Thursday 7 June 2012

Poland 2: Warsaw's Stone Curios

I'm now in Warsaw. When I come to the Polish capital I usually stay in the Old Town, the historic heart of the city on the banks of the Vistula.

This district is like the Old Towns found in other old Polish cities - it has a cobblestone market square, graceful old medieval and Renaissance buildings, and attractive narrow streets.

What makes Warsaw's Old Town remarkable is the fact it exists at all. By the end of World War II the area was a heap of smoking rubble, first damaged in street fighting then deliberately detonated by the Nazi occupiers after the Warsaw Rising armed revolt of 1944.

The damage was so great that attention was seriously given to making another city the capital - perhaps the then second city, Łódź. However, in a remarkable display of energy and conviction, postwar Poland rebuilt the entire Old Town from scratch, using original materials where possible.

The result is a harmonious scene of historic charm, with only the occasional hint that things aren't as old as they look.

It's a very pleasant area in which to wander, with some marvellous and sometimes odd decoration on its facades. Here are a few interesting elements I've spotted on my meanderings:

1. Samson Meets Lion. Whenever you see the word "pod" ("beneath") on a Polish sign, look up - it usually means there'll be something interesting to see on the facade. Here's Samson and the lion getting physical above the entrance to the restaurant Restauracja Pod Samsonem:

2. Curious Curie. Further along ul Freta, here's a colourful new painting on the exterior of the museum devoted to Marie Skłodowska-Curie. She's better know in the west simply as Marie Curie, co-discoverer of Radium and Polonium (the latter element named after her homeland, Poland):

3. Beware the Basilisk. I encountered this mythological creature above a restaurant in Rynek Starego Miasta, the old market square. It doesn't look that much like the snakelike creature in Harry Potter - then I learned that in Central European folklore, the basilisk combined aspects of both the snake and the rooster:

4. Let Sleeping Cats Lie. Here's a contented cat, tucked up high above a cafe:

5. Gargoyle Time. And a grotesque gargoyle above a beautiful clock on a street corner:

6. Post Haste. I really love this symbol above a post office - it somehow combines an old-fashioned design sense with a hint of modern technology:

7. Cherub Antics. Finally, here's a crowd of naked cherubs (or the like) having hi-jinks involving a goat on a facade above a reptilian sign outside a pharmacy. I don't know who they are or what they're up to, but it looks like they're having fun...

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