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Warsaw and Krakow: Witnesses of Polish History

My trip to Poland began in Warsaw last week. The city welcomed me with summer weather in the middle of April—an unexpected but welcome surprise. My personal highlight in Warsaw was probably the visit of the National Library of Poland, which you may have already read about in Wednesday’s post. But there’s a lot more to tell about the capital of Poland and its little sister (and former capital) Krakow!

The city of Warsaw counts circa 1.8 million residents. What many might not expect is the urban atmosphere of Poland’s capital. There’s an interesting architectural mix of old, pre–World War II houses in the old town, the plain, matchbox-like office and residential complexes from communist times, and modern skyscrapers.

Only a small part of Warsaw’s old town remained intact after World War II. In 1944, the Polish underground resistance initiated the Warsaw Uprising, an operation aimed at liberating the city from German occupation. After this, leaders of Nazi Germany wanted to make an example of Warsaw—and destroy the city completely.

Warschau1Even though—or probably—because most of the historic center was destroyed, history is very present in Warsaw, especially in the old town. You will find monuments commemorating Poland’s most famous sons and daughters, including Renaissance-era astronomer Mikołaj Kopernik (Nicolaus Copernicus), who discovered that the Earth orbits the Sun (and not the other way around, as was believed at the time), Nobel Prize winning physicist and chemist Maria Skłodowska-Curie (Marie Curie), and 19th century pianist and composer Fryderyk Chopin. The latter is commemorated in a very original way: in places that were significant to Chopin’s life, benches have been placed that, at the push of a button, will each play a different piece of his music.

Warschau2

Krakau1Krakow is located roughly 300 kilometers south of Warsaw. The city is often called «little Prague» for its resemblance to the Czech capital. The city is also famous for its lively street life, especially around the main square. Here, St. Mary’s Church is located, which is famous for its trumpet call: its played every hour (24 hours a day) and, each time, ends abruptly before its finished. The legend says that, when the city was under attack by the Mongols in the 13th century, the trumpeter was shot in the throat by an arrow while playing, breaking off the trumpet call. To commemorate this event, the trumpet call is broken off at the same point every time it’s played.

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