The pearl of Kraków’s fortifications, the Barbican is one of the most exquisite examples of medieval military architecture in Europe. Never captured during a siege, it passed into legend when its defenders repulsed the attacking enemy forces with – believe it or not –a single shot!
This imposing Gothic structure, which boasts an extremely unique construction, was raised in 1498–99 to protect the northern section of the city’s fortifications, and it was the only section with no natural water barrier. The Barbican was connected to St Florian’s Gate with the so-called neck, that is a fortified corridor. Inside, the structure was practically empty so as to facilitate the gathering of a large military force inside in case of threat. It became the backdrop to the legend of Marcin Oracewicz, a haberdasher (member of the guild that made belts, tassels, and epaulettes), who in 1768 deterred the attacking Russian forces with a single shot. They say he used a big brass button from his robe as a bullet and that he duly hit Panin, the tsar’s general, killing him on the spot.
In the 16th century, the Barbican was turned into the city’s stables. As siege technology developed, it lost its former significance, and early in the 19th century was even threatened with demolition. Luckily, it avoided the fate of most of Kraków’s fortifications, and only the neck connecting it to St Florian’s Gate was demolished.
The Rondel (lit. “saucepan”) of Kraków, as it is affectionately known among locals, is one of the three Gothic barbicans to have survived in their original condition to this day, throughout all Europe. It is certainly larger and better preserved than the ones in French Carcassonne and German Görlitz.
The Barbican in numbers: