The Old Town Square: A Walking Tour

27 Feb 2018

Just outside the Town Hall, near its southeast corner, you’ll find the proudly protruding Pranger, a 16th-century punishment device funded by fines placed on servant women, wet-nurses, and barmaids who dressed up too frilly or wore jewellery deemed inappropriate for their social standing (the outrage!). Topped with a severe statue of a sword-wielding executioner in a Crusader’s outfit, unlucky criminals would be chained to this octagonal column and whipped, or - if the executioner was feeling fancy or the crime warranted it - have his ears or fingers chopped off. Sadly, the contraption no longer elicits deserved fear, as evidenced by repeated vandalism by drunken students and football hooligans - an offence which would surely be more creatively punished in the Pranger’s heyday than in our current times. Luckily, the original isn’t actually in any danger, as it has long been moved to the Historical Museum and replaced with a copy.

To the left of the Town Hall is perhaps the most recognisable Poznań sight: the picture-book-worthy, technicolor row of townhouses planted right in the middle of the Main Square. Originally called “herring shops” (budy śledziowe), they were home to merchants, and their arcades held fish, candle, torch, and salt stands. They were later renamed to Budnicy Houses (domki budnicze) in honour of a class of merchants known as Budnicy, whose headquarters used to operate at no. 117. Look closely and you’ll see their coat of arms on the facade: three palm trees and a herring.

Moving clockwise around the centre of the Main Square, we come across two sad concrete carbuncles haunted by the ghost of the beautiful Cloth Hall that stood in their place before World War II. The one closer to the merchant houses is now the Wielkopolska Military Museum, while the one on the left houses Arsenał, a contemporary art gallery originally known as the Central Exhibition Bureau.

Continue clockwise, and the 18th-century police guardhouse will come into view. Originally haphazardly constructed using wood, it was redone in classicist style by Jan Chrystian Kamsetzer in 1783-1787. In the inter-war period, it served as a garrison jailhouse. Like much of the Old Town, this structure was all but levelled in the Battle of Poznań in 1945, and the building had to be reconstructed in later years, serving as the Workers’ Movement Museum during communism. It currently houses the 1818-1819 Wielkopolska Uprising Museum.

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