Cloth Hall – the heart of the Krakow Market Square
Krakow’s signature: the Main Square
Rynek Główny is arguably Krakow’s biggest attraction. As a part of the city’s historic center, it entered the first list of UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage in 1978. More interestingly, it is the biggest medieval square in Europe and consists of some incredible buildings. St. Mary’s Basilica is probably the most recognizable one of them and often features in holiday photos. This gothic church famous for the trumpet signal played every hour from its taller tower is a house to one of the largest Gothic altarpieces in Europe. We could go on and on about St. Mary’s Basilica. However, in this post, we will give all of our attention to the building in the heart of Main Square.
In the center of the Main Square: the Cloth Hall
The Cloth Hall dominates the Main Square and is of great significance in the history of Krakow. Why? This is where trade used to take place in the old days. You could even say that it was the first shopping center in Poland. However, it was not the kind of place where anyone could visit for a shopping spree. The truth is, not everyone could afford the goods that were sold there.
Sukiennice – where does the name come from?
In Polish, the Cloth Hall is known as Sukiennice. The building took its name from one of the first fabrics that used to be sold there – “sukno” (English: baize). It is a cloth that is rarely in use these days but was on the pricey side back in the day. Although textiles were the main product sold here, you could also buy spices, wax, and salt from the nearby Wieliczka mine.
A brief history of Krakow’s Cloth Hall
Sukiennice came to be in the Middle Ages, the 13th century to be exact. However, it did not resemble the Cloth Hall that we can see in the Old Town of Krakow today. Originally space, where the hall is located nowadays had just two rows of stalls. An actual building was erected in this place in the second half of the 14th century, but it did not last long. In 1555 it was destroyed in a fire. Its existence was so important that the best architects were hired to rebuild it in Renaissance style. This was the peak of its glory.
After the capital of Poland was moved from Krakow to Warsaw, the popularity of this commercial center slowly started to decline. The numerous wars and partitions of Poland made its condition even worse. In fact, it was in a poor and forgotten state for a long time. At the end of the 19th century, the renovation that took place added the building’s characteristic arcades, and the first Polish National Museum was opened on the upper floor. However, the renovations in the 20th century were the most significant for the building’s current shape.
The Cloth Hall today
As the heart of the main market square in Krakow, Sukiennice cannot be missed. Although it’s no longer the center of trade in this part of the continent, it still operates as a market. Don’t worry. You don’t have to break the bank as you won’t find expensive goods here anymore. If you’re looking for souvenirs, amber jewelry, or handmade crafts to take home, this is the best place to go. Even if you don’t find anything worth a purchase, it’s still an interesting place to visit and a must experience in Krakow.
Apart from still being a place of trade, the Cloth Hall is also where history and art are cultivated. It is home to two museums: an art gallery and a hi-tech museum that is actually an archaeological site.
Art Gallery (a division of the National Museum)
The upper floor of the Cloth Hall is where you’ll find the city’s oldest museum. Opened in 1879, it focuses on art from the 19th century and gives great attention to amazing Polish painters such as Jan Matejko. The museum is small in size, meaning you can go there for a short visit and admire each piece in detail.
If you want to see what the square looked like in the Middle Ages, a visit to the Underground Museum should be high on your list. Opened in 2010, it takes you a few meters underground (below the Square and the Cloth Hall), where you can see the excavated remains like the original merchant stalls. This interactive museum will give you a unique insight into the city and its medieval past. Since it’s trendy, make sure to book your tickets in advance.
Interesting tidbit: the knife inside the Drapers’ Hall
Once you get the chance to visit the Cloth Hall in Krakow, be on the lookout for a knife hanging in one of the entrances. Various stories try to explain its presence there. The more popular one links it to St. Mary’s Basilica that we’ve mentioned earlier. The legend says that two brothers built the church’s towers. When one of them noticed that his brother’s tower is getting taller, jealousy prompted him to kill his brother with a knife. The guilt after that was too big for the brother to bear, and he committed suicide by jumping off of the taller tower. The knife used in this crime was supposedly hung inside the Cloth Hall to remind this tragic story. By the way, this is also supposed to explain why one tower of the church is taller.
Another belief suggests that the knife was hung there as a warning to thieves who could be tempted by all the goods brought by merchants from all over the continent. According to the Magdeburg Law that was in place in Krakow at the time, a thief could be punished by having his ear cut off. If it was a bigger robbery, then he could even lose an arm. We could see how this could be an effective way to scare potential thieves off.
To disappoint you just a little, the knife currently hanging there is a replica. It is believed that the original was stolen during World War II.
A must-see spot on your Krakow itinerary
Now that you’ve learned something about Krakow’s famous Cloth Hall, it’s time to see it in person. If you wish to get to know Krakow’s Old Town and its every corner, we recommend our Krakow City Walk tour. A local guide will take you to the most important places on the map of this charming city and share with you all the interesting stories. And if you want to see more of Krakow and its surroundings, we have plenty of other interesting tours. Go to the Wieliczka Salt Mine and Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum or visit the museums along the Memorial Route. With Mr.Shuttle visiting all of Krakow’s highlights is a piece of cake.
1. Asuchwitz - Birkenau & Salt Mine One Day Tour
Auschwitz & Salt Mine One Day Tour is a top-notch guided tour with an opportunity to explore the history of the most horrifying death camp in Europe and the top tourist attraction near Krakow, the Wieliczka Salt Mine.
2. Wieliczka Salt Mine Tour
Wieliczka Salt Mine, a Material Culture World Heritage Site, has over 1 million guests every year. It is one of the biggest tourist attractions located near Krakow it is famous in Poland and the world! It is one of sixteen Polish UNESCO’s World Cultural and Natural Heritage Sites.
3. Zakopane Tour
Zakopane owes this distinctive atmosphere to the partial location of the Tatra Mountains within its administrative borders. It became a famous resort town with main attractions in the central point of Zakopane – the intersection of Krupowki Street and Kosciuszki Street. In the north, there is the Gubałówka Mountain Range, and in the south, a mountain massif dominating the landscape Giewont. Being around the mountains, the traditional folk costumes and music will put you in a different mood and give you an unforgettable experience. Another great adventure is watching the national ski jumping. It is excellent entertainment, giving you incredible emotions. Are you already delighted with Zakopane? Please find a way to discover it with Mr. Shuttle!
4. Krakow City Walk
Already booked your flight to Krakow, Poland, and looking for ways to spend your time there? Book our Krakow City Walk tour and take in all the city’s best sights while learning about it from our helpful guide. This is one of the walking tours that you and your group cannot miss. MrShuttle offers you the ultimate introduction to Krakow and its long history. This walking tour will take you around the most important places in Krakow, including the Jewish Quarter and the Old Town, and give you some great insight into this old city.
5. Private Krakow Airport to Krakow Transfer
Mr.Shuttle’s private airport transfers are a safe, cheap, and comfy way to travel between Krakow John Paul II Airport (KRK) and Krakow.