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by Owen Lipsett
New York, New York
December 17, 2004
Originally built as a modest single-story structure in 1241, after the Tartars had sacked the town, it was steadily expanded over the next 250 years, primarily in a late Gothic style. The famous Astronomical Clock on its east facade, the most photographed sight in Wroclaw, dates to 1580. The ornate spike protruding from the ground in front of it, a popular meeting spot, is actually a reproduction of a 15th-century whipping post (the original was destroyed during World War II.)
Although less photographed, the south facade is equally stunning. Renaissance bay windows jut out sharply from the side of the building, topped with copper spires that give them the appearance of miniature towers. Ornate 19th-century filigree friezes of animals and foliage run along the length of this side of the building, combining with stone effigies of knights and saints added at the same time to produce an attractively decadent effect. If this feels like visual overload, however, duck under the doorway beneath statues of an old woman and a farmer, which leads to Piwnica Swidnica, a tavern that has operated in the Ratusz’ cellar since the 13th century!
The restored interior of the Ratusz, whose original municipal functions were transferred into adjacent offices in the late 19th century, pales in comparison, but nonetheless merits a brief visit. Entering through a door in the drab west facade brings you to the Burgher’s Hall, which takes up most of the ground floor. It was both as the venue for important civic gatherings and a covered market for nearly half a millennium. The adjacent Bailiff’s Room served as the office (and, when necessary, courtroom) of the official charge with governing in the name of the Duke of Silesia and is connected to several ornate meeting rooms. Upstairs, the Knights’ Hall has interesting temporary exhibitions. Restored offices to the side of each contain displays of many of the town’s historical heirlooms.
The Ratusz is open from 11am to 5pm Tuesday through Saturday, 10am to 6pm Sunday, and is closed Mondays
From journal Wroclaw: Phoenix Risen From the Ashes of Two Cities
May 2, 2001
From journal Wroclaw: the jewel of Silesia