On the north side of Kraków’s Old Town, far away from the Wawel castle hill, and at the end of busy Florianska Street that runs from the Rynek Główny main square, to the outer edges of the city’s medieval centre, stands the remnants of old Krakow’s outer fortifications.
For several centuries the city of Kraków was the political and monarchic centre point of Poland, and later, the Lithuanian Commonwealth, making it high on the list of ‘must-conquer’ cities for any would be invader. Consequently, from the 13th century onwards, the city began a comprehensive defensive building program that saw the Old Town and Wawel Hill entirely enclosed in more than 2 miles of defensive wall.
By the time it was finished, the fortifications were adorned with nearly 50 defensive tower outposts (of which three still remain standing today), and 8 heavily guarded gates, only some of which were used frequently. On this north side of the Old Town, outside the busiest gate on Kraków’s defensive circuit, and now nestled neatly in the Planty Park that runs right the way around the city’s historical centre, visitors can find the impressive and forbidding structure of the Barbican.
This circular building of almost 25 metres diameter was completed in the 15 century to further increase security on St. Florian’s Gate, which led to the so called Royal Road running the length of the Old Town, right to the entrance of Kraków’s castle complex on the hill. Today, the Barbican is perhaps Europe’s best preserved example of a medieval outer-wall fortification post.
With a little imagination it’s easy to see how daunting the structure would have been for a hopeful attacker. There are over 120 embrasures, 7 turrets and a protruding frontal gate loaded with hot oil traps and impenetrable, gothic portcullis. What’s more, while it may be possible today to sit with a coffee in the Planty, admiring the architectural continuity of the Barbican and the Old Town walls that jut out eastwards from St. Florian’s Gate, in the 15th century the park was non-existent, and in its place a deep moat divided the city’s inner defensive wall, from the outer fortifications, of which the Barbican formed a part.
Like most of Kraków’s notable buildings, the Barbican too has a heroic tale to tell. Supposedly, one Marcin Oracewicz, a local Cracovian who zealously defended his town from the invading Russians, found himself entirely out of ammunition atop the Barbican. It’s said that Oracewicz ripped off his own jacket button and loaded it into his rifle, only to kill the enemy commander and end invasion hopes with one foul swoop. Today his ingenuity is hailed as a heroic feat that helped saved the city, and he’s commemorated with a plaque outside of the Barbican.
The building is now home to some of the permanent exhibitions of the Kraków museum, and is used for a number of open-air theatrical events throughout the year. Entrance is just 6 PLN, but sitting outside and admiring the vestiges of medieval might that still adorn the outer edges of Kraków’s main town is often a journey in itself.
Many tours of Kraków Old Town will give insight into the history of the Barbican and Old City Walls and this is highly recommended. The KrakowCard also gives access in addition to almost 40 other attractions.
Where Are These Places Located?Find these locations on the Visit Kraków Google map:
- Open the Visit Kraków map
- Click on a marker and it will give you the name of the landmark, with a brief description and links for more information and directions. You can pan, scroll, and zoom around the map, or use the + or – buttons in the bottom left of the map to zoom in and out
- You will see the list of places on the left hand side, sorted by category. Scroll down or use the map search (the magnifying glass icon) to find the place you want
- Click the name of the place in the list. Its location pin will be highlighted on the map.
- Each category is on a different layer, which can be switched on and off. So you can just see the Hotel or Restaurant pins, for example
- If you are using the map on your phone, open the map and then search for the name of the place. The map will then zoom in on its location
Map pins are color coded:
- YELLOW: Kraków Sightseeing
- GREEN: Kraków Transportation
- DARK RED: Restaurants in Kraków
- ORANGE: Michelin Restaurants in Kraków
- LIGHT RED: Kraków Bars / Clubs / Music Venues
- BLUE: Kraków Hotels
- PURPLE: Shopping In Kraków
For more suggestions, see our Kraków Sightseeing page and Two-Day Kraków Itinerary, Three-Day Kraków Itinerary and our Four-Day Kraków Itinerary pages. There are also lots of recommendations for Things To Do In Kraków. We also explain the KrakowCard for cheap access to lots of Kraków attractions.