Eastern Secrets of Old Town
Join us for a look at the many gems of Old Town’s eastern flank…
A Not So Lucky Pillar?
Should you shift the capital to Warsaw, then expect a 22-meter column to go up in your name. At least, that’s what happened in the case of Zygmunt III Vasa.
Constructed on the orders of his son in 1644, the granite column was inspired by those the family had seen on an earlier trip to Italy. Symbolic of bravery, it’s said if the sword he wields falls then Warsaw will face trouble.
Certainly, that’s what happened in 1944 when the column was felled by a single artillery round. Rebuilt in 1949, the bullet-scarred original was left to lie to the side of the Royal Castle and is considered lucky to touch.
The building on the corner of Świętojańska 2 is more than just a natural gateway to the old town beyond. It’s here Prince Stanisław passed away on August 8th, 1524. A notorious party animal, many speculated he was simply a casualty his heavy lifestyle. Others though, smelt a rat, suggesting he’d been poisoned by the scheming Queen Bona.
With intrigue and hearsay swirling around the court, his cooks were accused of being part of plot to poison him and were tortured to death. Since then the building has reputedly witnessed several unexplainable phenomena: shifting furniture, pounding on the windows and whispered conversations held in archaic Polish and creepy Latin verse – ponder that while ordering an ice cream from the corner hatch or by gazing up at the weird stuffed man hanging out of the upper floor windows!
Look Round The Back
We all know the Royal Castle, but the Pod Blachą Palace down the stairs to the side is less familiar.
The big surprise here is a temporary display of Ikaria, a bare-bottomed monument by Igor Mitoraj (the same dude behind the Angel Doors on Świętojańska). Completed in 1996, find it on display until June 20th.
Heading back into the heart of Old Town, skirt up past the Royal Castle and you’ll note acovered overhead walkway spanning Kanonia. This was built in 1620 to safeguard the King after a deranged nobleman by the name of Michał Piekarski tried to club him to death as he made the short stroll from the Castle to the Cathedral.
King Zygmunt III survived, whilst Piekarski was tortured to death before having his remains blasted from a cannon. Ouch.
See that glued-up bell sitting in the center of ul. Kanonia?
Stitched up after crashing down from St. John’s Cathedral during the war, it’s now common practice to circle it three times with your finger on the top before making a wish – presto, your dreams will come true.
A Most Wanted Man
The privately run General Kukliński Museum dedicates itself to honoring the Polish double agent widely hailed as ‘the most important CIA spy of the 20th century’.
Among other things, you’ll learn just how close the world came to outright nuclear apocalypse inside this small but lovingly run project.
Blink And You’ll Miss It!
On the topic of small, the skinny house at Kanonia 50-52 is proof that micro living isn’t a modern fad. Only just slightly wider that its door frame, its narrow form was a cunning ploy by its 17th century owner to avoid paying a hefty property tax bill.
There’s no shortage of photo ops in Old Town, but for the best look no further than Dawna, a charming twitten bookended by two buildings arch over the alley below.
Five meters wide, and forty-three meters in length, its best-known embellishment – a powder blue annex positioned over the cobbles – was added in the 18th century to serve as a home for the parish priest.
View To A Kill
Going through the archway leads to a small alcove overlooking the river, an area commonly known as Gnojna Góra.
Functioning as the town’s rubbish heap until the mid-19th century (syphilitics were once buried here neck high in poop as a vaunted cure for their ills), today it’s become one of Warsaw’s most romantic viewpoints, something affirmed by the lovelocks clasped to its railings.
While you’re here, don’t miss out on a visit to the Heritage Interpretation Center, a wonderful museum that charts the story of Old Town’s heroic rise from the ashes.
Continue down the road to climb Kamienne Schodki to return to the Rynek. On this stone stairwell Napoleon is said to have walked in 1806, accompanied by Prince Poniatowski as the pair pondered Eastern conquests.
What A Pair!
Dead north of the Rynek you find the monument most will forget: Wars & Sawa. Too many legends surround this couple to ever even come close to making sense, but suffice to say it’s to them we owe the creation this city – hip, hip, hooray!
Forget Me Not
While tourists clamor around the Rynek and immediate surrounds, Brzozowa street stands under-visited. Though the post-war reconstruction of this street was, apparently, far from faithful, it retains a strong charm on account of its steep-roofed tenements, flamboyant floral outbursts and quiet little corners. Overwhelmingly quaint, you overlook it at your cost.
(Words & Photos: AW)
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