Did you know that there are as many as eleven streets leading to the Main Square, and the tenements and buildings surrounding it are several hundred years old? In the medieval Europe, it was the largest square of this type, so that the merchants following the trade routes and local merchants could have enough place to sell their goods. At present, it is a major tourist attraction of Cracow and the venue for numerous festivals and events, e.g. the final dance of Lajkonik after the parade, contest for the most beautiful nativity scene or Christmas markets.
There are lots of mysteries and interesting stories concerning the Main Square. Some of them are presented below.
1. At the time of Copernicus, in the late Middle Ages, the Cracow Main Square was very different from the one we have today. It was proven by the archaeological works conducted in the years 2005-2010 under the eastern part of the square. It turned out that initially the square was several metres below the present surface and we can see some of the structures of that time at Rynek Underground permanent exhibition. There are three underground routes on which we can follow the so-called medieval passable routes, and see the exhibition Following the Traces of European Identity of Cracow, full of touch screens, interactive maps and scale models – it is almost like a time travel. 🙂
2. Not many people know that many years ago there was a salt spring at the end of St. Jana Street on the Main Square. To draw water, people had to go down to the vaulted cellar of one of the stalls. In 1854, the stall was demolished under a resolution of the City Council and the spring, the bottom of which was located at a depth of approx. 3 m – was filled in.
3. St. Mary’s Basilica is the focal point of the Main Square; consecrated in 1320, it has become one of the symbols of Cracow. It has been rebuilt several times, but you still can’t miss it when walking around the square. Anyone can notice that towers of the church are not of equal height. According to the legend, two brothers were employed to build St. Mary’s Church. Each of them supervised the construction of one tower. When it turned out that the tower built by the older brother was higher, the younger one, envious of his brother, killed him. The dead brother’s tower was crowned with a dome, and today serves as the bell tower. The younger brother built the taller tower – the Bugle Call Tower, but, because of his guilty conscience, he committed suicide. To commemorate the legendary murder, there is a knife, an instrument of crime, hanging to this day in one of the gates of the Cloth Hall, in front of the church.
4. Grodzka Street is one of the oldest streets, existing even in the first settlement that had been established here, before the city of Cracow was founded. When walking down this street, we can go back 800 years in time. Grodzka Street has not changed its route since the Middle Ages. It still starts in the Main Square, next to the Church of St. Adalbert dating back to the 14th century. There are lots of architectural monuments along Grodzka Street, for example, the building of Collegium Iuridicum dating back to the 14th century, St. Andrew’s Church dating back to the 11th century and the Church of St. Giles dating back to the 14th century. In the past, the street was a very important part of the salt route leading from the Wieliczka Salt Mine to Hungary. At one-third of its length there is Dominikański Square and, to the west, All Saints’ Square – they are both constituents of one area. In the 15th century, a sister of Veit Stoss, a sculptor who carved the altarpiece in St. Mary’s Basilica in Cracow, lived in one of the oldest town houses, at No. 9.
5. The central feature of the Main Square in Cracow is the Cloth Hall. The Cloth Hall, dating back to the 13th century, was built of stone. In the 14th century, Casimir the Great provided funds for a new, brick building. After fires and reconstructions in the second half of the 19th century, the Cloth Hall was renovated – Jan Matejko was one of the contributors to this renovation. At present, there are lots of street traders selling souvenirs, handicrafts and works of art here. On the first floor, there is the Gallery of Polish Painting and Sculpture of the 19th Century, which is a branch of the National Museum.
Cracow attracts many visitors because of its monuments, legends and cultural life. Come, see and feel this beautiful, historic city. If you happen to look for accommodation in the former capital of Poland – come to andel’s by Vienna House Cracow and Vienna House Easy Chopin Cracow. 🙂