The Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) in the center of the Main Market Square is one of the most recognizable historic buildings in Krakow. Just like it was in the past, the Cloth Hall is still used mainly for commercial purposes, yet today it is mostly visited by tourists, not merchants.
The history of the Cloth Hall dates back as far as the Main Market Square itself. When the city received Magdeburg rights in 1257, prince Bolesław the Chaste promised to establish cloth halls for the citizens. The first Cloth Hall was erected from stone, and the next one, built by king Casimir the Great in the middle of the 14th century – from brick. Although the Gothic building did not last and burned down two hundred years later, parts of its walls are still standing. The fire itself turned out to be a blessing in disguise: The Cloth Hall was rebuilt in Renaissance style. A new floor was added and the whole building was topped with a magnificent attic decorated with gargoyles designed by Santi Gucci. Loggias were also added at the northern and southern ends of the Cloth Hall. The design by Jan Maria Padovano was based on the courtyard of the Wawel Royal Castle.
In the 70s of the 19th century, it was necessary to renovate the building. The works were managed by architect and conservator Tomasz Pryliński, supported by painter Jan Matejko. The architect decided to tear down old stalls and booths adjacent to the Cloth Hall, and erect elegant arcades instead. Two avant-corps were also added in the central part of the building, on its east-west axis. As a result, the Cloth Hall lost its elongated form but gained new, beautiful facades facing towards the Szewska and Sienna streets. The avant-corps were skillfully joined with the attic and decorated with gargoyles, too. The Lower Hall was still serving merchants – some of the wooden stalls along the walls were designed by Jan Matejko himself. Also there are rooms of National Museum on the second floor.
The appearance of the Cloth Hall hasn’t really changed since the end of the 19th century. The only thing that was added on the ceiling of the Lower Hall after World War II are the coats of arms representing the cities regained by Poland in the west. Nowadays the Cloth Hall is a major tourist attraction. In the lower part, there are stalls where you can buy jewelry, handicraft items and souvenirs, while the upper floor houses the Gallery of 19th-Century Polish Painting and Sculpture. The collection includes, among others, works by Henryk Siemiradzki, Jacek Chełmoński, Jan Matejko, Aleksander Gierymski, and Władysław Podkowiński.