Before setting off on a walking tour, pick up a handy map of the Old Town (Plan Starego Miasto) at the Tourist Information Office. The map outlines several interesting walking tours, including the Renaissance Trail and Tarnów's Jewish Trail (look too for pamphlets in English that describe the sights along the trails). A good place to begin your exploration is naturally the main square, the Rynek. The square was first laid out in the 14th century when Tarnów acquired its town rights but was redesigned in the 16th century in Renaissance style as Tarnów reached the height of its economic and political power. The handsome Town Hall has been a symbol of the city for centuries since it was built at the start of the 15th century. It was closed to visitors for reconstruction at press time and was set to reopen sometime in 2011. While you're here, check at the house at Rynek 20/21, now home to the Tarnów Regional Museum and considered the most attractive Renaissance town house on the square. The Cathedral, still in use, is a couple of minutes' walk northwest of the Rynek. It was originally built in Gothic style in the 14th century but was given a neo-Gothic makeover in the 19th century. Nearby is the highly recommended Diocese Museum, holding the original altar removed from the UNESCO-listed St. Leonard's church from nearby Lipnica Murowana.
The former Jewish part of the city is situated to the east of the Rynek, bounded by the present streets of Zydowska and Wekslarska. The area is still a ghetto of sorts, today housing part of the city's impoverished Roma community instead of Jews. The houses, with their narrow courtyards, still evoke the feel of the ancient Jewish quarter, and here and there you can still pick out Jewish inscriptions on the houses. Opposite Zydowska 11, look for the still-standing bimah, the podium from which the Torah was read and the only surviving piece of the former "Old Synagogue" that was burned to the ground by the Nazis on the anniversary of Kristallnacht on November 9, 1939. The former Nazi-imposed Jewish ghetto, where Jews were forced to live during the war, is situated farther to the north and east of here. Little remains of this ghetto today, but the gray, depressed housing stock still imparts a lingering sadness. The Jewish Cemetery (Cmentarz Zydowski) is about 15 minutes by foot northeast of the Rynek along Szpitalna and is one of the best-preserved of its kind in Poland. The several thousand graves, in varying states of repair and disrepair, are sadly all that remain of Tarnów's once-thriving Jewish community.
"Memories Saved from Fire"
Tarnów is relatively rare in being one of a handful of Polish cities, including Kraków and Lódz, to actively embrace its Jewish past and begin to put the pieces together of what happened here under the Nazi occupation. A big part of that effort was a European Union-sponsored exhibition at the Tarnów Regional Museum in 2008-09 entitled "Memories Saved from Fire." The show attempted to tell the story in pictures and words, including original Nazi documentation, of the rounding up and eventual destruction of Tarnów's prewar Jewish population of 25,000.
The "Memories Saved from Fire" exhibition has unfortunately closed, but the text and photos are still available on the Web at www.msff.eu and are well worth taking a look at before or after your walk around town.
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