The Old Town of Warsaw
To understand modern day Warsaw one has to understand the history behind the city.
Prior to 1939, the population of Warsaw was approximately 1.2 million. By 1945, over half the population were killed, including the large Jewish community who were systematically exterminated. The failed Warsaw uprising of 1944 infuriated the Nazis to such an extent that orders were given to level the city to the ground. At the end of the war, with half it’s population killed and 85% of it’s buildings destroyed Warsaw began a frantic rebuilding program under the direction of the new Soviet regime.
The task was to rebuild the capital city as fast as possible in order to accommodate all the returning war exiles whose homes and lives had been destroyed. The Old Town has since been painstakingly restored to it’s former glory and Warsaw’s Old Town now attracts millions of visitors each year.
The main square in the heart of Warsaw’s Old Town is a charming area. Filled with cafes, bars, shops and restaurants it’s an ideal place to sit, relax and people watch. In the middle of the square is the symbol of Warsaw, the Syrenka (Little Mermaid). She is the mythical protectress of the city and appears on Warsaw’s coats of arms.
On Ulica Kanonia can be found Warsaw’s oldest church, St John’s Cathedral-Katedra Sw.Jana). The kings of Poland were coronated here and in fact, Poland’s last king is buried in one of the crypts.
Destroyed during the war and subsequently re-built in a Gothic style-the cathedral houses artworks by Veit Stoss (the same artist who created the magnificent wooden altar in Krakow). On the outside wall can be seen fragments of a German tank.
East of the Old Town Square lies a maze of cobbled streets. Along one such street you will find one of the narrowest houses in the world at Ulica Kanonia 20/22.
North of the Square you will come across the Barbican and remnants of the city’s defensive walls. Considered to be a gateway between the Old Town and New Town it is a very picturesque area. Further along the city walls you will find an iconic image to many Poles, the statue of the Little Insurgent. Erected to commemorate the part that many children played in the Warsaw Uprising, the statue depicts a small boy wearing a captured German helmet.
Totally destroyed by the Nazis after the Warsaw Uprising, the Old Town of Warsaw was painstakingly rebuilt. The reconstruction project lasted from 1949 to 1963 (the Royal Castle was only rebuilt in 1970/71).
King Zygmunt’s column stands in front of the Royal Palace.Built in 1664 to commemorate King Zygmunt III (who was responsible for moving the capital from Krakow to Warsaw). The column was damaged during the war but thankfully not destroyed.
As retribution for the failed Uprising Hitler ordered that the Royal Castle be levelled to the ground. German sappers drilled holes into the foundation and dynamite was then inserted into the walls……..the whole structure was brought down in 1944.
In 1971, a national fund raising campaign was initiated with the purpose of collecting money to finance the rebuilding project. People were encouraged to send in old photographs and drawings of the building (exterior and interior) to assist the architectural restoration team. The project was finally completed in 1988.
Some of the original fixtures from the Pre-War Castle still exist and have been restored to their original locations throughout the building. The original fixtures were rescued from the rubble and can be identified by their tarnished appearance.
The Castle is now a beautifully restored museum housing many original artifacts that were hidden from the Nazis during the war.