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The Warsaw Voice » Society » December 2, 2009
Mazovia Heritage
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In Chopin's Footsteps
December 2, 2009   
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Three special places connected with Poland's most famous composer, Frederic Chopin, are among the most popular tourist attractions in Mazovia province. These are Żelazowa Wola, where Chopin was born, Brochów, where he was baptized and nearby Sanniki where concerts of his music are held in the town's Chopin Center.

All these places are connected with the childhood and youth of Chopin and are well worth visiting to soak up the atmosphere of Mazovia that so beautifully encapsulates the moods of the composer's music. The village of Żelazowa Wola is situated on the outskirts of the city of Sochaczew. This is where you will find the famous Fryderyk Chopin museum, enclosed in a charming park that hugs the banks of the Utrata River. The museum is housed in what was the annex of the aristocratic Skarbek family mansion in the early 19th century. It was here that the great composer was born Feb. 22, 1810. This annex once occupied by the Chopin family is the sole survivor of the many buildings that once comprised the Skarbek family estate. The front burned down in 1812 and the right annex followed during World War I.

Chopin's father Mikołaj met his future wife Justyna Krzyżanowska, a cousin of the Skarbeks, in Żelazowa Wola, where he was working as a private tutor to Skarbek children. The family moved to Warsaw soon after Chopin was born but he often came back here to spend his vacations, the last time being in 1830. The Skarbeks lost Żelazowa Wola four years later and the estate was to change hands frequently afterwards. A special committee was set up at the end of the 19th century to buy the property back from its private owners. The annex was finally purchased in 1928. The dilapidated building was restored in 1930-31 and subsequently turned into a museum.

The interior of the present museum is true to the character of the period but the original 19th century interior of the Chopins' home has not been retained. The mansion has several rooms displaying period furniture, documents, copies of scores and portraits of the artist to imbue the place with sentimental and historical significance. Information is available in several languages and recordings of Chopin's music make the visit even more pleasant. The greatest pianists from Poland and around the world come to the mansion to give recitals of Chopin's music during the summer season.

The Chopin manor is surrounded by a beautiful park with rare species of trees planted between 1933 and 1935. This strikingly original layout of trees, shrubs, flowers and small garden architecture is the work of Prof. Franciszek Krzywda-Polkowski. The Utrata River winding through the park rounds off the whole picture-perfect scene. The park stretches over 7 hectares and the extensive panoply of tree, shrub and plant species give it a character approaching that of a botanical garden. Strolling around the park's well-tended paths while the sounds of Chopin's music waft out of the speakers is an idyllic experience, whatever the time of year.

Apart from the manor house, Żelazowa Wola has a tourist information center where you can stock up on souvenirs and memorabilia, information about the museum, CDs, and guidebooks on Mazovia and the Sochaczew region. There are also stalls selling regional products, restaurants and ice-cream parlors.

Excursions following in the footsteps of Chopin usually make a stop at Brochów as well. This village boasts a monument in the form of a church that looks like a fort. The Brochów church has three spires and is enclosed by a brick wall with pentagonal, crenellated bastions in the corners. The Gothic-Renaissance St. Roch and John the Baptist parish church was built between 1551 and 1561. The building is impressive despite having suffered extensive damage during the two world wars. It is here that Chopin's parents were married in 1806. And it was here that the local parish entered the fact that Chopin was baptized in Brochów April 23, 1810 into the registry. Those were turbulent times and none of the historic furnishings of the church have survived. There is a memorial plaque dedicated to Chopin inside.

While on the Mazovian Chopin walking trail, Sanniki, just out of Sochaczew, is worth a stop. In 1828, an 18-year-old Chopin spent his vacation here with the Pruszak family, the then owners of the estate, and composed his Rondo in C Major. Today, Sanniki is noted for its Chopin Palace-Park complex, a neoclassical palace designed by Władysław Marconi. The palace, built in 1910, houses a Chopin Center and also serves as a venue for concerts featuring the music of the great composer. The center has memorabilia and publications connected with Chopin. Except for those who come here to attend concerts, entry requires an appointment with the local authorities. The Sanniki palace is surrounded by several hectares of parkland. The 19th-century Holy Trinity church opposite is also worth a visit.
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