Matejko Square


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The name of the square is connected to the bestowal of honorary citizenship of Kraków on the painter Jan Matejko. It was a special homage to the great artist, as people are hardly ever made patrons of a public space in their lifetime.

As recently as the mid-19th century, what today are the squares of Jan Matejko and the Market Square of Kleparz (Rynek Kleparski) was one huge marketplace providing the main trading area of the autonomous city of Kleparz (today a part of Kraków) in bygone days. It was divided by the introduction of two monumental edifices: the Board of State Railways and the Academy of Fine Arts. The intention was to develop the northern entryway into the city, which captivated those arriving from the north (Warsaw) with an impressive panorama of the medieval city walls with the Barbican. The new name of the square was connected to the city council conferring honorary citizenship of Kraków on the painter Jan Matejko. It was a very special homage to the great artist, for it happens extremely rarely that anyone becomes a patron of a public place while he is still alive.

The central element of the square is the Grunwald Monument commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Grunwald, in which the joint Polish and Lithuanian armies bested the Teutonic Order. The Grunwald Monument, or rather an equestrian monument of the Polish king Ladislaus (Władysław) Jagiełło was built in 1910 “to the glory of the forefathers – as reinforcement for the brethren” as you can read on its plinth. These were the times when Poland was absent from all maps, and Kraków was ruled by invaders: the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The founder of the monument was a world-class pianist, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, later the President of the Republic of Poland. The monument was built in absolute secrecy: even Antoni Wiwulski, the sculptor who made the figures, did not know what the final destination of his project would be. The unveiling ceremony took place precisely on the anniversary of the battle on 15 July 1910 and provided the central point for the commemoration of its 500th anniversary. It turned into a patriotic manifestation gathering nearly 150,000 people. On this occasion, the founder of the monument, Ignacy Jan Paderewski thus addressed the crowd: “The work we are looking at has not been designed and built of hatred. It is born of a profound love for Homeland, not only in its bygone grandeur and today’s fecklessness, but also in its bright and powerful future”.

The monument consists of a tall plinth crowned with the mounted figure of King Ladislaus Jagiełło; its front wall is the backdrop for Witold (Vytautas) the Great Duke of Lithuania and paternal cousin of Jagiełło, who commanded the Lithuanian armies at Grunwald. The reflective Witold looks down to the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order Ulrich von Jungingen lying at his feet.

In the autumn of 1939, the Nazi German occupiers destroyed the monument, and its reconstruction and second unveiling took place only in 1976. Incorporated into the platform at the foot of the monument is the Memorial and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was devoted to the memory of the people killed on the front lines of the First World War and the Polish–Soviet War. The plaque laid in 1925 reads: “To the unknown Polish soldier killed for the homeland 1914–1920”. The Grave of the Unknown Soldier was destroyed during the Second World War together with Grunwald Monument. It returned to Matejko Square during the reconstruction of the monument, when the slab also received a metal casing for the everlasting flame with the names of places were Polish soldiers fought and died in 1939–45.

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