Travel Guide: Attractions and Sights
Although many of
the buildings in central Warsaw were built in an austere,
quasi-Gothic, Stalinist style, a large number of pre-war buildings
were carefully restored or, in many cases, completely reconstructed
following clues in old prints and paintings. A case in point is the
beautiful Rynek Starego Miasta (Old Town Square). The Zamek Królewski
(Royal Castle), which houses a museum, is the greatest of the rebuilt
monuments. Apart from the embankment carved out by the Wisla (Vistula)
River, which runs through the city south to north, Warsaw is entirely
flat. Most sights, attractions, and hotels lie to the west of the
river. Major thoroughfares include Aleje Jerozolimskie, which runs
east-west, and ulica Nowy Swiat, which runs south-north through a main
shopping district, passes the university, and ends at the entrance to
the Stare Miasto (Old Town). Be careful about Nowy Swiat: its name
changes six times between its starting point in Wilanów (called aleja
Wilanowska) and its terminus (called Krakowskie Przedmiescie).
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ARCHIKATEDRALNA BAZYLIKA SWIETEGO JANA. Ulica Swietojanska,
leading from the Rynek Starego Miasta to the Zamek Królewski, takes
its name from the Cathedral of St. John, which was built at the turn
of the 14th century; coronations of the Polish kings took place here
from the 16th to 18th centuries. The crypts contain the tombs of the
last two princes of Mazovia, the archbishops of Warsaw, and such
famous Poles as the 19th-century novelist Henryk Sienkiewicz, the
Nobel Prize-winning author of Quo Vadis? Ul. Swietojanska 8.
CHOPIN AND RADZIWILL ESTATES. About an hour west of the city is
Kampinoski National Park, famous for being the birthplace of Chopin
and home to the stunning Radziwill country estate. Both can be reached
by bus from Warsaw's main bus station Dworzec PKS (Al. Jerozolimskie
144, PHONE: 022/94-33, 046/863-33-00, or 046/838-56-20).
(PHONE: 022/94-33, 046/863-33-00, or 046/838-56-20), Chopin's
birthplace, is a small 19th-century manor house, filled with original
furnishings and devoted to Chopin's life. Admission is zl 6, and it's
open Tuesday to Sunday from 9 to 4; on summer Sundays, concerts are
held on the terrace at 11 AM and 3 PM. If driving, go 30 km (18˝ mi)
west of Warsaw on the 2(E30), and at Sochaczew turn north on Route
022/94-33, 046/863-33-00, or 046/838-56-20), the country estate of the
Radziwill family. The National Museum of Warsaw now runs the estate,
centered around a late 17th century Baroque palace. Admission is zl 6,
and it's open Tuesday to Friday from 10 to 4. The palace contains a
small hotel (book ahead; no children allowed). To get here from
Zelazowa Wola, return to the 2(E30) and drive west to Lowicz, then
take Route 70 southeast about 10 km.
FEMINA CINEMA. Before the war this area was the heart of
Warsaw's Jewish quarter, which was walled off by the Nazis in November
1940 to isolate the Jewish community from "Aryan" Warsaw. The cinema
is one of the few buildings in this district that survived the war. It
was here that the ghetto orchestra organized concerts in 1941 and
1942. Many outstanding musicians found themselves behind the ghetto
walls and continued to make music despite the dangers. Al.
GALERIA ZACHETA. Built at the end of the 19th century by the
Society for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts, the Zacheta Gallery
has no permanent collection but organizes thought-provoking special
exhibitions (primarily modern art) in high-ceilinged, well-lit halls.
It was in this building in 1922 that the first president of the
post-World War I Polish Republic, Gabriel Narutowicz, was assassinated
by a right-wing fanatic. Admission costs to the exhibits vary. Pl.
Malachowskiego 3, PHONE: 022/827-69-09. Tues.-Sun. 10-6.
KAZIMIERZ DOLNY. It's worth a day trip to this thriving
artists' colony and vacation spot 130 km (80 mi) southeast of Warsaw.
The town crowns a steep bank of the Vistula River; its Renaissance
architecture, dusty cobblestone streets, and steeply pitched red-tile
roofs are why people call it the Pearl of the Polish Renaissance. From
the main market square (known in Polish as Rynek), you can take a
marked trail to explore the landscape around Kazimierz - the southern
route runs along the Vitsula River, across streets and cart paths, and
through orchards and quarries. Also worthwhile for the spectacular
views is a hike up the southern hill to the Church and Monastery of
the Reformati Order or northeast to the ruins of 14th-century
KOSCIÓL SWIETEJ ANNY. Built in 1454 by Anne, princess of
Mazovia, St. Anne's Church stands on the south corner of Castle
Square. It was rebuilt in high-Baroque style after being destroyed
during the Swedish invasions of the 17th century, and thanks to 1990s
redecoration and regilding it glows once again. A plaque on the wall
outside marks the spot where Pope John Paul II celebrated mass in
1979, during his first visit to Poland after his election to the
papacy. Krakowskie Przedmiescie 68.
