Warsaw; the Phoenix has Risen
“Warsaw is like the Phoenix – it has risen from the Ashes” our walking tour guide, Patricia said. We had little idea about the history of Warsaw; the devastation that the city experienced, but before I share about this, let me enlighten you to some of the lighter moments of the tour around the Old Town.
Patricia began the tour, asking if we knew any Polish. I remember our dear Polish friend, Marta, who lived with us for two years, teaching us Proszę for please and Dziękuję for thanks. Mmm...we didn’t learn much, did we? Patricia shared that Polish is such a difficult language to learn, with all the similar-sounding ś/ć/sz/cz, and humoured us when describing a T-shirt she’d seen that read ”I speak Polish - What’s Your Superpower?”
The area was far more beautiful than we expected. In the centre of a square, there was a ‘magic’ bell. If you say Proszę while touching the bell, think of a wish, then walk around three times, saying Dziękuję at the end, your wish will be granted. Good job we learnt those words!
In the corner was an extremely thin house, only a fraction wider than the doorway, built this way to avoid paying taxes! (Left-hand photo). The back of the building was massive (Top right photo), with a glorious view beyond the Vistula River. One clever owner!
And did you know that the twice Nobel Winner Marie Curie came from Warsaw, as did the composer Chopin? His heart (pickled in cognac by his sister) is in the Holy Cross Church here in Warsaw, whereas the rest of his body is in Paris.
As well as being informed about the founding of Warsaw, the various Rulers, the first constitution in Europe being signed here which only lasted 14 months, and partitions of the country, we then reached the period during WWII.
Before WWII, 1.3 million people lived in this city; at the end of the war, we were shocked to hear that there were just 1,000 people left. Hitler was determined to flatten the city, and he did a pretty good job doing that. As we wandered around the Old Town, we had no idea that what we saw was reconstructed after the war, and it is beautiful. The city had been reborn from the generosity and love of its people. Donations from Polish people here and abroad were collected, and many people worked tirelessly for free to build up the city again. Patricia told us that instead of having PE lessons, her grandmother and classmates would go and collect bricks from the rubble saving these for building material.
We walked into the Royal Castle square and heard stories of heroic people salvaging precious art collections and decorative elements from the Castle and hiding these, risking their lives when the Nazis near enough annihilated it. The clock tower was badly hit, and the clock stopped at 11:15. Thirty-five years later, the clock was repaired, and a crowd watched as their beloved timepiece started working again. Since then a trumpeter plays the Warsaw anthem from the tower at this same minute daily.
On this tour, we met another young Australian, Rachel, and went together for a delicious traditional Polish meal of Pierogi. As the Royal Castle had free entry on a Wednesday, the three of us decided that confirmed our afternoon activity.
The Castle is a great demonstration of the resilience, generosity and love of the Polish people. The building work started in 1971, and a few key people who saved many of the artefacts were heavily involved in this wonderful reconstruction — what dedication.
In the vaults, we watched several films depicting historical events of the city, and then we wandered around in awe at the incredible detail and skill applied to recreate this masterpiece. For example, in the Throne room, fragments of the original panelling and stucco work which had been saved were used to reconstruct the room exactly as it looked before the war. Eighty-Six embroidered silver eagles had decorated the backdrop of the throne; however, the Nazis had cut these all off to save for themselves. Despite extensive searching, none were found, until one day, an eagle framed on red material was discovered in Canada. It took many weeks for expert embroiderers to decipher how to make these important symbolic elements and each one of the 86 took three months to make - what tenacity!
One of the rooms was dedicated to the 18th-century Italian artist, Bernardo Bellotto, known as Canaletto. Thankfully, due to his carefully drawn paintings of Warsaw, these were used to rebuild much of the medieval buildings in the Old Town - what luck!
Sadly we only had one full day in Warsaw; however, as one of Tim’s favourite actors says “I’ll be back.”