Historical Museum of Krakow at the Krzysztofory Palace was a branch of the Old Records Office of Krakow, in operation from 1899. It was granted the status of an independent institution in 1945. The Museum houses a permanent exhibition of the History and Culture of Krakow, a collection of militaria: projectiles, firearms, defence and sharp weapons; clocks and watches.
The Historical Museum is made up of 14 divisions scattered around the city, including its main branch as well as the Old Synagogue, Schindler’s Factory, Under the Eagle Pharmacy, Pomorska Street Gestapo Prison, Hipolit Manor, Town Hall Tower, Barbican, Defensive Walls, Celestat, Museum of Nowa Huta, Zwierzyniecki Manor, Under the Cross Manor, and the tunnels under the Main Square.
The Museum holdings include city maps dated from the 16th to 20th century, paintings, prints, photographs, guild objects and works by Krakow artists and artisans, as well as portraits of nobility; 14th through 20th-century weapons; a collection of clocks; famous Krakow nativity scenes (“szopka”); artefacts relating to theatre; Judaica; items commemorative of the Polish uprisings of the 19th century and of World Wars I and II.
Due to the ongoing renovation of the building, only the temporary exhibitions are available to visit.
The Museum’s main location is a Baroque Krzysztofory Palace, formed by joining three Gothic houses in the Main Square. The building was modernised twice in the 17th century, due to changes of ownership. One of its unique features is the fine stucco work by Italian architect Baldassarre Fontana working in Krakow at that time.
The first modernisation was done in the middle of 17th century. The main architect, Wawrzyniec Senes, designed an L-shaped building and embellished it with an arcaded gallery which survives to this day. Relics of the old Gothic tenements are also preserved. The Krzysztofory Palace was heavily devastated during the Swedish invasion of Poland in 1655. After the “Deluge”, as it was dubbed, the site was purchased by Jan Wawrzyniec Wodzicki, who ordered another major renovation. The 18th-century refurbishment gave the façade a Baroque look. The next to last major restoration of the Krzysztofory Palace took place almost 200 years later, in 1916. The present modernisation is scheduled to end on the hundredth anniversary of that one.
The history of the site dates back to the Middle Ages. Through the years, the palace changed hands a few times, and has undergone several, major and minor, renovations. The site also hosted some private businesses and, since the 1960s, has been one of the divisions of the Historical Museum of Krakow.
A building probably stood on the site as early as the second half of the 13th century. The first real estate owners in this location were wealthy townsmen. 400 years later, one of the first pharmacies in Krakow was located here.
Between 1640 and 1649 the palace was owned by the Crown Court Marshal Adam Kazanowski who commissioned its reconstruction. The following centuries brought several changes of ownership and successive restorations.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the main floor was taken up by a popular restaurant Pod Palmą operated by Antoni Hawełka, purveyor to the imperial court of Vienna. In 1918, the State Treasury took over the Krzysztofory Palace. Almost fifty years later, the place was given to the Historical Museum of Krakow. Since 2005, the museum is a member of the International Council of Museums (ICOM).
There are two interesting legends about supernatural beings in Krzysztofory. If you happen to get lost there, beware of the Dark Lady and the devil guarding an underground treasure. Well, at least the latter can make you rich, if you prove to have a strong will.
The legend says that the Dark Lady foretells the date of death of everyone she encounters. It is believed that the spectre even foretold the death of King John Casimir Vasa. Some say that this is the ghost of Anna Branicka, a noble lady and wife of count Sebastian Lubomirski. An army officer once saw the ghost and ran to the Dominican church where Branicka was buried. It turned out that the body in the coffin was wearing the same clothes as the Lady whom the officer had met.
The basement of the building holds a labyrinth of tunnels. Supposedly they stretch under the whole Main Square and run all the way to St Mary’s Basilica. According to legend, the famed sorcerer Mr Twardowski kept all his gold there. The treasure was guarded by the devil. One day, Mr Twardowski’s cook wandered underground because the rooster she intended to prepare for dinner fled into the basement. When she found it after a long search, the rooster turned out to be the devil. He promised that if she spared him, he would grant her gold. The catch was that she could not look back on her way out of the basement. Of course, curiosity got the better of her and she turned around to have a peek at what was behind her. Right away the gold turned into rubbish. Some say the treasure is still in the basement. In another version of the story, when the cook turned around, the basement door immediately shut and cut off her heel, but she managed to keep the gold.