Florian Gate in Krakow Old Town – History
Florian Gate is a must-see for every tourist visiting Krakow. The first mentions of the gate, whose name comes from the Church of St. Florian in Matejko Square, date back to 1307.
Along with the Barbican, Florian Gate is one of the few still-preserved fragments of the old city walls. Together with the other gates that no longer exist – Sławkowska, Grodzka, Wiślna, Mikołajska, Rzeźnicza (the remains of which can be seen in the walls of the Dominican monastery from the side of Planty Park), Szewska, Nowa and Poboczna – the gate was one of the places through which it was possible to enter medieval Krakow. Florian Gate was the main entrance, and the most important one. Its fortifications defended the city from the north, which was crucial as Krakow didn’t have any kind of natural barriers, such as swamps or backwaters, that could provide
natural protection against hostile forces. Florian Gate, also called Porta Gloriae (the Gate of Glory), served a ceremonial function as well, as the starting point for processions of royals and national heroes on their way to Wawel Castle after returning from victorious battles. Distinguished guests would also be guided through the most beautiful and representative streets of the city along the Royal Route, or Via Regia as it was called, which was the route for coronation and royal funeral processions.
The gate stands at 34.5m tall and consists of two parts: the gate itself and the tower above it called the Furriers’ Tower – which was responsible for protecting the nearby section of the fortification. The Barbican was built in 1498-1499, and connected to the gate by a special fortified bridge (the so-called neck). According to historians, in the period from the 15th to the 17th century, the complex was an impregnable fortification. At the top of the gate – from the town’s side – is an 18th-century bas- relief of Saint Florian. Above the entrance to the gate from the north side (the Planty side) is a stone Piast eagle, a bas-relief based on a design by Jan Matejko, which
replaced another eagle in 1882. Inside the gate there is an altar from the beginning of the 19th century with a late Baroque copy of the painting of the Piaskowa Madonna.
Due to be demolished three times
It’s a curious fact that Florian Gate, the remains of the city walls and the Barbican might never have survived to the modern day. Not on account of the country’s turbulent military history, but rather due to a decision of the local city authorities, which tried to demolish the monument three times!
The first time was when the city walls were dismantled in the years 1810-1814, following a decree issued by the Holy Roman Emperor Francis II in 1806. Back then, the approach to medieval monuments was completely opposite to the one favoured in modern times. They didn’t think about their historical importance but rather their usefulness; and it just so happened that the bricks and stones that the fortifications were made from were perfect to help with the renovation of the sewerage system.
The walls themselves were not exactly in good condition, but that didn’t change the fact that all buildings not seen as useful were demolished – this also happened to many old churches. The northern fortification almost met the same fate, but luckily it was saved by Professor Feliks Radwański, who wrote a letter to the authorities convincing them to keep that part of the city wall due to the protection it provided against the strong north winds. The professor not only warned about the possible health problems that might result, but also the danger of the wind blowing up women’s dresses and causing ladies’ legs – one of the most controversial body parts at the time – to be exposed to the public. We don’t know which argument was most
convincing for the authorities, but the northern city walls were ultimately saved, with the official reason given that it was due to the protection from bad winds.
The existence of Florian Gate came under threat again in the second half of the 19th century when the city council was very keen to develop, or demolish, this neglected monument. Fortunately, it was protected by prince Władysław Czartoryski, who decided to establish his family’s chapel in the tower above the gate.
The idea of demolishing the building appeared for the third time at the beginning of the 20th century, when Krakow was caught up in the heat of the industrial era and getting ready to replace horse-drawn carriages with electric vehicles. When the first tram lines were built in 1901, it turned out that the tram was not able to fit on the planned route that led through Florian Gate. The first idea floated was that the gate should be demolished, but luckily this proposal caused an outcry and resulted in loud opposition from history lovers. As a result, a new solution was found – the level of
the street was lowered by 1.5 metres, allowing tram no. 1 to pass freely through the gate. This tram line would continue to be seen driving around the Main Square until 1952.
Florian Gate, the historical fragments of the city walls and the Barbican are all currently open to tourists under a single ticket from March to October. Celestat, located on Lubicz Street, is also well worth a visit. A branch of the Museum of Krakow and the seat of the Fowler Brotherhood, it forms part of the city’s defence route along with the other monuments.
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