The city of Warsaw was my first introduction to Poland, a country that I would come to love, and had since revisited. My very first encounter with Warsaw was in 2015, and although much has changed, the vibrant historic center has stayed the same. The colorful buildings, cobble stone streets, and medieval city planning of any old town in Europe will always stay the same, which is why I have come to love them.
I arrived in Warsaw on an overnight bus from Prague, which I almost missed, and had to hustle through Prague to catch. The overnight journey was hell, and I was already exhausted from my bus hustle but I had my own row on a very nice double decker bus. I was able to lay out a bit, but mixed in with a fetal position pose. I am 5’4″ on a good day, and on that day I was thankful that I was not any taller.
When I arrived early in the morning, just when the sun was rising, I made my way by train to the Marriott in Warsaw city center. All I could do was leave my luggage, and change my clothes in the bathroom since it was too early for check-in. I looked how I felt, like something the cat dragged in from Prague. Such is life for the weary traveler.
It was breakfast time. After I cleaned up a bit to not look as if I took an overnight bus from another country, I made way up to the hotel restaurant. I almost wept. The buffet breakfast spread was magnificent, and the room was well lit with large windows filling with sun light flooding in. I felt civilized again. I dished up a plate, sat down by the window, had coffee served, and just breathed. I was in Warsaw.
When it was time for me to explore the city, I headed across the street to a towering Stalinist style building, the Palace of Culture and Science. It was given to the people of Poland by the Soviet Union in the 1950s, as a gift. I have seen Soviet buildings like this in other countries, such as Latvia and Romania. They are very dominant and noticeable, and was more of a “You know who is in charge” type of gift, than anything else.
This is where I caught the Hop on Hop off bus to the Historic Center of Warsaw, which I had traveled very far to see. It was all worth the long haul from Prague, when I stepped off the bus, and saw the glorious Castle Square. Sweet Baby Jesus, I made it!
The historic city centre of Warsaw is extraordinary in architecture, but it is also a show of resilience, and strength. In 1944 during the Warsaw Uprising, Nazi troops purposely annihilated more than 85% of the historic city centre.
When the war ended, a five-year reconstruction campaign by Warsaw’s citizens was created to restore Old Town. The results today are anything but miraculous- the palaces, market-place, and churches were painstakingly restored. The restoration is an astounding example of near destruction, and reconstruction of a historic era that spanned seven centuries.
The Historic Centre of Warsaw was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980 with the criterion: “The Historic Centre of Warsaw is an exceptional example of the comprehensive reconstruction of a city that had been deliberately and totally destroyed. The foundation of the material reconstruction was the inner strength and determination of the nation, which brought about the reconstruction of the heritage on a unique scale in the history of the world.” – UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Royal Castle is in itself a tremendous story of death and rebirth. The original castle was built in the late 16th century, but it was looted and destroyed by the Swedish Army in 1655-1656. In 1657, reconstruction of the castle began but due to lack of money, and war with Sweden it took another century for the castle to start serious re-construction.
During WWII’s Warsaw Uprising, the castle was destroyed down to a pile of rubble and two wall fragments. The flooring, artwork, marble, and treasures were removed prior by the Nazis, as well as hidden by Polish museum staff and art experts. Once the war was over in 1945, reconstruction of the castle began with the remaining fragments and walls.
Today, the Royal Castle has been meticulously restored with its majestic brick façade, squared towers with bulb spires, and beautiful interior rooms, which are used for exhibitions and as a museum.
Warsaw’s Wising Bell
If you come across the old wishing bell, touch it while walking around it and your wish will come true. That was what I was told, I did it, and I my wish eventually did come true!
The old bell dates back to the 17th century, and has a tragic love story tied to it. The legend of the bell is a story of the bell maker, his lover, and another who wished to marry the girl. It is a soap opera of love, jealousy, murder, heartbreak, entering a convent, and suicide. The bellmaker’s cracked bell was laid on the square and never rung again, although you can make a wish that will be granted!
The wishing bell is located in Old Town behind the cathedral and is free of charge to visit and make a wish. ❤
Historic Old Town Centre
The historic centre of Warsaw is “Old Town”, which dates back to the 13th century, and is the oldest part of the city. The town was beautifully reconstructed after WWII, and is full of life and plenty of charm. There is a lovely market square, restaurants, Polish cafe’s, and little shops.
City Walls and Gate
As with many “Old Towns” and cities throughout Europe, there are old city walls and gates that surround it. The city of walls of Warsaw are constructed of two lines, an inner and an outer, with various gates around the city. The walls were originally raised between the 13th and 16th centuries, and then partially rebuilt from 1950 – 1963.
Syernka, the mermaid has been the symbol on Warsaw’s coat of arms from 1622. The original sculpture was designed by Konstanty Hegel, a local sculptor. It was placed in Old Town from 1855 until 1928, and again in 2000. In 2008 the original statue was restored and placed inside the museum of Warsaw, and a replica was put in her place.
The Mermaid statue bears a sword and a shield to protect invasions of Warsaw – she is fierce.
The is a resiliency to Old Town Warsaw, and that energy can be felt through its city through the reconstructed buildings of Old Town, the castle and onto the market place. It is a beautiful and proud city that should not be missed in this life time.
Collect moments not things…
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📸 All photos are taken by me and are my intellectual property – Trixie Navarre