The Foundation Charter

The first source confirming the existence of Cracow is found in an account by an Arab merchant, Ibrahim Ibn Jakub, on his travel to Slavic countries. It dates back to the second half of the 10th century. Cracow must have already been a large settlement then, situated on criss-crossing trade routes.

The dynamic development of the town shown by the remains of the old sacred and secular buildings was brought to an abrupt end by the Tartar invasion in 1241. Cracow was devastated, and the town buildings - mostly of wood - were burnt down. Desiring to rebuild the town, the prince Boleslaus the Bashful (1243-1279) with his mother Grzymisława and his wife Kinga issued the foundation charter for Cracow at a gathering in Kopernia near Szydłowiec. According to that document, Cracow was to be founded on Magdeburg Law, following the example of another Polish town, Wrocław. It meant the establishement of a local self-government with both the so-called ława (a body elected from Cracovian burghers) and the chief administrator (the so-called wójt), whose function was to be passed down.

The foundation charter also introduced a new urban and architectural layout. It was then that the extant plan of the town was made, with the largest medieval market place in the world and its radiating streets, which were of considerable width for those times. Along the streets, there quickly appeared new brick houses.

The acceptance of the Magdeburg Law gave rise to the quickly developing town council of Cracow, consisting of the town's wealthy class. Later, chiefly since the reign of Ladislaus the Short (1306-1333), it was not the wójt, but the town council headed by the mayor, elected from among the council members, that exercised the self-governing powers in the town. With some changes, the above form of the town's self-government survived in Cracow till the end of the 18th century, that is until the partition of Poland among the three neighbouring states.


The parchment document from June 5 1257 in which Boleslaus, the Prince of Cracow and of Sandomierz, endows Cracow with the Magdeburg Law (the so-called foundation charter). Out of the five seals attached to the document, two have been preserved: the seal of the Castellan of Cracow and the Voivod of Cracow, impressed in green wax. The seals of prince Boleslaus, the Bishop of Cracow, and the Chapter of Cracow have been destroyed in the course of time. Nowadays, below the document, in its central part, there is the seal of prince Boleslaus the Bashful from the collection of loose seals (APKr, ref. no Perg. 2. Photo: RM)