🇵🇱 Warsaw Old Town

Royal Castle square

Warsaw, the capital of Poland, is the country’s largest city with around 1.8 million inhabitants. Its historic old town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The history of the city is tragic. It’s a succession of invasions, wars, administrative restrictions. But we will discover the resilience of these people who have always known how to rise with pride.

The city’s nickname: “The Phoenix City“, because it has risen from its ashes. In fact, German air raids in September 1939 destroyed 84% of its buildings.
But the history of Warsaw is also its ghetto.

For this reason, we decided to register for 2 guided tours. The “free-walking-tours” you’re getting to know. The first will be based on the history of Warsaw’s Jewish community, while the second will lead us to discover its old town.

Warsaw Old Town Tour

The meeting point is in front of the famous Zygmunt III Column, Royal Castle Square, one of the most famous monuments in Poland.

Our guide starts the visit by telling us about the reconstruction of Warsaw

After the war, the determination of the inhabitants and the support of the whole nation allowed the meticulous reconstruction of the old city. Its churches, palaces, and markets were built according to historic architecture to ensure the survival of the testimony of Jewish culture.
Of course, they didn’t rebuild all the houses, leaving more space for current residents and accentuating the beauty of the city.
If the interior of the homes was done following the new rules, that of the historic buildings open to the public was recreated in the same way. They made the ornaments using the same techniques as in the past.

During the reconstruction, they kept all intact structures. The network of streets, the location of the squares, and the location of the walls. The market square is exactly where it was in the Middle Ages.
The project to recreate the 18th-century old town was made possible documents and images from the archives. Art historians, architects, and curators were also consulted.
They ended the reconstruction in 1960 with the Royal Castle.

This reconstruction has become for Warsaw the symbol of an invincible city.

The Royal Castle and the Zygmunt III Column

Zygmunt III Column

We head to the foot of the statue. 
It was erected in honor of King Zygmunt III, who, in 1856 transferred the capital from Kraków to Warsaw. The city was then the capital of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

22 meters tall and decorated with four eagles, it bears the king dressed in archaic armor, holding a cross in one hand and his sword in the other.

The Royal Castle
Behind the castle you can see a small part of the Vistula, the symbol of Warsaw.

The Royal Castle was the official residence of the Polish kings in Warsaw.

Its construction began in the 16th century with the large tower now called “Tower of the Court of Justice”. It will continue until the 17th century.
Destroyed during the war against Sweden, it was rebuilt in the 18th century and housed the royal apartments and the offices of the administration.
It was damaged during the bombing of the siege of Warsaw in 1939, suffered serious damage during the 1944 ghetto uprising, and was finally completely demolished by the Germans in September 1944.
Rebuilt in 1970, it was opened to the public in 1984.

View of the Royal Castle from the inner courtyard

The interior has many rooms all beautifully restored, including the royal apartments. You can admire all the works of art saved during the war exhibited in their initial location.
Warsaw’s National Museum also uses it for official ceremonies and to house temporary art exhibitions.

We can visit the castle, but we arrived too late and could not take advantage of it.

Another magnificent monument on the square, the Saint Anne Church.

Saint-Anne Church and its gazebo

Built in the 15th century, it is one of the oldest churches in Warsaw.

Its Gothic facade contrasts with its Baroque interior.

The main nave, decorated with frescoes covering the entire roof of the temple

Although the current structure dates from 1770, some elements such as the organ, the pulpit, and the high altar are original.

The original organ
The gazebo of Saint Anne Church

As our guide points out, there is no bell tower in the church. For this reason, they built an independent tower, the “Taras Widokowy” in the 16th century.
Today, it houses apartments and acts as a gazebo.

Our guide told us that it offers one of the most beautiful views of the historic center of Warsaw!

As its visit was not on our tour, we came back to see for ourselves. Frankly, the panoramic view is amazing. The climb of the stairs are not that hard, and it’s really worth it.

View from the gazebo, the old and the new city of Warsaw

We leave the Royal Square in direction of the Old Town Market Square. The weather is pleasant, and even if in April the temperature is a bit cool, we wander around the city with delight.

We take the time to admire the monuments, each as beautiful as the other.

St John’s Cathedral, Bazylika Archikatedralna

We stop for a moment in front of Saint John Cathedral. This Roman Catholic church built during the 14th century in masovian Gothic style was the place of coronations and burials of many Dukes of Masovia.
Duchy of Masovia is a geographic and historic region located in central and north-eastern Poland.

We continue our visit to “Ulica Piwna”, literally “Beer Street”. 
Saint Martin Church
The door of a pub in beer street
Canon Square

We cross a pretty colorful interior courtyard, Place Canon. In the middle is a 17th-century bronze bell.

The legend says that if you make a wish and hop on one foot around the bell, it will come true!

The Wish Bell

You’ll never know if I did it …

Warsaw Market Square, Rynek Starego Miasta

This square is the center and the oldest part of the old town.

The current houses were rebuilt between 1948 and 1953 in the 17th-century style they had when wealthy merchant families lived here.
During the reconstruction, Poland which was under Russian occupation had to build square buildings, without frills. When the Russian government realized that their recommendations hadn’t been followed, the facades were already rebuilt. Unable to request another demolition, they however imposed that the interior of each house is made of identical square rooms.

