Before researching our latest trip to Poland, we must admit that we had never heard of Przemyśl, let alone tried to pronounce its name. However, the more we read about Przemyśl, the more excited we became, and actually changed the route of our itinerary to incorporate a two night stay (in a castle – check out our next blog post for details of that stay!).
Przemyśl is a small, but historically significant, city of almost 70,000 inhabitants in south-eastern Poland. It is the second-oldest city in southern Poland (after Kraków), and appears to date from as early as the 8th century. Przemyśl is in an ideal geographic location, laying in an area connecting mountains and lowlands known as the Przemyśl Gate, with open lines of transportation, and fertile soil. It also lies on the navigable San River. Important trade routes that connected Central and Eastern Europe passed through Przemyśl and ensured the city's importance and prosperity.
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Przemyśl has had a tumultuous history and has been fought over by Poles, Russians, Austrians, Hungarians and Swedes, to name a few. By the end of the 19th century, the city even became a fortress, indeed it was the third largest fortress in Europe at that time. Around the city, in a 28 mile circle, 44 forts of various sizes were built (many of which can still be visited), with the fortress accommodating up to 120,000 soldiers! The ravages of the two world wars and life under communism has taken its toll on Przemyśl, however, and it is not as significant as it once was. Perhaps this is why it is not considered a tourist destination, certainly not out with Poland itself. Nonetheless, we found this sleepy, but impressive city a real gem, with a great deal to experience.
Before exploring this impressive city, you will want to master the pronunciation of its name – if you call it SH EH – m ih – sh uh l, you are not going to go far wrong! We also noted that some inhabitants pronounce the ‘P’, but very softly and almost inaudibly. Good luck vocalizing the name!
So, without further ado, please find our 10 Things to See and Do in Przemyśl …
1. Sit next to Švejk and enjoy the Old Town Square
Švejk’s Monument was unveiled on the 12 July 2008, and it has become a very popular pastime to tweak his nose as you go past. The monument is of the Imperial and Royal Good Soldier Švejk, sitting on an ammunition box with his favorite beer-mug and a pipe. The monument was made by a sculptor of Przemyśl origin, Jacek Szpak. The monument sits within the Old Town Square, which is a beautiful, sloping area in the city center, surrounding by picturesque buildings. The Old Town Square differs only slightly from its original fifteenth-century appearance and is a great place to sit and relax.
2. Learn how to defend a fortress
The Museum of the Przemyśl Fortress houses a collection of 19th and 20th century artefacts from the former fortress. The Three halls of exhibits present, among other things, weapons, soldiers' equipment, old photos, elements of armoured equipment of forts, artillery shells and fuses as well as various personal items. This small museum brings to life the struggles to defend the fortress during World War One, struggles which were sometimes in vain, as ownership of the fortress switched hands on multiple occasions between the Austrians and the Russians.
3. Find out about the history of Przemyśl
The National Museum of the Przemyśl Land was founded in 1909 and in 2006, the impressive new main building in Berka Joselewicza Square was constructed. The museum is split into several sections. There is the Archaeological Section which collects historical items from all eras and prehistoric periods, the Middle Ages and modern times. The Ethnographic Section comprises the material culture of the rural areas of the Polish and Ruthenian borderland. The Historical Section has collections which contains iconographic materials, historical souvenirs, as well as archival materials. The Art and Crafts Section collects past and contemporary art particularly that of the artists connected with the area of the Eastern Lesser Poland. The museum is well laid out and gives the visitor a good background into the history of this city and region.
4. Try the best ice-cream in Poland
During our research into Przemyśl, we read that Cukiernia Fiore serves some of the best ice cream and desserts in Poland. So there was only one way to confirm this – go and taste some! We can confirm that, if it is not the best ice cream in Poland, then it must be very close to it. Certainly, the long queues confirms Cukiernia Fiore’s popularity.
5. Go underground!
The Przemyśl underground is a part of the original, medieval development of the city. At present, the two-storey cellars under the City Hall with the new section of the 17th century sewerage system are available for sightseeing. The cellars were used for storing, among other items, wine, mead, meat and dairy products, as well as salt. The underground floors were used not only for the purpose of storing goods and a place for trading, but also as inns and craftsmen's workshops. When needed, they were even used as temporary accommodation for servants. Also while you are down in the cellars, look out for the interactive display. Perhaps slightly bizarrely, you can find out what you would like wearing virtual reality Medieval outfits!
