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The History of the Tenement Houses

The Museum is housed in eleven historic tenement houses located on the northern side of the Old Town Market Square, which was delineated ca. 1300. The first gothic buildings here were erected in the middle of the 15th century. The fire of 1607 provided a reason for further reconstruction, during which the tenement houses on the square came to look similar to the way they look today. Representatives of the most affluent families, city councilors, voits and mayors of Old Warsaw used to reside here. In the 19th century, the economic, cultural and administrative centre of Warsaw moved beyond the Old Town walls and the area gradually began to deteriorate.

The beginnings of the exhibition and conservation activity in the Old Town are linked to the Society for the Preservation of Historic Monuments which had owned the Baryczka tenement house since 1911 (no. 32). In 1916, on the anniversary of the Constitution of 3 May (1791), the northern side of the Old Town Market Square was named the Dekert Side, in commemoration of Jan Dekert (1738-1790), a Mayor of Warsaw and fighter for the rights of the townspeople.

In the years 1937-1938, the city’s authorities purchased the Baryczka house and the adjacent Kleinpold house (no. 34) and the so-called ‘Under the Negro’ house (no. 36) for the Museum of Old Warsaw, a new branch of the National Museum. The process of converting the houses into a museum was halted by the outbreak of World War II. The tenement houses along the Dekert Side, destroyed during the Warsaw Uprising, were rebuilt in the years 1947-1953 to accommodate the municipal museum. In 1955, the first permanent exhibition was opened in these houses.

The story of the transformation of the northern side of the Old Town Market Square and certain pieces of the buildings’ architecture constitute a starting point from which to learn about events and people associated with Warsaw’s Old Town. This story is told in the exhibition itself as well as on signs scattered around the eleven tenement houses – visitors will discover their stories and as they tour the Museum.

Barbara Hensel-Moszczyńska, Klementyna Świeżewska