The Rynek and its Environs
(Return to the index.)

Main Market Square; Rynek Glowny:

Measuring 200 by 200 metres, Krakow's Rynek is the largest mediaeval square in Poland and probably in all of Europe. It is considered to be one of the finest urban designs of its kind. Its layout was drawn up in 1257 after the town was granted its charter by Duke Boleslaw V Wstydliwy, and has remained intact to this day. Its buildings have changed over the years and most of them look neoclassical but the basic structures are older as can be seen in their doorways, architectural details and interiors. Their cellars date from mediaeval times. As well as being the commercial hub of Krakow, it was the scene of many state occasions. Homage to the Kings was sworn in the square (including the famous Prussian Homage/ Hold Pruski in 1525 when Albrecht of Hohenzollern accepted Polish suzerainty); and executions. Kosciuszko raised the standard of revolt here in 1794.

It is dominated by the great Cloth Hall;Sukiennice at its centre. Originally designed in the 14th century as a centre for the cloth trade and built by Kazimierz Wielki, it was gutted by fire in 1555 and rebuilt in the Renaissance style by Giovanni il Mosca from Padua, with further alterations (adding the arcades) in the 19th century. It is topped by a beautiful attic or Polish parapet decorated with carved masks. The ground floor continues to be an Alladin's Cave of crafts and souvenirs and is ornamented by coats of arms of the cities of Poland. There is also a knife suspended; legend has it that this is the knife used in jealous fratricidal anger by the brother who built the lower of the Mariacki towers. The upper floor is occupied by the Gallery of Polish 19th. Century Painting (Wed.-Sun.) with works by Malczewski, Michalowski, Chelmonski and Jan Matejko (including the Prussian Homage and Kosciuszko at Raclawice). In front of it is a statue of the romantic poet Mickiewicz (a copy of an earlier work by Teodor Rygier, destroyed by the Nazis) with the allegorical figures of the Motherland, Learning, Poetry and Valour. The szopki competition is held here in early December.

The Town Hall Tower; Ratusz (facing the western side) is all that remains of the 14th century town hall pulled down in the 1820s as part of a misguided improvement plan. There is an excellent view from the top (Apr.-Oct.). The original spire was destroyed in the fire of 1680 and replaced by the present Baroque one. The cellars, once a prison and torture chambers, is now occupied by a popular satirical cabaret, the Teatr Satyry. In front of the tower is a plaque marking the place where Kosciuszko swore the "Act of Insurrection" on 24/3/1794 and where the Austrian eagles were piled up as a symbol of independence in 1918.

The tiny St Adalbert's Church; sw.Wojchecha towards the southeastern corner. This is the oldest building in the square and is the first church founded in Krakow. The saint, a Slav bishop, is reputed to have preached here in c.995 before heading north to convert (and get martyred by) the Prussians. The foundations of the original 10th century Romanesque building can be seen in the basement but there are traces of an even earlier wooden building also. The basement houses the Museum of the Rynek's history.

Around the Square:

The huge church, Kosciol Mariacki set at an angle to its northeast corner dominates the square. There was a church built here in the 1220s, partly destroyed by the Tartar raids of 1241 the present basilica was built on the remaining ruins (hence its orientation). The facade is dominated by the two unequal towers; the lowest, topped by a Renaissance dome is the bell tower holding 5 bells, whilst the taller, 81 metres high, belongs to the city and serves as a watchtower. It was given a gilded crown (c.4 metres in diameter) in 1666 - the gilded ball further up is said to contain the written history of the city. The hejnal is played from this tower every hour and on Polish Radio at noon. legend has it that a Tartar arrow pierced the throat of the bugler whilst giving the alarm; in commemoration the bugle call breaks off suddenly. Inside the church the east wall of the chancel is taken up by the altar of Wit Stwosz, the Dormition of the Virgin a huge polyptych carved in 1477-89 (about 13 metres high and 11 metres wide, it is the largest piece of mediaeval art of its kind). The altar is opened daily at noon. In the right aisle is a Baroque altar with a stone crucifix (again by Stwosz). The chancel also features original 14th century stained-glass and e.Baroque stalls. The wall paintings are by Matejko. Above the organ loft is Art Nouveau work by Wyspianski and Mehoffer.

