Old Town Warsaw: Take a Look at the Old and You Will Find Something New
Literally. Warsaw was my first Polish experience, and it was there where I began to learn, and better comprehend the admirable and impressive spirit of Warsaw, and Poland as a whole, after Hitler bombed it to near complete destruction during the Warsaw Uprising in August 1944. After staying nearly six days in the Polish capital, we could not help but love Warsaw. We enjoyed it so much that we are returning later this year!
Warsaw is a must visit city, and if time is of the essence, we recommend concentrating
on the city's Old Town (Polish: Stare Miasto), a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1980. Our hotel was a 15 minute walk to it, and inevitably, it was tailored into our itinerary as Day 1.
Warsaw's Old Town comprises of various monuments, city walls, the market place, houses and streets, and general views, but if we had to suggest a handful of central Old Town elements, we would strongly stress upon visiting the following:
St. John's Cathedral (Polish: Katedra św. Jana): *It is the oldest church in the capital. It was build in the 14th century as a Mazovian Gothic church, and it served as a coronation and burial site for the Dukes of Masovia. After the resolution of the Constitution of May 3, 1791 King Stanisław August Poniatowski went to the Cathedral to repeat the Oath of the Constitution in front of the Altar. Leveled by the Germans during the Warsaw Rising 1944 it was rebuilt after the war. The exterior reconstruction is based on the 14th-century church's presumed appearance, not on its prewar appearance."
Old Town Market Square (Polish: Rynek Starego Miasta): Founded in the late 1200's, it was once the main square of Warsaw. The town hall originally sat in the central part of the market, but it was demolished in 1817. All its buildings were reconstructed after WWII, and their appearance is a perfect match to the Square's original look in the 17th and 18th centuries. Since 1855, the bronze Warsaw Mermaid sculpture, with a shield in one hand and a raised sword in the other, has been in the exact same place as today. It is featured in Warsaw's coat of arms and has become the symbol of the city. Today, it bustles with restaurant's, shops and cafés.
Castle Square (Polish: Plac Zamkowy): A historic square in front of the Royal Castle – the former official residence of Polish monarchs. It features the landmark Sigismund's Column to the south-west, and it is surrounded by historic townhouses. It marks the beginning of the Royal Route, a former communication route that extended southward from the city's Old Town. It now comprises a series of connecting Warsaw streets that feature a number of historic landmarks.
Royal Castle: *A castle residency that served as the official residence of the Polish monarchs, the Dukes of Masovia, and since the 16th century, it became the seat of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Constitution of 3 May 1791, the first of its type in Europe and the world's second-oldest codified national constitution after the 1789 U.S. Constitution, was drafted here by the Four-Year Sejm. During the course of WWI it was the residence of the German Governor-General. After the failed Warsaw Uprising in 1944, which almost completely destroyed the castle, it was completely rebuilt and reconstructed.
Sigismund's Column: *It was erected in 1644 on the orders of King Władysław IV Vasa to commemorate his father King Sigismund III Vasa, who in 1596 moved Poland's capital from Kraków to Warsaw. On 1 September 1944, during the Warsaw Uprising, the monument's column was demolished by the Germans, and the bronze statue was badly damaged. However, after the war, the statue was repaired, a couple of meters from the original site. The original broken pieces of the column can be seen lying next to the Royal Castle. It marks the beginning of the bustling Royal Route extending to the south.
Barbakan: A semicircular fortified outpost and one of the few remaining relics of the complex network of historic fortifications that once encircled Warsaw. It was erected in 1540, and it is located between the Old and New Towns. Brick city walls protected the city over the centuries. In present form the walls were reconstructed after the WW II between 1953-1963.
Finally, as you explore the Old Town, take the time to stroll through its meticulously rebuilt streets while gazing at its impeccably reconstructed houses. No tenement façade repeats itself. Each is unique, colorful and eye catching...something like the phoenix, the mythological Greek and Roman bird which regenerated by arising from its own ashes. Warsaw, the Polish phoenix.
Please join us for our next BESPOKE travel blog post where we will visit a few Jewish commemorative sites, and describe how the Jewish culture rose from the ashes of persecution.
Until then, happy reading and safe travels!
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