Old Town Charm in Poznań Poland
Poznań in Poland is a gorgeous historical city. It is colourful, clean, and totally camera friendly. The Main Square in the Old Town is, in itself, packed with museums, monuments, and historical landmarks that tell a tale of Poland’s past, and definitely worth visiting.
I have arrived in Poznań from Berlin. I am staying at Blooms Inn and Apartments, a charming, historical “Flower Villa” townhouse which was built in 1903 and renovated while keeping its unique character of the past.
I’m in Poznań because it was Poland’s first capital and (as some may call it) the birthplace of the Polish nation. As such, there is a lot of history attached to this little city because like most of Europe, Poznań too felt the brunt of WWII and suffered immense damage.
Apart from the damage done during WWII, Poznań was brought to its knees during the fire in 1675, and a hurricane in 1725. Although little of its original structures remain, the Town Hall, first erected in the 14th century has been rebuilt to look much like the original masterpiece earning a reputation as “the most beautiful Renaissance town hall north of the Alps”.
A daily draw outside this Town Hall is to witness the spectacle that takes place when the clock strikes 12 noon. Despite the chill in the air, there is quite a crowd gathered at the Square, camera’s focused, faces turned towards the clock as it starts its ritual that has been played over and over since 1551! As we watch, two mechanical goats emerge from a door above the clock and proceed to butt heads twelve times. Simultaneously, a trumpeter plays the town’s traditional bugle call from a balcony. The bugle call (hejnał) dates back at least to the 15th century, and the goats have been ramming heads since 1551. Replaced and restored over the years, the present pair have been at it since 1954.
At the end of it I overhear a tour guide say “And that, my friends, is Poznań’s magical hour!”
The Old Market Square has got four ornamented wells located in the four corners. They each depict a mythological character.
The Fountain of Proserpine depicts the kidnapping of Proserpine by Pluto, the ruler of the underworld. Other perfectly sculptured fountains include the Fountain of Apollo, Fountain of Neptune, and Fountain of Mars.
The Square is surrounded on all four sides by quaint colourful houses.
A row of merchants’ houses (domki budnicze), dating from the 16th century, with an arcade containing souvenir stalls, faces east. One of the houses (no. 17) displays the coat of arms – a herring and three palms – of the merchants’ guild from which the houses take their name.
The former town chancellery, adjoining the merchants’ houses, faces south. The old town weighing house (Waga Miejska), located behind the Town Hall, faces north. This was first built in 1532–1534, reconstructed 1563, demolished as unsafe in 1890 (replaced by a Renaissance-style “New Town Hall” used by the city government, heavily damaged in 1945), rebuilt in its former style in 1950–1960 based on surviving prints, renovated in 2002, and now used for weddings and other functions.
The guardhouse (Odwach), facing west, was originally an 18th-century wooden building, rebuilt in Classical style in 1783–1787, heavily damaged in 1945, rebuilt 1949–1951 and used as a museum. It now houses a museum dedicated to the Greater Poland Uprising (1918-1919).
The Arsenał Gallery, a postwar building (1959–1962), standing on the site of a former market building which was used as an arsenal from the 17th century and was destroyed in 1945.
The Wielkopolska Military Museum, a modern building (1959–1962) standing on the site of a former cloth hall (sukiennice). The cloth hall existed from 1386 (reconstructed in 1563) until it was converted into houses in the 19th century (destroyed in World War II).
Other notable houses around the edge of the square include Nos. 45, 46 and 47 on the east side of the square, which houses a Museum of Musical Instruments.
No. 48, a reconstructed Gothic building, behind which archaeologists have discovered the remains of a late 13th-century merchant’s house, the oldest known brick building in the left-bank city, which probably belonged to the city’s founder, Thomas of Guben.
No. 50, a reconstructed late-Gothic building, on whose wall is a plaque showing the maximum water level during the city’s worst ever flood in 1736.
No. 78 on the west side, known as the Działyński Palace.
No. 91 on the north side, known as the Mielżyński Palace.
Also in this Town Square is a drinking fountain called the Bamberg Girl. It represents a woman in typical Bamberg clothes carrying two wine vats on a pole across her shoulders.
The water from the fountain cistern, with two streams trickling into it, was drunk mostly by horses, but it was used by people as well. The fountain had also two smaller vessels with water for dogs to drink from and a plaque with the name of its founder, the Poznań wine merchant Leopold Goldenring.
About a 30-minute walk from this beautiful Old Town is the Poznań Cathedral Basilica, located on an island called Ostrów Tumski.
This, they say, dates back to the very beginnings of Christianity in Poland, the second half of the tenth century. Known as the oldest cathedral in Poland, it is the millennium monument of Christian culture, named by Pope John XXIII. The original edifice inside this stunning church was erected way back in 968, but has subsequently been razed, rebuilt, and remodelled numerous times over the centuries, each resulting in the addition of a new architectural style: a 1622 fire led to a Baroque finish, while a 1722 fire ushered in a change to neo-Classicism. During the 1945 battle to liberate Poznań, 65 percent of the Cathedral once again burned down, exposing the building’s buried Gothic elements and leading to its restoration in the style visitors see today.
There is a service on and I am so glad to be a part of this solemn service, even though I cannot understand a word of Polish.
One of Poznań’s most impressive historic monuments, the Lesser Basilica of St. Stanislaus, which it became in October 2010, was created as a Jesuit temple in the 17th century.
Being Easter week, Poznań, as I would imagine across the rest of Poland, is preparing to celebrate Holy Week. The shops are closed, the streets are empty (except for tourists like me) and the bells toll in every church and cathedral. I am also reminded that Poland-born Pope John Paul II made history in 1978 by becoming the first non-Italian pope in more than 400 years.
Pope John Paul II was born Karol Józef Wojtyla on May 18, 1920, in Wadowice, Poland. He was ordained in 1946, became the bishop of Ombi in 1958, and became the archbishop of Krakow in 1964. He was made a cardinal by Pope Paul VI in 1967, and in 1978 became the first non-Italian pope in more than 400 years.
Many times I have been told by locals to try their sour rye soup called żurek. This vegetable soup is served inside a loaf of fermented bread and consists of cooked white sausage, garlic and onions. Quite interesting, to say the least!