KOSCIÓL SWIETEGO KRZYZA. The heart of Poland's most famous
composer, Frédéric Chopin, is immured in a pillar inside Holy Cross
Church. Atop the steps of this Baroque church is a massive sculpted
crucifix. Across from the church is the statue of Nicolaus Copernicus,
standing in front of the neoclassical Staszic Palace, the headquarters
of the Polish Academy of Sciences. Like many other notable Warsaw
monuments, this statue is the work of the 19th-century Danish sculptor
Bertel Thorvaldsen. Krakowskie Przedmiescie 3.
MUZEUM HISTORYCZNA WARSZAWY. Four fine examples of Renaissance
mansions can be found on the northern side of the Old Town Square
(note the sculpture of a black slave on the facade of No. 34, the
Negro House). These historical homes, some of which contain
Renaissance ceiling paintings, now house the Warsaw Historical Museum.
The museum screens a short documentary film on the history of Warsaw
daily at noon in English. Rynek Starego Miasta 28-42, PHONE:
022/635-16-25. Tues. and Thurs. 11-6, Wed. and Fri. 11-3,
MUZEUM LITERATURY IM. ADAMA MICKIEWICZA. Mickiewicz was
Poland's greatest Romantic poet. He and other Polish writers are the
focus of the Adam Mickiewicz Museum of Literature, which houses
manuscripts, mementos, and portraits. Rynek Starego Miasta 20, PHONE:
022/831-40-61. Mon., Tues., and Fri. 10-3, Wed., Thurs.,
and Sat. 11-6, Sun. 11-5. Closed 1st Sun. of month.
MUZEUM NARODOWE. In a functional 1930s building, the National
Museum of Warsaw has an impressive collection of contemporary Polish
and European paintings, Gothic icons, and works from antiquity. Al.
Jerozolimskie 3, PHONE: 022/629-30-39. Wed. free. Tues.,
Wed., and Fri 10-4, Thurs. noon-5, weekends 10-5. Closed day after
OLD TOWN. The historic Old Town, on an escarpment on the left
bank of the Vistula, was meticulously reconstructed, using old prints,
plans, and paintings, by postwar architects. Some of the original
Gothic buildings still surround the Old Town Square - the hub of life
in Old Town. In its central fountain is the Warszawska Syrenka, or
Warsaw Mermaid - the symbol on the crest of the city of Warsaw. The
appearance of today's square, however, largely dates from the 16th and
early 17th centuries. Artists and craftspeople of all kinds still sell
their wares here in the summer, musical performances are often held
here on weekends, and horse-drawn cabs await visitors. (The area is
closed to traffic.) Just a short stroll beyond the Barbakan gate is
the New Town, rebuilt after the war in 18th- and 19th-century styles.
PALAC BELWEDER. Built in the early 18th century, the Belvedere
Palace was reconstructed in 1818 in neoclassical style by the Russian
governor of Poland, the grand duke Constantine. Until 1994 it was the
official residence of Poland's president. Belvedere Palace stands just
south of the main gates to Lazienki Park. Ul. Belwederska 2.
PALAC CZAPSKICH. Now the home of the Academy of Fine Arts, the
Czapski Palace dates from the late 17th century but was rebuilt in
1740 in the rococo style. Zygmunt Krasinski, the Polish romantic poet,
was born here in 1812, and Chopin once lived in the palace mews.
Krakowskie Przedmiescie 5.
PALAC KAZANOWSKICH. The 17th-century Kazanowski Palace was
given a neoclassical front elevation in the 19th century. The
courtyard at the rear still contains massive late-Renaissance
buttresses and is worth a visit because of its plaque commemorating
Zagloba's fight with the monkeys, from Sienkiewicz's historical novel
The Deluge. In a small garden in front of the palace stands a monument
to Adam Mickiewicz, the great Polish Romantic poet. It was here that
Warsaw University students gathered in March 1968, after a performance
of Mickiewicz's hitherto banned play Forefathers' Eve, which set in
motion the events that led to the fall of Poland's Communist leader
Wladyslaw Gomulka, a wave of student protests, and a regime-sponsored
anti-Semitic campaign. Krakowskie Przedmiescie 62.
PALAC KULTURY I NAUKI. The massive Stalinist-Gothic Palace of
Culture and Science, which looks like a wedding cake, is the city's
main landmark. From the 30th floor you can get a panoramic view. (The
old joke runs that this is Warsaw's best view because it is the only
place where you can't see the palace.) To view all of urban Warsaw
from 700 ft up, buy tickets at the booth near the east entrance. The
building houses a number of facilities, including a swimming pool and
the Museum of Science and Technology. Also in the palace is the Teatr
Lalek, a good puppet theater (the entrance is on the north side). Pl.
Defilad 1, PHONE: 022/620-02-11; 022/620-49-50 (theater). Daily 9-6.
