Wolnica Square

Streets and squares

The Wolnica Square you see today is but a section of what used to be the Market Square of Kazimierz: this is where the salt trading route, leading from Wieliczka and Bochnia used to run.

Following the model of Kraków, the neighbouring city of Kazimierz had its market square staked out soon after receiving its city charter. It was a great expanse (195 × 195 m, i.e. 640 × 640 ft) playing the role of an administrative and trade centre. Built here was the town hall (preserved to this day), the buildings of the city scales and sheep shearing, while the stalls and cloth stores divided into two parts. Once a week, on Saturdays, it was also a place where butchers who were not members of the Guild could sell their produce. This privilege, in Latin forum liberum (open forum, or the right of free trade), gave rise to the square’s popular name – Wolnica.

Today’s Wolnica Square, half the size of the original, formed after Kazimierz became a part of Kraków in 1800. A sculpture/fountain The Three Musicians, a work of Kraków artist Bronisław Chromy, stands in its south-eastern section. A link to the commercial traditions of the place has survived in the Bread Festival (Święto Chleba), the Kraków Honey Harvest (Krakowskie Miodobranie), and the Małopolska Festival of Taste (Festiwal Smaku) taking place here.

The only surviving proof of the autonomous nature of Kazimierz is the lofty Town Hall standing on Wolnica Square. Originally Gothic (with relics of 14th-century walls retained in the basements), it burnt down twice, always to be rebuilt. The changes saw it gain a crenellated parapet, a rarity today in Kraków, and a tower covered with a modest spire. After Kazimierz became part of Kraków, the town hall lost its function and fell into disrepair. It was later adapted for the needs of a school of trade and commerce, and later a general school for Jewish youth. The plaque in its eastern wall (1996) commemorates the welcoming of Jewish refugees to Poland, as they were persecuted in other parts of Europe, in the reign of Casimir the Great (Kazimierz Wielki). It replaced the original one removed by the Nazis during the German occupation. After the Second World War, the place became home to the Museum of Ethnography. A branch of the museum operates in the nearby Dom Esterki (ul. Krakowska 46). By tradition it is associated, albeit probably without a good reason, with Esterka: the Jewish mistress of King Casimir the Great, colourfully described by chronicler Jan Długosz. What remains certain, however, is that in the 16th century, this Gothic house (with original cellars and stonework of the windows preserved) used to belong to a royal architect and an alderman of Kazimierz, the Italian Bartolomeo Berrecci. Its so-called broken roof may be worth your attention, as its form is so characteristic for the place that it came to be known as the Kraków roof.

Between Krakowska and Bożego Ciała streets

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