The Kraków Cloth Hall (Sukiennice), in Lesser Poland, dates to the Renaissance and is one of the city’s most recognizable icons.
It is the central feature of the main market square in the Kraków Old Town (the historic center of Kraków), which since 1978 has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site).
It was once a major center of international trade. Traveling merchants met there to discuss business and to barter.
During its golden age in the 15th century, the hall was the source of a variety of exotic imports from the east – spices, silk, leather, and wax – while Kraków itself exported textiles, lead, and salt from the Wieliczka Salt Mine.
In the immediate vicinity of the hall, the Great Weigh House and the Small Weigh House existed until the 19th century. Other, similar cloth halls have existed in other Polish as well as other European cities such as Ypres, Belgium; Braunschweig, and in Leeds, England.
Kraków was Poland’s capital city and was among the largest cities in Europe already from before the time of the Renaissance. However, its decline started with the move of the capital to Warsaw at the end of the 16th century.
The city’s decline was hastened by wars and politics leading to the Partitions of Poland at the end of the 18th century. By the time of the architectural restoration proposed for the cloth hall in 1870 under Austrian rule, much of the historic city center was decrepit.
A change in political and economic fortunes for the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria ushered in a revival due to the newly established Legislative Assembly or Sejm of the Land.
The successful renovation of the Cloth Hall, based on a design by Tomasz Pryliński and supervised by Mayor Mikołaj Zyblikiewicz, Sejm Marshal, was one of the most notable achievements of this period.
The hall has hosted many distinguished guests over the centuries and is still used to entertain monarchs and dignitaries, such as Charles, Prince of Wales, and Emperor Akihito of Japan, who was welcomed here in 2002.
In the past, balls were held here, most notably after Prince Józef Poniatowski had briefly liberated the city from the Austrians in 1809. Aside from its history and cultural value, the hall still is still used as a center of commerce.
On the upper floor of the hall is the Sukiennice Museum division of the National Museum, Kraków.
It holds the largest permanent exhibit of 19th-century Polish painting and sculpture, in four grand exhibition halls arranged by historical period and the theme extending into an entire artistic epoch. The museum was upgraded in 2010 with new technical equipment, storerooms, and service spaces as well an improved thematic layout for the display.
The Gallery of 19th-Century Polish Art was a major cultural venue from the moment it opened on October 7, 1879.
It features late Baroque, Rococo, and Classicist 18th-century portraits and battle scenes by Polish and foreign pre-Romantics; the art of partitioned Poland with famed Prussian Homage by Jan Matejko; mythological and biblical scenes with the monumental Nero’s Torches by Henryk Siemiradzki, the art of representative members of Young Poland from the turn of the 20th century including Jacek Malczewski, Józef Chełmoński; prominent impressionists Józef Pankiewicz and Leon Wyczółkowski; paintings by Wojciech Gerson and Julian Fałat, as well as large, and controversial Ecstasy, or Frenzy of Exultations by Władysław Podkowiński among other masterpieces.