The town layout – an oval centre with a large square in its middle – is unusual, suggesting the town was planned in medieval times. Tarnów is indeed an old city: its municipal charter was granted in 1330. Developing as a trade centre on the busy Kraków–Kyiv route, the town enjoyed good times in the Renaissance period. But a fire in the 15th century completely destroyed the medieval city, which was not rebuilt for almost 200 years.

Tarnów traditionally had a sizable Jewish community, which by the 19th century accounted for half the city’s population. Of the 25,000 Jews living here in 1939, only a handful survived WWII. To remind itself and others of its past, Tarnów uses a stylised yellow Star of David in its tourist office logo.

The city is also one of the major centres for Poland’s small Roma population and the museum here has one of Europe’s few exhibitions of Roma history. The museum includes a small section on the Roma Holocaust, in which hundreds of Roma from around the Tarnów region were rounded up by the Germans and killed.