Located near the Wawel Castle on the Royal Road in the second largest Polish city Krakow is Rynek, the main market square of the city. Spread over an area of about 40,000 square meters Rynek ranks among the largest market squares of the medieval period in Europe. The market square, which was known as Adolf Hitler Platz during the German occupation of Poland, is the heart of the historic city and is regarded among the best squares by the Project for Public Spaces for its lively street life.
The history of Rynek dates back to 1257 when it was rebuilt after the destruction of the city during the Mongol invasion in 1241 and was designed in such a way that three evenly spaced streets meet the square at right angles on each side. Krakow was once the Polish capital and kings coronation and royal funerals were held at the market square, a tradition which continued even after the capital was moved to Warsaw in the late sixteenth century. The square was also used for public executions and has been witness to several historic events such as the call to rise against the foreign rule by Tadeusz Kosciusko, the Nazi rally attended by Hitler himself and the tragic accident in the seventeenth century when explosives were accidentally fired on the public.
Wandering around the market square you are surrounded by the neoclassical architecture of the townhouses with each of them having their unique names and history. There is a statue of Poland’s greatest scribe Adam Mickiewicz although strangely the great poet never visited the city. The St. Mary’s Basilica is a beautiful structure with its crowning glory the altarpiece designed by Velt Stoss. The metal neck restraints on the basilica’s side doors were used to punish philandering women and certainly will catch your attention. You can climb up the Town Hall Tower, the only element of the 14th century which still stands having survived the numerous fires offering a fantastic view of the Rynek.
The centre stage of the market square is the Sukiennice or the cloth market which can be regarded as one of the first shopping malls in the world, where you can bargain a great deal on amber, laces, woodwork and souvenirs. To learn more about the history of the market and the city visit the hi-tech Rynek Underground Museum located under the market. You can also admire a classical collection of portraits and paintings including Podkowinski’s Frenzy and Portrait of Stanislaw August Poniatowski in Coronation Dress at the Polish Art Gallery located inside the Sukiennice.
Photo by Si Salter of thedepartureboard.com
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