In November 2017 I travelled to Warsaw in Poland for the ILGA-Europe Annual Conference as part of the çavaria delegation. There wasn’t that much time for sightseeing, but I managed to do a few things.
A main attraction is the Old Town. Stare Miasto – colloquially known as Starówka – is the oldest part of Warsaw. The heart of the area is the Old Town Market Place, rich in restaurants, cafés and shops. Surrounding streets feature medieval architecture such as the city walls, St. John’s Cathedral and the Barbican which links the Old Town with Warsaw New Town.
The Old Town was established in the 13th century. Initially surrounded by an earthwork rampart, prior to 1339 it was fortified with brick city walls. The town originally grew up around the castle of the Dukes of Mazovia that later became the Royal Castle. The Market Square (Rynek Starego Miasta) was laid out sometime in the late 13th or early 14th century, along the main road linking the castle with the New Town to the north.
Since the 19th century, the four sides of the Market Square have borne the names of four notable Poles who once lived on the respective sides: Ignacy Zakrzewski (south), Hugo Kołłątaj (west), Jan Dekert (north) and Franciszek Barss (east).
The Old Town at that time was in de early 1990s a slum neighborhood, with poor families – some Jewish, other Christian – living very crowded in subdivided tenements which had once been aristocrats’ palaces.
In 1918 the Royal Castle became the home and office the President of Poland and his chancellery.
In the late 1930s the city government began refurbishing the Old Town and restoring it to its former glory. The Barbican and the Old Town Market Place were partly restored. These efforts, however, were brought to an end by the outbreak of World War II.
War and post-war
During the Invasion of Poland (1939), much of the district was badly damaged by the German Luftwaffe, which targeted the city’s residential areas and historic landmarks in a campaign of terror bombing.
Following the Siege of Warsaw, parts of the Old Town were rebuilt, but immediately after the Warsaw Uprising (August–October 1944) what had been left standing was systematically blown up by the German Army. A statue commemorating the Uprising, the Little Insurgent, now stands on the Old Town’s medieval city wall.
After World War II, the Old Town was meticulously rebuilt
.In an effort at anastylosis, as many as possible of the original bricks were reused. However, the reconstruction was not always accurate to prewar Warsaw, sometimes deference being given to an earlier period, an attempt being made to improve on the original, or an authentic-looking facade being made to cover a more modern building.
The rubble was sifted for reusable decorative elements, which were reinserted into their original places. Bernardo Bellotto’s 18th-century vedute, as well as pre-World War II architecture students’ drawings, were used as essential sources in the reconstruction effort; however, Bellotto’s drawings had not been entirely immune to artistic licence and embellishment, and in some cases this was transferred to the reconstructed buildings.
Warsaw Rising Museum
Taking the (up)rising as a vehicle to recount life in Warsaw back then, the exhibition tells how it started and how it ended. There’s context. The colour palette and the athmosphere are fitting for the subject.
A must-visit museum in Warsaw.