Poland’s Seven Wonders
In 2007, Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita initiated a nationwide vote on Poland’s seven top “wonders”.
The initial list of 400 was selected by the on-line readers, then a second round review by experts got the number down to 27. The final round of on-line voting was held in August/September and the top seven wonders were announced on 21 September 2007.
So, what did Poland select?
First was the Wieliczka Salt Mine, just south of Kraków. We’ve got a page About the Salt Mines.
The Wieliczka mine opened in the 13th century and produced table salt until 2007. Small amounts are still mined, largely now for “souvenir” purposes. Commercial mining ended in 1996.
The huge mine reaches a depth of over 320 metres and the tunnels reach over 280km. There’s a number of underground lakes, dozens of statues, three chapels and an entire cathedral carved out of the rock salt by the Wieliczka miners.
Toruń is one of the oldest cities in Poland. The medieval old town was the birthplace of Nicholaus Copernicus. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
Toruń has preserved many buildings dating back to the middle ages, and is famous for having preserved almost intact its medieval layout and many Gothic buildings – among them churches, the Town Hall and many burgher houses.
In 1919, Toruń was part of the Polish Corridor – the thin strip of land with Germany to the west and German-Danzig to the East, giving Poland access to the Baltic. Nazi Germany entered the city on 7 September 1939. By the end of November, the city was declared Jew-free when the several hundred Jews who had chosen to stay deported to the Łódź Ghetto and elsewhere. Poles were sent to slave labour camps, executed or expelled. The chain of forts surrounding the city became PoW camps, Stalag XX-A.
When the city was returned to Poland at the end of WW2, the remaining German population was expelled.
Third? That was the amazing Malbork Castle
The Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork is the largest castle in the world by surface area and the largest brick building in Europe.
The dansker, or Toilet Tower – yes, the largest brick building in Europe has an enormous brick sh*thouse!
Built in what was then Prussia by the Teutonic Knights and called Marienburg (Mary’s Castle), Malbork is the second of two UNESCO World Heritage sites in the area lined to the Knights – the other being our Number 2, Toruń.
In the following years, Malbork changed hands many times – including two periods of occupation by the Swedish. It also served at one time as a residence of the pre-partition Polish kings.
Prior to WW2, the Castle was a place of annual pilgrimage for the Hitler Youth and League of German Girls. It was to be the senior-year Order Castle (Ordensburgen) with three lower schools (for training Nazis – Hitler’s political soldiers).
In 1945, during combat in the area, more than half the castle was destroyed. All but the main cathedral have been rebuilt.
Fourth and we’re back in Kraków – Wawel Castle and Wawel Cathedral
The complex known as Wawel sits on the left bank of the Vistula. Containing a number of buildings and fortifications, parts of Wawel date back for sure to 970CE and some are thought to be from the C9.
From the time of the Wiślanie, Wawel was an important fort. It became a home to Poland’s early rulers and under Casmir the Restorer (1034-1058) it became the main political and administrative centre for Poland.
Wawel was the seat of the Polish monarchy until 1611 (Kraków was the capital of Poland from 1038-1569 and of the Commonwealth from 1569-1596) and played an important role thereafter as a regional power centre for the Duchy, Voivodeship. It was even the seat of the German Governor General during WW2.
A stone cathedral was erected in 1000CE. The building may have changed but the Cathedral at Wawel became the place for the coronation of the Kings of Poland and also their mausoleum. Today, it is a national pantheon with the remains of the likes of:
– Józef Pilsudski : statesman, Chief-of-State 1915-1922, First Marshall (1920 on) and leader (1926-35) of the Second Polish Republic
– Władysław Sikorski : freedom-fighter pre 1914, fought in the Polish Legion (WW1), and in the Polish Army in the Polish-Soviet War (1919-1921), member of the government of the Second Republic and Prime Minister of the Polish Government in Exile and Commander in Chief of the Polish armed forces during WW2 and at one stage a supporter of restoring diplomatic relations with the USSR – remember, they invaded Poland in 1939. However, Sikorski ticked off Satlin by asking for the IRC to investigate the Katyn Massacre and Stalin broke off diplomatic relations in April 1943. In July 1943 a plane carrying Sikorski crashed into the sea immediately after take off from Gibraltar, killing all aboard save the pilot
Sikorski (L) with Churchill and DeGaulle
– Lech Kaczyński and his wife (first lady) Maria Kaczyńska : Kaczyński was fourth President of the Republic. He and his wife were amongst the 96 people killed when a Polish Air Force Tu-154 crashed outside Smolensk, Russia. The President and First Lady, together with senior members of the Government and clergy were travelling to Katyn for a ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary of the massacre. (Incidentally, the late President’s identical twin brother Jarosław served as his Prime Minister for a time – he is still active in Polish politics, currently leader of PiS, the “Law and Justice Party”.
