Posted in Italy on 29. Nov, 2010
Set at the crossroads of major powers from north, south, east and west, Poland has been ruled by many countries, from Germany to Russia to Prussia to Austria. As a result, Poland boasts a diverse cultural history, which is, at its heart, distinctly Polish. This cultural history can be experienced at each of the country’s 13 World Heritage Sites. Here are five:
Kraków’s Historical Centre
The first city centre to be designated in its entirety a World Heritage Site back in 1978, Kraków Old Town was the political center of Poland until King Sigismund III Vasa moved his court to Warsaw in 1596. “Stare Miasto” in Polish, the Old Town still follows the architectural plan dating from the Tatar invasions of 1259. The Rynek Główny (Main Square) is the largest medieval town square in European, and you will never forget the experience of visiting such historical treasures as St. Mary’s Basilica), the Church of St. Wojciech and the Church of St. Barbara. You can also marvel at the kamienice (row houses) and noble residences surrounding the square. The square’s Sukiennice (Renaissance Cloth Hall) houses merchant stalls, restaurants and National Gallery of Art, and the Wieża Ratuszowa (Town Hall Tower) next store is truly magnificent. To extend your experience, you can stay in one of the many Kraków hotels located in and around the Stare Miasto.
Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp
In addition to preserving mankind’s highest cultural peaks, World Heritage Sites can also ensure that we never forget history’s lowest valleys. Seventy kilometres from Kraków is the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp, now a memorial and museum. The death-site of well over a million people, 90% of them Jewish, the museum allows you inside the barracks and gas chambers and offers exhibits including piles of shoes and a 30 metre-long display case filled with hair shorn from the victims. The gallows where camp commandant Rudolf Höss was executed on April 16, 1947 are also on display. As the ashes of the victims were scattered between the huts of the camp, the entire area is regarded as a gravesite. There are also many memorial plaques to be found in many languages, including Romani, in honor of the large number who perished here as well.
Churches of Peace in Jawor and Świdnica
On a lighter note, the charming villages of Jawor and Świdnica in Silesia boast the charming Kościoły Pokoju (Churches of Peace) that date back to the 17th century. Named for the 1648 Peace of Westphalia of 1648 which permitted the Lutherans to build three Evangelical churches, these are some of the oldest Protestant churches in the country. Because the construction time was limited to just a year, the simple structures are made from wood, loam and straw. The architectural innovations necessary to finish the job resulted in the churches becoming the largest timber-framed religious buildings in Europe. Two of the three churches are still standing, and inside you’ll find 200 beautiful paintings done by Georg Flegel in 1671–1681. Martin Schneider’s Altar dates to 1672, and the original organ of 1664 was replaced in 1856 by Adolf Alexander Lummert. The charming countryside Hotel pod Wierzba makes a great homebase from which to visit the churches.
Centennial Hall in Wrocław
Fifty-two kilometres and several centuries from the churches is Wrocław’s Centennial Hall. Going by Hala Stulecia in Polish and Jahrhunderthalle in German, this pioneering architectural masterpiece was designed by Max Berg and constructed in 1913, when Wrocław was part of the German Empire. Celebrating the 1813 defeat of Napoleon in the Battle of Leipzig, the building’s 69 metre-diametre cupola made of reinforced concrete made it the biggest building of its kind at the time. Currently used as a congress centre, Centennial Hall is surrounded by many other attractions. Just outside is the Pergola featuring Wrocław Fountain, the Japanese Garden and the Wrocław Zoo. Many Wrocław hotels can put you close to the hall and the surrounding gardens.
Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork
A Polish landmark that is distinctly German, the majestic Malbork Castle was founded in 1274 by the Teutonic Order during its rule of Prussia. See, the knights had just recently been kicked out of the Holy Land, were looking for a place to re-group. Since they had a reputation as being a nasty group, the Prussians gave them land here in far-off Poland. The name Malbork comes from “Marienburg” after the Virgin Mary, patron saint of the Order. Completed in 1406, Malbork Castle was the world’s largest Gothic castle made of brick. The views of the River Nogat are phenomenal, and the history awaiting you inside is wonderful. The museum holds special events, and the castle is an easy 60 kilometre train ride from Gdansk. You can stay in Gdansk or find yourself a convenient Malbork hotel and linger in the town itself.