6. See the city from inside a clock!
The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist was built in the Gothic style in the 15th and 16th centuries along with a late-Baroque 71-metre high belfry. A clock is located in the upper part of the belfry, offering a fantastic panoramic view of the city through the actual clock faces themselves. Cue photo opportunity!
7. Experience the many religious sites
Przemyśl is a city of churches and monasteries, each with their own character and beauty. A whole day could probably be devoted to visiting them. The highlights from our sacred visits were the Franciscan Monastery, The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist and the Carmelite Church and Monastery.
The Franciscan Monastery was built in the 18th century in place of an old Gothic church, and it combines elements of the late Baroque and Classicism. The church has an impressive rococo interior with an abundance of sculptures and frescoes.
The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist was renovated in the 18th century and delights in a Baroque style.
The Carmelite Church and Monastery was founded in the early 17th century and towers over the Old Town. The Austrian authorities handed the Baroque church over to Greek Catholics, who turned it into their cathedral, changing its appearance and converting the adjacent monastery. In recent years the Carmelites restored the original look to the church and monastery.
8. Get a panoramic view of the city from the Tartar’s Barrow
The hill towering over Przemyśl is called Zniesienie, a name which commemorates the defeat of the Tartars many centuries previously. The most famous point of Zniesienie is the mysterious Tartar’s Barrow (352 m above sea level). Legend says that it was built by the Tartars as a mound of the Khan who was killed in battle here. Today, it offers a panoramic view over the city and back to the Carpathians. A short walk along the hilltop is the Krzyż Zawierzenia (Cross of Trust), and can be found near one of the Przemyśl Fortress batteries. Further along is the upper station of the ski slope, which was built in 2006 and has three routes, offering all-year-round attractions: a cable way and a tobogganing run.
9. Sample pre-World War Two cuisine
When we researched Przemyśl’s restaurants, we were struck by the description and good reviews of Restaurant CK Monarchy. We felt that offering “bourgeois Galician cuisine from pre-war Przemysl” would be ideal for us, and indeed it was. The interiors were warm and cosy, just like being in a private pre-war town house. They even played vintage music. The food also matched the great surroundings, being tasty and traditional dishes. All in all it was at great experience at Restaurant CK Monarchy and one that we would heartily recommend.
10. Explore the historic cemeteries
There are three separate and quite distinct cemeteries in the south of Przemyśl – The German 1914-1915 Military Cemetery; The Main Municipal Cemetery; and The Jewish Cemetery. Like many cemeteries in Poland, which can be quite colourful, well-maintained and worth visiting, a good few interesting hours can be spent walking around these cemeteries, full of history and fascinating grave stones. Although the three cemeteries are right next to each other, it is probably an idea to drive between them, due to the distances involved.
The German 1914-1915 Military Cemetery is a complex of four military cemeteries from World War 1. Their origin is closely related to the role the Przemyśl Fortress played in the Great War. Here lie the bodies of thousands of soldiers killed during the bloody triple siege of the fortress between 1914 and 1915. There are separate cemeteries for the soldiers of the Austro-Hungarian, German and Russian armies, and across the road, one for the unidentified soldiers from the Austro-Hungarian army.
The Main Municipal Cemetery was founded during 1855. Around the chapel and on both sides of the alley there are splendid gravestones of some of the major figures of 19th-century Przemyśl. The graveyard is on a hillside, and if you make your way to the top, you will be rewarded with a beautiful view out into the countryside.
The Jewish Cemetery was founded around 1860, and is surrounded by a wall built in 1913, with its main entrance facing Słowackiego Street. The oldest, central part of the cemetery is comprised mainly of turn-of-century tombstones. Further in to the cemetery, there are graves and monuments to commemorate the Jews murdered in World War 2.
Join us next time when we continue Polish travels and visit the Polish city of Łódź, with it's colourful streets and colourful history.
Until then, happy reading and safe travels.
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