To know Warsaw is to know its history. Cliche – but in this case very justified cliche. Spending a month living in Warsaw, seeing it so full of life, and at the same time being aware of the recent history of its destruction changes my viewpoint. Adds additional layer to experiencing city.
So, there should be an introduction for anyone coming here to appreciation and understanding of Warsaw is right now. After the Second World War the western (bigger and older) side of the city was ruined in over 80%, after Warsaw Uprising and Hitlers order to burn down the Polish capital to the ground, which has been realised house after house. During the Warsaw Uprising over 200 000 citizens were killed, and in the last months of war over half a million of them were expelled from the city, and only 1000 people remained in its ruins, so-called Warsaw Robinsons.
I guess it is hard to give a hint of how I perceive Warsaw. Because I got to know it – thanks to my amazing Mom – from partizan songs sung as a lullabies and books about Uprising read before bed. And still going through the streets carrying same names as during Second World War I recall stories of fights on each of them. Very personal point of view, but that is my perspective.
Today it is a lively, modern, nearly 2 million European capital. Bustling with events, bars, restaurants, bars and so on. My aim for mentioning all that is not to throw in the face of other nations how Poland suffered, as many Polish people do. It is more to set a proper point of view on what Warsaw is now regarding what it has been.
While going through the beautiful old town, seeing the Royal Castle, remains of city walls and fortress… basically everything you have to be aware that it has been almost totally burned down, to the ground. And rebuilt, so in a way artificial, one might say. On the city walls there is a black line marking which bricks are the original ones and which parts have been reconstructed. For other structures no markings are necessary – you might be pretty sure that there was not a stone standing on a stone there.
Still, it has been rebuilt with the effort of people and government to revive this symbol of Poland, and the reconstruction became one more symbol of unbroken spirit. City almost completely destructed coming back to life, with renessaince churches, brick houses and cobblestone streets.
The effort of rebuilding city from the scratch has no other example in history, and it has been so exact that the old city of Warsaw has been put on UNESCO world heritage list.
And when speaking about rebuilding there is no way to overlook the Royal Castle. After the Second World War Polish communist government wasn’t very fond of the idea of reconstruction of something connected to oppresive feudal reign. At the same time for Polish people it has been symbol of glory and power of Poland, so they kept asking about the date of reconstruction of the castle. Houses, streets around it have been done already, and the Royal Castle still in total ruin…
And as the official reason for not rebuilding it has been lack of funds, citizens started the biggest crowdfunding in Polish history, successfully gathering the funds and rebuilding the castle.
In fact it looks more like a palace, and even for a palace it is a bit humble. Would you believe it is actually baroque? Where are all the ornaments, statues? Well, due to complicated Polish history in the time this part visible on the picture has been built, the king of Poland was a Swedish prince. And apparently this is the Swedish view on baroque, that is called “IKEA baroque”.
In the next text I will tell more stories of particular places in Warsaw, but for now I just wanted to mark this simple introduction to the city. To know how in 70 years it has been reborn form ashes into a beautiful colorful fenix.