What’s worth seeing in Krakow’s Main Market Square?

Krakow’s Main Square is a must-see on every tourist’s itinerary. This largest medieval Main Square in Europe is an almost perfect square with a side of 200 metres. It was delimited as a result of the so-called Great Locating of the City of Krakow under the Magdeburg Law in 1257. The granting of city rights also meant the delimitation of the main square and a very regular system of outgoing streets. This layout, although disturbed by some irregularities, as will be discussed in a moment, is very clear and visible to this day.

Historical location and street pattern

Theoretically, two streets arranged perpendicular to each other were supposed to emerge from each corner of the market (such as St Anne’s and Wiślna Streets in the south-west corner). However, already in the south-east corner we have instead one street, Grodzka Street, coming out diagonally. Like the other irregularities in the Main Square, this is a remnant of a pre-local settlement – it must be stressed here that the town was not founded on raw roots! Hence, there were certain developments that influenced the final shape. While we are on the subject of the peculiarities of the Main Square, we should mention the most important building there – St. Mary’s Basilica (Bazylika Mariacka), situated diagonally to its individual frontages. This, of course, also bears witness to the pre-local age of this venerable building. Another testimony to the ancient times before the location in 1257 is St Adalbert’s Church (kościół św. Wojciecha), located very unusually on the Main Square’s pavement.

The Church of St Mary in the Main Square (Rynek Glowny) in the city of Kracow in Poland. This gothic basilica is also known as the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin. Dates from the late 13th Century.

What is on the Main Square?

The objects we can admire today while strolling around the Main Square in Krakow are the aforementioned St. Mary’s Basilica, although, for the sake of formality, we should add that its address is not the Main Square but St. Mary’s Square. Its characteristic, slender silhouette topped by two towers of unequal height is the main dominant feature of the Main Square. Next, the eye of the tourist encounters the monument to Adam Mickiewicz, popularly known as “Adaś”, and nearby – the ancient, still Romanesque, small St. Adalbert’s Church.The central building is of course the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) – a building rich in beautiful Renaissance forms (the famous attic topped with a gallery of mascarons!) where you can buy souvenirs, see Polish art of the 19th century (on the first floor) and – since 2010 – go down to Europe’s only underground museum arranged on such a scale, presenting everyday life in medieval Krakow and seeing relics of the oldest buildings, preserved only in the lower floors. This museum is a veritable mine of knowledge about the medieval Main Square. A visit to it will help us understand why the Main Square was so extensive and why it is relatively empty nowadays. Recommended!

Right next to the Town Hall tower, tourists notice the modern sculpture “Eros entangled” by Igor Mitoraj, which gives the whole premises a modern flair. The famous sculpture is also a favourite spot for photos.

"Eros entangled" sculpture by Igor Mitoraj
Two lovers walk along Krakow

The most important events in Krakow? On the Main Square.

The Main Square has always been a strategic point in the city.It is here that the most important ceremonies and events of national importance have taken place for centuries; suffice it to mention the Prussian Homage and Tadeusz Kościuszko’s oath to inaugurate the insurrection, both of which are commemorated with appropriate plaques.It was also in the Main Square that justice was administered (the executioner worked here, the pillory was located here), but before the convict could be punished, he or she had to be tried.And so we move to the other side of the Main Square and reach the subject of the city council and City Hall.This 70-metre-high Krakow leaning tower, today just a remnant of a building from centuries ago, housed a torture chamber in its basement!

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