Discovering Krakow’s Old Town usually starts at Florian Gate – the most important historical entrance to the city. Right next to it is the Barbican, which is not only one of the most characteristic structures of military architecture in Krakow but also one of the few such buildings still remaining in Poland.
History of the Barbican
The Barbican was erected at the end of the 15th century as an element of fortification strengthening Krakow’s defences from the northern side. The work was undertaken because, following King John I of Poland’s defeat in the Battle of Cosmin Forest in 1497, there was a huge danger of a Wallachian-Turkish invasion. The building survived in good condition until the beginning of the 19th century, when it was faced with the threat of demolition, along with the nearby Florian Gate, as a result of a decision by the Austrian Emperor Francis II. Thanks to the intercession of two senators, Feliks Radwański and Florian Straszewski, the Barbican was saved, along with a short section of the city walls. The decision to leave it in place was explained by the threat of winds blowing from the north, which, if they weren’t blocked somehow, would have caused a nuisance to the local residents walking around the Main Square.
In 1910, as part of the ceremonies to mark the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Grunwald, it was proposed that the Barbican should house the Grunwald Panorama, a monumental work of art created especially for that occasion. However, the Commission for the Preservation of Works of Art and Historical Monuments in Vienna refused to give its backing, so the idea was abandoned and the painting was put on display elsewhere.
Description of the Barbican
From the outside, the Barbican has a circular shape. Due to the period when it was built, it’s a Gothic-style building topped with seven watchtowers. The diameter of the Barbican as a circle is 24 m, while the walls are up to 3 m thick, which also provided additional protection. Interestingly, the Barbican was connected to Florian Gate by means of a fortified passageway – the so-called “neck”. The walls of the neck also had their own defensive elements, including battlements with embrasures (arrow slits).
The main entrance to the Barbican was located on the side of the Kleparz district. It was designed to provide additional protection for the city, including the ability to direct flanking fire from the city walls. The Barbican and its walls were surrounded by a moat 24 m wide and 3.5 m deep.
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