In the small square next to the Mariacki (a former cemetery closed down by the Austrians) stands St.Barbara's Church; Kosciol sw. Barbary. This is a two-aisled building founded in 1338 by Mikolaj Wierzynek, built 1394-1402, which once served as a funerary chapel. Handed over to the Jesuits in 1583 it was remodelled in the Baroque style and housed a famous Jesuit college which competed with the Krakow Academy. During the period of Austrian rule services at the Mariacki were conducted in German and St.Barbara's became the principal Polish church in Krakow. By the altar is a 15th century Pieta. The ceiling paintings are by Peter Franz Molitor (1765) and the stone figure of Christ on the Mount of Olives in the small chapel at the entrance is a copy after an original attributed to Wit Stwosz.

Many of the mansions around the square are associated with artists, writers and wealthy local families. The eastern side of the square (along from the Mariacki) has some of the oldest houses in the city.

No.6, the Grey House; Kamienica Szara is the oldest burgher's house in the town, built in the 13th & 14th centuries. It contains Gothic vaults and Renaissance ceilings. The western facade was reshaped in the 17th century. The massive Baroque doorway was created by sculptors of the Castelli family. Residents include Poland's first elected king, Henri de Valois (in 1574), and Tadeusz Kosciuszko who had his quarters here. It was also the seat of the short-lived provisional government during the Krakow Uprising of 1846.

No.7, the Montelupi House; Kamienica Montelupich was originally a Gothic building rebuilt in the Renaissance style in 1556. It belonged to the Montelupi, a Florentine family who organised Poland's first postal service in the 16th century (commemorative plaque).

No.8, the Lizards' House; Kamienica Pod Jaszczurami is named after the coat of arms on its facade (the original is in the National Museum). Dating from the 15th century its Gothic nine-arched vaults are preserved on the ground floor. It now houses the best known student club in Krakow.

No.9, the Boner House (also known as the Firlej House; Kamienica Firlejowska) another Gothic building altered in the 16th century and given a Renaissance attic with figures. In 1605 the False Dmitri, Russian pretender, married Maryna Mniszech, daughter to the Voivode of Sandomierz in a failed attempt to establish a firm foothold in Moscow.

No.11 was the house of the Venetian envoy.

On the southern side, No.15, Wierzynek, is the oldest restaurant in Krakow (named after its 14th century owner who is said to have held lavish feasts here for Kazimierz Wielki in 1364). The dining rooms have fine Renaissance ceilings. Wierzynek paid for the chancel of the Mariacki.

No.17, the Hetman's House; Kamienica Hetmanska (also known as the Old Mint;Stara Mennica) dates from the 14th century and was the town palace of Jan of Melsztyn, castellan to Kazimierz Wielki. Gothic cross vaults are preserved on the ground floor, the bosses bearing the arms of the regions of the Polish Kingdom. Two keystones with carved heads possibly represent Kazimierz Wielki and Jadwiga. The Gothic door with its portal were discovered in 1979. Jozef Dietle, mayor of Krakow, lived here.

No.20, the Potocki Palace has a neoclassical facade with allegorical figures, built in 1773. This is a good example of a classical Krakow mansion.


St.Anne's Church; Kosciol sw.Anny is one of Poland's most beautiful Baroque churches. The present building replaced the mediaeval University church when it became too small for the cult of St. Jan Kanty/Cantius (1390-1473, canonised 1767, a University professor whose frugal cell can be seen in the Collegium Maius). It was built by the royal architect Tylman van Gameren in 1689-1703 modelled on the S.Andrea della Valle in Rome. It has a four-bay nave flanked by chapels, a dome over the crossing and a three-bay chancel. The magnificent plasterwork (with figures) and the altars are the most important work of Baldassare Fontana. The frescoes and paintings are by Carlo and Innocenzo Monti and Karl Dankwart. The fine furnishings include the shrine of St. Jan Kanty near Turkish standards presented by Sobieski; the bust of St.John is the work of Franciszek Wyspianski. There is a Neoclassical monument to Copernicus (whose work was on the Index at the time).

