Royal Castle Square and Zygmunt's Column
This square, from which the streets Krakowskie Przedmieście, Senatorska, Podwale, Piwna, Świętojańska and Kanonia all start, is the heart of Warsaw's Old Town and one of the most characteristic places in the capital. The oldest monument in the city stands right in the middle of the square and presents King Zygmunt III Waza. The monument, commonly known as Zygmunt's Column, was created in 1644 by the Italian sculptor Clemenete Molli. Today it's a favourite meeting place for Varsovians.
In the past, Royal Castle Square was the stage for many historical events. On 27th February 1861 5 people were shot during demonstrations against the Russian authorities, which stirred up further social unrest. A few months later, on 8th April 1861, the Russian Army massacred over 100 Warsaw citizens, which was a moment of great significance in the build up to the January Uprising. On 15th November 1920, Joseph Piłsudski was presented with the Marshal's Baton and 62 years later, on 3rd May 1982, during Martial Law, the ZOMO (paramilitary Police formation) pacified a patriotic demonstration. Today, New Year parties, concerts and festivals are organised on the square.
This is one of the most famous buildings in the world, not only for its architectural or historical value, but most of all because it didn't exist for 37 years. As a symbol of independent Poland it was razed to the ground after the Warsaw Uprising of World War 2. It took until 1971 for it to be rebuilt and 9 years later, along with Warsaw's Old Town, it was put on UNESCO's World Heritage list.
The history of the Royal Palace dates back to the end of the 13th century, when the Mazovian Prince, Konrad II, erected a wooden fort here. Between 1407 and 1410 it was replaced by a gothic castle which, in 1526, became a royal residence. It was improved and extended in the times of the last Jagiellonians and Wazas, but was seriously damaged during the Swedish deluge. The whole royal library, royal archives and most of the works of art and furniture were looted. They even took the floor back to Sweden! The castle then served as a field hospital for the Swedish army. Most of the damage was repaired during the renovations of the residence in 1657. Unfortunately, 150 years later the Swedes once again took over the palace and again made a hospital out of it. If that were not enough, some of the rooms, including the Parliamentary Chambers and the Minister's rooms, were turned into stables. The castle's golden years came about with the ascension to the throne of the last King of Poland, Stanisław August Poniatowski. A large part of the castle underwent serious renovation and rebuilding and the King's Library building was added. The library of Stanisław August Poniatowski numbered 16 000 volumes, over 25 000 graphics, drawings and engravings and almost 70 000 prints. The library became the a popular place for social meetings and cultural events. The Royal Castle, because of its function and position, was witness to some of the most decisive historical events. The 3rd May Constitution was enacted here in 1791 and in 1807 Napoleon Bonaparte brought into existence the Duchy of Warsaw. During the partitions of Poland, the Russian Tsars resided here and from 1926 the president of the 2nd Republic of Poland.
When the 2nd World War broke out all objects of historical value were systematically removed from the castle. The floors, marble, fireplaces, stucco were all dismantled and, under the direction of the nazi historians, they were transported to museum in Germany, warehouses in Cracow or to the apartments of high ranking officials based in Warsaw. At the beginning of October 1939, Adolf Hitler decided to demolish the Royal Castle and replace it with a Nazi Party congress hall. Zygmunt's column was to be replaced by a statue to Germania. The final destruction of the castle actually happened in 1944 after the Warsaw Uprising. Only the cellars, the Grodzki Tower foundations, the Kubicki Arcades and part of the Royal Library remained.
The decision to rebuild the castle was made in 1949 and soon they opened the Grodzki Gate. In 1966 the Royal Library was rebuilt and further work was continued when, in 1971, the Citizen's Committee for the Rebuilding of the Royal Castle in Warsaw was formed. Under the direction of architect Jan Bogusławski, it took just 3 years to return the castle to its 1939 state. The final touches were put on over the next 14 years. The whole project was funded thanks to voluntary offerings of the citizens of Warsaw and with money from the Social Fund for the Rebuilding of the Capital.
Today, the Royal Castle is a place for state meetings at the highest levels. The Royal insignia of Stanisław August Poniatowski are kept here as well as the insignia of the President of Poland and state documents handed over to Lech Walęsa in 1990 by Ryszard Kaczorowski. The castle is also a museum under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.
