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- The Kraków and Małopolska Fairy Tale
The pearl within the Kraków system of fortifications, the Gothic Barbican, called with all familiarity the “Rondel” (“Saucepan”), was built to answer the Turkish threat that increased towards the end of the 15th century. Its construction in 1498-1499 was ordered by King John Albert (Jan Olbracht), who feared retribution after the failure of his Wallachian campaign. The main material used was brick, while stone was only used for the consoles supporting the construction of galleries and turrets. The walls are up to 3 m (10 ft) thick, while the internal diameter of the edifice is nearly 25 m (82 ft). There are three levels of shooting apertures with 130 embrasures which make a particular impression. The Barbican is crowned with machicolation: a brick gallery with shooting holes and openings in the floor that served to pour boiling pitch or water onto the attackers. Towering over the entire building are seven spires acting as observation turrets.
Communication was possible through the entrance gate with pointed arches and a drawbridge over the water-filled moat. The moat provided a major obstacle for attackers, as it was 25 m (82 ft) wide and approx 4 m (13 ft) deep. The structure was connected to the main line of defence with the so-called “neck” – a brick passageway running straight to St Florian’s Gate.
One of the main tasks of the Barbican was to defend the nearby city arsenal situated just behind the line of the walls. Standing between the Joiners’ and Carpenters’ towers, it was a single-storey development where cannons were stored, and its deep cellars were used for keeping gunpowder. Redeveloped for a museum in the latter half of the 19th century, it is today a part of the of Princes Czartoryski Museum.
For a number of centuries, the Barbican successfully played its role and was never captured directly, despite numerous attacks. During the last of the sieges laid to the city, during the Confederation of Bar (1768), one of the craftsmen defending it, the haberdasher Marcin Oracewicz, became famous for mortally wounding General Panin commanding the Russian troops with a single shot from his rifle, loaded – due to lack of munitions – with a button from his overcoat. His deed is commemorated by a plaque in the wall.
The project to demolish the city walls carried out in 1817, was originally also intended to include the Barbican. This was, however, strongly opposed by Senator Feliks Radwański. It was thanks to his determination and persistence that a fragment of neighbouring fortifications including St Florian’s Gate and three towers was saved.
Unfortunately, the so-called “neck” was taken down during the development of the Planty garden ring around 1825.
Kraków’s Rondel is one of three Gothic barbicans that have survived to this day. The other two are in Carcassonne (France), and Görlitz (Germany). Ours is beyond any doubt the largest of the three and the one best preserved.