The Mermaid of Warsaw

Warsaw: The Rise of the Phoenix City

Among many cities in Eastern Europe, Warsaw was perhaps the unluckiest. The once very beautiful city was severely damaged in World War II, leaving over 85% of buildings in ruin. But like a phoenix, Warsaw resurrected from its ashes and transformed into one of the greatest capitals in the region.

Having a strategic location at the crossroads between Western and Eastern Europe, Warsaw had been shuffled by empires and dynasties for centuries. Since King Sigismund III of Vasa moved his court here from Kraków in 1569, the city had switched owners several times, for example, Swedes in the 17th century and Russians during the 19th century.

When the Second World War broke out in 1939, the Nazis swiftly occupied Warsaw and a dark age began in the city once described as Paris of the East. Within a few years, 85% of buildings were destroyed and hundreds of thousands of civilians were detained and massacred, including a strong Jewish population and those who participated in the Warsaw Uprising in 1944.

Once “liberated”, Warsaw was rebuilt in stagnant, Soviet style, and thus its reputation as a gloomy, concrete city was born. But the dark, negative images of yesteryear no longer characterize modern Warsaw as the city moves boldly forward. Today, the city on the Vistula River is one of the most dynamic capitals in Eastern Europe, humming with energy and optimism.

Warsaw resurrected from its ashes.

1. Warsaw Old Town

Obliterated during the Second World War, Warsaw Old Town is no more than just a name. Without mercy, the Nazis began the systematic destruction of the city, building by building, street by street, when they lost ground in 1944. The 13th-century historic center, unfortunately, could not escape its doom.

Thanks to the “Bricks for Warsaw” campaign which gathered donations from around the world, the old town was rebuilt. Many of its colorful houses, cobblestone streets, and beautiful squares were restored to their original form. At the heart of the historic center was the statue of Syrenka Warszawska (Mermaid of Warsaw) – symbol and guardian of the city. Legend said that she is a sister of the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen but they bid adieu when she swam to the Vistula River. Unlike her sister, this mermaid is armed with a sword and a shield to protect the city and its citizens.

The street of Warsaw Old Town
The Mermaid of Warsaw

2. Palace of Science and Culture

Another unmissable landmark of Warsaw is the Palace of Science and Culture positioned at the heart of the city. Designed by the Soviet architect Lev Rudnev, the 231 meters tall is the tallest building in the city and a “gift” from Stalin to Poland. Being a remnant of the communist era, the towering palace is perhaps Warsaw’s most controversial building as it is loved and hated passionately.

It resembles the most impressive skyscraper in Moscow, the Moscow State University, and houses a multiplex cinema, four theaters, two museums, a university, a swimming pool, an auditorium, and, at the top, a panoramic viewing platform.

Palace of Science and Culture

3. Łazienki Park

If you want to chill out in Warsaw, there is no better place than Lazienki Park. Covering over 70 hectares of the city center, Lazienki Park is Warsaw’s largest green area and the lunge of the capital. The Baroque park was initially built for the Polish noble Stanisław Herakliusz Lubomirski in the 17th century. It took the name Lazienki (bath) from a bathing pavilion that was located nearby.

In the 18th century, the charming and picturesque landscape was transformed into a setting for palaces, villas, and monuments for Poland’s King Stanislaw August. The park became a public park in 1918, and since then it has become one of Warsaw’s most important recreational areas.

Lazienki Park

25 thoughts on “Warsaw: The Rise of the Phoenix City”

  1. Mel & Suan – Singapore – Mel works his day job for a living, but lives for antiquities, history and geography at all other times. He enjoys writing and thought sharing and obviously traveling. Suan is a homey person, who like girlie stuff such as cross stitching etc. Enjoys shopping & modeling for Mel. What a match!
    Mel & Suan says:

    We saw the monument to WWII and also visited Chopin park. Yeah, most of today’s old town is reconstructed, but they had done so with as much precision as possible using old architectural records!

    1. I was surprised as well! They used as many old bricks as possible. I thought it had been there for a long time until I read about its history 🙂

  2. Bama – Jakarta, Indonesia – Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.
    Bama says:

    I read about the destruction of Warsaw during WWII and was equally heartened to know how well the reconstruction work had been carried out, just like in Dresden. Loving your crisp photos! Did you try pierogi when you were in Warsaw?

    1. You are the first reader that recognize this similarity between the two towns. Good memory! 🙂
      Regarding the pierogi, I did try it. But honestly it is not my favourite. Perhaps I am obsessed by the Asian dumplings, especially the Japanese gyoza. I guess you can understand it very well after your trip to Japan 😉

  3. Warsaw is so great. The Old Town really is beautiful and has been restored wonderfully. Plus, it’s just a cool place, even the parts that are a bit gray and gloomy!

    1. Before visiting Warsaw, I really thought that it is a boring, gloomy city. But I was absolutely wrong. Warsaw is as great as Prague, Berlin or Budapest. Plus, it is very affordable 🙂

  4. Orvillewrong – "I am well read, fairly well travelled, maybe not as many stamps on my passport as I would like. Young at Heart, Always! I like Military history. I Love Life`s variable, colour, character are potential events to record for posterity!!
    Orvillewrong says:

    Wnderfully descriptive post, wonderful Photographs

      1. Orvillewrong – "I am well read, fairly well travelled, maybe not as many stamps on my passport as I would like. Young at Heart, Always! I like Military history. I Love Life`s variable, colour, character are potential events to record for posterity!!
        Orvillewrong says:

        My Pleasure !

  5. Gorgeous photos again! Warsaw is really an example of how the city has risen from the ashes of war. Did you go to the Warsaw Uprising museum? I really enjoyed my visit there and learned a great deal about Warsaw’s history and the uprising movement by its residents back in 1944.

    1. Thank you, Pooja! I accidentally visited the museum even before seeing the Old Town. I found it is a perfect place to learn about history of Warsaw. The interactive benches around the Old Town are also amusing 🙂

  6. justbluedutch – Bavaria, Germany – Expat- lifestyle Blogger from the land of Lederhosen & Dirndls. A self-taught Aquarelle & Mixed Media visual artist.
    justbluedutch says:

    Beautiful photography!

  7. I love that Old Town of Warsaw. I visited 10 years ago and now feel I need to go back. Beautiful.

  8. Wow that was strange. I just wrote an really long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyways, just wanted to say wonderful blog!

  9. About to visit Warsaw this January! Thanks for the recommendations and the summary of its history 🙂 Happy New Year!

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