|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?