Zrewitalizowany Stary Rynek w Częstochowie

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Town hall

The most important and iconic building erected in the market squares was the town hall. However, only in a few of the biggest merchant cities town halls were built shortly after a city’s establishment. Cities needed to have adequate financial resources to invest in the erection of such a building.

Preserved documents confirm there was a town hall in the market square in Częstochowa. It is first mentioned by royal vetting in 1564. This does not mean that Częstochowa did not have a municipal authority seat before that time. There are no sources (settlement document and others) specifying when privileges were obtained by the city and townspeople, and hence no credible hypothesis can be made about when such a municipal authority seat was created. Following the example of other cities in northern Lesser Poland (e.g. Lelów or Przyrów), we can assume that in the initial period of the city functioning, the mayor’s house, along with dedicated economic facilities, took the place of the town hall. The probability of this is proved by the fact that in 1423 King Władysław Jagiełło issued a privilege to the mayor of Częstochowa, Siegfried Baruth, generously endowing him. He was a knight that served the king. Most likely he had a spacious house in the town.

Research confirms that only the richest cities built town halls. It was a very expensive investment. As a rule, settlements that received municipal status in the 14th century built their town hall in the 15th century, or even in the 16th or 17th centuries. This was probably the case with Częstochowa, which, compared to other places in Lesser Poland or on the Silesian-Lesser Poland border in the first half of the 16th century, was one of the most populated cities with 1,600 inhabitants. It seems most probable that the town hall was erected only after a settlement privilege was renewed in 1502 by Aleksander Jagiellończyk. According to information recorded by royal inspectors in 1564 and 1660, the building had brick cellars, where traditionally an inn was run, and local beer was sold. The building is mentioned again in 1630. Because of a prevailing plague, city councillors did not deliberate in the town hall, but in a field near Kiedrzyn.

We do not have any written information about the appearance of the town hall or what purpose the building’s rooms served. Compared with other buildings of this type described in the sources, with a high degree of probability, we can make a hypothetical reconstruction of the Częstochowa building.

The size of the town hall depended on the size of the city, social and economic structure, the number of councillors, etc. The main and most important room of the seat of the municipal authorities was the great council meeting room, sometimes called “the chamber of the lord”. It was located on the first floor, usually lavishly decorated; usually – for the safety of municipal authorities – it had a balustrade that separated the mayor and councillors from the gathering townspeople. The second most important room was the court room, where the jury met for debate and sentencing. These two rooms, due to their representative nature, were decorated with occasional paintings and maxims. In addition to the above-mentioned rooms intended only for persons performing public functions, there were, depending on the individual needs of the municipal community, rooms used for administrative purposes, such as an archive, treasury, writer’s office, and sometimes a library. Throughout the centuries, town hall cellars housed beer and wine taverns, coexisting with a prison. It should be mentioned that the town hall building included additional facilities, like the municipal weigh house, stalls, etc. Undoubtedly, all these had a place in the Częstochowa town hall.
This picture was immortalized 100 years later, i.e. in the second half of the 17th century, on Jan Aleksander Gorczyn’s engraving. We can read that the building placed among the urban buildings was quite spacious, on a plan similar to a square, two-storey, with a high gable roof, with pinnacles typical of public buildings placed at the top of gables, with clear gothic features. From the north and possibly from the south, the first floor had an arcade in the form of a mono-pitched roof probably supported by columns. The engraving also shows a roof reaching the height of the cornice from the east, which may indicate that the town hall had two-storey galleries. The wooden elements probably constituted additional spaces which were necessary for trade.
The town hall in Old Częstochowa, like most buildings in the city center, was consumed by a fire that broke out on July 23, 1760. The town hall building was destroyed. A year later it was recorded that the town hall still had no roof and the basement was partly in ruins. Information about the great fire clearly emphasized that two town buildings burned down then: “the town hall in the middle of the square and the upper and lower prison, also in the middle of the square”. At that time, the ruined town hall was leased to Józef Piotrowski. The first attempts to save the town hall building were made a few days after the fire. Maciej Śliwiarz took over the lease from Józef Piotrowski and committed to “rebuild the town hall chamber and, if necessary, repair the town hall within a year”. We learn from subsequent records that he did not fulfil his obligation, because at the meeting of the council on June 14, 1761, the problem of rebuilding the town hall was still topical and widely discussed. As a result, the townspeople of Old Częstochowa and citizens of New Częstochowa, who owned land in Old Częstochowa, were obliged to bring wood to the town hall, while those who did not own carts were obliged to pay five fines. Mandating townspeople to pay was slow, which upset Councillor Antoni Bielski, who “scorned the city and declared 300zł for the rebuilding of the town hall.” At the meeting of the City Council on July 4, 1762, the problem was revisited, obliging the townspeople to bring in lime and stones or pay 2zł. Meanwhile, bailiffs had to work an extra day. Work on the town hall was not completed until May 1763. According to the settlement of the mayor, Jacek Kośmidrowicz, the cost of the rebuilding was 1625zł. For comparison sake, the renovation cost of a municipal brewery was 142zł. Facilities like the town hall or municipal brewery were covered with shingles. The royal property inspection of 1765 seems to prove that the city dealt with the effects of the fire and most of the buildings were restored. Even though the rebuilding was not completed until June 1763, in July 1761, the lessee, Maciej Śliwiarz, paid 150zł to the city. treasury for the lease of commercial premises in the town hall. In 1769, funds for the lease of the lower floor of the town hall, probably the ground floor, were received by the Municipal Bank.

