The Royal Castle served as the official residence of the King of Poland starting with Segismundo starting in the 16th c, before that serving a ducal palace since the tower was built in the 14th c. The lower part of the tower still stands. The Nazis destroyed the rest subsequent to the uprising of 1944. Segismundo was Swedish and a Catholic in what was then a Protestant country, and his statue remains with us today at the top of the new column in the palace square. The Nazis collapsed the original column, the remains of which sit at the side of the castle today.
The Poles rebuilt the palace and its sumptuous rooms starting in the 1970’s. They did a superb job of it, and are proud of the accomplishment. There is a substantial film about the works just as you enter, which the bossy guards make sure you see. I’d never seen how they did the wall and ceiling appliques, which they showed in detail. While it’s not the most impressive palace I have ever seen -Versailles, Hermitage and the Palacio Real in Madrid both outrank it – but there’s certainly much to be proud of with regards to the workmanship.
In addition to the interior there is a good collection of paintings, including two Rembrandt portraits.
Today we took our 3rd walking tour of Warsaw. In the first we went to various locations in the Stare Miasto, Old Town. The second was about Communist Warsaw, led by a woman who grew up during that era. She had to stand in line for everything, and witnessed the suppression and growth of Solidarity, leading to the downfall of the Iron Curtain. This afternoon we took the tour of WW2 Warsaw. It takes you to the Jewish ghetto and the location of some of the sites of the uprising in October 1944.
The ghetto was set afire by the Nazis to defeat the 1943 uprising. Today its location is marked on the pavement- they speak to you of the nightmare the Nazis created. Rations were a mere 200 calories a day for Jews, and 500 for Poles. Jews were allowed no medicine. If anyone helped a Jew, the penalty was death for that person and the entire family.
The resistance used the sewers to move from several areas in and near the old town. The sewers were in use at the time, unlit and required one to walk bent over. Movements had to be in complete silence. Eventually these were closed down by the Nazis.
In preparation for the 1944 uprising, the underground raised money for weapons and supplies by robbing a bank. Money was transferred from the Polish central bank by armored car. They raised the about $10 million in today’s dollars. The uprising took a heavy toll on the city and the population. The Nazis killed 200,000 people, destroyed about 90% of the old town and 65% of Warsaw as a whole.
These two uprisings were the largest of occupied Europe. The 1944 uprising not only hoped to help defeat the Nazis but to keep Poland out of Soviet hands, whose invasion of Poland made no friends in the county. The result of the Yalta conference as well as their defeat in the uprising, while the Soviet army watched from across the river, led to post war deportations and murders by the Soviets and 50 years of bad governing.
Torun is small and thus easy to walk. It is full of remarkable architecture, with many restaurants, bars and cafes to add to your enjoyment. The buildings range from the brick structures daring from the 14th century Teutonic Knights to the Gothic to Art Nouveau and Art Deco. The town was not damaged in WW2, so the buildings are not newly rebuilt.
Toruń is another of several Polish city members of the Hanseatic League. The prosperity led to the three main styles, Gothic (dating from 1200’s) in brick, Mannerism and Baroque. The city walls and the now ruined castle are from the Gothic period.
The Cathedral of SS. John the Evangelist and John the Baptist (14th century) has some wonderful sculptures and paintings from the era, including a Moses and St. Mary Magdalene. The multiple altars are ourstanding.
Copernicus was born here and, if you will allow just this one pun, the city revolves around him. There are two museums that deal with him at least in title, this statue in front of city hall, and lots of reproductions of famous portraits.
While you wander about you are tempted by the lody – ice cream – which is very popular in this comparatively warm weather, with temperatures as high as 28c, 80f in generally partly cloud skies. Donuts are elaborately presented, a variety of calorie rich cakes. The city is most famous for its gingerbread, which fortunately for my waist line I do not like. There is very good cappuccino, espresso and macchiato (small cappuccino) — be careful about the latter as there is a small macchiato espresso and a the very large latte macchiato. There are waffles with real whipped cream and cherry jam. Gone are the pretzels, hard and soft, found in Cracow and the multitude of fruit stands and street markets from everywhere we have been. Remaining is the ever-present beer, with wine still an expensive alternative, and I hope you do not like sugar-free colas as they are harder to find if not impossible. Pierogies are everywhere in Poland so here as well, but I could not find latke, potato pancakes. Since our 1998 visit the Italians and Turks have moved in, so pizza and donor kebab are popular, as well as hamburgers even.
With our flat located within blocks of the Rynek (central square) we had the shortest possible commute. This turned out to be not the case in our next destination, the historical city of Poznan. On the other hand, we had two flights of these stairs:
Krakow is replete with finely preserved notable architecture. The Rynek Glowny (Main Square) is in the center of the old town (Stare Miasto). Sukiennice (The Cloth Hall, 1400) is a fine example of the Renaissance. The Cloth Hall was a center for the export of salt (there is a huge salt mine nearby), textiles and lead and the import of spices, silk, leather and wax. The Rynek Glowey is normally full of visitors, horse drawn carriages, and outdoor seating at the many restaurants.
A short distance away is St Mary’s Basilica is late Gothic church with two unmatched spires at 80 m (260′). One was originally a city watch tower. The Basilica’s foundations date to the early 13th century. The church has a famous wooden altar piece by Veit Stross (Wit Stwosz). Every hour a trumpet plays from taller tower, the former watch tower. It commemorates the 13th c. trumpeter shot in the throat while sounding the alarm before a Mongol attack on the city. The noon hejnał is broadcast Polish national Radio 1 Station.
The Royal Cathedral is another Gothic structure dating from 1100. Pope John Paul II gave his first performance as a priest here in 1946.
The Church of St. Adalbert, which is one of the few remaining examples of the Polish Romanesque style in Krakow, and the oldest Christian chapel in the city to boot.
The pointed arches show the Gothic character of the Collegium Maius
The Barbican is a fortifcation once connected to the city walls just behind it.
The Church of St Peter and Paul is Baroque in style.
Krakow sits on the banks of the Vistula. Settlement dates from the 7th century, finding Wawel hill a defensible position. and has long been a major center of Polish culture and economy. It was a member of the Hanseatic league despite not being coastal and thus had its own fleet during that period (circa 1000-1500). It was the capitol of Poland from 1038-1569, when Wawel Castle
castle burned, after which the capital was moved to Warsaw. It was capitol again during the Nazi era. In 1978, Karol Wojtyła became Pope John Paul II, the first non-Italian in 455 years. Auschwitz is close by, and Schindler had his factory here, which is now a museum. Its current population is 760,000, with a total regional population of 8 million. On our first day it seemed like a few million children were taking a field drip to the city, long lines of them being moved about by teachers trying to show them the town.
http://www.garyjkirkpatrick.com/krakow/Wawel Castle at nightKrakow means “town of Krakus,” a legendary ruler of the country. The area’s first named inhabitants, the Vistulian tribe (700 CE), gave the river its name. However, there is evidence of habitation dating well before, to 50,000 years. Wawel Castle, now a fine arts museum, was built circa 1350 and much renovated in the 16th century, when King Sigusmund brought in Italian architects, German decorators as well as local craftsmen.
In 1364 Casimir III founded the University of Krakow, the second oldest in central Europe after Charles University in Prague. By the 15th century the city had entered its golden age, whence the examples of Polish Renaissance architecture. The architecture includes fine examples of Gothic, Renaissance and the Baroque.