Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Krakow, But Were Too Afraid to Ask

Usually when we walk around, we only focus on the sites, monuments, or events that are at our eyelevel. Obviously, we also observe the path we are walking on, so that we do not sprain an ankle on the cobblestones.

Unfortunately, however, we rarely raise our eyes to look above the portals leading into the townhouse courtyards. 

It is high time to change this habit! Krakow is a city that has preserved numerous and especially beautiful signs of the past.

If you have happened to pay any special attention to the emblems adorning Krakow during your walks, you definitely noticed some interesting things. For example, there is a squirrel on ul. Florianska, some lizards on the Rynek Glowny, and a rhinoceros and an elephant on ul. Grodzka.

When people notice these oddities they invariably become interested and talk about them. What does all this mean? Is there anything special about these adornments decorating the main entrances of Krakow?s town houses? I will try to explain it today.

Present day address systems were not in use in medieval times. Streets had names as they do today, but the numbering of houses was unheard of. Before the numbering system was introduced, it was customary to name houses after their owners or by an emblem that was placed on the main façade. Various exotic animals ? lions, elephants, bears ? were often depicted.

Sometimes more domestic animals are shown such as deer, peacock, or lizard. And occasionally, the emblems took the form of more mythic figures, for instance saints, angels, heroes or chimera.

Perhaps you have noticed the house which stands at ul. Grodzka 32. Don?t miss this one! Dating back to the 14th Century, this carved stone depiction of a lion is the oldest house emblem in the city. The townhouse until today is known as Podelwie, the “house under the sign of the lion.”

“Where do you live” – someone would have asked in those past times.
“At the house under the sign of the lion,” would have been the reply, and nobody would have had any doubts where that was.

Regrettably, the majority of the main façades have not retained their original shapes. Several times, the faces of the buildings have been altered due to changing fashion, fires, the joining of two or more houses and a multitude of other reasons. Even so, most of the emblems are still original and testify to the colorful and artistic history of Krakow.

So, be attentive, take a camera and discover history in the details of Krakow.
Malgorzata Zielnia has many years experience working as a guide in Krakow. The main profession of a guide is answering all your questions. We will start with the questions she has heard most often during her career. You can also ask your own question by sending her an email at: editor@krakowpost.com. Malgorzata will answer the most interesting questions in The Krakow Post.

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