I can barely imagine what the place would have been with this kind of buildings. Everything is so colorful and beautiful! The painted and decorated facades give all its splendor to the place.

They named each side of this vast square after 17th-century Polish parliamentarians. Dekert (Strona Dekerta), Barss (Stona Barssa), Kołłątaj (Strona Hugo Kołłątaja) and Zakrzewski (Strona Zakrzewskiego).

The top floor is not habitable. The windows under the roof are used to create skylight in the apartments.

Decorated houses

In the center of the square stand the bronze statue of a mermaid, The Warsaw Mermaid. It has been the symbol of Warsaw since 1855 and is located on the city’s coat of arms.

Konstanty Hegel’s Warsaw Mermaid

Of course, it has its legend 😊

One day, a little mermaid decided to stay on the bank of the river after stopping there. The fishermen, seeing that something was causing waves, tangling the nets and releasing their fish, decided to trap the “animal”. Along the way, they heard the siren song and of course fell in love with it. However, a wealthy merchant trapped the siren and imprisoned it. Hearing its cries, the fishermen decided to save it…
Since then, the siren armed with a sword and a shield has helped protect the city and its inhabitants.

Some say that the Little Copenhagen Mermaid is the sister of Warsaw Mermaid and that they separated in the Baltic Sea.

Before leaving the Market Square to go to the Barbican on the ramparts, we promise ourselves to come back here to appreciate the place with a delicious meal!

The Barbican, the crossing point

The Barbican is a gateway through the ramparts that were built to protect the northern access to Warsaw. There were erected during the Middle Ages, but they became obsolete almost immediately with the appearance of artillery.

The Barbican from the city side

The army used it only once for the defense of the city, during the Swedish invasion in 1656. Thus, in the 18th century, it was dismantled because of its obsolescence but was finally rebuilt in 1938.

Exterior view

Regrettably, during the war, it will be wiped out again and rebuilt just like the ramparts at the same time as the old town.

The ramparts of Warsaw

We walk on the ramparts, pass through the barbican, and arrive in the neighborhood which witnessed the birth of Marie Curie.
It’s impossible to visit Warsaw without speaking of its illustrious scientist.

Marie Curie’s birth house

Our guide was proud to tell us about her and summarised the awards she has won for her work.

Maria Salomea Skłodowska (November 7, 1867 – July 4, 1934)

This naturalized-French Polish physicist and chemist had carried out pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize, the first and only one to win the prize twice and the sole person to have won it in two diverse scientific fields.
She was part of the Curie family’s legacy of five Nobel Prize winners and is on top of that the first female to become a professor at the University of Paris.
In 1995, Marie Curie became the first woman to be buried on her own merits at the Pantheon in Paris.

I admit that there is really something to be proud of!

Our visit ends soon, and we return to our starting point. We will stop to finish in front of the Warsaw Supreme Court building, Krasiński Square.

It’s another monument not to be missed.

The 1944 Warsaw Uprising Monument

Unveiled in 1989, the monument was sculpted by Wincenty Kućma and created by architect Jacek Budyn.
It is described as “the most important monument in post-war Warsaw.”
Made of bronze, 10 meters (33 feet) high, it’s made up of two parts.
The largest which is elevated presents a group of insurgents fighting, while the smallest shows rebels into a manhole. It is a reminder of the use of Warsaw’s sewer system by the insurgents during the uprising.
Opposite the monument, at the intersection of Długa and Miodowa streets, one can see a plaque placed on two of the manholes that have indeed been used.

Our visit is over. We thank our guide and leave as promised to discover the restaurants in the Market Square. 😃

Back at the hotel, we are surprised to see this huge building lit in red.

Modern Warsaw after the historic Warsaw in which we spent our afternoon …

The Palace of Culture and Science. Pałac Kultury i Nauki. Abbreviated PKiN.

Its total height of 237 meters (778 feet) that included the spire makes it the highest building in Poland, the 5th tallest construction in the EU, and one of the tallest on the European continent.
The “Palace of Culture” was built in 1955 and houses cinemas, theaters, libraries, sports clubs, university faculties, and authorities of the Polish Academy of Sciences.
Since 2007, it has been registered in the “Register of cultural heritage objects”.

To conclude

Warsaw is a mixture of different kinds of architecture and styles. In a street, one can pass massive pre-war buildings to end up in the colorful old city. At a turn of the road, one arrives in front of a typical communist architectural construction and further on the way be stunned by modern skyscrapers made of glasses. It is an incredible city to discover! The city gives a feeling of strength and shows a willingness to always go ahead. It’s for me what characterize Polish people.

Comments

  1. Warsaw looks amazing on a nice day! I visited over a weekend in the middle of winter and it was cold, snowy and dark haha. What a difference the warmth makes!

    Did you make it to the Warsaw uprising museum?? It was fantastic!

    1. Poland is indeed a very cold country in winter. With lots of snow! 😊 We were lucky to enjoy good weather even if in April we still needed a good jacket. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for the Warsaw uprising museum. It’s one of the regrets I have from this visit.

  2. I really under appreciated Warsaw when I visited 15 years ago. It looks stunning. Here’s my reference for when I return.

    1. I didn’t expect such a beautiful city when I went to Warsaw. And the way Polish people rebuilt it makes the town even more attractive!

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