The Kraków town hall was erected at the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries. The oldest source information about it comes from 1313, and about the town hall tower from 1383. In 1397-1399, the Notary House was added to the building of the town hall. In the second half of the 14th century, as a result of the reconstruction, the town hall gained a third floor, as well as gothic decorations. Medieval construction works were completed between 1414 and the mid-15th century, when master Jan of Toruń was brought to the roof finish.
Within the walls of the Kraków City Hall, the mayor was in office, the councilors met, and there was a jury court, a chancellery, an archive and a treasury. As the seat of the highest municipal authorities, a symbol of the city’s wealth and prestige, it also served a representative function and hosted many times kings, senators, townsmen and soldiers. Initially, the city council was composed of six people, later its composition was expanded to 24 councilors, although there were only eight officials, and the rest had to be satisfied with the status of representatives. In 1368, king Casimir the Great decided that the city council should be made up of representatives of both merchants and Cracovian guild members. In 1404, it was decided that the city council would consist of 23 councilors divided into three groups that will hold power in the city for three consecutive years.
In the cellars of the town hall a beer house was arranged. According to the current medieval customs and royal laws, drinks imported from outside the town could only be sold under the control of the city council. Beer was brought from Świdnica, from this comes the name Świdnicka Cellar. At the end of the fifteenth century, beer produced in Kraków was worse than Świdnica beer and the monastic beer from Kazimierz, so the demand for them decreased, as it grew for imported ones. The cellar was so infamous that in 1456 king Kazimierz Jagiellończyk deprived the councilors of the privilege of importing beer. It was not until 1501 that king Jan I Olbracht abolished ban and gave Kraków a monopoly on the sale of Świdnica beer.
In the 30s and 40s of the 16th century, the town hall was modernized, establishing large windows in its eastern façade, and after 1561 a granary, crowned with an attic in the 17th century, was erected. In 1678, the second floor of the town hall was erected, with the arsenal on the eastern side. There was a balcony supported on twelve consoles. The balcony collapsed in 1702, smashing Swedish soldiers. After 1782, a classicistic guard house was erected, adjacent to the town hall tower. Before 1782, the tower’s helmet was changed, covered with a new 18th century helmet in place of the old gothic, referring to the finial of the St. Mary’s church tower. In 1817, the city council adopted the demolition of the granary, however, during the works, the walls of the proper town hall were breached, which was then also demolished.
The town hall consisted of a stone, initially two-storey, and later a three-story building erected on a rectangular plan with dimensions of 30×10 meters. In its interior there was a market hall on the ground floor and at the first floor, yet temporary rooms serving councilors. A town hall tower adjoined the building to the south-east. The space between the town hall and the tower was occupied by an internal courtyard, enclosed from the other two sides by a wall with a guard gallery and a prison. The gables of the building were blended, with pinnacles, on the corners there were octagonal turrets and an arcaded porch from the east.
The main entrance to the town hall was from the Cloth Hall side. Since the fifteenth century, it was preceded by a small annex from which one entered a sizable chamber serving as a waiting room, but also a place of court proceedings. The ground floor was also a room of the mayor and the most important chamber in the town hall, that is, the Hall of the Lords – the place of the city council, the magistrate court and the hosting of monarchs. In the Middle Ages, the Hall of the Lord was covered with a wooden ceiling, and its walls were decorated with paintings with biblical scenes and Latin inscriptions, reminding judges about the necessity of issuing just judgments. It was illuminated by three, originally ogival windows, overlooking the town hall courtyard. The second significant room was, also located in the ground floor, the Lay Judges Chamber. On the first floor, there was the Judicial Chamber, the apartment of the superior of the service, the Chancery (the seat of the writer) and the chapel. There were city books in the Chancery and a well-educated writer ran the entire city administration.
The town hall tower is built on a square plan of stone blocks and bricks. The three walls of the tower are decorated with a stone cladding with a wide, vertical tracery. It was completed in 1444, as evidenced by the preserved signs of stonemasons made on the occasion of the completion of works. The tower has four floors and cellars. In the ground floor there is a room that was originally used to store the treasury and insignia of councilors. Its area of 36 m2 was covered with a rib vault and was illuminated from the east and south by two small windows in stone cladding. A narrow and steep staircase with 110 stone steps leads to the upper rooms of the tower. Initially, it was used only by the servants and trumpeters, as the higher storeys could also be accessed through the rooms of the town hall building. The hall on the first floor has a rib vault, and the second floor has a timber ceiling and is lit by three ogival windows. In the cellars, the beer house in the north-eastern corner and the prison were originally operating.
Today, the only remnant of the medieval Kraków town hall is the gothic tower. As the seat of the branch of the Historical Museum of the city of Kraków, it is open to the public. There are exhibits on the history of the city. In the basement there is “Scena pod Ratuszem”, that is Kraków theater. Opening times can be checked on the official website of the museum here.
Grabowski M., Wieża ratuszowa, Kraków 2008.
Krasnowolski B., Leksykon zabytków architektury Małopolski, Warszawa 2013.
Website wikipedia.org, Piwnica Świdnicka w Krakowie.