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Main Market Square – important town houses
When strolling around the Main Market Square, it is good to take a look at the town houses that surround it. Although the vast majority of those buildings were rebuilt in the second half of the 19th century and at the turn of the 20th century, they still have the outlines of the former, sometimes 14th-century residences. The most interesting of those are: Szara House at no. 6, Montelupi House at no. 7, Bonerowska House at no. 9, Morsztynowska (Berowska) House at no. 16, Hetmańska House at no. 17, Pod Obrazem House at no. 19, Jabłonowski Palace at no. 20, Pod Baranami Palace at no. 27, Spiski Palace at no. 34, Pod Krzysztofory Palace at no. 35, Pod Jeleniami House at no. 36 and Pod Orłem House at no. 45.
Szara House (no. 6)
According to a legend, the house was built in the 14th century by King Casimir III the Great for his mistress, Sara (this was supposed to be the origin of the house’s name). In reality, the house was formed in the 15th century by joining two earlier houses. During the 1794 uprising, the house constituted Kościuszko's main quarters and during the Cracow Uprising (1846) it served as the main headquarters of the Polish National Government. In mid-19th century, Stanisław Feintuch opened his famous colonial shop on the ground floor of the house and changed his family name to match the name of the building. The Szarski shop survived until 1950. The old furnishings are partly preserved inside, along with the vaulting polychromy by Józef Mehoffer. Currently, the ground floor of the building holds a restaurant.
Montelupi House (a.k.a. Italian House, no. 7)
The first building was built here in the Gothic style in the second half of the 16th century for the Italian noble family of Montelupi. One of its representatives was the founder of the first regular Polish post. Its stagecoaches that ran between Kraków and Venice left from right under the house. When looking at the building from outside, our attention is drawn to a Mannerist main portal (ca. 1600) with a Latin inscription that says Tecum habita (live with yourself). The Renaissance portal on the courtyard side was moved here from a different house. The barrel vault of the hallway is adorned with Renaissance rose windows and the coat of arms of the Montelupi family.
Pod Jaszczury House (a.k.a. Lizards House, no. 8)
The name of the house comes from an emblem depicting two intertwined lizards on the building's portal. It has retained its Gothic vaulting on the ground floor and in the basement. It also houses a student club.
Bonerowska House (no. 9)
In the 16th century, the town house belonged to one of the wealthiest and most influential families of the bourgeois. The family of Boner managed the royal palace and banks. They had the house rebuilt to fit the early-Renaissance style. In that period, the original high attic with coats of arms and mascarons was built, designed by Santi Gucci, along with the window frames on the first floor with characteristic bar tracery. At the beginning of the 20th century, the house was merged with a building on Stolarska Street by building the so-called Bielak's Passage (named after the house's owner at the time).
Morsztynowska House (a.k.a. Berowska House, no. 16)
According to tradition, the town house is connected with the aldreman Mikołaj Wierzynek Junior and a great feast that he held there in 1364. The feast – according to the historian Jan Długosz – lasted for 20 days and was attended by King Casimir III the Great, who had also invited Emperor Charles IV, Louis I of Hungary, Valdemar III of Denmark, Peter I of Cyprus and a number of dukes. Unfortunately, the fact that this particular venue was used at the event is not confirmed by historical sources. Moreover, the brick house was undoubtedly built in mid-15th century at the earliest. It obtained its present form as a result of modernisation carried out around 1800 for a member of an old family of merchants, Antoni Morbitzer. One of the most interesting classicist facades in Kraków is crowned with an attic adorned with sailing deities and the owner's initials. The documented history of the Wierzynek restaurant, which operates in the house, dates back to 1945.
Hetmańska House (a.k.a. Old Mint, no. 17)
Despite numerous conversions, the building constitutes one of the best preserved Gothic town houses in Kraków. It dates back to the end of the 13th century. Its hall on the ground floor contains unique rib vaulting, adorned with carved keystones, which probably comes from the reconstruction conducted for Castellan Jan of Melszyn (1470s). The images visible on the keystones probably belong to King Casimir III the Great and his sister, Elizabeth of Poland, Queen of Hungary. The adjoining chamber was topped with a wooden ceiling covered in a carved pattern (ca. 1470). The bookstore which can be found in a Gothic room on the ground floor dates back to 1796.
Pod Obrazem House (no. 19)
The building was formed by merging two mediaeval houses (after 1500). From this period dates the coffered vaulting on the first floor. Since 1718, the façade is adorned with a wall painting depicting Virgin Mary, which gave the house its name (the name Pod Obrazem literally means "under the painting"). The house was spared in the great fire of 1850, even though all the neighbouring houses were burnt. This miracle was attributed to the painting. Since the end of the 18th century, the town house has been associated with the Wentzels, a merchant family, who run their business here, first as wine merchants and then (since the 19th century up till now) restaurant owners. The house used to be famous for excellent vodkas and superb beer, which gave rise to a saying that in Kraków trumpeting could be heard in two places: over Mary (on the tower of St. Mary's Basilica) and under Mary (at Wentzel's).
