royal Route (from the Barbican to Wawel Castle), the square has been the venue of royal entrances to the city, homages, parades, and weddings. Thus, for example, in 1525 it was here that Albert Hohenzollern, Duke of Prussia, swore fealty and allegiance to King Sigismundthe Old (Zygmunt Stary), thus putting an end to the chain of wars against the Teutonic Order. Here, Tadeusz Kościuszko swore his oath in 1794, initiating the Kościuszko Uprising, and it is also where the first takeover of power by the Polish army took place in 1918 after 123 years of partition (oppression by the three neighbouring powers). Quite recently, in May 1981, thousands of people joined in the White March and protested after the assassination attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II, and on 1 May 2004 crowds of the people of Kraków celebrated the accession of Poland to the European Union. Today the square providesroom for the organisation of key concerts and cultural events. Every year it isthe arena for the finals of the Great Orchestra of Christmas Help charity event, International Festival of Street Theatres, welcoming of the New Year, Juwenalia student Festival, and historic ceremony of the city’s sharpshooters: the Enthronement of the Fowler King. The space is also used for the famous Easter and Christmas fairs.

Nearly all the townhouses and mansions standing around the Main Market Square boast a few hundred years of history and importance. Worth special attention are Pod Jaszczury (House Under the Lizards, standing at No. 8) with its established student club, while in turn Morsztynowska House at No. 16 houses the Wierzynek Restaurant. It is here that a Kraków burgher Mikołaj Wierzynek organised a famous feast in 1364. Invited by King Casimir the Great (Kazimierz Wielki), it attracted Holy Emperor Charles IV, King Louis of Hungary, King Peter of Cyprus, and assorted princes and dukes. Although the exact location of the feast remains unknown, the restaurant does uphold the tradition. No. 27 is Pałac pod Baranami – Mansions Under the Rams, taking its name from the rams heads on the first-floor balcony. The courtyard features Renaissance arcades, while the first-floorrooms have retained their classicist decor in the style of Louis XVI. Since 1956 the cellars have been home to the Kabaret Piwnica pod Baranami, which translatesliterally and simply into “the Cabaret of the Vaults under the Rams”. Hawełka Restaurant has operated in the Spiski Mansionsat No. 34since the beginning of the 20th century. In turn, the neighbouring Pod Krzysztofory Mansion (No. 35) is the main headquartersof the Historical Museum of Kraków (MHK). It derives its name from the Gothic figure of St Christopher, which used to grace its façade.

Date: 2018-01-25 Show ticket
News Publisher: Portal główny EN
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