Situated right next to St John's Cathedral, this is the tallest building in the Old Town. The church was dedicated in 1609 and consecrated in 1926 and was inspired by Father Piotr Skarga and was almost totally financed by King Zygmunt III Waza. The history of the building begins in the 17th century when the Jesuit Order received a small street running around the back of St John's Cathedral. The order also bought a building standing on the other side of the street and tore it down in order to build the new church. Originally it was called the Church of the Birth of the Holy Virgin Mary and Saint Ignacy. It's now the parish of Our Lady of Grace. The church was plundered by the Swedish Army during the Swedish Deluge and underwent thorough renovations in the 18th century. When the Jesuit order was annulled in 1773 the church changed owners several times and even became a warehouse for church equipment and statues from other churches. It was returned to the Jesuits in the 1920s. The rebuilding of the church after its destruction in the Warsaw Uprising took 10 years. Today, as opposed to St John's Cathedral next-door, it looks as it did before the war.
Old Town Square
The Old Town Square was founded together with the 1st building of the city at the turn of the 14th Century, when the first buildings surrounding the square were wooden. It wasn't until the 15th Century that they were replaced by unplastered Gothic brick townhouses, generally 2 storeys high. They were inhabited by rich townsmen whose wealth is reflected in the price of the buildings, which at the end of the 16th Century were as high as 4000 zloties. At this time, houses in other parts of the city cost a few hundred zloties and the houses of the poor riverside fishermen were worth about 60 zloties. The Old Town Square was an important centre of the community - in the 15th century a brick city hall was built here but later taken down in 1817. Trade, public performances, celebrations and executions all took place near the city hall. The authorities set up a permanent chain pillory (jougs), where petty criminals, like thieves, swindlers and prostitutes, were chained in public view. Gallows or an execution block were also set up here if necessary. A nobleman suspected of murder had his head chopped off here, prisoners were tortured and even heretical literature was burnt here. In 1855, when mains water was installed in the houses, a fountain with a mermaid monument by Konstanty Hegel was set up in the square in the place of the old city hall. Two wells standing next to the monument are still here todays well as an outline of the old city hall and market stalls in the cobblestones. During the Warsaw Uprising most of the townhouses were totally demolished and it took until 1953 to rebuild them. Today the square has 4 frontages and each has a different historical figure as its patron. The south frontage is called the Ignacy Wyssogota-Zakrzewski, the east Franciszek Barssa, the west Hugon Kołłątaj and the north Jan Dekert. There are 38 townhouses around the square and the most interesting are the Gizińska House where the PAN History Institute is housed, the Montelupich House (with the entrance to the Warsaw History Museum) as well as the Fukier, Długoszowska, Bornbachów, Pod Murzynkiem and Pod Fortuna Houses. The Adam Mickiewicz Literature Museum is in the Winklerowska House.
St. John's Cathedral
Built in the 1st half of the 14th Century, St John's Cathedral has witnessed many significant events in the history of Poland. It was here, in 1339, that the Polish-Teutonic knights negotiations over the Chełmno region took place. Piotr Skarga preached his sermons here, the kings Stanisław Leszczyński and Stanisław August Poniatowski were coronated here and there were numerous royal and other important weddings and funerals. The 3rd of May constitution was sworn in at the cathedral.
The cathedral was originally built in gothic style, but there have been many adaptations - mostly during the 19th Century. The cathedral was utterly demolished during the 2nd World War and when it was rebuilt in 1948-1958, they used original 14th century plans. The new facade is an example of so called Vistula Gothic, based on the architectural style of St Peter and Paul's Church in Chełm.
Unfortunately, due to its total destruction during the war, all of the objects inside the cathedral, whilst beautifully prepared, are only reconstructions. We can admire the amazing stalls with figurines of the saints at the back - the originals were given to the church by Jan III Sobieski after the Vienna victory. The tombstone of the Mazovian Dukes and the tombstone statue of Stanisław Nałęcz-Małachowski are also worth a look. The cathedral also contains a chapel dedicated to Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, the early baroque Chapel of the Whipped Christ and the Chapel of the Miraculous Crucifix of Jesus Christ, erected at the end of the baroque period and now more commonly known as the Baryczków Chapel. It is here you can find one of the capital's most sacred objects - the Black Crucifix. This object came to Warsaw from Nuremburg thanks to Wojciech Baryczka and supposedly has miraculous properties.