After WW2, Wawel was restored and once again become a national museum, place of worship and centre depicting Poland’s complex history.
Fifth was the Elbląg Canal – at 80.5km it’s not the longest canal in Poland, but it is the most well-known.
The canal was surveyed and planned over the years 1825-1844 and construction began in 1844, at the behest of the King of Prussia (remember, there WAS no Germany back then!). Because the canal has such a big height difference between the lakes (a 9.5km section) the inclined planes were built as well as more traditional locks.
The canal was opened in 1860 and repaired after damage in WW2, it is mainly used for pleasure purposes these days. Note that cruises run May 1 to 31 October – ish – check if your planned visit is early or late season.
The Elbląg Canal is not the oldest canal in Poland, either – today you can still see the Bydgoszcz Canal (1772-1775)
and the Masurian Canal (1764-1776).
The longest is the Augustów Canal (101.2km) another canal popular with boaters – kayak, canoe, fishing boat or motorboat – or on pleasure cruises.
At number six we have Zamość Old Town
On a nice sunny day, Zamość is simply stunning.
The town was founded in 1580 by the Chancellor and head of the army of the Commonwealth, Jan Zamoyski . It was built to be a trading centre, on the trade route from western and northern Europe to the Black Sea and to this day it is an almost complete example of a Renaissance town. It retains its C16 layout and fortifications.
From the UNESCO World Heritage site “Zamosc was founded in the 16th century by the chancellor Jan Zamoysky on the trade route linking western and northern Europe with the Black Sea. Modelled on Italian theories of the ‘ideal city’ and built by the architect Bernando Morando, a native of Padua, Zamosc is a perfect example of a late-16th-century Renaissance town. It has retained its original layout and fortifications and a large number of buildings that combine Italian and central European architectural traditions.”
While you’re visiting, see the Zamojska Rotunda – a bastion built under Russian rule in 1825-31.
In WW2 the Germans used this place first as a temporary prison for locals, including intellectuals and resistance fighters.
By 1942 it was in use as a site for mass executions – including, in 1943, the population of Zamość. It is now the Museum of Zamość Martyrdom.
The C16 Cathedral will also repay a visit. The Collegiate Church in Zamość was elevated to the rank of a Cathedral in 1992. It is another Renaissance masterpiece.
And at number seven, it’s Kraków again – the Market Square and Old Town
A quick Polish lesson – Nowy, as in Nowy Sącz, means new. Stare Sącz is Old Sącz. Miasto is city – so Stare Miasto is Kraków’s Old City, or old town.
The area was at the centre of Polish political life from 1038 to 1596, when the Polish Court moved to Warsaw (prompted by the formation of the Commonwealth, the need was felt for a capital half way between that of Poland, Kraków and Lithuania, Vilnius). The entire Old Town was a very early choice as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The original walls of Kraków contained 46 towers and seven main gates – the walls and moat fell into disuse and the former were demolished and the latter filled in, to create what is now the Planty Gardens … a 3km green belt around the Old Town.
We’d like to show you just some of the sites in Kraków Stare Miasto.
The current plan of Stare Miasto follows the C13 merchant’s town, with the huge market square (rynek) at its heart. On and around the Rynek Główny are:
St Mary’s Basilica
The Cloth Hall
The old Town Hall Tower – Kraków’s own leaning tower
Old tenements and palaces
The 1893 Juliusz Słowacki Theatre
And the barbican, a historic gateway in the city walls