Across the road stand a group of buildings forming the Uniwersitet Jagiellonski, originally called the Krakow Academy. Originally founded by Kazimierz Wielki in 1364 (following the example of Emperor Charles IV in Prague), it had to be refounded by Wladyslaw Jagiello using a legacy of jewels from his wife, Jadwiga.

No.12 is the Collegium Nowodworskiego (1643) was built as a school by Jan Leitner. The fine arcaded courtyard and staircase date from this period. Its famous alumni include Jan Sobieski, Jozef Bem, Matejko and Wyspianski. Nowadays the building houses the university's Medical School.

Ul.Golebia(behind, via the Planty):

The Copernicus Monument stands outside the Neoclassical Collegium Phisicum (or Kollataj Collegium - after the great 18th.century reformer of the University who introduced Polish rather than Latin as the language of instruction) designed in 1790 by Feliks Radwanski. On its facade is a plaque commemorating the first liquefaction of oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen by Karol Olszewski and Walery Wroblewski in 1882.

No.24, the Collegium Novum is the brick building with impressive coats-of-arms built in Neo-Gothic style in 1883-7 by Feliks Ksiezarski on the site of the old university dormitories. In the Aula hang paintings illustrating the history of the university and portraits of professors. A plaque commemorates the 183 professors and scientific workers arrested here in 1939, many of whom perished in concentration camps (Hitler's stated aim had been to liquidate the Polish intelligentsia).

No.11, the Collegium Minus, housed the Faculty of Liberal Arts in the 15th.century. The original Gothic building was completely rebuilt in the 17th. and 18th.centuries. In the 19th.century this became the Faculty of Fine Arts where Matejko studied under Kornel Stattler, a friend of Thorvaldsen, the Nazarenes and Mickiewicz.


Standing at the junction with ul.sw.Anny at No.15 is the Collegium Maius, the original 14th.century building brought from the Pecherz family and provided by Wladyslaw Jagiello for the university. It is one of the best preserved mediaeval university buildings in Europe. It has a prominent stone buttress and a beautiful courtyard with a cloister with star vaulting and carved columns. In the centre of the courtyard stands a Baroque well-head decorated with the arms of Poland, the City of Krakow, Jagiello and Jadwiga. On the ground floor is the Alchemy room. The 16th.century Aula is richly panelled and includes a 1600 portal and door from the old town hall. The Common Room;Stuba Communis has a Danzig (spiral) staircase (c.1700). Amongst the most important surviving treasures is the Jagiellonian Globe (c.1510) with the first known representation of America. It is now the Museum of the History of the Jagiellonian University.

On the western side, No.27 (on the southern corner), Pod Baranami; the Palace under the Rams, was constructed from four adjacent Gothic burghers' houses in the 16th century. At various times it belonged to some of the greatest magnates; the Ostrowskis, the Radziwills, the Wielkopolskis and finally to the Potockis. Gothic cross-ribbed vaults are preserved in the cellars. At the turn of the 19th century the palace was a centre of cultural life and today belongs to the Krakow House of culture. The cellars are occupied by the cabaret "Piwnica Pod Baranami".

No. 34, the Spiski Palace was originally built in the 15th century and rebuilt in the 18th when the first theatre performances in Krakow were staged here. In the rooms on the first floor there is a decorative frieze depicting the legend of Pan Twardowski, painted by Tetmajer in the e. 20th century.

No.35. (at the northern corner) the Krzysztofory Palace, was built in the Middle Ages and rebuilt in the 17th century as the residence for the Crown Marshal, Adam Kazanowski. It was considered the the most magnificent residence in Krakow, after the Wawel itself. There is a beautiful arcaded courtyard with a Baroque fountain adorned with the "Leliwa" coat-of-arms of the Wodzicki family (later owners). The first floor rooms have stucco decoration by Baltazar Fontana. In 1848 the palace became the headquarters of the Revolutionary Government. The Gothic cellars contain Tadeusz Kantor's experimental theatre, Cricot 2. The first floor houses the Krakow Historical Museum (Muzeum Historyczne Krakowa) displaying szopki and the Lajkonik costume (Wed-Sat).


