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The Warsaw Voice » Destination Warsaw » March 29, 2012
Destination Warsaw
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The Old Town
March 29, 2012   
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Do you know of any other city whose Old Town is on the UNESCO World Heritage list and which looks ancient, yet is only 60 years old? You will find it in Warsaw.

The historic center and the oldest part of Warsaw is a special place for Poles. It is the phoenix that rose from the ashes. Nearly 90 percent of Warsaw’s Old Town was destroyed by the Germans during World War II and later faithfully restored by its residents in the 1950s. The rubble was sifted for reusable decorative elements, which were reinstated to their original places and many of the original bricks were reused. Original plans from the 1600s were used as a guide to reconstruct the buildings.

The Old Town was established in the 13th century, and initially grew around the castle of the Dukes of Mazovia, which later became the Royal Castle. The city center was fortified in 1548 with a brick semicircular Barbican which today is one of Warsaw’s landmarks. Loved by locals and tourists alike, its market square was laid out in the early 14th century, along the main road linking the castle with the New Town to the north. In the 17th century it was the center of public life in Warsaw and fairs and even occasional executions were held here; officials and merchants met at the Town Hall that was located there until it was pulled down in 1817. The Gothic-style houses built around the market square were rebuilt by wealthy merchants in late-Renaissance style after a great fire of 1607.

Stone stairs that at one stage led outside the city center’s defensive walls are in one corner of the market square. In the 15th century the steps were made of wood and were changed to stone in the 18th century. Apparently, Napoleon Bonaparte marched down those stairs on one of his visits to Warsaw. Today, tourists love to take photos there.

Today, with its 19th-century mermaid monument in the center and full of old world charm, the market square is home to some impressive restaurants, such as Bazyliszek and Fukier, numerous bars and open air cafés, market stalls, and buskers. You can get your portrait drawn here or buy a painting or sculpture from the local artists and get various souvenirs. You can also visit the Historical Museum of Warsaw, where you will find everything you ever wanted to know about the Polish capital.
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