Next to the Wawel Cathedral and St. Mary’s Church, it is yet another important object in Cracow. It is situated on the Main Market. It has to be said that it would be difficult to pass it by indifferently. The building is stunning, especially thanks to its design and additional decorations, the so-called mascarons.
History of Sukiennice
Currently, the building does not resemble the traditional cloth hall built in the 13th century, which had the form of a row of stalls taken advantage of to sell cloth.
With time, the number of stalls only increased, so King Casimir III the Great ordered to build a hall covered with roof to protect them against adverse weather conditions. In 1555, the old hall burned in the great fire, but the disaster turned out to set foundations for the new, more comprehensive Cloth Hall we know and love today.
In the 16th century, the Cloth Hall was rebuilt in the Renaissance style. It was beautifully decorated and its structure was relatively similar to the one we can admire today. The construction process was supervised by excellent architects and sculptors who arrived to Poland from Italy. Among them, there were Santi Gucci, Giovanni Maria Padovano, and Bartolommeo Berreci.
Between 1875-79, the Cloth Hall was rebuilt once again, gaining its current shape of a long hall with wooden stalls on both sides and atmospheric arcades on the outside. The vault of the main hall is decorated with the coats of arms of Polish cities and guilds. On the eastern side, there are mascarons – caricatures of former mayors of Cracow.
Nowadays, you may purchase souvenirs there – they are mainly goods manufactured from wood, wool and glass. It has to be remembered that their prices are the highest in the main hall, so if you want to save some money, visit one of the side alleys.
While entering the Cloth Hall from the northern side, one can notice peculiar holes in the ground. Those are the replicas of historic holes that were dug next to almost every habitable building and were used to extinguish wooden torches.
In the upper part of the building, there is a division of the National Museum, where visitors can admire sculptures and paintings made by Polish artists in the 18th century – it is worth going there if you are especially interested in art.
While the underground part of the building is concerned, visitors may go there to visit yet another museum, which has been opened quite recently. During the renovation of the Main Market, surveyors have come across the traces of historic walls and streets of medieval Cracow. By travelling along glass sectors, one can truly experience the underground and see how the ordinary life of the citizens of Cracow looked like in the past.
If you happen to enter the Cloth Hall from the side of Sienna Street, do not forget to look up and to the right. You will see a hanging knife on the ceiling. There are numerous legends connected with it. One of them states that the said tool was used to ensure the evenness of such goods as grits or flour while measuring them. The second one tells the story of two brothers who had built two towers of the St. Mary’s Church. One of them had managed to erect a bigger, more prominent one than the second brother had done, so the latter killed him out of envy. Afterwards, filled with remorse, he decided to end his life as well by jumping off one of the towers. The third legend states that the knife was used to remind all the burglars that theft was punished by cutting one’s ears or hand off. It was sometimes also utilized to indicate that a given city had its own executioner.
If you feel like drinking a cup of coffee, you should visit the Noworolski Coffee House, which is located within the Cloth Hall, on the St. Mary’s Church side. It is one of the oldest coffee houses in the city, opened by Jan Noworolski, who – in turn – was taught the art of coffee making by the famous Sacher (the creator of the well-known Sacher’s Cake). Before the First World War, it was the meeting place of the Cracow elite. Cakes available there were the topics of numerous poems and anecdotes. Currently, the coffee house in question excels in making infusions that are stored in the medieval basements of the Cloth Hall.