Tarnów one of the biggest cities in the Małopolskie voivodeship, more than 80 kilometres from Kraków, with a history full of legends. Some of them concern, for example, the etymology of the name Tarnów, which according to some legends originates from the sloe bushes (‘tarnina’ in Polish) growing on the surrounding hills, while others associate it with the founder of the settlement, the knight Tarn. And what was it really like? How many fragments does the famous Panorama of Transylvania have? These and many other secrets can be discovered by visiting Tarnów, one of the sunniest and warmest cities in Poland, referred to as the “Polish pole of heat”.
Market Square – pearl of the Renaissance
Surrounded by charming Renaissance tenement houses, the Market Square in Tarnów is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful markets in Poland. A walk along the charming streets running from the square provides many aesthetic experiences, especially in the evening when the local cafés and restaurants get crowded. The focal point of the square is undoubtedly the historic Town Hall, which is currently the seat of the Old Art Gallery (a branch of the District Museum). It’s worth looking inside the Town Hall, at least for a moment, to see the lavish Commoners Room, which houses the Old Polish Portrait Gallery. This most representative room of the Town Hall presents a collection of the most valuable Sarmatian portraits in Poland. After visiting the interior, you can take a look at the town from a different perspective – get to the top of the 30-metre-high tower of the town hall, which offers a panoramic view of the surrounding area and the Beskid mountain range looming on the horizon.
Within the old town, you simply have to visit the Cathedral Basilica – a Gothic church which houses a tomb monument of the Tarnowski family. It is the tallest Renaissance monument in Poland and was made by an Italian sculptor, Giovanni Maria Padovano. Renaissance decorations are considered the most outstanding works of art in Poland and even in Europe. It’s also worth taking a walk along the city’s main promenade, Wałowa Street, which runs alongside beautiful tenement houses. There are also several other monuments along the promenade, some of which are related to literature – the monument to Roman Brandstaetter or Poets’ Bench. Tarnów can be visited in three days.
A city of many cultures – Jewish, Hungarian and Roma traces
Tarnów is also known for its intersection of cultures and communities, which was mainly due to its location by medieval trade routes. The current population of Tarnów is estimated at over 100,000, and before the war half of the city’s population, which then reflected over 50,000, was of Jewish descent. The only remnant of the oldest synagogue in Tarnów is the bimah – a platform from which the Torah was read, but the ritual bathhouse – mikvah, erected in 1902 in Moorish style, has survived to the present day. The bathhouse currently houses an excellent restaurant serving, among other things, Jewish cuisine. Walking around Tarnów, you can also find several references to Hungarian culture as, since the Middle Ages, Tarnów has been famous for its close contacts with Hungary. Tarnów is also the birth place of Józef Bem, general and strategist, participant in the November Uprising, political activist of the Great Emigration and commander-in-chief of the Hungarian Revolution. The general’s monument, a mural depicting a fragment of the Transylvanian Panorama and Seklerska Gate named after Józef Bem and Sandor Petöfi are traces of a long-standing Polish-Hungarian friendship. Tarnów was also connected with the wanderings of the Roma, which is recalled by an exhibition in the Ethnographic Museum. Traces of the Austrians, who once resided in Tarnów, include the beautiful Art Nouveau railway station and the trams, as Tarnów was the third city in Galicia (after Kraków and Lviv), in which a tram line was introduced.
Museums and architectural monuments – Tarnów from different perspectives
If you wish to learn more about the region, visit the Ethnographic Museum located in the centre of the town, in an 18th-century shingle-roofed manor house, the Diocesan Museum, which is the oldest museum in Poland exhibiting sacral objects, or Museum of the History of Tarnów and the Region. The Ethnographic Museum, one of the branches of the District Museum in Tarnów, presents a permanent exhibition devoted to the Roma people; their history and culture is shown through everyday objects, costumes and instruments. It’s also worth planning a visit to the “Panorama” Gallery, which is located in the railway station building and presents an exhibition related to the history of the Transylvanian Panorama, a famous work by Polish and Hungarian painters commemorating the capture of Sibiu by Hungarian insurgents under the command of Józef Bem. There are 31 fragments of the Panorama preserved to this day and the Museum in Tarnów has 20 of them in its collection. The Diocesan Museum, on the other hand, invites visitors to the world of sacred art combined with folklore from different periods. Inside the museum, the exhibition rooms are divided into the Gallery of Folk Paintings, the Gallery of Medieval Art, Folk Art and the Hall of Chasubles. Located in the heart of the city, the Museum of the History of Tarnów and the Region presents an interesting history of the city and the region. A walk through the exposition presenting archival documents, medieval swords or a guild inn, transports the visitors thanks to its interesting arrangement to the multidimensional past of Tarnów. The Old Art Gallery, located in the Town Hall and presenting the Old Polish Portrait Gallery, is definitely a must-see. It’s worth remembering that Tarnów also has two historic wooden churches listed on the Małopolska region Wooden Architecture Route, such as the famous Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Scapular, the so-called Church on Burek. Whoever is willing to continue the trip may also visit other towns near Tarnów located on the route. If you’re interested in architecture, make sure you don’t miss a walk around the district of Mościce, where a pioneering housing estate was built, embodying the concept of a garden city. Be sure to visit the Mościce Art Centre, presenting photographic exhibitions and organising interesting artistic events.
Among the greenery, overlooking the city
Tarnów offers also something for all those who appreciate relaxation in the fresh air and active recreation in the vicinity of nature. The revitalised Strzelecki Park invites you to stroll along the alleys among the old trees and flowers blooming luxuriantly in spring. You can also stop for a moment and have a rest by the famous Mausoleum of General Józef Bem.
All enthusiasts of history who like longer walks should definitely include in their sightseeing programme St Martin’s Hill (384 m above sea level), situated about 3 km from the city centre. On the top of the hill, you’ll find the remains of a tribal stronghold of the Vistulans and the monarchy of the first representatives of the Piast dynasty, as well as the ruins of a defensive castle built by Spycimir of Melsztyn. The hill is named after the patron saint of the 15th century church from the neighbouring village of Zawada and is a great viewpoint to admire the city itself and the surrounding area.
Although ostensibly unknown and little discovered, Tarnów encourages one to look for local multicultural traces, to explore the history of the region and of Poland. The bustling city, which welcomes travellers with the beautiful space of the Art Nouveau railway station, offers many activities and is a great alternative for a family or individual carefree weekend in the Małopolska region.