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Sightseeing the Old Town

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The Old Town is one of the most historic and charming sights of Warsaw. Designed in accordance with the medieval town planning scheme, it consists of the picturesque Market Square with the chess-board like layout of historic streets.

Unique Beauty of the Old Town Market Square

Till the end of the 18th century, it used to be the most important of all public squares of the city. It is here that municipal festivities and fairs took place. Nowadays the Old Town Market Square is still a bustling city centre attracting both Varsovians and tourists with a wide array of cafes, restaurants, shops, galleries, traders' stalls and street artists' performances. It is here that one can admire the picturesque facades of burgher's houses with decorative portals which lend a unique character to the whole square. The Old Town Market Square (90 x 73 m) consists of four sides, each of which is named after a famous 18th-century parliamentarian. Its burgher's houses, once homes to well-off merchant families, are worth of note as they exemplify a wide variety of architectural styles ranging from Gothic to Baroque. Among the most famous ones are St. Anna's House, with Gothic features, Fukier House, nowadays a renowned restaurant, House of the ''Little Black Boy'' with the sculpture of a young boy on its facade. The best idea is either to stroll along the market square or sit in one of the cafes and look round. It is also possible to take a horse-drawn carriage to tour the picturesque narrow streets of the Old Town. If more interested in the interiors of the historic burgher's houses, one can visit the museums situated in the Barrs and Dekert Sides of the Old Town Market Square: Literature Museum, mostly devoted to Adam Mickiewicz, Poland's leading Romantic poet, and Warsaw History Museum with paintings, drawings, crafts, sculptures, photographs, stonemasonry and films conveying the city history. Though the Market Square was almost levelled by the Nazis during World War II, it was subsequently beautifully refurbished with meticulous attention to detail. The artistic and historical value of this site has been marked by registering the Old Town Market Square as the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

However, the Old Town Market Square is only one of a variety of historic sights worth seeing on the tour of the Old Town. The other, equally charming, tourist attractions of the Old Town include as follows:

The Royal Castle – the Pearl of Baroque

Once the seat of the Mazovian dukes, the Royal Castle became the kings' residence upon Warsaw becoming the capital of Poland in the 16th century. Its origins date back as far as the 14th century when it played a defensive role being part of the city fortifications. Over the centuries the castle was restyled, rebuilt and enlarged. The Royal Castle is regarded as an excellent example of Baroque architecture with the Saxon Wing, added in the 1740's-1750's, as its most famous part. Though, the Royal Castle was totally demolished by the Nazis during the World War II, its beauty has been restored due to the painstaking renovation works taking place between 1971 and 1988. Nowadays the Royal Castle houses a museum whose fascinating interiors like the Senate Chamber, the royal apartments, the Marble Room, Canaletto Room with original furnishings of great artistic merit are definitely worth a visit.

Castle Square with Zygmunt's Column – Major Symbol of the Capital

Castle Square, dating back to the year 1821, is one of the major emblems of the capital of Poland. It is popular with Varsovians who usually celebrate the New Year's Eve, gather for political demonstrations or arrange their dates here. For tourists the site is equally interesting as it is here that the ''Royal Route'' (Trakt Krolewski) leading from the castle to Wilanow summer residence starts. In the middle of Castle Square there is one of the symbols of Warsaw well-known to Poles. It is Zygmunt's Column dedicated to King Zygmunt III Waza who is famous for transferring the royal residence from Cracow to Warsaw. Zygmunt's Column is a crucial sight in Warsaw as it is the oldest non-religious memorial monument in the city and the oldest secular monument in Poland. This impressive 22-metre-high granite monument shows King Zygmunt holding a sword in one hand and a cross in the other. This unique way of the monarch's glorification resembles the one reserved for saints.

St. John's Cathedral – Venue for Art and Organ Music Lovers

St. John's Cathedral (Katedra ¶w. Jana) dates back to the 14th century. The original royal chapel, built of wood, served as the burial site for the dukes of Mazovia. Then, it was replaced by a brick construction which over the centuries changed its status. It is the oldest church of Warsaw and the major church of the Warsaw archdiocese which gained the status of a cathedral in 1798. The church has played crucial role in the history of Poland as it is here that such important events like royal coronations, famous notables' burials and the 3 May Constitution swearing took place. Another reason for seeing the cathedral is the fact that most of its artistic objects escaped the World War II damage. Major cathedral highlights include:

  • the copies of stalls presented to the cathedral as King Jan III Sobieski's thankful offering for his 1683 victory at Vienna
  • the Renaissance marble tombs of the Mazovian dukes
  • the crypt of Gabriel Narutowicz, first Polish President
  • the tomb of Henryk Sienkiewicz, Polish Nobel Prize Winner in Literature
  • the Baroque Baryczka Chapel with the 16th-century crucifix, credited with miracles, with human hair on Christ's head.

Though the cathedral was nearly levelled during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, its restoration was based on the architectural plans of the original 14th-century church.
St. John's Cathedral is also popular with organ music lovers as since 1994 the
'' Archcathedral Organ'' International Organ Music Festival has been held here.

The Mermaid – Warsaw's Centrepiece

The Mermaid – the centrepiece of Warsaw - has changed its image over the centuries. The present day mermaid – half human and half fish – is armed with a shield and a raised sword. This ferocity perfectly reflects the eventful history of the city where many a battle was fought. This 19th-century sculpture, designed by Konstanty Hegel, tops the remnants of the Marszalkowska Tower – part of the Barbican, the Old Town's fortifications.

Stone Steps – the Most Picturesque Street of the Old Town

Stone Steps, though - as the name suggests - is nothing but a series of steps, has the reputation of being the most picturesque of all the historic streets of the Old Town. Upon mounting the steps, one can enjoy a magnificent panorama of the Vistula River. Originally, it used to be part of Warsaw's water supply system.

The list of the attractions of the Old Town is not complete. There are lots of other sights worth seeing, but every tourist coming to Warsaw shall find their own beauty spots making them come here again and again.


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