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Kazimierz Town Hall

main building – permanent exhibition

The city of Kazimierz (today a district in Kraków) was developed by decree of the King Kazimierz the Great, who gave city privileges to Kazimierz in 1335. This act marked the beginning of the city’s unusual history, which occured against the backdrop of the history of Poland, its civilisation, cultural diversity, and the phenomenon of the city itself, including its contemporary process of revitalisation.

In this way, the Kazimierz town hall, situated from the beginning in the centre urban square (later called Plac Wolnica), is witness to this history, and is fundamental to the heritage and memory of Kraków, as well as of Poland.

Thus the town hall, as well as the square, testifies first and foremost to the amazing foresight of the king, specifically to the fact that he built a strong urban centre in the immediate vicinity of the capital of Poland (Kraków is only separated from Kazimierz by a tributary of the Vistula). Built of stone in 1414 in the place of the former wooden construction, the town hall came to represent how life was stabilizing in this new city. Architectural traces of this period can be found in the basements of the current building located at pl. Wolnica 1.

The town hall has also been a valuable witness to the subsequent changes in Kazimierz – the civilisational development of the city in the 16th and the beginning of the 17th centuries (in this period the building assumed a Renaissance appearance, with a crennellated attic – the first tower clock in Kraków also appeared at this time). The town hall witnessed a difficult period in Polish history, marked by fires and the Swedish Deluge (the town hall was destroyed and rebuilt twice). At the beginning of the 19th century, after years of uncertainty about the future of the building, the town hall was renovated and began to perform an educational function. (Kazimierz itself had earlier been incorporated into Kraków as a district by Austrian decree in 1800.)

The beginning of the 19th century was both a period of intensive spatial-functional changes in the town hall’s environs - Plac Wolnica, which in the medieval period was almost as large as Kraków’s market square, shrank in size, and the town hall itself began to border Krakowska Street, a street that had arisen in the place of an old trade route. 

The fact that the town hall has remained in its original location means that it is a significant reference point for the changes that occured. A similarly important reference is, for example, the first medieval building in Kazimierz, i.e. St. Catherine’s Church, which was built on the other side of the plaza where the town hall stands, and which is today also surrounded by streets. In this new labyrinth of Kazimierz streets, both the Town Hall and St. Catherine’s Church function as very valuable witnesses to the medieval genius loci of Kazimierz.  

The educational functions which the town hall performed in the 19th century were of considerable significance. First, the hall was home to the Industrial and Commercial School, and then to a Jewish school (admitting Christian children) which operated until the Second World War. We can today decipher an important message for future generations from these facts!

After the Second World War, the Town Hall gained a new function – it became the Ethnographic Museum of Kraków. Thanks to this, the building continued to perform a cultural role. The 17th-century architectural details on the tower hall’s north side were recreated over the course of many renovations.

It would be difficult to find another medieval Polish town hall that was built for similar reasons. The period in which the Kazimierz town hall was erected is also very significant as there are not many heritage sites as distinctive from that  period in Poland. The town hall, located at the heart of royal, Polish and, over time, also Jewish Kazimierz, is a rare testimony to  changes underwent on both an architectural and functional level. These changes were the results of different experiences that the city, an architecturally and socially fascinating organism, went through, including its period of decline. The town hall is also an interesting heritage site of the post-Second World War era and the political and economic transformation of 1989.    

At present, the town hall is on the one hand a space for conservation and preservation projects (carried out by the Museum thanks to funding provided by the Social Committee for the Restoration of Monuments in the Lesser Poland Voivodeship), and on the other a specific type of laboratory in which certain revitalising processes take place. These processes attempt to find real solutions to the many challenges the 21st century poses for everyone, not only for citizens of Kraków.