The Old Market Square and its surroundings
The Old Market Square and its surroundings are one of the most interesting places to visit in Poznań. A beautiful, Renaissance city hall, historical tenement houses, lovely small streets, lots of museums, restaurants, cafés, and pedestrians make this place special. The Old Market Square is the heart of Poznań. Between summer and autumn it's surrounded by café yards, and it's full of life until very late hours. This is also where lots of events, shows, and concerts take place.
We propose to enter the Old Market Square via the Wielka (Grand) Street, because this is where the primary gate was located in the Middle Ages, and this gate was used by important guests to enter the city. It's worth noticing the red cobblestones, that appear about halfway towards the Old Market Square. This is the way Poznań marks the location of historical city walls. Continuing, we approach the Old Market Square area. This area was delimited in 1253, when Poznań utilized German laws and regulations. According to those, it was to become a perfect medieval city. The city's central plaza was delimited on a basis of a 141 meter by 141 meter square. Every side of this square featured 3 streets leading to it and from it, and every frontage by the plaza was initially subdivided into 8 equal lots. This layout was maintained for most frontages, which feature 8 tenement houses.
The Old Market Square features the loveliest Renaissance city hall north of the Alps. It was designed by Giovanni Battista di Quadro from Lugano in the middle of the 16th century. Monumental front façade with a three-storey arcade loggia is crowned with a tall attic wall and three towers. The building used to be the headquarters of the city council. Its most representative room is the Renaissance Room (also called the Great Hall), with a famous dome designed in 1555. Currently the city hall building houses the Museum of the History of the City of Poznań. In 1551 a billy-goat clock was installed, designed by Bartholomew Wolf from Gubin. Every day, when the city hall clock strikes noon, the cupola mounted above the clock on the front elevation of the building opens its doors, and two mechanical billy-goats appear. They are powered by the clock, and the goats ram their horns against one another 12 times. There is a legend behind the goats. Upon completing the clock, Bartholomew Wolf decided to show it to Poznań councillors and the voivode. A banquet was prepared, but the cook had burnt a roast deer, and attempted to replace it by stealing two goats. However, the goats escaped and ran up the city hall tower, where they attracted the attention of the guests, when they began to butt each other. It is then, that the voivode ordered that two mechanical goats be incorporated into the new clock.
The city hall is surrounded by colourful Merchant Houses with distinctive arcades, used in the past to trade fish, candles, and salt, and the City Weighing House building, reconstructed after the war according to the initial Quadro design. There is a pillory in front of the city hall — a pole with a sculpture of a headsman holding a sword, where punishment used to be dealt.
The route now leads to the left, along the eastern frontage of the marketplace. It passes along the Museum of Musical Instruments, one of very few such establishments in Europe, and reaches the "Under the Roof" tenement house. A legend is associated with this tenement house, pertaining to the stay by King Augustus II the Strong. Supposedly the monarch, celebrating in Poznań, fell out of the window during one of the banquets, and fell straight down to the distinctive roof, which saved his life. A stone plaque located on the left of the front door commemorates the water level during the great flood of 1736.
The quarter next to the southeast corner of the marketplace is occupied by the Górka Family Palace, erected in the middle of the 16th century. It used to be one of the most beautiful Renaissance city palaces in the Republic of Poland. This luxurious building was adorned by a garden and a pool full of fish, and with a roof-mounted fountain. During the war this building was completely destroyed by fire. It was later reconstructed according to the shape it had after being rebuilt in the 18th century. An original, lavishly decorated Renaissance portal next to the Klasztorna Street, which features the original construction date, is a remainder of the previous appearance of this residence. The building now houses the Archaeological Museum, which features not only expositions on the history of Greater Poland, but also a large collection of Egyptian and Nubian antiques. The western wall of the museum features a print by Braun and Hogenberg from the 17th century, depicting the medieval town. This is the oldest known picture of the city. It clearly shows Ostrów Tumski island and its cathedral, city walls with gates, and the no longer existing St. Maria Magdalena Collegiate Church with a 90 meter tower.
Whilst following Świętosławska Street we reach one of Poland's most sumptuous Baroque temples — Bishop Stanisław's Collegiate Parish Church (Fara Church). Its impressively large interior is maintained in Roman Baroque style. It took 50 years for the Jesuits to build the Fara Church. The interior delights visitors with its size and richness. The portal located in the middle of the façade, and the primary altar were designed by Pompeo Ferrari. The central point of the vault, at the crossing of the primary nave and the transept, features a pseudo-dome created by an illusionist painting by Stanisław Wróblewski. The interior of the inexistent hemisphere dome is obtained using painting techniques. The 230-ton organ, almost perfectly preserved, were designed by a famous 19th century organ builder — Friedrich Ladegast.
The route now leads back to the marketplace, and then to its western frontage, passing along the monument of John Nepomucene, a protector from floods. At the corner of Franciszkańska Street we see the late Baroque Działyński Palace. It was built between 1773 and 1787. This building features two entry gates, which used to enable entry by coaches. The Classicist façade is ornamented by sculptures. The attic features reliefs depicting triumph and sacrifice processions. A sculpture in the middle depicts a pelican with wings wide open, a symbol of generosity. The most enchanting room in the palace is the lavishly decorated Red Room, used for prestigious meetings. It enables entry to a balcony with a Baroque balustrade, which covers the entire width of the front elevation. The name of this room comes from the colour of its walls, which contrasts with the white, stuccowork-ornamented ceiling. In the 19th century, the Działyński Palace was the centre of Polish cultural life. It featured concerts, lectures in Polish, and exhibitions. Facing the Działyński Palace is the Odwach — a guardhouse erected in the 18th century. The initiator and the benefactor of this guardhouse was Kazimierz Raczyński, general prefect of Greater Poland at the time. Currently Odwach houses a Museum of Greater Poland Uprising 1918-1919.
Following Franciszkańska Street upwards, we reach a small hill, called the Przemysł Hill, which features the remains of the Royal Castle. The history of the Royal Castle goes way back to the founding of Poznań City. It used to be the residence of King Przemysł II, before he was murdered in 1296 by the electors of Brandenburg. At the time of Casimir III the Great it was the largest secular object in the country. During the reconstruction of 1959-1964, only the Raczyński archive was rebuilt. Currently it houses the Museum of Applied Art. The Royal Castle is faced by the late Baroque Church of St. Francis Seraphic. For over 300 years, the church has housed a painting of the Miracle-Working Virgin Mary, also known as the Lady of Poznań. The route now follows Ludgarda Street, passing along the remains of ancient city walls on the right. A basement of the church on the left houses the Model of Old Poznań. It depicts Poznań during Piast times (approximately year 1000), and in Renaissance times (approximately 16th century).
The route now turns left to Paderewski Street, and ends back at the marketplace.