Jabłonowski Palace (no. 20)
Although it was repeatedly reshaped, you can still see the outline of the stone building from the beginning of the 14th century. Its current shape was formed during a reconstruction conducted for Eliasz Wodzicki (ca. 1780), during which the building's 17th-century barrel vault with stucco elements was preserved in the hallway, as did the whole three-storey cloister. It remains one of the best works of early classicism (which is very rare in Kraków!), with an elegant façade, topped with a tympanum and a balustraded attic.
Pod Baranami Palace (no. 27)
The palace was formed in the 14th century as a result of merging two mediaeval town houses. It owes its present shape to numerous reconstructions of the façade and the interior. The last and most serious of those began in the 19th century with the aim to give the building a late-classicist style. This was when a new balcony was added, supported by corbels with ram heads. Thus, the old emblem (two rams with one head) of one of the town houses which used to stand here was restored. The basement and rooms on the ground floor retained Gothic cross-ribbed vaulting from the 15th century. Around mid-16th century, the courtyard of the palace was surrounded by a partly open Renaissance cloister. The halls of the first floor retain a rich classicist interior from the second half of the 18th century, in the style of Louis XVI. Throughout its centuries-old history, the palace belonged to a number of magnate families (e.g. Ostrogski and Radziwiłł). Since 1822 (including the period between 1939 and 1990), it has been owned by the Potocki family. The numerous guests who have stayed in the palace include: son of Peter the Great and candidate for the Polish throne, Alexei Petrovich, Tsarevich of Russia, Prince Józef Poniatowski (1809), Duke Frederick Augustus I of Warsaw (1810) as well as Franz Joseph I of Austria (1880) and his son, Archduke Rudolf (1887).
Pod Jagnięciem House (no. 28)
The house received its name in the 19th century, when the magnate family of Potocki had it rebuilt according to the Mannerist style of Gdansk town houses, giving it a triangular attic. It is known for a mysterious and so far unexplained event. Bartolomeo Berecci, an Italian architect who worked on the reconstruction of the Wawel Castle and designed the Sigismund Chapel, was stabbed and killed in front of the house in 1537. The identity of the perpetrator was never discovered. The motive for the assassination also remains unclear. Could it be a result of mafia wars? If so, it is striking that such practices were already present in the 16th century.
Spiski Palace (no. 34)
The Spiski Palace owes its name to its owners, the Lubimirski family, who were Elders of Spiš. Thanks to the family, the fate of the house was closely associated with the theatre. Between 1725 and 1738, the building housed their court theatre. This tradition was continued by Jacek Kluczewski, an entrepreneur who became the founder of the first municipal theatre in Kraków. Before the theatre was moved to a building on Szczepański Square, its first plays were performed here, in the Spiski Palace, which was owned by Kluszewski. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Spiski Palace contained a colonial shop and Hawełek's restaurant, whose tradition is continued to this day. The first floor houses the so-called Tetmajer's hall, whose walls depict the story of sorcerer Pan Twardowski, conveyed by wall paintings by Włodzimierz Tetmajer. Opposite to the Spiski Palace used to stand a stone pillory, where public flogging and human branding took place.
Pod Krzysztofory Palace (no. 35)
Once, there was a Gothic statue of St. Christopher on its façade, which is how the town house got its name (Christopher is Krzysztof in Polish). Today, the statue is part of the collection of the Historical Museum of Kraków, which can be seen in this very building. Although the origin of the edifice dates back to the 14th century, its most beautiful elements come from later periods. In the 17th century, a ground-floor loggia was added to the courtyard. Around one hundred years earlier, Baltazar Fontana created a stucco decoration of the ceiling. The collection of the Historical Museum, which has owned the palace since 1963, contains items that illustrate the history and culture of Kraków. The most valuable showpieces include: a mayoral sceptre and ring from the Renaissance, Lajkonik's attire designed by Stanisław Wyspiański, and guild memorabilia. According to a legend, the vault of the palace contains treasures that once belonged to sorcerer Twardowski, guarded by the devil himself. Although many tried, no one managed to find the treasure. Was it because the legend is not real, or because the devil is doing a good job?
Pod Jeleniem House (no. 36)
In the 18th century, the house contained an inn run by Marianna Lebonowa. It was visited by Johann Wolfgang Goethe, who stayed here when travelling through Kraków in 1790. Unfortunately, he did not find the city particularly interesting. However, the writer's interest was piqued by the salt mine in Wieliczka.
Pod Orłem House (no. 45)
The name of the building refers to an old custom whereby instead of numbers, houses used to have different emblems, often presenting animals. However, the eagle (orzeł) which can be seen on the brick façade is a relatively new element (for Kraków), as it was made at the end of the 19th century. Its creator, Stanisław Wyspiański, was the greatest artist of the turn of the 20th century.