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- Kraków, Poland
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The main square of the Old Town of Kraków, Lesser Poland, is the principal urban space located at the center of the city. It dates back to the 13th century, and at 3.79 ha (9.4 acres) is the largest medieval town square in Europe. The Project for Public Spaces (PPS) lists the square as the best public space in Europe due to its lively street life, and it was a major factor in the inclusion of Kraków as one of the top off-the-beaten-path destinations in the world in 2016.
The main square is a square space surrounded by historic townhouses (kamienice) and churches. The center of the square is dominated by the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice), rebuilt in 1555 in the Renaissance style, topped by a beautiful attic or Polish parapet decorated with carved masks. On one side of the cloth hall is the Town Hall Tower (Wieża ratuszowa), on the other the 11th century Church of St. Adalbert and 1898 Adam Mickiewicz Monument. Rising above the square are the Gothic towers of St. Mary's Basilica (Kościół Mariacki). Kraków Main Square does not have a town hall, because it has not survived to the present day.
The main function of the Market Square was commerce. After the city was destroyed by the Mongol invasion in 1241, the Main Square was rebuilt in 1257 and its commercial role expanded with the Magdeburg rights location of the city by the prince of Kraków, Bolesław V the Chaste. The Main Square was designed in its current state with each side repeating a pattern of three, evenly spaced streets set at right angles to the square. The exception is Grodzka Street which is much older and connects the Main Square with the Wawel Castle. Originally the square was filled with low market stalls and administrative buildings and had a ring road running around it. It was King Casimir III the Great who built the original Gothic Cloth Hall and the town hall that filled nearly a quarter of the square. Kraków was the capital of the Kingdom of Poland and a member of the Hanseatic League and the city flourished as an important European metropolis.
In addition to its original merchant functions the Main Square witnessed many historical events, and it was used to stage public executions of prisoners held in the city's Town Hall. It was a place of regal ceremonies as part of the Royal Road (Droga Królewska), frequented by diplomats and dignitaries traveling to Wawel Castle. In 1364 King Casimir held the Pan-European Congress of Kraków there. On 10 April 1525, Albert I, Duke of Prussia paid the Prussian Homage to Sigismund I the Old, king of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, accepting Polish kings' suzerainty, (pictured). In 1514 Lithuanian duke Konstanty Ostrogski held a victory parade over the Muscovy and in 1531 nobleman Jan Tarnowski celebrated another victory in the Muscovite wars. Jan III Sobieski, a King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, celebrated there his victory over the Turkish Empire in the 1683 Battle of Vienna.
In 1596 King Sigismund III, of the Swedish House of Vasa, moved the capital of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth from Kraków to Warszawa (Warsaw). Kraków remained the place of coronations and royal funerals. On 24 March 1794, at the Main Square Tadeusz Kościuszko announced the general uprising (pictured) and assumed the powers of the Commander in Chief of Polish armed forces, beginning the Kościuszko Uprising. In 1848, in the Spring of Nations, civilians clashed with the Austrian army and it was where, next to Ratusz, Austrian eagles were piled up as a symbol of regained independence in 1918.
Jews traded on the square as early as the 15th century. During the occupation of Poland by Nazi Germany, the square was renamed Adolf Hitler-Platz and the Adam Mickiewicz monument was destroyed along with historical commemorative plaques taken from buildings at the square. After the war, the monument was reconstructed.
In 1978 UNESCO placed the Main Square as part of the Old Town Kraków on the list of World Heritage Sites. On 21 March 1980, in a time of political tension and the run-up to the declaration of Martial Law in Poland, Walenty Badylak, a retired baker and a veteran of Poland's wartime underground Home Army, set himself alight chained to a well in the Main Square. Badylak was protesting the communist government's refusal to acknowledge the Katyn war crime. Also, the Main Square was central in staging mass demonstrations of the Solidarity movement. In 2013 Lonely Planet travel guides rated Kraków's Main Market Square as the most beautiful in the world.