Another fire that hit the city in 1790, ravaged mainly the south side, where church buildings were located. Other homes were also at least partially destroyed. We do not know whether municipal buildings were affected, and to what extent. All signs point to the fact that the town hall was still standing in 1809. According to sources, the lower part of the city was leased to local merchants. As a result of the hostilities that took place in 1809, the seat of the municipal authorities was completely burnt down. The town hall fire burned the town archive, which contained old, as well as current, records. The city authorities tried to rebuild the ruined building, but as noted in 1811, in the propination law document: “A new one may not be built until the after fire ruins are compensated and the money paid for the army from this cash register is returned to this cash register”. The difficult financial situation of the city and the ongoing military operations in the vicinity of Częstochowa forced the city to postpone the reconstruction of the town hall. And at the beginning of the functioning of the Congress Poland, in view of the more and more evident initiative of combining Old and New Częstochowa into one urban entity, plans to rebuild the old town hall were abandoned in favour of building an urban structure in the middle of the road connecting the two cities. Finally, after 1813, the town hall was completely demolished, as the prefect A. Garczyński, on behalf of the townspeople of Częstochowa, asked for in a letter to the Minister of the Interior – “to level the ground in the market square and repurpose the area where stood the ruins of the burnt town hall”, with the help of detainees. It is not known whether he received such help, but the old town hall was no longer mentioned in town plans.

Discovered in 2006, relics of a brick building with cellars correspond to the general description of the town hall, and the historical facts can be associated with the phases of its construction, reconstruction and the end of its operation. The existing quadrilateral cellar walls are also the foundation walls of the former building, approx. 17 m long, 12 m wide and 3 to 4 m high. The total building area was approx. 204 m². In the outline of the existing walls, three essential rooms with vestibules stand out. The basement walls, about 50-190 cm thick, are made of limestone on a lime mortar. At least three phases of reconstruction and expansion of the building’s cellars are evident. The cellar walls of the room located on the west side, in terms of the applied stone and masonry threads in the lower part, differ in particular from the rest of the building. Presumably, this was an extension of the original building. This is evidenced by a thicker wall from 1.2 m to 1.9 m, under the cylindrical vault. The corner of the cellar is probably a rebuilt part added from the west side to the original building. In this area there was a way down to the cellar, leading from the ground floor or from the outside of the building. This fact is confirmedb by archaeological research. Walls were excavated outside the cellar, on the west side of the building – “walls” which were created from the arrangement of stones.