Guest Author - Barbara Swiech
Gniezno is situated in central-western Poland, about 50 kilometres from Poznan. The city is inhabited by about 700 thousand of people and is thought to be the first capital of Poland. Gnizeno used to be the seat of archbishops and the first rulers of Piast dynasty (that belonged to the tribe of Polanie).
There are couple of theories that explain the origin of the name – Gniezno. The one that most of the Poles associates with the first capital of the country, is the story about 3 brothers: Lech, Czech and Rus. The first one of them, at the same time the legendary founder of Poland, decided to settle down (with his troops) in a place where the nest (in Polish: gniazdo) of a beautiful white eagle was seen. Although that story seems only to be a legend, the old depictions of Gniezno point out the characteristic shape of the lake (over which the city lied). Therefore, one again the name Gniezno is associated with ‘the nest’.
In some of the German sources, the name of the city reminds more old Polish word for ‘prince’. It is possible that the name Gniezno was supposed to describe the city that was at that time the seat of princes of the region.
The first ‘official’ king of Poland (who achieved the permission and blessing from the pope) was crowned in the cathedral of Gniezno in 1024. However, the Bohemian duke Bretislav I – through plundering and destroying Gniezno and nearby Poznan – made the Polish rulers move to Krakow where the Royal Castle of Wawel was made their new seat. Gniezno, however, was still an important regional site of Greater Poland.
One of the most important monument of the city is Gniezno Cathedral – Gothic shrine especially known for its two-winged bronze doors that are decorated with the scenes connected with St Wojciech (St Adalbert). The martyr, whose silver relic coffin is located in the very cathedral, was the one who brought Christianity to Poland.
The city of Gniezno was very often invaded in the past. First it was destroyed by Teutonic Order, after having been heavily hit by fires it underwent Swedish invasion. It belonged to Kingdom of Prussia, was included in Duchy of Warsaw, was annexed to Nazi Germany, occupied by the Red Army to be restored to Poland again. Due to the history of Gniezno (as a seat of archbishops), its Roman Catholic archbishop is traditionally the Primate of Poland.