The Tower of Freedom 1918

Rynek, Kraków

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The historic takeover of the guardhouse at the foot of the Town Hall Tower from the Austrians took place in 1918. It was then that the red-and-white Polish flag was flown from the tower for the first time in 123 years: a sign of Kraków being liberated from the power of the partitioning forces. These events gave the Town Hall Tower the symbolic name of “The Tower of Freedom”.

The guardhouse where the Austrian garrison was stationed, a smallish neo-Gothic structure by the Town Hall Tower, was captured by a troop of Polish soldiers at midday on 31 October 1918, to the command of Lieutenant Antoni Stawarz. After removing the soldiers of the occupying force from the guardhouse, a Polish watch was set up. Of no major military significance, that step was however important for symbolic and propagandist purposes: removal of the Austrian ofsoldiers from the city centre was a visible sign of the liberation of Kraków.

A patriotic manifestation with participation of the people who liberated Kraków took place on the first anniversary of the events in the city’s Main Market Square. It also included a symbolic takeover of the guardhouse. This is how the tradition of re-enacting the change of the guard from Austrian to Polish hands started to be repeated until the outbreak of the Second World War. In 1946 the guardhouse was demolished; a step that the communist authorities explained by the need to remove from the public space the symbols bringing to mind the years of partition. What was however, in fact, destroyed was one of the symbols of the liberation of Kraków. After 1989, the tradition of the historic change of guard returned. Now it takes place in front of the Town Hall Tower on the location of the demolished guardhouse. There are also two plaques that commemorate the events of 31 October 1918 in the walls of the tower.

Not far away from the tower, another plaque, mounted into the floor of the Main Market Square, commemorates the oath Tadeusz Kościuszko took on 24 March 1794. That date opened the Kościuszko insurrection, that is, a national uprising against Russia and Prussia, the powers intervening in the internal affairs of the declining Commonwealth of Poland–Lithuania. On that day general Kościuszko participated in holy mass in the Capuchin Church on Loretańska Street and later proceeded to the Main Market Square to address the people of Kraków with the following words “I, Tadeusz Kościuszko, swear before God to the entire Polish nation that I shall not use the power entrusted in me for any private oppression, yet I shall only use it for the protection of the inviolability of borders, recapturing the sovereignty of the nation, and reinforcement of the general freedom.

The close vicinity of the plaque commemorating Kościuszko’s oath and the Town Hall Tower, at whose foot the guardhouse used to stand, is a symbolic link between the beginning and end of the partition as the place where Kościuszko initiated the struggle for independence and which became the backdrop to the joyful harbinger of the rebirth of Polish statehood.

 

Rynek, Kraków
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