Rising out on a rocky crag above the confluence of two rivers near the Guadarrama mountains, the Alcázar of Segovia is one of the most distinctive castle-palaces in Spain by virtue of its shape – like the bow of a ship. The Alcázar was originally built as a fortress but has served as a royal palace, a state prison, a Royal Artillery College and a military academy since then. It is currently used as a museum and a military archives building.
The Alcázar, like many fortifications in Spain, started off as Roman fort, but apart from the foundations, little of the original structure remains. A Muslim era fort, which was itself largely replaced by the present structure, was built by the Berber Almoravid dynasty. The first reference to this particular "alcázar" was in 1120, around 32 years after the city of Segovia returned to Christian hands. It can be concluded that prior to Alfonso VIII's reign, the Muslim era structure was no more than a wooden fort built over the old Roman foundations. Alfonso VIII and his wife, Eleanor of England, made this alcázar their principal residence and much work was carried out to erect the beginnings of the stone fortification we see today.
The Alcázar of Segovia was one of the favorite residences of the monarchs of Castile in the Middle Ages, and a key fortress in the defence of the kingdom. It was during this period that most of the current building was constructed by the Trastámara dynasty.
In 1258, parts of the Alcázar had to be rebuilt by King Alfonso X after a cave-in and the Hall of Kings was built to house Parliament soon after. However, the single largest contributor to the continuing construction of the Alcázar is King John II who built the "New Tower" (John II tower as it is known today).
The next major renovation at the Alcázar was conducted by King Philip II after his marriage to Anna of Austria. He added the sharp slate spires to reflect the castles of central Europe. In 1587, architect Francisco de Morar completed the main garden and the School of Honor areas of the castle.
The Cloth Hall in Kraków dates to the Renaissance and is one of the city's most recognizable icons. It is the central feature of the main market square in the Kraków Old Town (listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1978).
The hall was once a major centre of international trade. Traveling merchants met there to discuss business and to barter. During its golden age in the 15th century, the hall was the source of a variety of exotic imports from the east – spices, silk, leather and wax – while Kraków itself exported textiles, lead, and salt from the Wieliczka Salt Mine.
Kraków was Poland's capital city and was among the largest cities in Europe already from before the time of the Renaissance. However, its decline started with the move of the capital to Warsaw in the very end of the 16th century. The city's decline was hastened by wars and politics leading to the Partitions of Poland at the end of the 18th century. By the time of the architectural restoration proposed for the cloth hall in 1870 under Austrian rule, much of the historic city center was decrepit. A change in political and economic fortunes for the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria ushered in a revival due to newly established Legislative Assembly or Sejm of the Land. The successful renovation of the Cloth Hall, based on design by Tomasz Pryliński and supervised by Mayor Mikołaj Zyblikiewicz, Sejm Marshal, was one of the most notable achievements of this period.
The hall has hosted many distinguished guests over the centuries and is still used to entertain monarchs and dignitaries, such as Charles, Prince of Wales and Emperor Akihito of Japan, who was welcomed here in 2002. In the past, balls were held here, most notably after Prince Józef Poniatowski had briefly liberated the city from the Austrians in 1809. Aside from its history and cultural value, the hall still is still used as a center of commerce.
On the upper floor of the hall is the Sukiennice Museum division of the National Museum, Kraków. It holds the largest permanent exhibit of the 19th-century Polish painting and sculpture, in four grand exhibition halls arranged by historical period and the theme extending into an entire artistic epoch. The museum was upgraded in 2010 with new technical equipment, storerooms, service spaces as well as improved thematic layout for the display.
The Gallery of 19th-Century Polish Art was a major cultural venue from the moment it opened on October 7, 1879. It features late Baroque, Rococo, and Classicist 18th-century portraits and battle scenes by Polish and foreign pre-Romantics.