The Barbakan - History and Facts | History Hit

The Barbakan

Krakow, Lesser Poland Voivodeship, Poland

Krakow’s Barbakan is one of the last vestiges of the city’s medieval fortifications.

Peta Stamper

19 Apr 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About The Barbakan

The Barbakan or Krakow Barbican in Poland is a 15th century gothic fortress which today serves as a museum. Constructed in approximately 1498, the Barbakan is a formidable circular structure with 3-metre-thick brick walls and a series of defensive turrets, representing an exceptional example of medieval engineering.

Built to protect Krakow and particularly the Florian Gate, the city’s northern gate, the Barbakan is one of the largest remaining medieval defensive structures in Europe and is extremely well-preserved.

The Barbakan history

Built in the Gothic style in 1498 and 1499, the Barbakan was constructed on order of the Polish king, John I Albert after his defeat at the Battle of Cosmin Forest by the Moldovans. The Barbakan was designed based on Arabic rather than European defensive strategy; a cylindrical brick structure 25 metres in diameter and circling an inner courtyard.

With 7 turrets that could only be reached by ladders and 3-metre-thick walls, all surrounded by a moat, the fortress would defend the city gates. The Barbakan served its purpose in defending Krakow against the Austrians led by Maximilian III in 1587, as well as later during the 1655 and 1657 sieges of the city. As the Russian Empire flexed its muscles under Catherine the Great, it invaded Polish territories, so the Barbakan once again defended the city.

In the 19th century, the building was threatened with demolition. However, in 1817 two senators of the Free City of Krakow convinced the Senate to preserve the Barbakan and the city’s medieval fortifications.

The Barbakan today

Today, the Barbakan fortress still dominates the Droga Królewska or Royal Tract of Krakow – the historic route of coronation marches and welcoming processions for foreign diplomats. You can cross the wooden walkway, which would have originally stood over a 6 metre-deep water-filled moat, through the historic gateway into Krakow’s Old Town.

Inside, visit the exhibition centre and historical museum explaining the fortresses’ plans in detail. See if you can find a plaque on the east wall of the fortress, commemorating a famous legend. During the Polish uprising against Russia of 1768 – 1772, Polish soldiers ran out of ammunition. Marcin Oraciewicz loaded a metal button from his coat into his rifle and shot the Russian leader, securing Poland’s victory.

Getting to The Barbakan

Facing the Florian Gate, the Barbakan lays within Krakow’s historic centre. The fortress is easily accessed via public transport. The closest bus stop being Stary Kleparz just 2 minutes walk away and on major routes 124, 152, 424, 601, 608, 664 and more. A tram stop of the same name also operates along lines 2, 4,14, 20 and 24.

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