The Republic of Poland is located in Central Europe, bordered by Germany, Belarus, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Russia, Slovakia and Ukraine. The distance between Indonesia and Poland is around 10,397 km and the flight to Warsaw takes about 16 to 20 hours. Our flags share two identical colours that are placed in inverted positions.
With a total of 40 million population, Poland is the biggest country in Central Europe and the 6th in the European Union. The country is the leader in production of agricultural products, yachts, furniture, silver, cuprum and coal. It is also known for producing auto parts, leather goods, skincare and fashion commodities. The nation is also famous for its rooster motif that’s synonymous with Polish folk art and one that is believed to scare away evil creatures. The rooster, a symbol of fertility and good fortune, can be found everywhere from painted eggs to embroidery and souvenirs.
Poland became one kingdom in the 10th century after the unification of two neighbouring tribes, the Wiślanie (Vistulans), who resided in the present-day Cracow, and the Polanie, who lived to their northwest, around present-day Poznań.
To this day, these two regions still preserve the remains of the country’s oldest buildings, most of them churches. The churches stand the test of the time because they were built with stone whilst regular houses were traditionally built using wood and clay.
Warsaw is the capital city of Poland and is the country’s largest city. It’s the hub of Polish architecture that displays Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical buildings that are seen in the city’s every corner.
The Gothic architecture is represented by churches, middle-class houses and fortifications, while neoclassical establishments include Palace on the Water, Królikarnia Carmelite Church and Evangelical Holy Trinity Church (constructed in 1777 and completed in 1782).
In Warsaw, the best-known display of Art Deco and Stalinist architectural style is the Palace of Culture and Science, also known as PKiN (1952-1955). It’s a popular high-rise building and the centre of various companies, public institutions and cultural activities. The building was designed by Soviet architect Lev Rudnev and was a gift from the Soviet Union.
The architecture is similar to several skyscrapers built in Moscow in the same era. However, Rudnev incorporated a Polish flair in the building; the monumental walls have pieces of masonry copied from Renaissance houses and palaces in Cracow and Zamość.
Meanwhile, modern architecture in Warsaw is represented by the Metropolitan Office Building located at Pilsudski Square. It was designed by British architect Norman Foster and is now a prominent public space.
Another eye-catching modern building is POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews (2005-2013). It is located in the heart of the Jewish Warsaw community, an area that the Nazis turned into the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. Finnish architecture firm Lahdelma & Mahlamäki Architects was selected from an international competition to spearhead the project. The building faces the memorial commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943.
One unique feature of the museum is the exterior that is made of glass fins and copper mesh. In the main hall, a suspended bridge connects the two parts of the building while symbolising the bridging the past with the future. The museum has 12,800-sqm of usable space, with around one third used for main exhibitions.
Another museum that’s dedicated to Warsaw heroes during Second World War is the Warsaw Rising Museum in the Wola district. The museum was opened on the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising on 31 July 2004 and it stands on former tram power station between Przyokopowa and Grzybowska streets.
The place is designed according to the chronological order of the events. Visitors walk on concrete pavement and experience the country’s former situation through images, sounds and light. In July this year the museum held a competition for local and international architects to submit ideas for the expansion of the museum.
Another must-visit is the Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Established in the 13th century, the place is home to a market square filled with restaurants, cafes and shops. This is also the perfect location to buy souvenirs and sample Polish dishes.
There’s another Old Town in Poland that is also listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site, this one is located in Cracow, the country’s second largest city.
Entering the Old Town is like entering a Medieval world; the district is home to 6,000 historic sites that feature many architectural styles such as Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic and classic ornaments like stained glass, paintings, sculptures.
However, Old Town isn’t the only place in Cracow that is listed as a Heritage Site. Wieliczka Salt Mine also made it into the original list in 1978. The walkways and ramps in the underground mine stretch for kilometres, travelling through magnificent chambers, lakes and salt statues. A tour inside lasts for two hours and it begins by walking down the 378-step shaft that leads to the first-level chambers.
Lastly, when in Cracow, one should not miss visiting the famed Wawel Dragon statue that breathes real fire. The bronze statue is located at the foot of the Wawel Hill, right in front of the Wawel’s Dragon Den. It was made by Polish sculptor Bronisław Chromy based on the nation’s popular folklore.
Legend has it that the Wawel Dragon used to terrorise King Krak’s town. One day, a poor shoemaker named Skuba took a sheep’s skin, filled it with sulphur and left it near the dragon. The dragon ate it and soon became very thirsty because of the Sulphur. It drank so much water from the Vistula River that it exploded. The town rejoiced and for his bravery, Skuba was given the permission to marry the King’s daughter Wanda.
Lodz, the third biggest city in Poland, is located in the central part of the country. It’s known for its bustling textile industry and the location of the nation’s leading film school, Lodz Film School. Because the city used to be an industrial hub, there are always buildings that have been revamped yet still preserve the industrial architectural style, like Manufaktura.
Manufaktura is a factory complex turned multifunctional shopping and entertainment centre. Designed by London-based design Virgile & Stone in partnership with French architecture firm called Sud Architects, the new building still maintains the red-brick exterior and the complex’s trademark, the old, five-storey spinning mill in Ogrodowa Street.
Thanks to our insightful tour leader, Agnieszka Sababady, we learnt plenty about the faraway Poland and its three largest cities. Rich with history and things to experience, Poland is up on our list of places to visit (again).