Krakow Cloth Hall (in Polish: Sukiennice) is one of the most recognizable symbols of the city! It attracts tourists to the Main Market Square like a magnet. But what is it in fact? What was/is the role of this building in the city life? Krakow Cloth Hall sightseeing should start by finding answers for these questions!
Cloth stalls were built in the very center of the Market Square after the city location in 1257 (as a reminder – Piast duke Boleslaw the Shy set up the City of Krakow at the Magdeburg Law which caused Market and streets demarcation). Today’s Cloth Hall is extremely different than medieval ones – original was just a row of stalls made of stone blocks, separated by a cobbled alley.
We already know Casimir’s the Great ambitions and modernization ideas (read our text devoted to the Ojców National Park and Eagles’ Nests Trail, check out also posts about Kazimierz District!). He decided to give the city’s main “shopping mall” much more presentable character. Thanks to the one of the best polish kings old cloth stalls transferred to a gothic hall with beautiful ogival arcades. The building was much more similar to today’s Sukiennice and served Krakow’s merchants and their customers to the mid-sixteenth century – more precisely to 1555 when Cloth Hall was seriously damaged by fire.
It was unacceptable that in the heart of a beautiful and wealth city, stood smoked remains of former Cloth Hall. The hall was rebuilt by hands of Italian, Renaissance sculptors (as well as Wawel Castle reconstructed by Francesco Florentino at the beginning of the 16th century). Krakow townsmen and burgers immediately began to repair and reconstruct old hall, but in the spirit of new, Renaissance style. For architectural plans and beautiful sculpture details are responsible two men – Giovanni Maria Mosca ‘Padovano’ – the designer of wonderful column arcades, under which you can sit now, sipping a cup of coffee and Santi Gucci, author of the famous attic and gargoyles, a precursor of Mannerism style in Poland. However, we do not forget that over the whole construction watched out a Pole, non-well-recognized master Pankracy. Renaissance Cloth Hall is therefore the result of teamwork and effort of several creative minds. It is also worth noting that the transition in the middle of the Hall, which makes a “shortcut” through two separated buildings, were drilled at the beginning of the 17th century.
Krakow Cloth Hall nowadays
But if you think that today’s Cloth Hall is the same building as it was around 400 years ago, then you are in big mistake. 19th century brought some significant changes in the appearance of Sukiennice, mainly because of the idea of respectable architect, Tomasz Pryliński. Avant-corpses were added in the middle of the building. Moreover, they were decorated with attics and gargoyles that refers to the mannerist creations of Santi Gucci, but depicting caricatures of presidents of Krakow. Do you know who draft projects for these carved faces made by Walery Gadomski? It was the most famous Polish historical painter, Jan Matejko himself! It is all about the Cloth Hall history, so let’s start our tour!
It is good to walk through the Sukiennice passage at ground floor to see an arrangement of wooden stalls and painted coats of arms of Polish towns inside. Who knows, maybe among handicrafts and folk stuff you will find a perfect souvenir from Krakow? If not, at least you can feel the spirit of this trade place that lasts over 700 years!
In the 19th century another changes we did not mentioned before influenced on Sukiennice. In 1879, at the upper floor of the building, where the Renaissance Krakow’s szmatruz (a room for small traders and hawkers) was, was established Polish Paintings Gallery. It is the oldest department of the National Museum in Krakow which runs to this day! Currently, the gallery has a beautiful new arrangement and its sightseeing is a great pleasure. At the exhibition you can see works of great Polish painters of the 18th and 19th centuries. Cloth Hall tour is an opportunity to see the famous Prussian Homage by Jan Matejko (events depicted in the picture indeed took place near the Cloth Hall – the site now marked with a plaque). You can also see there another well-known and valuable painting – Nero’s Torches by Henryk Siemiradzki (this work initiated the whole collection). Orlowski, Smuglewicz, Michalowski, Rodakowski, Chełmoński or Malczewski are just a few examples of artists whose works you can see in the Cloth Hall! Tickets cost 14 zł per adult and 8 zł with concession (eg. for retirees) but it is worth noting that children (up to 7 years old), school children and students enters to the museum for free! Let us remember also that on every Sunday entrance for afults is for free too!
Underground of the Main Market Square
There is another unusual museum near the Cloth Hall, even though it is difficult to notice. We are speaking about the exhibition beneath the Main Market Square. It has a separate entry and we presented it before (of course sightseeing tour with a guide is possible), so this time we will briefly describe this fantastic museum. Once again we would like to emphasize, that your Krakow tour should start here. Thanks to the Underground of the Main Market Square Museum you have an unique opportunity to know the oldest history of Krakow and see (on the basis of the original stalls relicts and they reconstruction in the 3D hologram!) how exactly Gothic and Renaissance Cloth Hall looked like. Tickets costs 19 PLN per adult and 16 PLN with concession.
Before the Cloth Hall sightseeing it is good to prepare a reasonable plan ahead, especially if you want to visit museums. Remember about the obligatory reservation for the underground museum. We invite You for sightseeing with our guides!