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- The Kraków and Małopolska Fairy Tale
The huge, main square of the city was laid out in accordance with the City Charter, which awarded it rights under the Law of Magdeburg in 1257. It was situated at the crossing of former trade routes forming in plan a square with each side slightly exceeding 200 m (665 ft). The name market square – in Polish Rynek, and originally Ring – was used for the first time around the year 1300. Yet it was only in 1882, when the naming conventions for the city’s streets and squares were standardised, that it received its official name: Rynek Główny, that is the Main Square.
When designing the market square and the area around it, a cross-grid pattern typical of mediaeval cities was introduced. Three streets radiated from each of the sides of the square. The only exception was ul. Grodzka which was not only running along an ancient trading route but was also close to the Church of St Adalbert. It adopted a diagonal alignment and wider highway. Some other deviations from this perfect symmetry were also necessary: they resulted from incorporating earlier structures built before the Great Charter and included St Mary’s and St Adalbert’s churches. They had already been taken into account when laying out the course of individual streets. The best example here is ul. Bracka which was given a curved alignment in order to lead straight to the entrance to the Franciscan Church.
Even with all the irregularities accounted for, the Great Charter plan was simple, straight, and functional. The Market Square provided the most important public space. Since that time, this state-of-the-art centre has satisfied all the basic needs of the residents related to the city’s administrative (headquarters of the authorities in the City Hall), trading and economic (Cloth Hall) and religious (Parish Church of St Mary’s) life.
In the following centuries, the space within the Main Square was gradually developed. It was primarily taken up by shambles and stalls divided into separate trading sections. Thus the places where salt, chickens, coal, lead, fish, and barrels were traded were separated one from another. The developments that achieved that separation were in most cases chaotic, devoid of any value, and did the Main Square no credit. When the city authorities embarked on the challenge of putting some order into Kraków in the 19th century, the Main Square became one of its priorities. In 1868-1879 the stalls and lean-tos on the Cloth Hall were demolished, and the buildings of the Great and Small Scales shared their fate. This was accompanied by the revamping of the building standing in the centre of the Square, the Cloth Hall. Somewhat earlier, in 1820, the City Hall – previously extending to the end of ul. Szewska – was torn down, and only its tower remained. The year 1898 marked the unveiling of the monument to Adam Mickiewicz. The appearance of the Main Square was finally similar to the one that we know today.
From its earliest days, the Main Square played a role as the centre of social and political life, whose significance frequently went far beyond the borders of the city. It provided the backcloth to major historical events: in 1525 it was here that homage was paid by the Prince of Prussia, Albrecht Hohenzollern, who swore the oath of allegiance to King Sigismund the Old (Zygmunt Stary): an event of profound political importance, as it ended the 300-year-long period of wars against the Teutonic Knights. Hohenzollern transformed the monastic state into a lay princedom that was subordinate to the Polish king. It was also here that the Kościuszko Uprising formally began in 1794, from the swearing of the oath by its leader, Tadeusz Kościuszko. In 1809, Prince Józef Poniatowski, leading the armies of the Duchy of Warsaw, officially entered the Main Square, which brought about a huge patriotic demonstration. A very special demonstration took place here in not too distant times: in May 1981, the White March, a spontaneous protest after an attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II, took place here in complete silence.
Cherished for decades, and in some cases for centuries, the annual observation of local traditions endows Kraków’s Main Square with a special atmosphere. Their number includes the Lajkonik procession – the Kraków Pony, with its accompanying band of the revelling noise-makers, the competition for the most beautiful Kraków Nativity Scene organised on the steps of the monument to Adam Mickiewicz since 1937, and the Enthronement of the Fowler King.
Even though the reconstruction of the Cloth Hall and the reorganisation of the market square itself were to change its character from a primarily commercial feature to a more elegant one, trade was never eliminated from the Main Square. Until mid-20th century, on the traditional fair days – Tuesday and Friday – the egg and poultry fair was spread out by ul. Szewska, and was traditionally made more interesting by, for example, the broad range of padlocks presented by the Świątniki locksmiths. Produce was also brought here by local joiners and carpenters. On the other side of the Cloth Hall, only flowers and fruit were sold, with exceptions only being made for the Easter Fair and sales of Christmas trees. After the last major renovation of the Main Market Square (in 1962-1963), only the flower stalls have remained...
Walking in the Main Square, it is worth turning your attention to the townhouses and city residences, traditionally called palaces, that surround it. The most interesting include: Szara (No. 6), Montelupi (No. 7), Bonerowska (No. 9), Morsztynowska (Berowska, No. 16), Hetmańska (No. 17), Pod Obrazem (No. 19), Jabłonowskich Palace (No. 20), Pod Baranami Palace (No. 27), Spiski Palace (No. 34), Pod Krzysztofory Palace (No. 35), Pod Jeleniem (No. 36), and Pod Orłem (No. 45).