Guest Author - Barbara Swiech
As many European capitals, Warsaw (in Polish: Warszawa) is the largest city of the country. Although many will now perceive the city as a modern ‘face’ of Poland, it is also the place that was strongly shaped by the history.
The name, as historians state, derives from Warsz (the nobleman and owner of the village located in one of neighbourhoods of today’s capital). However, the legend of founding Warszawa tells the story of a fisherman Wars and his wife Sawa – a mermaid who became an ordinary woman out of love to a human.
The city grew and gained more and more importance, as one of the seats of the Dukes of Masovia. During the period of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth Warszawa became its capital – thanks to its convenient situation between Krakow (then the capital of Poland) and Vilnius (capital of Lithuania). In 1596 Sigismund III Vasa moved his court from Krakow, making Warszawa the capital of Polish Crown.
The capital survived numerous ravages and sieges that destroyed its architecture. The revival and further development of Warsaw, made the city boast of late Renaissance (with Gothic ground floors) buildings dating back to the middle of 17th century. Soon magnificent Baroque residences grew all around the city – being the result of the rich noble oligarchy’s rule. As the capital followed the trends of those days, the composition of Warsaw population altered with the grow of number of factories and physical workers. In 1795, during the ‘partition’, Warsaw became the province of South Prussia. After the congress in Vienna, in 1815, Warszawa was made the centre of Congress Poland (called by some Kingdom of Poland) – a constitutional monarchy under a personal union with Imperial Russia. Warsaw faced further on two national uprisings – November uprising in 1831 and January uprising in 1863 – to become anew the capital of independent Poland in 1918.
During the Second World War Poland was attacked by the Nazis. Warsaw’s higher education institutions were closed and Jewish population of the capital was gathered in the Ghetto. On 19th of April 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising broke out – as the protest against its annihilating according to Hitler’s Final Solution plan. Brave Jewish fighters survived almost one month – without weapon and food – after which most of the outnumbered survivors were killed and only few managed to escape. On the 1st of August 1944 the Home Army (AK) together with civilians, knowing that the Red Army’s troops approach Warsaw to defeat the Nazis, tried to seize back the control over the city through Warsaw Uprising. The fight, although planned to last for 48 hours, went on for 63 days after which the members of Home Army were taken to POW camps in Germany and the civilians were expelled. As a revenge Hitler, ignoring the agreement of capitulation, ordered to destroy the entire city. About 85% of Warsaw, including the Old Town and the Royal Castle, did not withstand the Second World War.
The city resumed its role as the centre of Poland. Its citizens, in pursuit to reconstruct their dear city, made a big effort to restore Warsaw’s streets, houses and churches to their original form. Many buildings were rebuilt from the scratch – according to paintings, pictures and memories of people who wanted to regain their home city.
Nowadays Warsaw is experiencing big economic boom. The capital differs from other cities of Poland – as the modernity is seen there in every corner. Numerous skyscrapers, metro (as for now the only one in Poland) and other modern architectural solutions bring the feeling that Warsaw does not differ much from any other European capital. New buildings are placed among the old-style ones. But when having a walk in Starowka (the Old Town), Krakowskie Przedmiescie or Nowy Swiat street you will be amazed with its monumental architecture.
Although the Varsovians went on and are proud of current city’s character – they are also proud of its history. Mermaid statue (being the symbol of the capital), monuments commemorating historical events, numerous museums and events remind about the interesting history of Warsaw and the fight to keep it strong.