The Barbakan, Florian’s gate, and City Walls are the last three elements of Krakow’s outer defensive buildings that have not been destroyed. These three structures were built to defend Krakow from enemies and they have been here for over 500 years. Now, they are tourist attractions visited by thousands of people every day. Download the Barbakan Infographic here!
The Krakow Barbakan, known as the Rondel, or saucepan in English, during medieval times is one of the best preserved defensive structures of its kind in Europe. The main purpose of the Barbakan was to protect the entrance to the old town. Construction of the Krakow Barbakan was finished in 1499 by command of King Jan Olbrecht. It is round because it was easier for defenders to shoot attackers from any side using the 130 loopholes, arranged in four rows. The Barbakan walls are 3 meters thick and it had a moat full of water and a drawbridge. The moat is now a park called the Krakow planty, which surrounds the Old Town. There was an underground exit that went under the moat for defenders to get into the city if they needed to. It’s style is a medieval military type with brick walls and 7 towers. Now inside of the Barbakan there is an exhibition center and it is a historical museum.
In medieval times the Florian gate was the entrance to the old town and was called the Gate of Glory. It was built after the Tatar attack in 1241. Its height is 33.5 meters (113 feet). The baroque spire was added to the gate in 1672 after the Swedish invasion. It was the main gate of the eight built into the city walls of medieval Krakow. The walls and towers date back to the 14th Century. It is a classic Gothic tower. In the middle of the St. Florian’s gate from Florianska street you can see a bas relief with St. Florian and on the other side is an eagle which represents Poland, designed by the famous Polish artist, Jan Matejko. The St Florian bas relief was added in the 19th century. The first written record of the Florian gate was in 1307. The Florian gate and the adjacent city walls are Gothic style. The Baroque helmet, including the spire, was added to the gate in 1672 after the Swedish invasion in the 17th century. From 1901-1953 there was a tram line going under the Florian Gate.
In medieval ages, the city walls had 47 towers and 8 gates. Construction began in the 13th century. The height of the city walls was ten meters and they were 2.5 meters thick. A 22-meter wide and 8-meter deep moat ran around all the city walls connected to that of the Barbakan. In 1241, a Tatar attack destroyed the Florian Gate as well as the city walls. They were rebuilt after this attack, but the city walls you see on both sides of the Florian Gate are the only walls still standing. Because the walls were becoming too expensive to keep in good condition, the politicians of Krakow decided to remove them in the early 19th century. The removal of the city walls was a continuation of demolition work done by the ruling Austrians in the 18th century.
On the east wall of the Barbakan, there is a plaque commemorating a famous legend. During the Bar Confederation (Polish uprising against Russia) of 1768 – 1772, the Russians attacked the city of Krakow. As the Polish soldiers were fighting, they were running out of ammunition. A man named Marcin Oraciewicz showed incredible bravery by loading a metal button from his coat into his rifle and shooting the Russian leader, Colonel Panin, which ended the Russian attack and won the day for the Poles.