No.1, the Pear House;Dom "Pod Gruszka" belonged to the Morsztyn family in the 15th.century. In 1386, Wilhelm, Archduke of Austria, coming to meet his love Jadwiga hid himself in this house. The lower parts of the walls are covered with 17th.century Dutch tiles. The ceilings of this beautiful house have a stucco decoration by Fontana. The rooms on the first floor are now occupied by the Polish Journalists' Association.


This square has some of Krakow's finest Art Nouveau architecture.

No.1, (ul.Jagiellonska), The Modrzejewska Old Theatre; Teatr Stary was established in 1799 by the director of the Krakow Theatre, Jacek Kluszewski, for performances previously held at the Spiski and Krzystofory Palaces. Under the management of Stanislaw Kozmian two outstanding actresses - Helena Modjeska (Modrzejewska) and Antonina Hoffman performed on this stage. In 1893 the theatre received another building at Pl.sw.Ducha. In 1907 the theatre was rebuilt to designs by Tadeusz Stryjenski and Franciszek Maczynski and the facade was decorated in the Vienna Secession style by Jozef Gardecki.

No.2 is a fine apartment block from 1902 with a stained glass overdoor and staircase lights.

No.4, The Palace of Art; Palac Sztuki is a transitional Art Nouveau building designed by Franciszek Maczynski and erected in 1901. A frieze around the building was based on the drawings of Jacek Malczewski. Busts of outstanding Krakow artists stand in the niches; Jan Matejko, Wyspianski, Kossack, Ksiezarski and Szujski. It was built as headquarters for the Society of Friends of the Fine Arts, founded 1854, and is used for temporary art exhibitions. Other exhibitions, including the Graphics Triennial, are housed in the Pavilion of Exhibitions (BWA) - often called the "bunker", a Brutalist concrete structure (built on the site of a Futurist cafe) nearby, on the Planty.

No.9, the Szolayski Museum (all week) situated in a 17th.century palatial house, contains an important collection of Religious and Gothic Art collected from churches in the region. Its main exhibit is the wooden sculpture, the Kruzlowa Madonna (c.1410) discovered by Wyspianski.


The Church of the Reformed Franciscans; Kosciol Reformatow (with 18th.century Stations of the Cross in the garden opposite painted by M.Stachowicz), was built in the 17th.century. There is an 18th.century Baroque interior. Under the cloister is the famous subterranean cemetery with its own microclimate which naturally mummifies the corpses (visits can be arranged).


St.Mark's Church; Kosciol sw.Marka is a Gothic building founded in the 13th.century by the Duke of Krakow, Boleslaw Wstydliwy (the Bashful). The nave and tower date back to the 15th.century. On the outer wall - in ul.Slawkowska - is a Gothic wooden carving of the Crucifixion with St.John and Mary. Next to the 1653 high altar is the late Renaissance tomb of the Blessed Michal Giedroyc, son of Lithuanian dukes and an Augustinian monk.

No.17, the Museum of Natural History is located in the Polish Academy of Sciences. The collections include the hairy rhinoceros unearthed in the Karpaty.

No.13, the Tarnowski Palace was constructed in the 17th.century out of burghers' houses. The hollowed out stones on either side of the main entrance were for extinguishing torches. Inside is an impressive entrance hall with Baroque doorways.

No.4, the Gothic House;Dom Gotyka dates from the 15th.century. The rusticated stone doorway with a figure of Our Lady and a stucco decoration on the vault of the entrance were added when the house was remodelled in the Baroque style in the 17th.century. Inside, Baroque timber ceilings have been preserved.

On the north side, Goethe stayed for a short time at No.36 in 1790, and Kosciuszko lived at No 45 (plaques).