If you want to explore an authentic medieval square in the center of a large city in Europe, then you have to head over to the second-largest city in Poland. Dominated by a wide variety of historic buildings, this amazing square is one of the most fascinating public spaces you’ll ever come across.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the most interesting facts about Main Square in Kraków, an enjoyable place to have a nice afternoon stroll.
1. It’s the historical heart of the Old Town of Kraków
The main square of a city in Europe is usually its historical heart and this is no different in Kraków, a city in Lesser Poland, or “Malopolska” in the southern part of the country.
With a population of nearly 780,000 in the city proper and over 1.7 million inhabitants in its metropolitan area, this city just north of Slovakia is also the second-largest city in Poland after Warsaw.
This public space started as being the main market of the town which is believed to have been found by a man named “Krakus” in the 7th century. This also means that the city expanded around this square over the centuries.
2. The square was built in the 13th century after a devastating event
The city of Kraków didn’t receive city rights until June 5, 1257, and it’s no coincidence that the square as it appears today was built this year as well.
The main reason why the square had to be rebuilt was because of the Mongol Invasion that took place during the 13th century. This is an often-overlooked event although the Mongols wreaked havoc in Eastern Europe during this period in history.
The original city was flattened in 1241 by the Mongolians and acquired city rights referred to as the “Magdeburg rights” shortly after.
3. It features a remarkable Renaissance structure in the center
The first building you notice when you access Main Square in Kraków is the magnificent Cloth Hall that is located in its center. This Renaissance building was constructed halfway through the 16th century in the typical Polish Renaissance architectural style.
The city had not only grown to become the capital of Poland and the largest city in the country, but it was also one of the major centers of commerce during the Renaissance period of the 15th and 16th centuries. The magnificent Cloth Hall emphasizes the status of the city during this period.
The decline of the city started when the commercial activity moved north to Warsaw, the modern-day capital and largest city of Poland.
4. The huge Gothic tower of the Old Town Hall dominates the square
That’s not because there never was one, after all, this is the most important public space in the city. The reason is that the historic Kraków Town Hall didn’t survive into modern times.
The original version of this brick and mortar building was completed in 1316 and served as the main administrative center and the seat of the mayor of the city until the 19t century. It was demolished during the Austrian Partition of Poland in the year 1820.
There is, however, an important element that wasn’t demolished in the form of the Gothic tower of the old town hall. It stands right next to the Cloth Hall and dominates the square with a height of approximately 70 meters (229 feet).
5. One of the oldest churches in Poland stands in the southeastern corner
You can find one of the most fascinating buildings in the southeastern corner of the square. what initially appears to be a chapel is a church called the “Church of St. Adalbert” or the “Church of St. Wojciech.”
This Romanesque church was built in the 11th century which means it has a history that goes back nearly a millennium. It was named after Adalbert of Prague (956-997), the Bishop of Prague who was martyred when he tried to convert Baltic Prussians to Christianity.
The church is one of the prime examples of Polish Romanesque architecture and is believed to be one of the oldest stone churches in Poland.
More interesting facts about Main Square in Kraków
6. The square in the center of Kraków is locally known as the “Rynek Główny.” It covers an immense area of 3.79 hectares (9.4 acres) which makes it the largest medieval square in Europe.
7. This amazing public space is a great example of medieval city planning, made possible because of the devastation caused by the Mongol Invasion. It features 3 evenly spaced streets on each side.
There’s only one street that diverts from this pattern called “Grodzka Street.” That’s because this street predates the construction of the square in 1257 as it connects the main public space in the city with the historic Wawel Castle to the south.
8. The square is located on the so-called “Royal Road.” This road once ran from a fortification known as the “Kraków Barbican” in the north to Wawel Castle in the south.
Kraków was the capital of the Kingdom of Poland for many centuries and this road was used for Royal coronations, events that took place between 1025 and 1764. This is remarkable because Kraków had already lost its status as capital to Warsaw in 1596.
9. The buildings that surround the square are a combination of historic houses and palaces referred to as “kamienicas.” All of these structures have a history that dates back multiple centuries.
Although many of these have been redesigned over the centuries, especially during the Neoclassical period, the foundation on which they were built is still visible at ground level.
10. The original version of the Cloth Hall was built during the 14th century, a time that Kraków saw exponential growth a became one of the leading centers of commerce in Europe.
This 14th-century Gothic building was destroyed by a fire in the 1550s and completely rebuilt in the Renaissance style in 1555. It was designed by an Italian architect named Giovani il Mosca from Padua. The arched arcades are later additions and were constructed during the 19th century.
11. The square was located at a much lower elevation during the Middle Ages, up to 5 meters (16 feet) lower in some areas. This has resulted in the creation of multiple basements below the square which have been transformed into bars and restaurants.
12. Main Square is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site called “Old Town Kraków” which was added to the list in 1975. It has also been voted for as both the most enjoyable and most beautiful in Europe.
If you want to get a great view of the square and its surroundings then you can either visit the observation deck of the Old Town Hall Tower or climb to one of the twin towers of St. Mary’s Basilica, the Gothic Cathedral that dominates the east side of this magnificent public space.