Friday 22 May 2015

Świdnica, Poland: Everything Old is New Again

This week I visited Świdnica for the first time in four years, checking it out for the next edition of Lonely Planet's Poland guidebook.

Four years is long enough to see distinctive changes in a place. The biggest change I noticed in this city, is best illustrated by a pair of images. 

So, look upon this picture sourced from the Fotoforum, of Świdnica's 18th century town hall in 2009:

... and on this, a photo of the same scene I took on Monday:

And here's another pic I took around the other side of the building:

It's not hard to spot the difference: an elegant white tower, rising out of the yellow structure below.

The tower is in fact a replica of the original town hall tower. When it collapsed in 1967, during the communist era, no-one had the cash to rebuild it. But recently, thanks in part to EU funding, the money and expertise was assembled to re-create it. 

In 2012 the tower reopened, with 223 steps to the top for a splendid view of the city. In a nod to modernity, it also has a lift.

My other encounter with a freshly refurbished element of this Silesian city was its train station. When I alighted at Świdnica Miasto station in 2011, I remember it being a dingy, unloved piece of architecture. 

Now it's nearing the end of a major renovation, and is looking splendid both inside and out:

It's now a beautiful public building and a centrepiece of civic pride. And from a visitor's point of view, it certainly leaves a good impression upon both arrval and departure.

A local told me the other day that Poland's regional train stations had largely been handed over to local townships in recent years, the railway company wanting to focus on its rolling stock and onboard services.

This created an opportunity for towns and cities to repurpose these important buildings, as galleries or museums or restaurants. 

It's a two-edged sword, however, creating a problem for local councils without the funds to refurbish the stations, many of which are decayed from decades of neglect.

On the other hand, where the funds can be found, there's a golden opportunity for civic renewal.

And speaking as a visitor, it's a delight to see places such as Świdnica Miasto station come back to life. It's more than a simple act of refurbishment; it's a statement of optimism, and of confidence in the city's future.

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