As we Remember the Fallen of the Great War, a Chance for Poland to Celebrate National Independence Day
As Armistice Day is commemorated across Europe, November 11th has particular significance in Poland as it represents the date upon which the country regained its independence following 123 years of divide between Austria, Prussia and Russia. Officially recognised since 1937 and considered one of the country’s most important national holidays, Poles have actually celebrated Independence Day since 1920, albeit in secret during and after World War II. Indeed in 1945 it was scrapped entirely and replaced by the ‘Day of Rebirth of Poland’, signifying the emergence of the communist state in the country, however was restated once again in 1989 after the collapse of communism and Poland’s political transformation.
A celebration of the re-emergence of a Polish state and a commemoration of those who fought for it, National Independence Day is honoured across the country, with special church services, parades and gatherings taking place in all the major towns and cities. In Warsaw, a special service attended by all the top Polish dignitaries takes place on Pilsudski Square whilst there’s also a Changing of the Guards in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and a 10km Race of Independence through the city. To mark Poland’s National Independence Day, here’s a little look at some of Warsaw’s must-sees on a city break to this most cultural and charismatic of destinations…
Painstakingly reconstructed following the Warsaw uprising in 1944, the Old Town is an evocative labyrinth of winding cobbled streets, ornate facades and atmospheric squares abuzz with street sellers and cafes. You’ll find many of Warsaw’s main landmarks here including the Royal Castle, overlooking the Vistula River and official residence of the Polish President; the 15th-century St John’s Cathedral, considered the oldest of Warsaw’s churches; and King Sigismund’s Column on Plac Zamkowy, honouring the man who made Warsaw Poland’s capital city.
The natural heart of the Old Town, Old Town Square (Rynek Starego Miasta) was razed to the ground during World War II, yet has since emerged as a spectacular architectural blend of baroque, Renaissance and Gothic styles and a vibrant and atmospheric meeting point. Dominated by the Historical Museum of Warsaw running the length of its northern perimeter and the Museum of Literature on its eastern flank, Old Town Square is also the location of the city’s famous Syrenka mermaid monument, symbol of Warsaw.
Warsaw likes to laud its status as the home of the revered composer, Chopin, and set amidst the grandeur of the 17th-century baroque Ostrogski Palace, is the highly popular, high-tech Chopin Museum. Set over four floors, the museum showcases Chopin’s work through listening booths, interactive multimedia displays and musical memorabilia including the last piano played by the composer. Be sure also to take in the Chopin Monument on a visit to Lazienki Park, a verdant haven of tranquillity where the beautiful Palace on the Island is another definite must-see.
Leaving the city centre, head south along the Royal Route and you’ll find the jewel in Warsaw’s crown, the majestic Wilanów Palace, a resplendent 17th-century summer royal residence nicknamed the Polish Versailles. As well as touring the sumptuous interior, the sprawling park has much to offer including Warsaw’s superb Poster Museum, the first of its kind worldwide.
Back in town, chances are you won’t fail to spot the awesome Palace of Culture and Science, situated amidst Warsaw’s financial district. Gifted to Warsaw by Stalin, this rather controversial building is the largest and tallest structure in Poland comprising some 40 million bricks and soaring 231 metres into the Warsaw skyline. And one of the city’s finest and most popular museums, the Warsaw Uprising Museum devotes itself to sharing the haunting story of life under Nazi rule during World War II. A poignant and thought-provoking reminder of a very different life in Poland.
Lest we forget.