PALAC NAMIESTNIKOWSKI. The Presidential Palace was built in the
17th century by the Radziwill family (into which Jackie Kennedy's
sister Lee later married). In the 19th century it functioned as the
administrative office of the czarist occupiers - hence its present
name. In 1955 the Warsaw Pact was signed here; later the palace served
as the headquarters for the Presidium of the Council of Ministers, and
since 1995 it has been the official residence of Poland's president.
In the forecourt is an equestrian statue of Prince Józef Poniatowski,
a nephew of the last king of Poland and one of Napoléon's marshals. He
was wounded and drowned in the Elster River during the Battle of
Leipzig in 1813, following the disastrous retreat of Napoléon's Grande
Armée from Russia. Krakowskie Przedmiescie 46-48.
PALAC OSTROGSKICH. The Chopin Society has its headquarters in
the 17th-century Ostrogski Palace, which towers above ulica Tamka. The
best approach is via the steps from ulica Tamka. In the 19th century
the Warsaw Conservatory was housed here. Now a venue for Chopin
concerts, it is also home to the Muzeum Fryderyka Chopina (Frédéric
Chopin Museum), a small collection of mementos, including the last
piano played by the composer. The works of Chopin (1810-1849) took
their cues from folk rhythms and melodies of exclusively Polish
invention. Thanks to Chopin, Poland could fairly claim to have been
the fountainhead of popular music in Europe, and the composer's
polonaises and mazurkas whirled their way around the continent in the
mid-19th century. Ul. Okólnik 1, PHONE: 022/827-54-71. COST: Free.
Mon.-Sat. 10-2, Thurs. noon-6.
PALAC LAZIENKOWSKI. The magnificent Lazienki Palace is the
focal point of the Park Lazienkowski. This neoclassical summer
residence was so faithfully reconstructed after the war that there is
still no electricity - be sure to visit when it's sunny, or you won't
see any part of the interior. The palace has some splendid
18th-century furniture, and part of the art collection of King
Slanislaw August Poniatowski. Ul. Agrykola 1, PHONE: 022/621-62-41. Tues.-Sun. 10-3:15.
PALAC WILANÓW. A Baroque gateway and false moat lead to the
wide courtyard that stretches along the front of Wilanów Palace, built
between 1681 and 1696 by King Jan III Sobieski. The palace interiors
still hold much of the original furniture; there's also a striking
display of 16th- to 18th-century Polish portraits on the first floor.
English-speaking guides are available. Outside, to the left of the
main entrance, is a romantic park; behind the palace is a formal
Italian garden. There's also a gallery of contemporary Polish art on
the grounds. Stables to the right of the entrance now house a poster
gallery, the Muzeum Plakatu. The latter is well worth visiting - it's
a branch of art in which Poles have historically excelled. Ul.
Wiertnicza 1, PHONE: 022/842-81-01. Thurs. free. Tues.-Sun. 9:30-2:30.
POMNIK BOHATERÓW GETTA. This Monument to the Heroes of the
Warsaw Ghetto commemorates the April 19, 1943, uprising by the Jewish
Fighting Organization. In a desperate attempt to resist the mass
transports to Treblinka that had been taking place since the beginning
of that year, the brave ghetto fighters managed to keep up their
struggle for a whole month. But by May 16, General Jürgen Stroop could
report to his superior officer that "the former Jewish district in
Warsaw had ceased to exist." The ghetto had become a smoldering ruin,
razed by Nazi flamethrowers. A monument marks the location of the
house at nearby ulica Mila 18, the site of the uprising's command
bunker and where its leader, Mordechai Anielewicz, was killed. Ul.
Zamenhofa between ul. M. Anielewicza and ul. Lewartowskiego.
ULICA PRÓZNA. This is the only street in Jewish Warsaw where
tenement buildings have been preserved on both sides of the street.
The Lauder Foundation has instigated a plan to restore the street to
its original state. No. 9 belonged to Zelman Nozyk, founder of the
ZAMEK KRÓLEWSKI. Warsaw's Royal Castle stands on the east side
of Castle Square, a plaza on the southern border of Old Town. The
princes of Mazovia first built a residence on this spot overlooking
the Vistula in the 14th century. Its present Renaissance form dates
from the reign of King Zygmunt III Waza, who needed a magnificent
palace for his new capital. Reconstructed in the 1970s, it now gleams
as it did in its earliest years, with gilt, marble, and wall
paintings. It also houses impressive collections of art - including
the famous views of Warsaw by Canaletto's nephew Bernardo Bellotto
(also known as Canaletto), which were used to rebuild the city after
the war. Tours in English are available. Pl. Zamkowy 4, PHONE:
022/657-21-70. Daily 10-4.
ZAMEK UJAZDOWSKI. If you are interested in modern art, you will
find it in the somewhat unlikely setting of the 18th-century
Ujazdowski Castle. Now the home of the Center for Contemporary Art,
the castle hosts a variety of exhibitions by Polish, European, and
North American artists. Al. Ujazdowskie 6, PHONE: 022/628-12-71. Tues.-Thurs. and weekends 11-5, Fri. 11-9.
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