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The Warsaw Voice » Other » September 2, 2009
On the town
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Riverside Revamp
September 2, 2009   
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If not for the Vistula River, there would have been no Warsaw. Wars and Sawa, the legendary founders of the city, after whom it is named, lived by catching fish in the river. It was in the Vistula that the mythical Syrenka (Mermaid) lived. Today she can be seen on the capital's coat of arms and depicted on two monuments in the city. Prince Janusz I moved the residence of Mazovian princes from Czersk to Warsaw in 1413 because the latter, due to its location by the Vistula, was easy to defend. The river also ensured Warsaw substantial profits from trade, serving as one of the country's main transportation routes for centuries. The 1,047-kilometer-long Vistula was dubbed the Queen of Polish Rivers.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Vistula was relatively clean, with plentiful fish and popular as a transportation route. It also drew both those who loved water sports, for instance kayakers, and those who were content with less demanding forms of relaxation, such as sunbathing.

Later, years of neglect discouraged Warsaw residents from taking advantage of the river. But now, the capital has been rediscovering the river, mainly thanks to grassroots initiatives.

One of the first organizations established on the wave of this enthusiasm is the Ja Wisła (Me the Vistula) foundation. It has operated since 2005. Its founders have set themselves the goal of, as they put it, protecting the natural course of the river, preserving the unique natural qualities of the river valley and keeping the memory of its cultural heritage alive, so as to inspire Warsaw residents with a sense of shared responsibility for the river and its future.

The foundation mainly operates in the Czerniakowski Port area. This is the oldest river port in Warsaw. Only a short section of the port's canal wharf is used today-by rowers and sailboat enthusiasts. The river banks are mainly a haven for anglers and tramps. The site has not been cleaned for years.

Thanks to the foundation, you can take a trip around the port on Sundays on a traditional wooden Vistula boat and listen to tales about the Vistula of old and about today, and the story of navigation on the Vistula. Every Friday and Sunday, the Cypel Czerniakowski beach under the Łazienkowski Bridge transforms into the KinoMost cinema. Here you can see Polish, Soviet, Czechoslovak, East German, Yugoslav and Bulgarian documentaries and educational films made in the 1960s, '70s and '80s. An old parachute serves as the cinema screen.

Ja Wisła also organizes cycling tours along the Vistula's banks around the Mazovia region. The City Patrol Force headquarters hosted the exhibition Wisła jaka była (The Vistula as It Was) in 2007, including archival photographs and picture postcards of riverside landscapes. The foundation aims to create an open-air museum of ships, barges and boats at Czerniakowski Port.

The Przemiany (Transformations) festival of art on the Vistula, organized for the first time this year, aims to transform the river's image and stir up interest among Varsovians in projects designed to "return" the river to the city. The festival opened in June and is continuing until October. As part of the festival, a dozen or so organizations, associations and groups of artists are organizing various kinds of cultural events on the Vistula, including concerts, exhibitions, performances, shows, workshops, riverside hiking trips, cruises on the Vistula and discussions.

The Vistula riverside area is expected to have been transformed by 2012. Pedestrian alleys and bicycle trails will be spruced up, and disabled-friendly facilities put up. Under a project that came top in a competition held by City Hall, a beach restaurant, seven shopping centers and five restaurant pavilions would be built in the Mariensztat neighborhood overlooking the river, along with three water tram stops, four floating restaurants, a passenger port service pavilion, a mobile tourist information outlet and a playground.

The Mariensztat boulevard will also have space for art exhibitions. Wybrzeże Ko¶ciuszkowskie Street will have parking spaces and underground garages.

Magdalena Błaszczyk
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