St. Mary’s towers

The façade of St. Mary’s Basilica has two characteristic towers of various height and architecture.

Tower architecture

The tal­ler south tower is 82 m high and is also cal­led the Bugle Call Tower or the Excu­bia­rum Watch­to­wer. It is set on a squ­are plan and trans­forms into an octa­gon with poin­ted arch reces­ses and two sto­reys of win­dows at the height of the nin­th sto­rey. The indi­vi­du­al sto­ries of the who­le tower are sepa­ra­ted with sto­ne led­ges. The tower is crow­ned with a Gothic cupo­la from 1478, made by master Maciej Heringk. The cupo­la is com­po­sed of an octa­go­nal poin­ted ste­eple sur­ro­un­ded with a ring of eight smal­ler ste­eples. Eve­ry hour, St Mary’s Bugle Call is play­ed at the height of 54 m. At the nor­thern base of the tower, the­re is a rec­tan­gu­lar annex with the sto­ne sta­irs leading insi­de. On the left of the entran­ce, the­re is a grand bron­ze pla­que of King Jan III Sobie­ski, whi­ch is based on the desi­gn of sculp­tor Pius Weloń­ski to com­me­mo­ra­te the 200th anni­ver­sa­ry of the Bat­tle of Vien­na. The­re is a d-tone clock bell with the dia­me­ter of 165 cm from the year 1530 on the tal­ler tower.

The shor­ter south tower is 69 m high and houses the chur­ch bel­ls, thus acting as the bell tower. Like the tal­ler tower, it is built on a squ­are plan and its sto­reys are cle­ar­ly mar­ked out with led­ges and win­dows. The bell flo­or is home to the Rena­is­san­ce cha­pel of the Conver­sion of St. Paul, whi­ch can be ente­red thro­ugh the Rena­is­san­ce bal­co­ny built by Ita­lian masters from the shop of Bar­to­lom­meo Berec­ci. Out­si­de, abo­ve the cha­pel win­dow and under the three-hip­ped roof, hands the bell ‘for the dying’, whi­ch was cast in 1736 by Kac­per Koer­ber of Wro­cław. The tower is top­ped with a late-Rena­is­san­ce cupo­la made in 1592, whi­ch is com­po­sed of an ellip­so­idal dome set on an octa­go­nal drum and crow­ned with an open­work ligh­tho­use. The­re are four smal­ler cupo­las in the cor­ners, whi­ch are set on short hexa­go­nal foun­da­tions.

The legend of two brothers

As the legend goes, two bro­thers were hired to build the towers of St. Mary’s. The bro­thers were known as two of Kraków’s best buil­ders. The older bro­ther was sup­po­sed to build the south tower whi­le the youn­ger was to han­dle the nor­th one.

Ini­tial­ly, con­struc­tion went on as plan­ned and the­ir paces were simi­lar. Howe­ver, it soon tur­ned out that the south tower, whi­ch was being built by the older bro­ther, was cle­ar­ly tal­ler than his brother’s nor­th tower. In a fit of jealo­us rage, the youn­ger bro­ther kil­led his older sibling and orde­red that the unfi­ni­shed south tower be crow­ned with a cupo­la. He then pro­ce­eded to com­ple­te his now tal­ler nor­th tower accor­ding to plan.

Howe­ver, the youn­ger bro­ther was con­su­med by guilt. On the day of con­se­cra­tion, he clim­bed to the top of his tower hol­ding the kni­fe he used to mur­der his bro­ther. He public­ly con­fes­sed to the mur­der and jum­ped.

The murderer’s kni­fe hangs in the gate of the Clo­th Hall in the Main Squ­are to this day to remind us of the­se tra­gic events.
A dif­fe­rent ver­sion of the legend says that, after the mur­der of the older bro­ther, the south tower was com­ple­ted by super­na­tu­ral for­ces befo­re the youn­ger bro­ther, who lost his balan­ce in fear and fell off the scaf­fol­ding to his death.

Legend of the bugle call

In the mid­dle ages, the bugle call was play­ed from the tal­ler tower, whi­ch served as the city’s watch­to­wer. It anno­un­ced the ope­ning or clo­sing of the gates of Kra­ków and, more impor­tan­tly, out­bre­aks of fires or ene­my attacks.

The call abrup­tly cuts off. As the legend goes, when Poland was being attac­ked by the Tatars in the 12th cen­tu­ry, the­re was a guard up in St. Mary’s Tower day and night to wat­ch over the safe­ty of the locals. When he noti­ced the inco­ming Tatars, he star­ted to play the call to warn the unsu­spec­ting town­spe­ople of the appro­aching dan­ger. As he was play­ing, he was shot thro­ugh the thro­at by a

Tatar arrow.

To this day, the bugle call cuts off at the same moment in memo­ry of the hero­ic bugler, thanks to whom Kra­ków was able to rise to bat­tle with the inva­ders.