Kraków once boasted 7 gates and 47 towers built into the line of the defensive walls surrounding today’s city centre. Only a short section of freestanding wall has endured to this day.
Even as late as the 13th century Kraków had no wall. This had tragic consequences: the city was utterly destroyed in a Tatar raid. With intermissions, the city walls were built until the early 14th century. The latest addition, from the end of the 15th century, was the Barbican that the people of Kraków also fondly call Rondel (the saucepan).
There were seven gates leading to the city and all were closed by night: Rzeźnicza (i.e. Butchers’, later Mikołajska), Grodzka, Floriańska (St Florian’s), Sławkowska, Szewska (Shoemakers’), Wiślna, and Nowa (New). Surviving to this day is St Florian’s Gate and the silhouette of Rzeźnicza Gate, which became a part of the complex of the Dominican Nuns na Gródku.
The fortifications of Kraków consisted of two successive walls, and a moat. The internal wall was reinforced with 10-metre high (33 ft) towers. Each was in the care of a separate guild of craftsmen, who also manned them during sieges: hence their names. Only three of Kraków’s towers have survived to our times: Ciesielska (Joiners’), Stolarska (Carpenters’), and Pasamoników (Haberdashers’).
In the centuries to come, the condition of the city walls began to deteriorate systematically. Years of neglect and lack of modernisation meant that in the mid-17th century the city fortifications were of not much use in repulsing the attacking Swedish armies. The ruined city walls began to provide shelters for the poorest population, who built makeshift wooden hovels within them. Sour locals even came up with a couplet: “Why come and destroy, you Russians, soon everything will tumble and fall / Come and visit us, you French, you’ll see rubble and no wall”. That is why early in the 19th century, during the campaign to beautify the city, the authorities decided to raze the city walls together with the gates and towers. It is only due to the extraordinary determination of Senator Feliks Radwański that a fragment of the fortifications with St Florian’s Gate, the Barbican, and three towers, was saved. He resorted to the argument that they protected the city from the winds and draughts that otherwise would – believe it or not – lift up the dresses of stately matrons in the centre of Kraków. The former fortifications were replaced by a municipal park known as the Planty, which today girdles the historical centre of the city.
Ciesielska (Joiners’) Tower
The oldest of the preserved towers. It was built around 1300 from limestone, and received the hexagonal upper section only late in the 15th century. It is nearly wholly hidden behind the building of the City Arsenal, which it defended. The Guild of the Joiners was responsible for its maintenance and defence.
Its situation here, in the north, within the perimeter of the defensive wall was not a coincidence. It was always from this side that the greatest dangers threatened the city, owing to the lack of natural obstacles such as riverbeds, ponds, and marshes that in bygone days surrounded the city from other sides. The preserved 16th-century single-storey building was used for storing weapons and cannons. The deep cellars were used for the storage of barrels of gunpowder, and operating beside it was most probably a forge, where bullets and cannon barrels were cast. The campaign to demolish the defensive wall in the early 19th century spared the City Arsenal. The city presented the building to Prince Władysław Czartoryski for the purpose of creating a museum. Today it houses the Gallery of Ancient Art: a part of the Princes Czartoryski Museum collection.
Stolarska (Carpenters’) Tower
Built in the 15th century, it is crowned with a gallery and a conical roof. Worth noting are the characteristic loopholes in the shape of a cross. Responsible for the defence of the tower was the Guild of Carpenters and Cordwainers, a guild who wove ropes and cords.
Pasamoników (Haberdashers’) Tower
The tower dates back to the 15th century. Worth noting is its façade covered by an irregular frieze arranged from dark, well kilned brick. Perhaps this was a form of dazzling designed tp make it more difficult for the invader to get their target thanks to a particular optical illusion. Originally responsible for the defence of the tower was the Guild of Shoemakers, and later – that of the Haberdashers.
Haberdashers used to make accessories for clothing: assorted belts, buttons, and other minor elements of the costume. The tower proves that when the city was in danger, they also knew how to use weapons.
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