The Old Town is a beautiful part of the city of Warsaw. The walls of its buildings breath history and culture, transporting you into a different period in time. It’s a must-see if you ever find yourself in the capital!
What is Warsaw Old Town?
Warsaw, the capital of Poland, has a beautiful area called the Warsaw Old Town, or Stare Miasto, or Starówka, as it is known colloquially. It is the oldest part of the city and its historic centre, laying on the banks of Vistula river. All in all, it is the number-one spot for tourism, but also a place to visit when you are in search of getting in touch with the Polish culture and also gastronomy, due to its numerous restaurants which serve authentic Polish cuisine. The area, along with its sentral Old Town Market Place or Rynek Starego Miasta, dates back to the 13th century. Due to the fact that the town was completely ruined over the course of time and especially during the ending of the World War II, it had been reconstructed with old architectural plans, something that is rarely done, and thus is today a mixture of different parts of history.
Warsaw Old Town has been placed on the UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1980, and is one of Poland’s official national Historic Monuments.
The History of Starówka
The Old Town represents the oldest part of the country’s capital. It dates back from the 13th century, some sources saying that even before that, and it was fortified with brick city walls in about the 14th century, around the castle of Dukes of Mazovia - a title that was held by descendants of the Polish Duke Boleslaw III Wrymouth. The castle is now known as the Royal Castle, as it was for centuries a former residency of Polish kings. By the way the Old Town is constructed, the Castle, along with its Castle Square called Plac Zamkowy, represent its entrance, or the starting point of the area, if you were to take a walk through it. Due to its specific looks, it is also one of Warsaw’s most recognizable landmarks, often portrayed on postcards and visual images representing the city.
In 1492, the Town Hall, another important building was constructed. The main Market Square, which should be differentiated from the Castle Square, was rebuilt again in 1701, by Tylman Gamerski, a notable architect and engineer. In the 19th century, the four sides of the square have been given names of four important Poles who once lived on its sides. The south side belong to Ignacy Zakrzewski, a nobleman, politician and a Freemason from the 18th century. The west side is the one of Hugo Kollataj, a constitutional reformer from the same period in time. The north side belongs to Jan Dekert, a merchant and a political activist. Finally, the east side is the one of Franciszek Barss, a dyplomat.
By the beginning of the 20th century, what were once residencies of notable polish citizens, became the homes of poor families living in small, crowded apartments that were created from once large salons of aristocratic palaces. This led the area to soon become a bohemian part of the city of Warsaw.
With the invasion of Poland in 1939, Old was greatly destroyed, as it was Germans’ mission to wipe off the prominent historical landmarks of the country. During the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, the plan of the Nazi was to ruin the whole of Warsaw completely in revenge. The city was shuttered to the ground, but after the war, parts of the city, especially the Old Town, were rebuilt to their previous state, using old architectural plans and as many of the original bricks as possible. To commemorate the brave act of the uprising and all the children that were involved in fighting off the enemy, there is now a statue called The Little Insurgent in the city wall of the town, on Podwale Street.
Taking A Walk Around Starówka
When you find yourself in Warsaw, take a little time to go for a walk around the Old Town. You can organize your time so that you pop up for a quick visit and maybe snapping some photos, to spending your whole day there, strolling round and stepping in for a lunch or even dinner in some of the restaurants serving Polish food. You can also sign up for a free or a paid tour around the area.
This part of Warsaw has a lot to offer both culturally and historically, as it houses a few museums, like the Literature Museum and the Historical Museum of Warsaw, as well as galleries, shops with souvenirs and handmade crafts, and cafes.
As you enter the Old Town, you will find yourself standing in front of the Royal Castle, which is now a museum open to the public. Sigismund’s Column nearby, created in the 17th century, has been built to honor the Polish King Sigismund III Vasa, who moved the capital of Poland from Kraków to Warsaw in 1596.
The Historical Museum of Warsaw will teach you all you want to know about the culture, art and, of course, the history of Warsaw, housing items from wide spectrum of time and the World War II, which played a crucial role in how the city itself looks today. You can find the main exhibition of the museum in the Old Town building, while other temporary exhibitions are often held in other places around the town.
The Adam Mickiewicz Museum of Literature, named after one of the Polish greatests writers, is located in two tenement houses on the Old Town market square. Polish literature is rich in quality writers and important works, so the museum will be a delicacy for anyone interested in learning more about the topic from a Polish perspective. The Museum of Caricature and Cartoon Arts is also an interesting one to see, located near the Castle Square. And as you walk the narrow streets of the Old Town, be sure to stop by St. John’s Archcathedral, a Roman Catholic church, the mother church of the archdiocese of Warsaw, which is also on the UNESCO list of cultural significance.
The Presidential Palace is located nearby the Old Town, if you make your way from the Royal Castle towards the Krakowskie Przedmieście. The palace is still in function today and the way it looks now has been constructed in the 19th century, which is why the palace will look a bit different in comparison to the rest of the area. The monument in front of the palace is the one of prince Jozef Poniatowski, the commander-in-chief of the Polish army of the 19th century. As you walk further away from the Old Town, you will come across other important Warsaw buildings, like the University campus, for example. But as you walk further in, your path will also lead you to the banks of the river Wisla.
A legend of the Warsaw Mermaid is also connected to the place, as it is said that the city of Warsaw was founded by a prince, saved by the mermaid. Another story is the one of the mermaid being captured by the people, but promising to forever guard the city is she was released. Either way, the sculpture of the Mermaid can be found in the Old Town’s Market Square, but other sculptures are to be seen in other parts of Warsaw as well, the most known one being the one in Powisle.
The best advice for anyone wanting to see the Old Town is just to let your legs guide you. Just wear some warmer clothes in the winter as the city can get quite cold!
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