Winter Wander: Krakowskie Przedmieśćie

Lying between Nowy Świat high street and the Royal Castle, Krakowskie Przedmieśćie is the final link on the Royal Route – festooned with lights, it’s here that history combines with the spirit of Christmas to make for an essential December walk…

Photo: Karolina Sabik

Staszic Palace

Once the site of a 17th century Orthodox chapel (and reputedly haunted by a priest that shot himself at the alter in 1818), the Staszic Palace was built in 1823 and has long-served as the seat of the Polish Academy of Sciences. For this reason, find a monument dedicated to the astronomer Nicolas Copernicus right outside. Eight years in the making, it was designed by the Dane Bertel Thorvaldsen and finally revealed in 1830. Spirited away to be smelted by the Nazis in 1944, the statue was discovered in tact in Nysa and reinstalled in 1949.

Church of the Holy Cross

Reputedly one of the favorite churches of King Stanisław II Augustus, the Church of the Holy Cross is more famed for its associations with Chopin. As per his dying wish, the composer’s heart was smuggled back to Warsaw after he died in France. Preserved in a crystal jar filled with cognac, the grisly relic was then encased inside one of the church’s columns. Surviving the Warsaw Uprising after it was reputedly hidden in the town of Milanowek, the heart was returned to the church after the war only to be briefly exhumed in 2014 in a secret ceremony undertaken to assess its general state. Swiftly reinterred thereafter, its next check-up has been scheduled for 2064.

University of Warsaw

Established in 1809, Poland’s biggest university has been a springboard for many of the nation’s biggest heroes: Ludwik Zamenhof (inventor of Esperanto), Nobel-prize winner Olga Tokarczyk, wartime legend Jan Karski, poet Julian Tuwim and scores of politicians and leading intellectuals. Entering via the main gate at Krakowskie Przedmieście 26/28, you get a sense of this history walking around the palaces that comprise the main campus. A patchwork of manicured lawns and Neo Classical buildings, this grid of grand buildings is stunning under snow.

Photo: Karolina Sabik

Bristol Hotel

Welcoming its first guest on November 19th, 1901 (a Parisian lady by the name of Emilia Finot), the hotel was so ground-breaking that it hired an elevator attendant specifically to ensure that excited guests wouldn’t faint at the site of the crystal lift. Once the HQ and residence of the Prime Minister and composer Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the Bristol has never been far from Warsaw’s biggest moments.

With Paderewski chairing his first government meeting here, you could even say the hotel was the birthplace of the modern Polish democratic state. Re-opened by Margaret Thatcher in 1993, its hosted pretty much every big name you could think of: Bill Gates, JFK, Paul McCartney, Picasso, and so forth. Consider that over drinks inside the beautifully appointed Lane’s Gin Bar.

Photo: Karolina Sabik

Presidential Palace

Owing its neo-classical look to a 19th century remodeling overseen by Piotr Aigner, the Presidential Palace left Herman Goering so impressed that he was late for a meeting with Poland’s foreign minister. Witness to major global events, it was here that the Warsaw Pact was signed in 1955 to counter the establishment of NATO. Its most prominent feature though is the statue of Prince Poniatowski outside, the visionary monarch that oversaw the adoption of Europe’s first constitution. Moved several times, the original statue scandalized the Warsaw public when it premiered in front of Saski Palace in 1923. Instead of presenting Poniatowski as a noble, knightly figure, the Danish sculptor instead imagined him as a half-naked Roman.

Europejski Hotel

Originally opened in 1857, Henryk’s Marconi’s Neo-Renaissance design for the Europejski was complemented by lavish interior touches by his son, Karol, and his nephew, Ferrante. Impressing from its inception, people traveled from far and wide to enjoy the cooking of Józef Wysakowski, the former chef to Spain’s Queen Isabel. Famed for its lavish New Year’s Eve parties, not even Communism could sully its reputation: the Rolling Stones kipped here, and so too did Willy Brandy and Marlene Dietrich (who moved out swiftly after her suite proved too small for her array of bulky travel trunks). Spectacularly restored by the luxury Raffles brand, it’s well worth stopping in for a signature Sling cocktail.

Photo: Karolina Sabik

Adam Mickiewicz

Adam Mickiewicz, the great bard of Poland, is celebrated by way of a striking 4.2-meter monument that was sculpted by Cyprian Godebski in Italy before being transported to Warsaw where it was unveiled on December 24th, 1898 – the one hundredth anniversary of the poet’s birth. Premiering in front of a crowd of 12,000, the monument was destroyed by the Nazis in 1944 – later, Mickiewicz’s head was discovered intact in Hamburg along with other body parts that were only returned in the 1980s. The faithful copy you see was produced in 1950. Look closely, and you’ll see wartime bullet marks on the fence that separates the statue from the pavement.

St. Anne’s Church

Having squeaked through the war with just token flesh wounds, the baroque St. Anne’s Church came within a whisker of tumbling down entirely after the post-war construction of the W-Z tunnel rendered the surrounding ground unstable – only round-the-clock work by a team of 400 engineers saved the whole thing from crash downing. As magnificent as the fresco-filled might be, it’s the adjoining bell tower that makes the biggest impact: open until 6 p.m., puff your way up the 147 stairs to enjoy the city’s most picturesque viewing platform.

Photo: Karolina Sabik

Pl. Zamkowy

The view we speak of above is delicious. As if almost in touching distance, the Royal Castle – rebuilt only in the 1980s – stands directly in front, as does Zygmunt’s Column. First erected in 1664 to honor Zygmunt III Vasa’s decision to shift the capital from Kraków to Warsaw, the 22-meter column was felled in 1944 by a single artillery round and reconstructed in 1949 (the original lies to the side of the castle). But in between these two landmarks, find the season’s principal point of interest: a 27-meter tall Christmas tree that’ll officially be lit in early December.

Photo: Karolina Sabik

(All photos: Karolina Sabik)

Artykuł Winter Wander: Krakowskie Przedmieśćie pochodzi z serwisu Warsaw Insider.