Fairs as intangible heritage
Local markets are a must-see in many cities around the world – an attraction equal to cathedrals and the most important museums. A visit to Rome without a stroll through Campo di Fiori or skipping the atmospheric Ballarò market on a Palermo tour is a real crime of omission. Krakow, too, has its markets (or as Cracovians say – squares), where the real DNA of the city pulsates. Let’s get to know them better!
Since its incorporation under German law in 1257, Krakow has developed as a merchant city. The Polish language has preserved the saying “krakowski targ” (Cracovian market), meaning a compromise solution to some problem. Thus, when we want to meet someone halfway at a negotiation, we do it “krakowski targ”. This commercial character of the city was not changed by the wars, the regression of the later centuries, the loss of statehood at the end of the 18th century and the Austro-Russian border running for many years near the northern border of the city.
The city’s largest square, the monumental Market Square originally served a commercial function, as did other spaces in the Old Town – Szczepanski Square, which specialized in vegetables and fruits, or the Small Market, where meat and fish were still traded in the 20th century. The city is home to the Krakow Merchant Congregation, with an impressive metric dating back to 1410 and a logo alluding to the emblem of the Hanseatic League – a powerful merchant organization of northern Europe, of which Krakow was a part in the Middle Ages. The congregation is responsible for many seasonal fairs in the space of the historic center, with the Christmas Fair at the forefront.
The oldest and most famous market in Krakow, however, is Stary Kleparz.
Market in Stary Kleparz, or Cracovianism in its highest concentration
Stary Kleparz (Old Kleparz) is the oldest continuously operating market in Krakow, established in the western part of the former Kleparz town square.
The Kleparz district was founded in the 12th century around the Church of St. Florian, to which the relics of the patron saint of firefighters were brought from Italy. During the reign of King Casimir, the settlement was granted city rights under German law and named Florence. In the heart of the city, in the part of today’s Kleparski Square, a market was bustling from the beginning. Deprived of its walls and constantly attacked in later centuries, the city burned repeatedly, but did not change its merchant character. Kleparz became part of Krakow at the end of the 18th century, and the district’s current downtown architecture dates mainly from the 19th and early 20th centuries. In the 20th century, a second marketplace, Nowy Kleparz (New Kleparz) was located in the northern part of the district, to which it was planned to move the stalls from the Kleparz market, but tradition won out – and the marketplace today is both Old and New Kleparz.
There is already a fourth generation of merchants trading in Stary Kleparz today. That’s more than 200 stalls affiliated with a special merchants’ organization. In recent years, the market has been changing dynamically – there are more and more stores selling organic food and delicacies from Mediterranean countries, run by the younger generation of Cracovians. It has become fashionable to visit the market on Saturday mornings, and the square regularly hosts culinary festivals and product tastings, such as Art & Food Bazaar. Morning shopping has become an opportunity to meet, and Kleparz has created a new community of regulars around it.
Hala Targowa (The Market Hall)
A second market, equally deeply inscribed in Krakow’s folklore, developed in the first half of the 20th century around the modernist building of the Market Hall in the Grzegórzki district, adjacent to the old Kazimierz district and along a popular traffic route in place of the old, buried Vistula riverbed.
The Market Hall is not only a place for vegetable and fruit shopping, but a locally beloved flea market that attracts hundreds of antique and vintage lovers to Grzegórzki on weekends. Every Sunday morning the stalls around the Market Hall fill up with stylish furniture, antique electronics, glass and porcelain. Many a Cracovian has furnished his apartment there! The central part of the market is traditionally occupied by boukinistes with astonishing collections of classics of world literature and rare editions from various eras. The landscape of the market is complemented by a distinctive blue van (the so-called “Nyska”), from which sausages considered the best in the city are sold in the evenings.
Inspired by the ritual of book shopping at the Market Hall, the Antiquarian Book Fair was created – an open-air market of Krakow antiquarians and booksellers, operating since 2016 during the summer season in the historic Squares of St. Mary Magdalene (Plac Św. Marii Magdaleny) and St. Spirit (Plac Św. Ducha)in the Old Town. The event promotes the idea of second-circulating books and the activities of local antiquarians, and is part of the city’s Kraków City of Literature UNESCO program.
Another place to see how Krakow lives is Plac Nowy (The New Square). Located in the former Jewish district of Kazimierz, the market is spread around the characteristic circular building of the historic Jewish meat butcheries (the so-called “Okrąglak”), from whose windows a specialty of Krakow street cuisine – zapiekanki – is sold today. The oblong, baked roll with cheese and mushroom stuffing and toppings is, for some, an unsophisticated proposition for the madness of a Friday evening, for others – an indispensable part of visiting the district. One thing is for sure – this fast food with a pedigree dating back to the communist period has become part of the atmosphere of the New Square for good.
The distinctive green stalls around “Okrąglak” host a colorful flea market during the day. Here one can buy vegetables and fruits, as well as clothes, old cameras, books, vinyl records, various trinkets and souvenirs. Combined with the clubs surrounding the square, headed by the oldest ones – Alchemia and Singer, Plac Nowy is the living, pulsating heart of Krakow’s Kazimierz, a place where the spirit of the city is expressed.
Targ Pietruszkowy (The Parsley Market)
Krakow’s right-bank district of Podgórze was deprived of its own market for many post-war years. The situation changed in 2013, when, through the efforts of the district’s residents and enthusiasts, Targ Pietruszkowy (The Parsley Market) was established. The market, which takes place every Wednesday and Saturday at Independence Square, is distinguished from other places of its kind by its distinct, eco-friendly character. The food sold at it comes exclusively from certified farms in the vicinity of Krakow. The market is the only member in Poland of the prestigious Slow Food Earth Markets network and is an interesting laboratory for new trends in healthy eating, as well as an example of the revival of the region’s old gastronomic traditions. Many Podgórze residents can’t imagine a Saturday morning without a visit to the market, which shows how culinary heritage can be continued and developed in the 21st century.
Around Krakow on the trail of exchanges and markets
The various neighborhoods surrounding the historic city center have also developed around their markets. The intimate Dębniki district, located opposite Wawel Castle, is alive with its charming Dębnicki Market, the Zwierzyniec district has its Plac na Stawach, which is visited every year by the Lajkonik parade, and the adornment of Krowodrza, full of modernist buildings from the first half of the 20th century, is Nowowiejski Market.
The landscape of the whole is complemented by extensive stock exchanges and market squares located on the outskirts of the city. These include, above all, the complex on Balicka Street, famous for Poland’s largest flower exchange, the vast (21,000 sq m) marketplace in the northern part of the city – Imbramowski Square or Nowa Huta’s Bieńczycki Market and Tomex Market.
Fairs as intangible heritage of Krakow
The modern understanding of heritage care includes both caring for monuments and cultural symbols, as well as nurturing initiatives focused on what is local and supporting social ties. Fairs with long-established traditions are becoming a place to concentrate practices and customs that, over time, we recognize as important elements of urban identity. Heritage researchers still have much to discover at Krakow’s fairs, and residents and tourists all the more reason to visit!