The Main Square in Krakow

The Main Square in Krakow is one of the landmarks of the city. It is a place of meetings and of cultural events, known around the world as a tourist attraction popular among visitors and inhabitants. Learn more about the history of this fascinating place below!

History of Krakow Main Square

The history of the Main Square is inextricably linked with the history of the Old Town. In 1257, Krakow included only the part that we know today as the Old Town, with the Main Square marked out based on a grid plan. Its size, 200 x 200 metres, made it one of the largest medieval city squares in Europe. From the start it was a centre of trade, with individual parts of the square divided into places where specific goods were traded, hence the chicken, lead and copper markets. An additional area where the meat trade was located was called Small Square. One of the remnants of those times, and one of the most characteristic buildings of the Old Town, is the Cloth Hall, i.e. the former cloth stalls. The original name of the Main Square – Der Ring (‘the ring’) – came from the shape of the street surrounding the square. The centre of this square was in the then cross-shape of the Cloth Hall.

Later centuries brought more huge developments of the Main Square and its premises. The houses of rich merchants and burghers were built around it. In the second half of the 14th century, the streets began to be paved and the old wooden houses were gradually replaced with brick ones.

The Main Square was a place where there were ingresses, tributes, parades and triumphs – in short, all events of any political or social importance. One of the most crucial ones was the tribute of Albrecht Hohenzollern to the Polish King Sigismund the Old in 1525, and another was the reading of the solemn oath and the Kościuszko Uprising by Tadeusz Kościuszko in 1794. The square was also the site where death sentences were carried out (beheading by executioners) and other punishments were imposed – at the entrance to St Mary’s Church there are still martens, i.e. metal hoops worn on the hands or necks of the convicts.

In the 19th century, Krakow was a place of many changes caused by economic factors and catastrophes (including the great fire of Krakow in 1850). The town hall was demolished (the tower is the only remnant), the Cloth Hall was rebuilt, and a new invention appeared – the tram, which was firstly horse-drawn and later electric. Its route crossed the Main Square!

For a short period during the occupation, the name of the Main Square was changed into Adolf Hitler Platz. After the liberation, the original names of streets and places were reinstated. Nowadays, it’s a lively and well-restored place that is a must-see for everu visitor. Despite its turbulent past, the Main Square is filled with exquisite monuments, charming cafes and interesting museums.

Adam Mickiewicz Monument and St. Mary’s Church in the Market Square in Kraków

The most important spots on the Krakow Main Square

A large number of the most famous monuments in Krakow are located within the Main Square.

St. Mary’s Basilica – the city parish of Krakow, a church that dates back to the 13th century; in the middle, baroque interiors, beautiful polychrome and the largest wooden gothic altar in Europe.
The Cloth Hall – old cloth stalls. Currently there is a branch of the National Museum in Krakow, called the Gallery of 19th-Century Polish Art located there; in its cellars is an interactive museum – Rynek Underground.

The Town Hall Tower – a gothic tower from the 15th century, the only remnant of the town hall destroyed in 1820. Currently the branch of the Krakow’s Museum.

The Adam Mickiewicz monument – a commemoration of one of the most important Polish poets, unveiled in 1898. It remains a main meeting point for Krakovians.

Wierzynek – a restaurant on the Main Square; according to legends it was the scene of a huge feast with King Casimir the Great and numerous invited European royals.

St. Adalbert’s Church – one of the oldest churches in Krakow, originally Romanesque, then rebuilt in the Baroque style.

Main Market Square with the town hall, the Cloth Hall and the Church of St. Wojciech from a bird’s eye view