Rynek Underground [Podziemia Rynku]

The largest market square in Europe, Kraków's magnificent Rynek Główny (Main Market Square) has been attracting visitors of multiple persuasions since it was first laid out in 1257 after the devastating Mongol invasion of the city some 16 years earlier. Built primarily for commerce but witnessing a plenitude of other colourful activity over the centuries including public executions and, shortly before the outbreak of WWI, the regular taking of tea by none other than Vladimir Lenin who plotted revolution in the square's legendary Noworolski café, Rynek Główny is at first glance remarkably unchanged in appearance.

Closer inspection however reveals that centuries of activity have all left their tell-tale marks, many of which lie buried beneath Rynek Główny's gargantuan 40,000-square metre surface. An archaeologist's wet dream, the accumulated subterranean clutter proved too tempting for some, becoming in August 2005 the focus of a six-month archaeological dig, an event that along with a brief legal hiatus when fears that the tenacious spade-work was causing serious damage plus the discovery of much more than was originally expected continued for a considerable while longer.

As work progressed, interested parties from several camps including retail entrepreneurs and a number of the city's cultural bigwigs saw the potential for making a more permanent show of the excavations, culminating in 2007 with a decision to create a public space under Rynek Główny's crowning centrepiece building, the Sukiennice, or Cloth Hall. After much heated debate in which the aforementioned entrepreneurs lost their bid to fund a combined museum with an exclusive underground shopping centre as well as a catalogue of teething problems such as a build-up of mould that cost a small fortune to fix had been addressed, the bigwigs got their way and with the help of 16zł million of European Union money Rynek Underground was born.

Opened in a blaze of publicity in September 2010, the 38zł million hi-tech museum, which is the first of its kind in Poland, is subtitled In the Footsteps of Kraków’s European Identity and is laid out as a journey in time in which visitors can not only see the past but 'feel' it as well thanks to the inclusion of a battalion of touch-sensitive screens. Approximately four metres under the square's surface and mostly taking up a space that was once a series of underground stalls from a predecessor to today's Cloth Hall, the 6,000-square metre museum follows the path of the city's history from the first settlers in the region right up to the death of Pope John Paul II on April 2, 2005 a few months before the original archaeological dig began. After negotiating the scrum that's the combined ticket office and cloakroom, visitors enter the main exhibition space via a film projected on a wall of smoke and subsequently follow a clockwise trail that takes in some truly remarkable exhibits placed in their original surroundings.

Relying heavily on screens and holograms, permanent exhibition highlights include displays of trade in the city, transport and a fascinating look into life in Kraków before it received its charter the very same year the Main Market Square was laid out. The museum cleverly combines modern technology with original artefacts, among them the remains of an 11th-century cemetery and an ancient horse skull.

Those used to more traditional museums will be pleased to know there's still plenty of reality among the virtual exhibits including the usual array of coins, clothing and other earthly remains. Surplus to the touch-screens, which proved hugely popular when we went round, are audio guides in English, German, French, Italian, Russian and Spanish, and in a slight nod to the failed captains of industry who never got their retail space, there's a café plus two shops selling food and souvenirs respectively at the end of the circuit. Before you arrive there make a point of taking a look at the series of short, subtitled documentaries covering different ages of Kraków's history which can be found in the passage to the right before you head towards the exit into the cafe area.

Expecting some 300,000 visitors annually, Rynek Underground is limited to 300 people at a time and is proving very popular with sometimes massive queues of people allowed in at 30-minute intervals. To avoid disappointment or waiting, tickets should be bought in advance online and shown at the door. Find the entrance towards the northeast corner of the Cloth Hall facing St. Mary's Basilica. Those without tickets can attempt to purchase them at the information point on the opposite side of the building from the entrance.

Admission 19/16zł, family ticket 38 zł, Tue free. Audioguide 5zł (ID must be left in order to take an audioguide).

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Rynek Underground Comments

  • Looks very promissing. Rynek above ground is beautiful I can't even imagine what it looks like underground.

Open:

Open 10:00 - 22:00, Mon 10:00 - 20:00, Tue 10:00 - 16:00. Every first Tue closed. Last entrance 75 minutes before closing.

Address:

Rynek Główny 1

Phone:

(+48) 12 426 50 60

www:

http://www.mhk.pl

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