9/29/10

Warsaw's Old Town

The Castle Square (Plac Zamkowy) is dominated by the Royal Castle


One long envious look at Warsaw's "old looking" Stare Miasto (Old Town) and all I could utter was "how I wish Manila's Intramuros was rebuilt as well". Both Stare Miasto and Intramuros represent the very core of the cities in which they stand. Everything began here - the very umbilical cord to its inception.

In the aftermath of World War II, Warsaw bore the brunt of destruction followed only by Manila thousands of miles away. Warsaw's Old Town was completely razed on the orders of Hitler. But only a few decades later, Warsaw's Old Town was resurrected, its burgher's houses and churches standing proud once again. So impressive was the reconstruction that even the UNESCO declared the entire Old Town as a World Heritage Site.

Meanwhile, Manila's Intramuros is certainly not what it looked before the battle for liberation in 1945. It's not the Intramuros of the old  days with the Ayuntamiento, the Audiencia, the Sto. Domingo church, among others but one filled with incongruous buildings like those of the Manila Bulletin, some banks and fastfood chain restaurants. Had Intramuros been faithfully restored to its former glory, it would proudly be the poster boy for Philippine national patrimony (and a great reason why visitors should linger a bit more in Manila).

Situated next to the Vistula River, Stare Miasto is where Warsaw evolved as a small trading town in the 13th century. It expanded as more people settled and businesses thrived. After Hitler's army destroyed Warsaw, Poles came back with a firm resolve to reconstruct exactly what they lost. "Brick by brick", the Poles took the great effort of putting back the pieces in the right place. And they succeeded without foreign help. Stare Miasto is now Warsaw's main tourist destination.


From Plac Zamkowy, we followed this narrow alley which led to us to tourist shops and cafes that now thrive in the Old Town. It feels eerie walking through here knowing its turbulent past and the many lives that were lost.


Originally built in the 14th century, the St. John's Cathedral is the main church of the archdiocese of Warsaw and is considered its oldest. Even before it was destroyed by the Germans in 1944, the church had undergone several renovations, including its facade. When the Poles rebuilt it, they followed the current design based based on its 14th-century appearance from an old drawing, not from its pre-war look.


Right next to St. John's Cathedral is yet another Catholic church - the Church of the Gracious Mother of God, simply known as the Jesuit Church.


The main door of the Jesuit Church being guarded by angels is truly one of the most interesting additions to this house of worship.


The Old Town Market Square, the very heart of Old Town, may be filled now with outdoor cafes instead of the usual market stalls but the glorious beauty of the surrounding reconstructed merchant's houses never fail to impress. Only a few decades ago, these were nothing but broken skeletons.


In the middle of the Market Square stands the bronze statue of the Mermaid or syrenka, symbolizing the city of Warsaw since 1855 and is considered the city's most important monument. She even appears in the the city's coat of arms.


Just before reaching the New Town part of the city is the Barbican, a post-war reconstruction of this historic fortification that used to be a part of a wider network surrounding old Warsaw.


Whether young or old, music is always a part of the Polish scene. Never mind if the ones in the Old Town do it for visitors today. At the very least, the music they play represent their own happiness as they play music freely after a succession of military (Nazi) and ideological (Communist) occupations.

Warsaw's Old Town may have seen the best and certainly the worst of times but the determination of the Polish people to rise above the ashes is truly inspiring and admirable. Looking at Stare Miasto now, who would have thought that war ravaged this part of the country?

17 comments:

  1. Postcard-perfect photos and interesting stories. i feel like I am on a front row watching your travels.

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  2. I've been to some of the places you visited but you covered a lot more ground than I did. Thanks for sharing the pics. They are nice and interesting. You are on your way to becoming an excellent travel photographer and writer. Keep on traveling.

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  3. beautiful beautiful! i agree with you on restoration as i believe intramuros has a potential though not as nice as this but definitely it can be beautiful as to what it is today. im sure someday someone will take a lead to restore and refurbish intramuros the way it should be.

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  4. i seldom like "old" places and pieces, but this case is exceptional. parang nasa ibang dimension tlaga ang ambiance. i like! Ü

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  5. Lawstude,
    Thanks.

    Bert,
    Thanks but I still have a lot to learn. I wish to win the lottery so I'll do nothing but travel :)

    Dong,
    I've been wishing for the longest time that Manila would resurrect it's own Old Town - the Intramuros - without the ugly developments that's never part of the original.

    Chyng,
    Ang Old Town ng Warsaw is exceptional for being "new" kaya nga pati UNESCO napa-believe. Pero importanteng tingnan natin ang mga old places as an integral part of our national heritage - gaya ng Intramuros.

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  6. I dont know why but for some reasons, I love Poland. I see it as a country with so many things to boast but has never been mayabang. maybe because it is an underdog compared to its European neighbors but the fact that it is humble even makes it more beautiful to me.....

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  7. nice photos dennis! bilib na ako sa dami ng nililibot mo hehe....

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  8. I love how they paint their houses in different colors!
    Your pictures are postcard perfect !

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  9. Beautiful photos esp the second to the last photo. Orange hues reign warsaw - happy place.

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  10. I get this feeling that Warsaw has more round onion bulbs, reminiscent of Moscow. But at the same time, there's these tall and lean houses that Prague also exhibits. It's a nice mid-point in the Slavic architectural design!

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  11. I study at Mapua Intramuros and I know what you're talking about when you said it could have been rebuilt a lot nicer. It looks depressing and creepy. Well okay, I know they should stay that way but a little creativity would have helped.

    Thanks for the history, I'm into this stuff. In Warsaw there was a rebellion. Known as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. These guys actually fought against the Germans. Even if they lack equipment, we gotta admire their courage.

    Breathtaking photos and places. Thank you for sharing with us. Maybe someday I would be there myself.

    Did you know the reason why pahaba mga buildings nila ay dahil masyadong mahal ang lupa doon. Haha. Same in Amsterdam, Bruges, Rotterdam, etc.

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  12. Pusang Kalye,
    You're absolutely right about them not being mayabang. They've been through so much pain after being destroyed by the Nazis and being ruled by Communists.

    Flipnomad,
    Salamat. pero marami pang dapat mapuntahan.

    Sidney,
    Thanks. One awesome Old Town which I'm sure you've already seen.

    Rizalenio,
    I didn't even noticed haha! Thanks for dropping by.

    Linguist,
    You do remember well what you've seen. The onion bulbs on top of churches were something I never expected in Warsaw - unless they were Russian Orthodox.

    HalfCrazy,
    Real estate property is indeed more expensive in Warsaw now - yun din ang sabi ng Pinay na na-meet namin living there. And there's a lot of high-rise construction going on. Thanks for dropping by!

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  13. i am drooling at your photos, dennis.
    the first one can pefectly land on a page of a travel magazine or coffee table book.
    simply beautiful place! and yes, like you, i also wonder what if intramuros was rebuilt this gorgeous.

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  14. so so jealous. who would have thought that warsaw is this pretty?

    you know i thought these eastern european cities are grim, gray, cold - but your travel documentation has shown the opposite.

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  15. lovely old town :) always like to hang around old town :) hohoho and well the main door of the church is kinda impressive! :)

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  16. stunning. I like Lolo:)super happy.

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  17. This is the second time I've seen the old town photos this beautiful. I share the same sentiment. I hope we can rebuild some historical places in the Philippines.

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