Friday 18 June 2010

Poland 3: Stalked by Copernicus

Wherever I go in northeastern Poland, I inevitably encounter a man in a robe holding a globe of the world. This is none other than Nicolaus Copernicus, the astronomer who first proposed that the Earth orbits the sun.

He’s also a member of an exclusive club - famous Poles who outsiders sometimes don’t realise are Polish. I think of them as the Four Cs: Copernicus, Curie, Conrad and Chopin.

In fact the first three of this group were christened Mikołaj Kopernik, Marie Skłodowska, and Józef Konrad Korzeniowski. Chopin really was Frédéric (or Fryderyk) Chopin, by the way, as his dad was French.

No chance of mistaken identity within Poland though, especially in Copernicus' old stamping grounds in Pomerania and the neighbouring region of Warmia & Masuria.

Here are a few snaps of the great astronomer that I've taken over my years of researching for Lonely Planet in Poland...

1. A Star is Born. This is the most striking statue of Copernicus, in front of the Gothic town hall in Toruń. This is where he was born, and there's not much danger of this fact escaping you as you stroll around this attractive city on the Vistula River - there's a Copernicus Museum and a Copernicus University, for a start.

Toruń isn't only famous for Copernicus, though. It has an age-old reputation as a manufacturer of gingerbread. And you can buy this gingerbread baked in the shape of Copernicus, if you like.

2. Rebel With a Cause. Copernicus looks a little sinister here I think, as if he's about to peel away from this wall in Toruń, trap the little beggar kid within his globe of the earth, then give him a good sharp lesson in astronomy.

3. Do You Want Cosmology With That? I spotted this Copernicus figure outside a hotel restaurant in the little town of Frombork, east of Gdańsk near the Russian border.

It was here that the great man made many of his observations and wrote his revolutionary work, On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres ("A cracking read... guaranteed to make you question everything you've ever believed about an earth-centred model of the universe." - Nuremberg Times, 1543).

4. Touching Genius. I took this photo three days ago outside the drawbridge of the former Teutonic Knights' castle in Olsztyn. Copernicus was the administrator here after the Kingdom of Poland captured Olsztyn in the 1460s. The astronomer finally gets a chance to sit down here (must be tiring carrying that globe everywhere) and visitors sit with him and rub his nose for luck. Hence the shiny hooter.

5. You Say You Want a Revolution? The final shot is one I snapped in February 2006 on my first-ever Lonely Planet assignment, when the weather was very very cold. In those days this Copernicus statue sat in the centre of a roundabout - quite appropriate really. Recently the area surrounding him has been closed to traffic and repaved, creating a pleasant square in which to marvel at the Copernican achievement.

As you can see, I run into Copernicus everywhere. But is he stalking me... or am I stalking him?

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